A laptop stand and more
Back in February, I wrote about Griffin Technology’s $40 Elevator, a simple laptop stand designed to get your laptop’s screen up to a more ergonomic height while working—with an external keyboard and mouse—at a desk. In the resulting discussion of that article in the Macworld forums , reader joelande enthusiastically recommended APC’s Ergonomic Notebook Stand with 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub (let’s just call it “the Stand” from here on out). My interest piqued, I asked the folks at APC if we could take a look.
At $80 (~$65 at street prices), the Stand is quite a bit more expensive than the Elevator, but it also offers quite a bit more functionality (if in a less attractive package). For example, the Stand’s platform is more adjustable than that of most laptop stands I’ve tested. The lowest setting, with the platform nearly level, elevates your laptop just under 4.5 inches off the desktop. But press the large button on the Stand’s base and push on the front of the platform, and the platform itself slides back and rotates up, raising the back of your laptop 9 inches or so off the desk with the front elevated less than 2 inches. Two intermediate settings offer slightly less elevation. Although the button and mechanism both feel a bit klunky thanks to the stand’s plastic construction, they worked reliably for me over several weeks of use.
(Unfortunately, if you’ve got a MacBook Pro, you can’t use the Stand’s highest setting, because—unlike other Mac laptops—the MacBook Pro’s screen doesn’t open far enough to remain vertical when the Stand is fully extended. You’ll have to use one of the two intermediate settings; these elevated the top of my 15-inch MacBook Pro’s screen 16.7 inches and 15.5 inches, respectively, above the desk. I preferred the latter as even the second-highest setting tilted my MacBook Pro’s screen forward slightly.)
Looking at the picture here, you might be wondering how you’d use a laptop with the optical drive on the front—after all, wouldn’t that front brace block the drive? Turns out APC actually considered this when designing the Stand (not something that can be said about all the laptop stands I've seen). When you need to insert or remove a disc, you move a small slider on the front of the Stand and the front bracket swivels down and out of the way; when you’re done, you swing it back up and it locks into place. (Won’t your laptop slide down while the front bracket is released? The two large rubber pads on the main platform were grippy enough during my testing to keep my MacBook Pro from sliding down on all but the highest elevation setting.)
One disadvantage of the Stand compared to the Elevator and similar products is that there’s no space underneath to store your keyboard when you’re not using it. On the other hand, this design has its own advantage: because the Stand is much sturdier than the “space underneath” products, you can actually type on your laptop’s keyboard temporarily without making the entire laptop bounce around; the Stand is surprisingly sturdy given its light weight and plasticky feel.
The other unique feature of the Stand is its built-in, powered, four-port USB 2.0 hub, located in the Stand’s base. You plug in the included AC adapter and then connect the included two-foot USB cable between the Stand and your laptop. You can then use up to four USB devices (well, actually five, considering that recent Mac notebooks have two ports, so you should still have one free after connecting the Stand to your computer).
(Note that the images here, taken from APC’s Web site, show two USB ports in the back of the Stand and two on the sides; on current models, all four ports are on the back, a better design in my opinion, since it results in a less-cluttered desktop.)
A USB hub is useful in general, but I found it to be especially useful as part of a laptop stand—after a few weeks of use, I ended up thinking of the Stand as a sort of pseudo-docking station. I kept a keyboard, a mouse, a printer, and even a bus-powered USB hard drive connected to the Stand’s hub; whenever I put my MacBook Pro on the stand and plugged in its single USB cable, all my devices were immediately available. (Yeah, yeah, I know—“That’s how a hub works, genius.” But I found it convenient and less cluttered to have the hub and stand combined into a single unit.) Reader joelande echoed these sentiments in our forums: “one cable to plug in connects my external keyboard, mouse, Treo and camera.”
Finally, instead of rubber or silicone feet on the bottom, the Stand has four rubber wheels arranged in a circular pattern. This clever arrangement keeps the Stand from sliding around your desk, but allows the Stand to rotate, Lazy-Susan-style, so you can reposition your laptop’s screen to either side for a better viewing angle. (Caveat: this feature is less useful than it sounds if you’ve actually got four USB devices plugged into the Stand’s hub—all those cables restrict how much you can actually rotate the Stand.)
Although it looks plasticky and feels a bit flimsy, the Ergonomic Notebook Stand with 4-Port USB 2.0 Hub is actually fairly sturdy and works well, both as a laptop stand and a USB hub.