Grand stands

I’ve previously covered several stands that place your laptop at a more-ergonomic height when used with an external keyboard. Today I look at yet another, as well as two stands for saving desk space when storing your notebook or using it with an external keyboard and display.

Rain Design mStand

As I’ve noted in the past, if you regularly use your laptop at a desk, you should use some sort of laptop stand or riser to lift your laptop’s screen to the proper viewing height, and then use a separate keyboard and mouse, placed at a healthy height of their own, for input. Rain Design’s $50 mStand is just such a stand, and a stylish one, at that. Made from a single, thick piece of aluminum with an anodized finish that closely matches the look of Apple’s current MacBook Pros, the mStand is perhaps the most attractive stand I’ve seen. It’s definitely the sturdiest—it doesn’t “bounce” nearly as much as other stands, thanks to the rigid material, and the wide, 10- by 7.5-inch base gives it a stable feel even when supporting a large notebook. The tilted top surface raises the front of your laptop 3 inches off your desk, with the back edge of a 15-inch MacBook Pro raised 6.5 inches, putting the top edge of the display approximately 13.5 inches off the desk. That’s not quite high enough to be optimal—APC’s $80 Ergonomic Notebook Stand with USB hub is better in this respect—but it’s much better for your health than leaving your laptop flat on your desk.

Rain Design mStand

Like Griffin Technology’s $40 Elevator, the mStand has a large area underneath your laptop for storing your keyboard and mouse when not in use. A 1.25-inch hole in the back of the mStand—rimmed with white plastic to match the similar opening on the stands for Apple’s Cinema Displays—provides a limited degree of cable management; instead of having all the cables hanging off the sides of your MacBook or MacBook Pro and then winding back separately, you can snake them under the laptop and through the hole. Four rubber pads on the top surface and a thick, metal lip at the front of the stand—also padded—stop your laptop from sliding around.

However, you need to be careful when placing a notebook with a front-mounted optical drive on the mStand; positioning a 15-inch MacBook Pro even a quarter-inch off-center (to the left) blocks the optical-drive slot. In addition, on the sample we received, the metal lip at the front actually blocks the lid latch button on a MacBook Pro or PowerBook; you have to lift the front of the laptop up to press the button. (The Rain Design Web site claims that currently-shipping mStands have a small cut-out area that provides access to the latch button.)

Power Support Docking Stand

Power Support Docking Stand for MacBook

Although many laptop owners take advantage of their laptop’s screen when working at a desk, others close the lid, hook up an external display, keyboard, and mouse, and effectively use the laptop as a CPU. The only problem is where to put the laptop. (A similar question—where to put it?—arises when you’re not using your laptop at all.)

Power Support’s $40 Docking Stand offers an interesting solution: instead of placing the laptop flat on your desk, the Docking Stand provides a stable, 4.5-inch-wide mounting stand, into which your laptop slides in order to rest vertically. (Despite its name, the Docking Stand works with both MacBooks and MacBook Pros.) The computer takes up a fraction of the desk space it would normally.

Made of aluminum with gray-plastic trim, the Docking Stand by default fits MacBook Pro models perfectly; smooth-plastic pads on the inside of the bracket allow the laptop to slide into the Stand without scratching the computer’s surfaces. (Adhesive, fabric pad covers are included for added protection, if you prefer; the bottom of the bracket is already covered with this fabric.) However, you can easily adjust the Docking Stand, via three screws on the bottom, to fit notebooks up to approximately 1.5 inches thick; the caveat here is that the wider you make the stand, the less solid the base feels. Still, as long as you put your laptop in the Stand horizontally, it won’t easily fall over.

If you opt to use your computer while it’s “docked,” the Docking Stand actually works better with MacBooks, which have all their ports on one side and the optical drive on the other—you can orient your MacBook so that your cables connect in the back, while the optical drive is in the front for easy access. When used with a MacBook Pro, keep in mind that you’ll have at least one or two cables connected to each end, so there’s a bit more cable clutter.

I’ve also found the Docking Stand to be a convenient way to store my laptop when I’m not using it; my MacBook Pro takes up much less desk space when sitting vertically. One complaint I have, for either use, is that the bottom of the Docking Stand has no protective pads and thus easily slides around a wood or metal desk. Power Support includes four adhesive, fabric pads to protect your desk, but the Stand still slides too easily. I would have appreciated rubber feet.

Balmuda Floater

Balmuda Design Floater

If you like PowerSupport’s Docking Stand, but want something sturdier and with more of a design focus, Balmuda’s $305 Floater is just that—and quite a bit more expensive, as well.

The Floater does essentially the same thing as the Docking Stand, but is a much more substantial product. Made of 7 separate pieces of anodized aluminum alloy—each machined from a single block of metal—the Floater is held together by a series of stainless-steel hex bolts. The laptop “cradle” floats an inch or so off your desk (hence the product’s name), supported by a thick arm connected to one end of the Floater’s 4.75- by 10.6-inch base. The Floater weighs nearly two pounds on its own, and is noticeably more stable than Power Support’s Stand.

The Floater’s cradle is lined with numerous silicone bumpers that both keep your laptop securely in place and protect it from being scratched by the stand’s metal. Polyurethane feet on the bottom of the base keep the Floater from moving and protect your desk. One detail that impressed me is that each silicone bumper and polyurethane foot is set into a recessed section of the metal, custom-machined for that particular bumper or foot.

The Floater is compatible with 15- and 17-inch MacBook Pros, the 13-inch MacBook, and the 17-inch PowerBook G4. Because these laptops vary slightly in thickness, the Floater’s cradle can be adjusted up to 2mm wider or narrower using the included hex wrench and three sets of spacers of different thicknesses. You just loosen the bolts securing the sides of the cradle; slide the spacers, in whichever combination provides the appropriate cradle width, into the spaces between the cradle’s sides and bottom; and then tighten the bolts.

Balmuda Floater with cables

The Floater has a similar limitation as Power Support’s Docking Stand: although the Floater looks much better with MacBook Pros, it works better with MacBooks, which have all their ports on one end. That said, the Floater provides cable “tunnels” on each end of its base, which allows you to run the cables from one end down and under the stand—the result is a less-cluttered look.

Is the Floater worth $305? It’s attractive, very well-made, and, like the Docking Stand, useful. But you’re definitely paying—a lot—for the unique design and the production process.

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