Review: Ninja Standing Desk is perfect for the traveling office ninja in your life
Ninjas are many things. They are cunning, silent, and sneaky. They fit into surprisingly small places. And they’re often stronger than you think.
These words, which I have written while using the Ninja Standing Desk, also describe the desk itself surprisingly well. It takes after its ninja namesake, not only being one of the smallest and lightest standing desks I’ve ever had the pleasure of putting together, but surprisingly sturdy to boot.
The Ninja Standing Desk is a Kickstarter-funded invention, and at first glance, looks the part. Physics, collapsible shelves, and a good amount of velcro take the contents of a messenger bag and transform it into a two-shelf adjustable standing desk rated to hold 80+ pounds.
That 80 pound number seemed unbelievable when I first removed the Ninja Standing Desk from its packaging—which, by the way, fit comfortably inside a medium USPS flat rate box; in contrast, I recently helped my colleague Dan Moren assemble his new standing desk and the thing came in a box so large I could comfortably lie down in it.
The Ninja desk is made up of two lengthy Velcro straps with adjustable D-hooks to latch onto your wall or door attachment, two or three foldable cloth-and-board shelves, and T9 anodized-aluminum tubing; assembling these pieces into a functional desk is your job. Surprisingly, this assembly is easier than putting together a piece of IKEA furniture. The desk takes less than ten minutes to put together—five, once you know what you’re doing—and easily sets up in a number of locations. Ninja desk inventor Dan McDonley claims it can be set up practically anywhere, and to get you going provides you with two over-the-door hooks and a set of Monkey Hooks for drywall installations. I ended up testing each configuration—setting it up over my front door with the door hooks, and in a small corner of my studio with Monkey Hooks.
Though I made cringing faces about stability as I set it up—”How are these shelves held to the wall by Velcro?!”—its physics are actually quite solid, as anyone with more than my high school level understanding of the subject can tell you. After marveling over the desk’s construction on Twitter, my friend Andria Schwortz (who happens to be a PhD student in the sciences) drew me a handy diagram explaining why my laptop wasn’t going to collapse in a blaze of glory. It mostly assuaged my fear, though I’ll admit to taking the laptop off the shelf at the end of the workday for the first week. The keyboard, Magic Trackpad, and speakers stayed on, and by the end of the first few weeks, I no longer rushed to remove my laptop after a day’s work.
Adjusting the Ninja Standing Desk is simple, though not as easy as I’d like. You have to take off the bottom shelf first, then reapply the top shelf at the right angle and positioning, and finally position the the bottom shelf. (And, of course, you’ll need to first remove everything on the shelves before you start.) I do wish the straps had pre-set markings—something like IKEA’s adjustable table legs—for those of us who are terrible at leveling and aligning shelves correctly.
When you finish setting up the Ninja Standing Desk, you’ll still have a fair bit of Velcro loop strap at the bottom; unfortunately, there’s no great place provided to hide them. I went for the poor man’s approach and taped the straps to the bottom of the second shelf with some painters’ tape.
What goes on a Ninja Standing Desk?
The Ninja desk comes in two- or three-shelf varieties ($159/$219; no shelves are sold separately); I was sent the two-shelf variety to try out. Each of these shelves is about 26 inches wide with a depth of about 11 inches. In short: These are some narrow shelves.
Don’t expect to clutter the Ninja Desk up with the miscellany of your other desk possessions; it’s simply not built for that. My Ninja desk has a few tchotchkes and my laptop on the top shelf; the bottom holds my wireless keyboard and Magic Trackpad, speakers, and my treadmill controls. I had a can of pens on the bottom shelf, too, but ended up removing them to cut clutter. Depth-wise, my 15-inch MacBook Pro fits pretty snugly and perfectly on the shelf; a longer laptop might find its front end hovering over the edge, however.
The shelves are rated for 30+ pounds, and the folks behind the Ninja desk have stress-tested the shelves up to 100 pounds. While I did no such stress-test myself, I’m happy to report that there’s no buckling, swaying, or horrific sounds of Velcro unhooking when loaded up with the above items. I even put a 21.5-inch iMac on the top shelf with no problems. Displays wider than the 21.5-inch iMac may run into problems with the shelf straps, which are placed 25 inches apart to accommodate the 26-inch shelves; if you’re rolling with a 30-inch display, you may instead want to mount it directly to the wall. (And if you’re in earthquake territory, I’d consider mounting any monitor to the wall rather than having it on a standing desk—Ninja or otherwise.)
Working with the Ninja Standing Desk
Living in a studio apartment, my space is at an extreme premium; as such, when I decided to make the move to standing (and later treaddesking), I needed a desk with very specific measurements. It had to fit inside a three-foot wide nook (and, if wall-mounted, needed to be only 2.5 feet wide to avoid studs), and allow space for a small treadmill to be set up underneath it. And I didn’t particularly want to have to shove a coffee table up on cinderblocks to get the desired effect.
For my needs, the Ninja Standing Desk is a darn near perfect solution. It’s small, compact, and doesn’t interfere with the treadmill. It holds my essential desk equipment (the rest is positioned on a shelf parallel to the treadmill). It’s adjustable. And it attaches to walls in a way my rental agent won’t hate me for.
I have very few complaints actively working on the desk, either. There’s a very slight bounce to get used to if you’re a strong typer, but it’s barely registrable after a day with the desk. I also love that you can angle your typing shelf to better support your wrists. Like typing better at a 10 degree slant? No problem for the Ninja desk.
Despite all my early freakouts about its stability, you’ll get very little shaking or unsteadiness with the desk. Even with an iMac on its top shelf, the Ninja desk stayed well-balanced and the computer never see-sawed or looked otherwise unbalanced. After a while, you stop noticing that your desk shelves are made up of cloth and boards and work on them just as you might any other standing desk.
Initially, I had my monitor shelf and my keyboard shelf a little too close together, which made it difficult to actually see the keys as I was typing. I’m a pretty good touch-typist, but hitting function keys became a bit of a challenge—I’d frequently hit the pause/play button when I meant to hit the “next song” button on my keyboard, or tap “escape” when I meant to increase the brightness. Once I moved my top shelf, this problem went away, but it still makes me yearn for shelves with a slightly different depth on the bottom. In my ideal world, I’d have a keyboard shelf a few inches deeper.
There are a few low-cost DIY solutions for setting up your own standing desk, but most require your desk to be stationary and immovable. The Ninja Standing Desk is small, portable, renter- and hotel-friendly, and infinitely adjustable. For travelers, it even comes with a tiny messenger bag for transport. It’s the cheapest adjustable desk I’ve ever seen, and it doesn’t compromise on quality for it, either.
Sure, I wouldn’t mind having an easier way to level the shelves or additional shelf depth options, but the Ninja Standing Desk gets a lot right straight out of the gate. And for $159, it’s an inexpensive option for those curious about taking the standing desk plunge.