Stir's new Kinetic Desk M1 is a smarter desk for a lower (but still high) price

I spend a lot of time--a lot of time--at my desk, probably more than anywhere else, even my bed. We know that sitting in one place for hours and hours is really bad for your health, and the new Kinetic Desk M1 from Stir aims to make your deskbound hours healthier by encouraging you to stand up periodically, and tracking the calories you burn when you do--no wearable required.

The M1 is Stir's second model--the first-gen Stir Kinetic Desk came out last April, and it's done well, according to Stir CEO JP Labrosse--95 percent of Kinetic Desk owners stood at least once a day, and today they spend an average of 50 percent of their time standing up. The original flagship desk stays in the lineup, but it's now called the F1, retails for $4190, and has a larger touchscreen than it did in 2014, a 5-inch screen embedded into the top of the desk, just an easy reach for your left hand. The $2990 M1 has the new 5-inch screen too.

The smart desk gets smarter

A screen on your desk Yup. Stir's desks have sensors that detect your presence, and the screen shows how much time you've been at the desk, both in its sitting and standing modes. But you don't have to remember to put the desk up and down on your own. As you work away, the desk will periodically "breathe," or move slightly up and then down--just an inch. It sort of feels like your desk is sighing just a little, and it's your prompt to stand up.

If you're busy and don't want to switch positions, you can ignore it and keep working away. If it's a good time to stand, all you have to do is reach over and double-tap anywhere on that screen, and the desk will move to its new height. You can pull this off without taking your eyes off your computer screen for a second. (Just remember, it's OK to look around once in a while! I just stared out the window for a good three minutes, but that's part of my writing process.)

The screen shows stats on how long you've been standing versus sitting, and how many calories you've burned while doing so. Labrosse told me during a demo that if you can work up to standing for half the day, it takes just two weeks to burn as many calories as you'd burn running a marathon. (Which I would do way more often if I wasn't working so much, right) You can set goals, and swipe through three screens of graphs showing your progress.

Your data is synced from the Wi-Fi-connected desk to Stir's cloud, which lets your height presets and stats follow you from desk to desk. That's because the M1 especially is aimed at the enterprise, although nothing is stopping you from putting one in a home office either. But if your company puts these throughout the office or in other office locations, the desk has Bluetooth to recognize your Fitbit as soon as you walk up, and the data about calories burned can sync to the Fitbit app too.

What if you don't wear a Fitbit Stir is still working on recognizing users based on other Bluetooth devices, like your smartphone or even the Tile. When I first saw the original Kinetic Desk last year, Labrosse said another goal would be to have the desk take your Fitbit workouts into account--for example, it could learn that on days you run before work, you tend to sit down until lunch. That isn't in the software just yet, but it's being beta-tested, along with looking at your calendar (with permission, of course) to plan your sitting/standing time around each day's appointments.

But while the desks' embedded software can get better over time, both models of the Kinetic Desk are designed to be attractive, functional desks you'll want to use for decades. The desks passed 30-year actuation tests, and the 5-inch screen is removable and can be upgraded, if Stir updates the components again. The M1 desk has curved lines to contrast to the stick-straight F1 model, and in designing it, Stir paid attention to every detail. Labrosse said the M1's four hidden AC outlets were tested with 50 kinds of power adapters, for example, to tweak the spacing between them and which way they face. These desks are an investment.

Along with the OfficeIQ sensor system, which I also saw at CES, and the Darma smart cushion for your chair, the Stir Desk wants to nudge you toward better health by having your furniture monitor your sitting and standing, instead an activity tracker strapped to your wrist.

Activity monitors aren't great at knowing when you sit versus when you stand--the upcoming Apple Watch's Activity app supposedly tracks sitting versus standing, but Labrosse is a little skeptical as to whether just rising from your desk, but not moving very far, would be enough for it to detect. Furniture would be better at tracking sitting and standing time, but only sitting and standing time around that particular furniture, and the cost to entry is a lot higher.

The Stir Kinetic desks are the nicest smart desks I've seen, but not everyone can pay thousands of dollars for a desk. The $200 OfficeIQ system can be added to an adjustable desk you already own, and the $150 Darma cushion is easy to move from chair to chair, but I'm still not 100 percent sold on our furniture tracking activity, instead of a phone you carry more or less all day, or something you actually wear.


Susie Ochs

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