Developer: Contour Design
Requirements: any laptop computer
With the ever-increasing ability of computer manufacturers to package serious computing power into a tiny space, more and more people are selecting laptops as their primary computer. Apple recently announced that portable sales accounted for nearly half of all Macintosh sales in the last three months of 2003, an all-time high. PowerBook sales, in particular, nearly doubled over the year-ago quarter, rising from 101,000 units to 195,000 units.
All these portable Mac sales are a great boon for Apple and, undoubtedly, to their purchasers as well. It’s a safe bet that most of these portables are being used as desktop replacements for on-the-go students, businessmen, and others who are willing to sacrifice some high-end computational power for the great increase in mobility. But it has long been known that laptop computers, on the whole, offer poor ergonomics when compared to their desktop counterparts. Furthermore, recent laptop designs from Apple and other manufacturers have been well-known for their heat output, a consequence of the ever-increasing power present in a seemingly ever-shrinking package. A multitude of products have attempted to solve both ergonomic and heat issues, but few have succeeded. The two most notable portable laptop stands, both from RoadTools, are the CoolPad Traveler and the Podium CoolPad. (Targus sells a re-branded version of each.)
Contour Design has thrown its hat into the portable laptop stand ring with the NoteRiser, a 13-ounce, German-made, brushed-aluminum-and-plastic contraption that folds down to file-folder thickness. Contour thoughtfully supplies an instruction sheet for using the NoteRiser, which is a good thing, as the NoteRiser is possibly the most complex laptop stand on the market. Fortunately after setting up the NoteRiser the first time, you won’t need the instructions any more. Six self-adhesive “ClickStrips,” Velcro-like plastic fasteners, are also included, along with instructions for attaching them to the NoteRiser and your laptop for additional resistance to gravity. Not wanting to deface my TiBook, or wait 48 hours specified in the instructions for the adhesive to set, I chose not to utilize the ClickStrips, and I suspect most users will do the same.
This attractive laptop stand boasts of its ergonomic prowess, and in this regard, it succeeds admirably. While improved heat dissipation is not a claimed feature (as it is with so many modern laptop stands), the NoteRiser certainly does no worse than any other passive-cooling stand. The improved ergonomics come at a price, however: at any angle higher than the lowest offered, typing or mousing becomes essentially impossible, necessitating the use of an external keyboard and mouse. This isn’t all bad, however, as laptop keyboards and trackpads tend to be ergonomic nightmares in the first place.
The NoteRiser has seven levels of adjustment, allowing the base of the laptop to sit at angles from approximately 20 to 55 degrees. Most laptops will work just fine at any level, but users whose laptops only open to about 120 degrees (most iBook users, for instance) will find that only the two lowest angles are suitable, effectively negating the NoteRiser’s ergonomic advantage over a Podium CoolPad.
Another feature of the NoteRiser is its high portability, something that few other laptop stands offer. The NoteRiser folds flat, to a thickness of less than one quarter-inch, but its length and width are enough to leave the RoadTools CoolPad the portability champion. The NoteRiser must be unfolded and set up each time, a 10-second operation that, though a minor inconvenience, does detract somewhat from its portability.
The impressive portability of the NoteRiser is actually a bit of a puzzle. In its most ergonomic configuration, the NoteRiser requires the use of an external keyboard and mouse, but carrying an external keyboard and mouse with you is impractical at best. At its lowest angle, the only setting where typing and mousing are comfortable in the long term, the ergonomics are little—if any—better than a PodiumPad. Furthermore, at its lowest setting, there is a noticeable and disconcerting flex in the stand, a problem from which the NoteRiser’s competition never suffers.
Finally, we come to the NoteRiser’s fatal flaw. Two support tabs hold up the base of the laptop and prevent it from sliding down onto the desk. The right support tab sits right in the middle of the slot of a TiBook’s optical drive, completely preventing use of the drive as long as the laptop is on the stand. Apple’s current large PowerBooks and many Wintel laptops have similarly located optical drives, and they would suffer from this as well. To be fair, installation of the ClickStrips will allow the tabs to be folded down, but at higher angles, even the ClickStrips may not be strong enough to counteract gravity, and the optical drive will be prevented from accepting or ejecting media by the surface of the desk. Furthermore, the competition isn’t immune to this problem—the PodiumPad, when adjusted to maximum height, also ejects media into the desk. However, the front of a laptop on a PodiumPad may be easily lifted up when inserting or removing optical discs; if the ClickStrips are installed on the NoteRiser, you have to lift the entire assembly.
At nearly $130, $100 more than other portable laptop stands and substantially more than even the non-portable “ergonomics-first” stands like the Griffin iCurve, the NoteRiser isn’t a great value. With its various limitations, I would see its primary market as those people who value ergonomics over portability. However, you could buy a RoadTools portable stand and an iCurve for use at home or at the office for about half the cost of a NoteRiser. Unless the NoteRiser is redesigned to fix its fatal flaw and improve its ergonomics for iBook users, Mac laptop owners would be advised to look elsewhere.