Why you need a 'lap desk' (and how to pick the best one)

Protect your neck: Even a cheap laptop desk, aka a lap desk, is better for your posture than nothing at all.

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HUANUO

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Let me begin this article with a confession: I wrote most of it from the couch.

But thanks to my trusty lap desk, this was more comfortable than it otherwise might have been. By propping my laptop up on an inclined surface, the lap desk helps bring the screen closer to eye level while I’m lounging around, so I don’t have to crane my neck so much. The flat surface also helps keep the laptop well-ventilated, so I can push the laptop to its limits without melting my thighs.

I first found out about lap desks a couple years ago, but finally motivated myself to buy one last spring. Now, I’m not sure how I went so long without one.

My particular laptop desk is $28 hunk of plastic from a company called HUANUO, with bean bag-like padding underneath, adjustable height settings, and a snap-on mouse tray. It comfortably fits a 15-inch laptop with about an inch to spare on either side.

That’s hardly the only option, though. Lap desks come in many shapes and sizes, and they generally run between $20 and $50. If you’re interested in comfier couch computing, here are a few factors to consider:

Legs or padding: While my lap desk rests directly on my legs with pads underneath, others have retractable legs that sit on either side of your body. That approach might be less conducive to all the ways we reposition ourselves while lounging around, but the design is better for bed, and can more easily double as a screen riser on your desk.

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Most lap desks have padding underneath to keep your legs comfy.

Incline amounts: Take note of the natural incline of whatever lap desk you’re looking at on sites like Amazon. Some have padding that’s taller by your knees so the laptop sits up at an angle, while others have flatter cushioning. A bit of incline is helpful for posture because it brings the screen up to a higher level, but it’ll also make your mouse slide down while you’re not holding it. Consider a level surface if you mostly stick with an external mouse.

Adjustable height or not: This is probably the biggest decision you’ll have to make. While many lap desks consist of just a flat surface with cushions underneath, some—including my HUANUO—have adjustable height levels. Being able to fine-tune your screen height is nice, but having to deal with moving parts is also more of a hassle. There’s something to be said for whipping out a lap desk and using it right away with no fuss.

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Surface material: If there’s one big knock against my choice of lap desk, it’s the use of creaky gray plastic throughout. Others offer wood grain surfaces and rounded edges, and some even have patterned fabric cushions underneath, helping them blend into your living room décor. I couldn’t find any adjustable height lap desks with wood surfaces that didn’t use retractable legs instead of padding, so I went for the more utilitarian approach.

Wrist wrest or stopper: Unless your chosen laptop is on the heavy side or has strong rubber grips, it’s probably going to slide down on any lap desk that has an incline. Some lap desks mitigate this by including a lip on the bottom, while others have padded wrist wrests instead. The latter sounds nicer in theory, but too much padding can also force your hands into a typing position that might not feel natural. I actually tried and returned a lap desk with wrist padding for this reason.

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Some lap desks have hidden drawers for office supplies or spare remotes.

Miscellaneous doodads: In addition to all the above factors, some lap desks stand out with other flourishes. You might see some with grooves for propping up a phone or tablet, and some with storage space for your office supplies.

Then there’s the option for dedicated mouse space, either via a mouse pad or an attachable tray. For those of you with gaming laptops, that might be the most valuable add-on of them all. After all, if you’re going to settle in on the couch with your laptop, you might as well use it for more than just work.

A version of this article first appeared in Advisorator, Jared’s newsletter for practical tech advice. Sign up to get tips like this in your inbox.

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