Jonathan Started It
Earlier this month, Jonathan, aka @NuclearJon in the Slack and live chats, did a great review of his thought process in choosing a new high-res monitor. In his review he mentioned that his plan was to use the internal display on his MacBook Pro as a secondary monitor along with the new, big display.
In order to make that work well, he purchased the mStand from Rain Design and included a picture for us showing a laptop up on the stand. The mStand is basically a piece of beautiful brushed anodized aluminum bent into a stand where the laptop sits high up off the desk and with the base at about a 20° angle downwards.
The mStand has a little lip on the front to keep your laptop from sliding off. Seems like a prudent idea! It also has a hole in the back for cable management.
This design gives you a place to stash your external keyboard when you’re not using it. The mStand comes in silver, gold, or space gray to match your laptop and costs $44.90 through raindesigninc.com.
Why I Wanted a Stand for my Laptop
I’ve been thinking of getting a stand and before I tell you the rest of the story and what I ended up getting, it’s probably time to explain the problem to be solved.
Jon and I have almost identical setups. We both have 16” MacBook Pros hooked up to the CalDigit TS3+ dock and then to a Thunderbolt 3 LG Monitor. Where we differ, and I differ from most people, is in my eyesight.
I developed early cataracts in both of my eyes. You might think this was awful news (and financially it was) but it turned out to have a glorious result. I had human-made lenses put in both of my eyes. The financially ruinous part was that I chose to have the crazy astigmatism in the corneas of both eyes corrected by these lenses, rendering them exorbitantly expensive. Most people who get cataracts are old enough to have much of the cost covered by Medicare but I’m too young for that.
But here’s the sweet part of this. You get to choose the focal length you want for the lenses. I chose computer distance! I mean seriously, who needs to see far away? I’ve been wearing distance glasses since I was 13 years old but to be able to see my computer without glasses would be glorious.
Computer distance is 50cm, or around 19 inches. After the surgery, I can now see my giant display in super glorious detail with no corrective lenses. I can even read at a comfortable distance which is also glorious.
But guess what’s outside of the focal distance of my new lenses? My laptop sitting at an angle on the desk to the right of my big screen. That means that my laptop screen is only useful as a place to throw apps I don’t need to look at for a while and then either lean way over to see them when necessary or drag them back to the main screen to really use the apps again.
My hope was that I would gain the advantages others would find of having a laptop up off the desk and perhaps have the distance be improved.
Mike Price Rocks
I mentioned after listening to Jon’s recording that the mStand looked pretty cool and I’d been wondering if that would help me in my setup. Mike Price, aka @Grumpy in our Slack and live chat, heard me say that and told me he had a stand he wasn’t using that he’d be glad to give me if I’d pay the shipping. He said it was the Twelve South stand which provides the same kind of up-off-the desk at an angle functionality as the RainDesign mStand. I thought that sounded like a great offer.
While Mike went digging into his storage for his Twelve South stand I went to the Twelve South website to see what it looked like. I discovered that they had a couple of options, one of which is called the Curve. It looked really sweet.
I was hoping that Mike’s stand he didn’t need was the Curve. When Mike found his old stand, he discovered it was the mStand from Rain Design, not the Twelve South after all. And then Mike checked out pricing to ship it to me, only to discover it would cost $30 to ship that $45 stand!
As I pondered whether to go that route, I noticed the Rain Design mStand had a little rain drop-shaped hole in the metal that would go under the laptop. That raindrop sure looked familiar. And then I realized something why it rang such a loud bell. My MacBook Pro was sitting on a Rain Design iLap stand! It isn’t really made for the desktop but I’ve been using it for years to at least get some airflow under the laptop. It doesn’t lift it up very much and it’s got some big padding on it to make it comfortable in a lap, so it’s not really the right device for this job.
After Mike went to all this work and made such a generous offer, I told him I kept looking at that Twelve South Curve and thinking how cool it looked and would his feelings be hurt if I bought one instead of paying shipping for his. He was very sweet and said to go for it. By the way, he says the offer stands to anyone else who wants to cut $15 off the price of the mStand from Rain Design by just paying shipping.
Curve by Twelve South
I entitled this article, “Is Higher Better” because I honestly didn’t know what the answer was to that question when I started on this path.
I received the Curve from Twelve South and it was packaged quite elegantly. I know that shouldn’t determine how we like a product but it does point to attention to detail. The curve comes with a black cloth-like tube snaking around the stand to protect it, while packaged inside a black box with a bright reddish-orange interior.
I mentioned the covering “snaking” around the Curve. That description is fitting because the Curve is one continuous piece of metal that’s 1.5 inches wide. Imagine two arms 1.5 inches wide each, coming down under the laptop and holding it in the air. Those two arms go down to the desk behind the laptop and then curve around towards the front underneath to form a semicircle. It’s really elegant and simple in spite of my explanation.
I chose the pure white Curve which is brand-named Curve SE. They designed the white Curve SE to go with modern white furniture, but I chose it because it was a beautiful contrast to my (fake) rosewood desk.
I excitedly put it on my desk with the Curve name facing up. I was immediately disappointed in the design. While it had a nice rubbery piece all around the semicircular shape to provide some friction, there was no lip at all to keep the laptop from simply sliding off if bumped. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed that in all of my perusing of the imagery online.
If any of you were paying attention to my description of the Curve, you’ll remember I said the semicircle should be on the desk, not facing up at me! I had it upside down. I flipped it over and of course there are lips on the two arms that hold the laptop. In addition there’s even more rubber to provide friction and protection for your laptop. I guess I should have read the manual.
The Twelve South site says that one of the big advantages of the Curve stand is that it brings the laptop up to a more ergonomic level. I am no expert in ergonomics, but as a manager of hundreds of people when I was working, I was taught by our ergonomics folks in the correct height of a display. They told me that you want the top of the display in line with your eyes.
One of my complaints with modern displays in general is that even if they’re adjustable, the top of them is always significantly higher than my eyes. I am definitely short-waisted, but even sitting in a chair Steve bought me from a Big and Tall company, the top of my LG 5K display pushed down to its lowest position is nearly 3 inches above my eye level.
The Twelve South Curve, however, puts the top of my MacBook Pro’s screen exactly at eye level. I have to give it an A+ for the ergonomic improvement over sitting on my desk.
Now for the real problem I needed to solve, bringing the Mac’s screen close enough that I can focus on it. Since the 16″ MacBook Pro uses USB-C ports and has two on each side, I have the flexibility of where to plug things in. I’ve always had my dock connected on the left side, with the cables snaking under my LG display and then behind it to get to the dock.
I figured out that with the Curve if I plug the dock in on the right side instead, I can put the MacBook Pro right up against the right side of the big display. Then I noticed that the laptop is suspended upon those two arms well over an inch farther than the curve underneath. That means I can pull the laptop much closer than it was before, letting it almost hang over my trackpad to the right of my keyboard.
I do have to scooch my chair forward a little bit to get perfect focus but it’s way way better than it was before where I pretty much couldn’t see it at all. That is a huge win.
The Curve puts the laptop a couple of inches up from the desk in front and is tilted down towards you so it’s around 25° from horizontal. One of the things I wondered about was whether it would be comfortable to type on the laptop when it’s on the Curve stand.
In a pinch, I can definitely type on the MacBook Pro when it’s in the stand, but it’s not a great position. My arms would definitely get tired reaching out and up to it, and my ergonomics instructors would shudder at what it was doing to my shoulders!
Mike also asked me whether it’s bouncy at all, which could go hand in hand with the typing question. The good news is that it’s not very bouncy at all. It definitely doesn’t bounce when you stomp around the room, but I do have it on a very sturdy desk.
The last piece of the puzzle was my microphone. I have a fancy big girl mic hanging in a vibration isolator on a boom arm. It’s the $110 Heil PL2T arm and it’s probably one of my favorite accessories for podcasting. Having a boom allows me to pull the mic over when I’m recording and simply shove it out of the way when I’m not. The good news is that my boom arm is tall enough that it can swing with inches of clearance above my laptop when it’s in the Twelve South Curve stand.
A Lesson in Heat Transfer
When Mike and I were discussing the two options for a stand, he brought up the fact that a stand can provide cooling vs having it sit on a desk. He challenged my mechanical engineering knowledge of heat transfer so I’ve decided to bore you with it here. Blame Mike, not me!
In order of efficiency, there are three types of cooling: radiation, convection, and conduction. Have you ever been uncomfortably warm and someone sits down with you with their arm too close to yours and you can actually feel the heat from their skin? That’s radiant heat.
If you’ve ever noticed that you feel colder when there’s a breeze than if the air is still, you’ve recognized heat transfer by convection cooling. Finally, if you’ve grabbed a steel railing when it’s cold out and noticed that your hand gets much colder immediately, that’s conduction.
With laptops, cooling is always a big issue. By good old radiation, some heat will be dissipated naturally into the air, but it’s the least efficient method to get the heat out. Most laptops also have fans inside which allows for convection cooling.
If you could place your laptop sealed tight onto a giant metal block, the heat would transfer from the laptop right into the metal block using the most efficient heat transfer means, conduction. This would continue until the two were in equilibrium of temperature. That doesn’t work because your laptop has little rubber feet on it lifting it up above any surface on which you set it so there isn’t actually any conduction happening.
Now that our heat transfer lesson is complete, the question would be which of the two stands might do a better job of helping to keep your laptop cool? The Rain Design mStand is a piece of metal that covers the bottom of the laptop so in theory, it would help to conduct heat away from the laptop. Since it doesn’t actually seal against the bottom I would suggest that there would actually be a warm pocket of air forming between the two surfaces as the heat radiates out from the laptop.
The Curve, on the other hand, leaves 80% of the bottom of the laptop open to the air, giving it the full benefits of inefficient radiation cooling, and perhaps a bit of convection if there’s a window open or a fan in the room helping to keep the air moving around.
I already had decided that I thought the Curve was cooler looking but walking through the heat transfer logic helped seal the deal for me.
The Twelve South Curve is $60 and comes in black or white and I think it’s a terrific design. I like the height, I like how I can bring it close to me without interfering with my keyboard or trackpad and it allows maximum airflow under my laptop for great convection cooling.