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Review of the Steelcase Amia chair

This review is part of my series of reviews of ergonomic office chairs. People have wildly varying opinions when it comes to chairs, and you should always test a chair for a few days in your own work environment before buying it. (See more advice on how to buy a good chair.) Don’t use my reviews to decide which chair to buy; use them as a starting point for your own testing.

Photo of the Steelcase Amia chair

In early 2017, after spending hundreds of hours testing high-end ergonomic chairs, I found myself in a dilemma. I had narrowed down the choice to two chairs – the Leap and the Please from Steelcase – but for the life of me, couldn’t decide between them. Compared with the Leap, the Please offered the option of a usable (if awkward) headrest, but had uncomfortable armrests. The Leap’s armrests were just perfect, but the optional headrest was so bad that I would never buy it, and the backrest was excessively sticky, which meant that changing the position would sometimes take too much work. Since both chairs are thickly padded with foam, I also had a crazy idea to buy a second chair – a mesh-backed Steelcase Think – to save myself from overheating during hot Polish summers. Yeah, I know – as if one high-end chair wasn’t expensive enough…

Amidst all this decision paralysis, I had a nagging thought: I hadn’t yet tried out another well-reviewed Steelcase chair – the Amia. On paper, it looked interesting enough – the same armrests as the Leap with a smoother recline mechanism, albeit at the expense of a more limited recline angle. The only problem was that the Amia was not available in my local Steelcase dealer’s showroom and I really didn’t want to risk ordering a new chair sight unseen. But what if the Amia would turn out to be the best of the bunch? It seemed my only option was to buy it used – I would get the chance to test it out, and if I didn’t like it, I could always resell it for not much less than what I paid for it (something you can’t do with a brand-new chair). To cut a long story short, a few weeks later I had a two-year-old Amia chair in excellent condition.

Backrest

Of all the high-end chairs by Steelcase, the Amia is the most “vanilla” when it comes to the backrest. All the other backrests in the Steelcase lineup have some distinguishing feature: the Think‘s is suspended on plastic strings, the Please‘s is made up of two parts which move separately, and the backs on the Gesture and the Leap are super-flexible. And the Amia? With its completely rigid backrest frame, you could easily confuse it with your average $100 chair from the office store.

People’s backs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so any ergonomic chair worth its salt should have a backrest that adapts to the user. It may seem like the Amia’s design does not address this problem, but the chair has a secret hidden inside the backrest – a set of metal strings placed between the backrest frame and the upholstery:

The inside of the backrest on the Steelcase Amia chair

This guitar-like contraption means that the chair conforms to your back better than a standard office chair. The plastic flaps at the top ensure a smooth transition from the bulging lumbar section to the flatter thoracic (upper-back) part. The “guitar” is movable – you can grab the two plastic tabs and move it up or down, to make sure it properly fills your lumbar curve.

The first problem with this design is that the guitar strings are not very tense and give way at the slightest pressure. This is good if you like soft chairs, as it makes the Amia easily the most comfy chair in the Steelcase lineup. However, from a strictly ergonomic point of view, you can’t get away from the fact that it makes it quite easy to slouch. If you have a tendency to let your lumbar spine drop backwards when sitting upright, this chair won’t stop you. For me, it’s not a huge problem as I have developed a habit of maintaining a reasonably good lumbar curve, but for people who are not careful about their posture, it’s a serious disadvantage.

The second problem is related to the adjustability of the “guitar”: the damned thing just won’t stay in place! If I put it at the height that’s most comfortable for me, it will drop down a little every time I recline in the chair. When I use the chair, I have to reach back and pull the tabs to the proper position every 3–4 hours. The problem is related to the fact that your back actually exerts a downward force on the strings when you recline. I have tried to tackle the issue with some non-invasive mods, but I have had only minimal success. Perhaps I could glue some velcro to the plastic tabs to attach them to the backrest frame, but for now I’ve just learned to readjust my chair several times a day.

The backrest is attached to a recline mechanism of the “sticky” type, very similar to the one in the Please and the Gesture chairs. For a detailed explanation, follow the link – but briefly, the backrest has a little bit of static friction that tends to make it stay in place until you deliberately change the angle. In contrast, most office chairs have a “smooth” backrest, which tends to tilt forward or back very easily (it’s enough to shift your weight the tiniest bit to make it move). The only reason why you don’t drop all the way back on these chairs is that they have a spring that pushes you forward – the further back you recline, the higher the counterforce. (That’s why staying reclined on a “smooth” chair often requires constant muscle work.)

Like the Please and Gesture, the Amia offers a nice balance between stability and smoothness. It won’t react to your fidgeting, but if you decide to change the recline angle, you can do so effortlessly. There’s none of the excessive noise and friction you get on the Leap.

The most obvious shortcoming of the Amia is the limited recline angle. I measured the maximum recline angle at 126°, which is considerably less than the ergonomically recommended neutral angle of 135°. When sitting in the chair, I often find myself wishing the backrest would go further back. If you’re like me and your idea of work includes periods of sitting in deep recline to watch videos or browse written content, you will always feel constrained in the Amia. Ergonomically speaking, it’s good to un-flex your lumbar spine from time to time; unfortunately, the Amia doesn’t really allow that.

Steelcase Amia in the maximum recline position (left) and the upright lock position (right)

(left) Amia at maximum recline; (right) Amia with the upright lock engaged

The tilt limiter is, well, “limited”. You can lock the chair in the upright position (hip angle of about 112°), or you can unlock it. That’s it. There are no intermediate locked positions, and – honestly – this is just fine. Because of the sticky backrest mechanism, the back will stay at any angle you wish anyway.

As you can see in the photos above, the seatpan tilts back a little as you recline – but not nearly as much as the backrest. This is in line with standard ergonomic advice – the slight tilt prevents your butt from sliding forward and losing contact with the backrest, while still allowing you to open the angle between your torso and your legs, and relax your lumbar spine. Most office chairs work this way (it’s called the “synchro tilt”), but there are some exceptions like Silicon Valley’s favorite, the Herman Miller Aeron, on which the seatpan tilts back so steeply that your hip angle barely opens up.

Micromovements

As a matter of mechanical necessity, the sticky backrest on the Amia won’t allow you to rock the way you would on many office chairs. However, you are not completely deprived of healthy micromovements. The backrest is mounted elastically, so there is a significant amount of bounciness regardless of your position:

Although there are other “sticky” Steelcase chairs which allow some degree of micromovements (Leap, Gesture), the Amia leads the pack here. Rather than feeling “encased” by the chair, you feel that the chair welcomes movement a bit more than its more expensive cousins. I don’t know what they did to make it so springy, but if I were the CEO of Steelcase, I’d do that on their other chairs.

Besides the lumbar support that doesn’t stay in place, I did not notice too many annoyances in the many months that I’ve sat on the Amia. The hinges to which the backrest is attached do have a tendency to creak, but I’ve found that if I remove the seatpan (here’s a good instructional video) and spray some lithium-based lubricant on those hinges, the backrest becomes butter-smooth and stays that way for a good couple of months. Once properly lubricated, my Amia is dead silent – something I can definitely appreciate after my experience with a brand-new Leap which makes clicking noises regardless of the amount of lubricant sprayed into it.

Thermal performance

The Amia is significantly cooler than both the Leap and the Please, which is surprising because it uses classic foam padding just like the other chairs. Part of the reason could be that the padding on the seatpan is a bit thinner (thermal conductivity is inversely proportional to the thickness of the foam) and the simple backrest does not fit your back as snugly as on the more flexible chairs, leaving more room to breathe. When it gets hot in my room (> 25°C), there is a considerable difference – I can sit longer on the Amia before it gets uncomfortably hot than I can on my Leap. If I were to come up with some guesstimates, the Amia feels perhaps 15-20% cooler than the Leap, though about 25% warmer than the mesh-backed Think.

Armrests

The armrests on the Amia are excellent. The chair uses the exact same armrests as the Leap, which has, to the best of my knowledge, the best armrests in the solar system. They provide an impressive range of adjustments and – fussy as I am – I have never had difficulty getting them to do what I wanted – whether it was typing, using the mouse, using a gaming controller, or even holding a tablet with my elbows on them. The inward adjustment is more than enough to rest your elbows on them while typing – which is a rare quality, even with expensive ergonomic chairs. You can also pull them down if you want to move super-close to your desk. Here’s a demonstration which I appropriated from an official Steelcase video:

There are ergonomists who advise against resting your forearms while typing, and I used to think so, too – but that was before I had the chance to try the armrests on chairs like the Leap, Amia or Think.

The material of which the armrest caps are made is a masterpiece. It’s nice and soft, which is important for preventing ulnar nerve injury. At the same time, it’s slippery enough to allow your forearms to slide on top of them as you move the mouse – but not so slippery as to make you lose grip. Finally, it doesn’t overheat your skin on hot days. It’s pretty much unimprovable.

The armrests may be the same as those on the Leap, but they are mounted differently. One immediate consequence is that you can retract them a tiny bit further – though this is neither here nor there. A more important difference concerns how they move. On the Leap, the armrests always stay perfectly level, no matter how far you recline – here, they tilt back together with the seatpan. This means that in the fully reclined position, the armrests have a bit of a slope. This is not ideal, but the tilt is not large enough to prevent you from getting adequate support for your arms, even when playing first-person shooters in the reclined position (in the interest of science, I played some Far Cry to test this). Finally, the “stalks” of the armrests on the Amia have more play (you can wiggle them), but this doesn’t affect the operation or produce unacceptable noise. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m kind of splitting hairs here – for all intents and purposes, you won’t get better armrests than this.

The Tom Test

Let’s run the Amia against my checklist:

  • Easy changing between at least two positions (near-upright and reclined): Pass, but note that the reclined position is not very reclined.
  • Open hip angle in the reclined position: Fail. Does not recline enough.
  • Lumbar support: Fail. The guitar-like support is too mushy to prevent slouching, and it keeps sliding down. This is the area where the Amia is the weakest.
  • Backrest should adapt to your back: Pass. It adapts to your back pretty well, and is the most comfy Steelcase chair I’ve tested. Too bad it doesn’t enforce the correct lumbar curve a bit more aggressively.
  • Seatpan must not be too long: Pass.
  • Micromovements: Pass. It’s not a smooth-mechanism chair, so it doesn’t enable serious, high-amplitude rocking, but you do get a satisfactory amount of micro-rocking, more than I’ve seen on any chair with a sticky mechanism.
  • Armrests (if you care about them): Pass. Top-quality armrests.
  • Annoyances: The lumbar section slides down very easily. The hinge joints on my chair like to creak if I don’t lubricate them every 6 months or so.

Final words

The Amia fails on two crucial points: the string-based lumbar support is too soft to prevent lumbar flexion, and the backrest does not recline enough to properly relax the spine. For these two reasons alone, I’d be reluctant to recommend it as your main “workhorse” chair.

At the same time, I have to note that there are plenty of things that it does better than other chairs. The backrest moves silently and quietly. Thanks to its elastically mounted backrest, it promotes micromovements more than any other chair with a “sticky” Steelcase-type backrest. The foam padding is cooler than on comparable chairs, and this is achieved without compromising comfort (indeed, the Amia is more comfy than the Please, Leap, Think or Gesture). The armrests are excellent.

I bought a used Amia and sat in it for a few months, but – having tried many other chairs – I felt that I could do better, so eventually I got a Leap (though the Please was so close that it was essentially a random choice). Still, the Amia is good enough that I don’t want to sell it. I’d rather keep it around as a second chair that I use from time to time (it’s probably not a good idea to sit in one chair all the time), especially in the summer. Considering the fact that I bought it for about half the price of a new chair, it doesn’t seem too extravagant.

The pricing for new Amias is a bit weird. In Steelcase’s US online store, the Amia is priced at $680, making it a budget-friendly alternative to the Leap, which costs $980. However, in Poland (which I assume is indicative of Europe as a whole), the Amia is only €70 cheaper than the Leap and actually €50 more expensive than the Europe-exclusive Please. It’s easy to see why there are so few Amias here in the Old World.

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Does listening to a 40 Hz tone “clean up“ the brain in Alzheimer’s patients?

In 2012, I made a Web-based tone generator with the goal of helping tinnitus patients determine the frequency of their tinnitus to better target therapy. Since then, I have heard from people using my generator to teach physics, practice violin, drive away carpenter bees, tune DIY speakers, analyze room acoustics, calibrate vintage synthesizers, cause mischief in class with frequencies the teacher can’t hear, and even open a portal to Sedona, AZ. Far be it from me to take away from all these worthwhile applications, but last week, I got a message from Dennis Tuffin (of Devon, England), describing a new use for my generator which may very well trump everything else:

For the past 7 weeks I have been using your tone-generator for a purpose I wouldn’t think you had envisaged but about which I am sure you will be interested.

I have been following up on some research which my daughters had done about the treatment of Alzheimers by using a 40Hz flickering light source or alternatively a 40Hz sound source. There is sparse info on the net about these experiments though there is a recent piece about it. [here Dennis is referring to this paywalled article]

So I have been trying the sound therapy on my wife who is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and to my surprise after 8 days she started to show small signs of being more mentally alert than before. So I have continued to use your tone generator using a 40Hz sine wave for about an hour each day. (I’ve recently started to do it twice a day for slightly shorter sessions). I found it necessary to connect external speakers to my laptop in order to pick up such a low note and to run it at a level of between 46-54 decibels so that she hears it wherever she is in the room. (Dementia sufferers get very fidgety!). So now 7 weeks on the improvement in her awareness has continued to the point where she is starting to be able to put a few words together and to respond to questions neither of which she has been able to do for nearly a year. Her odd physical habits have not been changed so far but she is definitely walking better and not shuffling her feet as she used to. Surprisingly, she is also sleeping better and not suffering as much with the sleep apnoea problem that she’s always had.

Photo of laptop and a small speaker on a kitchen countertop

The setup used by Dennis. The black box on the left is the external speaker.

Of course I expect there to be a limit to this progress as in the 8 years since my wife was first diagnosed her brain will have shrunk considerably so I do not expect her memory to return but on the other hand my wife’s quality of life has been improved.

To date I have not gone public on this and only close family have known but by the end of another week when it will be 8 weeks since we started I think I would like to spread the word and hopefully prompt a few professionals to do more proper research.

The science so far

  • It has been known since at least the 1980s that cognitive activity triggers brainwaves (wave-like patterns of activation) at a frequency of 40 Hz in humans and other mammals.
  • In 1991, researchers from the NYU Medical Center discovered that Alzheimer’s patients have reduced 40 Hz brainwaves compared with healthy people. (paywalled paper)
  • In 2016, MIT’s Alzheimer’s group did experiments on transgenic mice with early Alzheimer’s disease and found that exposing them to a light flickering at a frequency of 40 Hz (40 times a second) for 1 hour a day for 7 days causes an almost 60% reduction in β-amyloid plaques, which are a molecular hallmark of Alzheimer’s. 20 Hz and 80 Hz tones did not have the same effect. An important qualification here is that the effect was limited to the visual cortex, which is not significantly affected in human Alzheimer’s patients. Here’s an accessibly written report in The Atlantic and here’s the original paper (published in Nature) if you’re strong in science-speak. MIT also made a video about the findings.
  • According to the New Scientist (paywalled article), the same MIT team achieved even better results by playing mice a 40 Hz sound. β-amyloid plaques shrank by about 50% in the auditory cortex and – crucially – in the hippocampus, perhaps because the two areas are close to each other. This is a very important discovery, because the hippocampus is the region of the brain which is involved in forming memories. It is the hippocampus that suffers the most damage in human Alzheimer’s patients. As of 1 Mar 2018, these results have not been published, but were presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington in November 2017.
  • In March 2016, scientists at the University of Toronto published the results of a small, placebo-controlled pilot study (paywalled paper), in which they exposed 20 Alzheimer’s patients to a 40 Hz sound. After six 30-minute sessions (done twice a week), the patients’ average score on the 30-point SLUMS scale improved by 4 points, while the placebo group did not improve. It should be noted that the “dosage” of the treatment was rather low, which may explain the modest results.

Further reading/listening

Technical advice

If you want to try playing a 40 Hz tone to someone with Alzheimer’s, here’s some technical advice:

Getting a 40 Hz tone is easy – you can use my frequency generator. (Please note I do not take responsibility for the purity of the produced tone, as it is generated by your Web browser – though I think it should be fine. By the way, I am also not a doctor and I am not giving medical advice or offering any medical product here.)

You will need decent speakers. 40 Hz is a very deep bass tone – the kind of rumbling tone that you feel in your body as much as you hear it. Small speakers, such as laptop speakers or small computer speakers don’t go that low. If you try anyway, you will either hear nothing, or you will hear mostly – or only – distortion. What is distortion? It’s a higher-pitched, buzzing noise that speakers make when you push them too hard.

Photo of a bookshelf (monitor) speaker

A bookshelf speaker (photo: D. Cedler)

Bookshelf speakers will do 40 Hz, but their output at that frequency will be significantly reduced, so you will need to turn up the volume significantly, and they will produce easily audible distortion. Because the ear is more sensitive to high frequencies, the distortion may be subjectively louder than the fundamental 40 Hz tone, and may make the sound harder to tolerate, thus limiting the volume (and possibly the therapeutic effect).

The best solution is a high-quality subwoofer. It won’t be distortion-free, but you can expect the distortion to be 2–3 times quieter than with bookshelf speakers. This will give you as pure a tone as you can get. If you don’t care about playing music, you can get just a subwoofer (without any other speakers) and connect it to your computer or mobile device.

A neat trick to amplify the bass output of any speaker is to place it against as many walls as possible. For the maximum boost, put the speaker(s) on the floor, in a 3-way corner between two walls and the floor – that way, it will be adjacent to three surfaces.

How important is sound quality? It’s hard to say. Dennis seems to have had great results with cheap computer speakers. It is not known to what extent the therapeutic effect depends on volume or the presence of distortion. On the other hand, if you use small speakers, it won’t be obvious whether they’re actually playing 40 Hz or just distortion – so it’s worth getting something bigger just to be on the safe side.

Call for comments

If you or your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease and you have tried 40 Hz sound therapy, please share your experiences – whether positive or negative – in the comments section below.

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Review of the Steelcase Please (v2) chair

This review is part of my series of reviews of ergonomic office chairs. People have wildly varying opinions when it comes to chairs, and you should always test a chair for a few days in your own work environment before buying it. (See more advice on how to buy a good chair.) Don’t use my reviews to decide which chair to buy; use them as a starting point for your own testing.

Photo of the Steelcase Please chair

In my review of the Steelcase Think chair, I wrote that it is a very good chair that doesn’t get the attention it deserves. This goes double for the Steelcase Please chair, which is a model that is almost absent from online reviews, most likely because it is only available in Europe. This lack of online prominence does not mean that it doesn’t have its ardent fans. I’ve dealt with two salesmen at my local Steelcase dealer – both told me outright that they prefer the Please to all other Steelcase chairs, despite the fact that its current version turned 14 years old this year, and, in theory, should have been superseded by newer offerings like the Leap v2 and Gesture.

If I were to sum up the “unique selling proposition” for the Please, it would be this: Please will support your entire back, even at a very wide angle of recline. As I explained in my chair buying guide, most chairs have a “lumbar gap” that appears when you recline. I understand – you’re a busy person, you don’t want to click through to that article. Let me just copy & paste the drawing that explains how the gap arises:

A simple drawing showing a backrest in an upright position and a reclined position.

The backrest, rotating around a point under the seat (red dot), moves away from the seat and the user’s lower back.

The Please is one of the few chairs that are specifically designed to minimize this effect. It achieves this goal with some interesting mechanical design. The backrest is split into two parts – thoracic and lumbar. The lumbar part is attached at a fixed angle to the seatpan, which tilts only a little bit. The thoracic part is attached to the lumbar part. Here’s how it works:

Schematic drawing showing the Steelcase Please in the upright and maximally reclined positions

(1) The mounting point (red ring) of the lumbar part of the backrest does not tilt with respect to the seat (ensuring no lumbar gap); (2) the thoracic backrest is attached to the lumbar backrest to ensure a continuous curve; (3) as the thoracic part pulls on the top of the lumbar part, the lumbar part rotates around its mounting point and the bottom of the lumbar part is pushed forward, filling in your lumbar curve

The result is that not only is there no lumbar gap, the lumbar part of the backrest actually pushes into your lumbar spine when you recline. Don’t worry though – the lumbar assembly is mounted on springs and you can adjust its firmness, so it won’t feel like an elbow in your back. Reclining in the Please makes you feel like your entire back is supported, in a way that is equaled only by the Humanscale Liberty. Furthermore, the backrest reclines very far, enabling you to achieve a fully neutral 135° hip angle at maximum recline.

Three different recline angles on the Steelcase Please

Recline angles on the Steelcase Please: (1) maximum recline; (2) intermediate recline; (3) near-upright position. The grey thing on the armrest that looks like a dead rat is a sock I put there to make the armrests softer. Sorry about that.

The adjustments on the Please are nothing short of spectacular:

  • As expected, you can adjust the resistance of the backrest. As a bonus, you get a little dial which displays the number corresponding to the current resistance setting, similar to a date window on a wristwatch – this is a nice touch that is helpful when sharing a chair with other people. Instead of fiddling with a continuous, unlabeled knob, all you have to do is remember your number.
  • There is a separate knob, with four settings, that controls the firmness of the lumbar part of the backrest. The correct setting will depend on your individual lumbar curve. This is not unheard of in ergonomic chairs, but definitely not common, so kudos to the Please for having this feature.
  • Finally, the entire backrest can be moved up or down. This is something I haven’t seen on any other chair, yet it makes so much sense – people have torsos of different height, so their lumbar curves are located at different heights. Not all chairs have “height-adjustable” lumbar supports, and if they do, these are often just extra pieces of stiff plastic placed on top of the standard curve of the backrest. Here, you are moving the curve of the backrest itself.

Once adjusted properly, the Please is probably the most anatomically correct chair you can buy. I said “the most anatomically correct”, not “the most comfortable”, because the Please is not a “comfy” chair. While the seatpan is perfectly normal, the foam padding used in the backrest is quite firm. If you’re used to a soft chair, the Please will feel a little like an ergonomically designed wooden plank. You know it’s probably good for your back, but it doesn’t give you the visceral feeling of indulgent comfort that you get when you sit down in a well-cushioned chair like the Leap or Amia.

Is this firmness a problem? I don’t think so. In fact, if you are bothered by it when you first try the chair, I would like to urge you to see past it. Firmness is something that people get used to rather quickly (as evidenced by the millions of people sitting on Herman Miller chairs – har har har), so first impressions can be misleading here. A friend of mine initially complained about the Please’s hard backrest, but after extended testing he got used to it, and ended up buying the chair.

The foam on the Please may be a bit hard, but the tilt limiter is what takes the cake. It has zero shock absorption, so hitting a tilt limit feels like that time when you rode your bike into a concrete wall. It is easily the most unpleasant tilt limiter that I have ever experienced. I cannot believe Steelcase did not see the need to put some kind of spring in there. Fortunately, I never felt the need to use the tilt limiter, as the Please has a “sticky” backrest, which tends to stay wherever you put it.

Speaking of which, the backrest on the Please is similar to that on other Steelcase chairs like the Amia or Gesture. For a detailed discussion of sticky backrests, read my chair buying guide – here, I’ll just note that a sticky backrest makes it easy to choose your desired recline angle – all you have to do is push against the backrest (or take your weight off it) – and stay in it (because there is static friction that keeps the backrest in the current position). On the flip side, because the backrest resists small movements, there is no way to rock in the chair.

Like the backrests on the Amia and Gesture, the one on the Please achieves a nice balance between how stable it is and how easy it is to change positions, unlike the Leap’s, which feels sluggish in comparison. Things aren’t so good when it comes to micromovements – not only is the mechanism sticky, the backrest lacks the flexibility that would permit even limited rocking (for an example, see the Leap clip in my FAQ).

The fact that the backrest is not springy doesn’t mean that it’s rigid. Although the backrest is made up of stiff plastic panels with padding on top, the thoracic part of the backrest is mounted elastically (there is a rubber joint and two flexible plastic hinges). It changes orientation in two directions – for instance, when you turn your torso left or right, it turns with you.

The thermal performance of the Please is pretty standard for a foam chair – in side-by-side comparisons, I could not detect a difference in thermal comfort between the Please and the Leap. It’s not ideal for working in temperatures exceeding 25 °C, but not as dramatically bad as the Gesture.

There is an exposed piece of the frame to which the lumbar backrest is attached – if you keep your keyboard very close to your body (practically above your lap), it is possible to bump against the frame with your elbow. It also depends on the height of your armrests versus the height of the lumbar backrest. If repeated, this sort of minor trauma can produce cumulative, irreversible damage to your ulnar nerve. I take this issue quite seriously and paid a lot of attention to it in various keyboard-heavy and mouse-heavy scenarios. In my particular setup, it wasn’t a real problem, but I definitely recommend watching out for this issue when you test the Please. (You can also attach something soft in that area to prevent the problem.)

Armrests

As I publish this review, it is already somewhat out of date – Steelcase has just updated the Please with new “4-D” armrests, which follow the outstanding design used on their other chairs like the Leap, Amia and Think. The model I tested had basic, “plastic” armrests with no left–right adjustment, and my experience with them was generally bad. First, they are uncomfortably hard (which is a potential health issue). Second, I was unable to comfortably type with my forearms on them (due to the poor adjustability). Third, they tilt together with the lumbar part of the backrest, making them somewhat difficult to use in a reclined position. The one good thing about them is that they retract quite a long way, so you can sit very close to your desk if you wish. On the whole, I found them barely usable.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test the new armrests because a display unit with 4-D armrests is not available at my local Steelcase dealership – so, for example, I can’t tell if they are any softer than the plastic ones. However, going by the video I linked above, I can tell they certainly have enough adjustability to let you rest your forearms on them while typing. On the negative side, they do not stay level as you recline, just like the old plastic ones. They are also, like the type I tested, shorter and narrower than those on other Steelcase chairs. In other words, although they’re still not Leap-quality, I’m sure I could live with them.

Of course, all of the above is only relevant if you use armrests. Many people don’t.

Headrest

You can order the Steelcase Please with a middling headrest. It sits quite a long distance behind your head, and has no back–front adjustability. In a reclined position, it is possible to rest your head on it if you tilt your head way back (although I found it uncomfortable), but if you want to keep your eyes on the screen, you will need a pillow, and a thick one at that. Paradoxically, the fact that the headrest is located so far from the back of your head makes it better than the one on the Leap. They’re both equally unadjustable, but the one on the Please at least doesn’t get in the way when you’re sitting upright.

I did find the headrest, such as it is, useful when relaxing after work – watching movies or listening to music. I would put a pillow on top of it, so that I could keep my gaze on the monitor. While the position was initially very comfortable (in fact, it made me want to fall asleep), I could never maintain it for very long – after 20-30 minutes, I would typically get some sort of pain in my neck. Perhaps this problem could be eliminated with the right pillow size. All in all, if I were buying a Please, I’d get one with the headrest (which is something I would never say about the Leap). By the way, the headrest can be removed without difficulty – the operation leaves two empty mounting holes in the backrest.

The design-conscious among you should note that the headrest only comes in black (that includes both the plastic and the fabric), which is unfortunate if you plan on getting the better-looking white frame.

The Tom Test

Let’s see how well the Please did on my checklist:

  • Easy changing between at least two positions (near-upright and reclined): Pass. The sticky backrest makes it super-easy to adopt any position you like without fiddling with anything.
  • Open hip angle in the reclined position: Pass. Very large maximum recline angle.
  • Lumbar support: Pass. With the ability to adjust both the height and the firmness, the Please is the chair to beat when it comes to lumbar support.
  • Backrest should adapt to your back: Pass. The two-part, elastically mounted backrest does the job.
  • Seatpan must not be too long: Pass.
  • Micromovements: Fail. You don’t even get the micro-rocking of the Leap/Gesture/Amia.
  • Armrests (if you care about them): Should be fine if you get the newest “4-D” ones, but I haven’t tested them, so I’ll hold my judgment.
  • Annoyances: Nothing serious. The tilt limiter is brutally hard, but you don’t really have to use it. The foam padding on the backrest is unusually hard – you can get used to it, but it will never be comfy.

Final words

The Steelcase Please is probably the most anatomically correct chair you can buy. Once you adjust it, it will fit you like a glove and it will maintain this anatomical fit across the entire range of recline. And – I should add – the range of recline is huge. Yeah, in case you can’t tell – I really like that backrest. The only real problem with it is the lack of rockability.

Other than that, the Please is a chair without significant flaws. In fact, after my testing campaign in which I tested more than ten high-end chairs, the Please came out on top of my list, tied with the Leap. They’re both well-fitting chairs, but the Please has a smoother backrest mechanism that encourages position changes, a less annoying headrest, and a backrest that supports you fully even when you’re reclined. The Leap, on the other hand, has better armrests, supports micromovements to an extent, and is softer. It’s a heck of a choice, and in the end my decision was more or less a coin toss.

I should also mention that the price of the Please is quite reasonable – it’s over €100 cheaper than a comparable Leap model. If you’re a European looking for a good computer chair, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you don’t check out the Steelcase Please. If you’re in North America, please accept my sympathies – you’re missing out on a great chair!

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Review of the Steelcase Think (v2) chair

This review is part of my series of reviews of ergonomic office chairs. People have wildly varying opinions when it comes to chairs, and you should always test a chair for a few days in your own work environment before buying it. (See more advice on how to buy a good chair.) Don’t use my reviews to decide which chair to buy; use them as a starting point for your own testing.

Photo of the Steelcase Think chair

After test-driving the Herman Miller Embody and the Steelcase Gesture, I felt a bit down. I had just tried out two top-of-the-line models from the two most renowned high-end chair manufacturers and neither was good enough. Would I ever find a suitable chair for myself? As it happened, my next candidate, the Steelcase Think, restored my faith in ergonomic chairs.

The Think is something of an overlooked model in Steelcase’s lineup. In fact, I wasn’t even supposed to try it out. The salesman who gave me a demonstration of Steelcase chairs didn’t even consider it worthy enough to show it to me, and I had never seen it mentioned on the Internet, so I wasn’t even aware of its existence. The only reason the Think ended up in my apartment was that, on a later visit to the Steelcase dealership, I noticed one of the employees sitting on it, and requested a quick test. Apart from the stylish design (which I admit was what caught my eye in the first place), I noticed it had a unique recline mechanism, a mesh backrest, and highly adjustable armrests. It definitely deserved an extended look.

The Think is – in my humble opinion – the best-looking chair made by Steelcase. Its striking lines make more conventional models like the Leap or even the Gesture look positively mundane. I think it could even give the gorgeous Herman Miller Embody a run for its money.

The backrest on the Think is unique. It has a coarse mesh supported on a flexible, plastic “ladder” that presumably is there to prevent you from “falling in”. There is also a built-in, non-optional lumbar support – a plastic-and-metal bar that you can slide up or down. Here’s a clip showing how the backrest responds:

For complicated reasons, I actually test-drove the Think twice, with a 6-month break in between. On my first test, I found the backrest comfortable enough, as did one of my friends (who ended up buying the Think and is happy with it). However, another friend immediately rejected the Think, complaining that the plastic strings in the back dug into his upper back. On my second test – for reasons I cannot fully account for – I started feeling the same hardness that my other friend had noticed. After several hours, my shoulder blades got a bit sore from the continuous pressure. I had to place a thin layer of white foam (the type LCD displays come in) between the 3D mesh and the topmost string, which solved the problem for me (and made the chair look slightly less good). After about two weeks, I removed the foam and never looked back. I suppose my back just got used to the small discomfort.

Apart from that brief episode, the Think’s backrest was pretty comfortable for me, although it is, of course, a highly subjective thing. I will say this, however: if you’re looking for comfort, you would do better to pick a chair with a padded backrest or one made of a soft mesh (i.e. not like the Herman Miller Aeron or Mirra).

The backrest on my test model was the default, “3D-Knit” version. You can also order a backrest that’s covered in fabric – which might temper the hardness of the plastic ladder, but doesn’t look as good as the 3D-knit version (I think Steelcase knows this – in their marketing materials they only show the mesh backrest), and provides less airflow (though not dramatically so – the fabric is quite thin). I think I would recommend the mesh version (with the foam mod, if necessary).

Speaking of airflow, the chief advantage of a mesh backrest is coolness, and the Steelcase Think does not disappoint. On hot summer days, with the temperature in my room exceeding 27 °C, the Think was 25% cooler to sit on than the Steelcase Amia. Wait a second, what does “25% cooler” even mean? Glad you asked. That’s a totally subjective figure which is supposed to represent how hot I felt after sitting for a period of time (between 30 and 45 minutes) on the Think versus how I felt on the Amia in the same conditions. Yes, I know it’s pseudoscience, but I did many rounds of tests, and I stand by my figure. I’m comparing the Think with the Amia because I happened to have those two chairs in my apartment at the same time. For reference, the Amia’s thermal performance is a bit better than that of the Steelcase Leap or Please. All of these are chairs with padded backrests.

The lumbar support is quite subtle – the plastic bar is almost as flexible as the “rungs”. I didn’t feel a big difference even when I moved it all the way down. I think the chair would benefit from a stiffer lumbar support.

The unique backrest is attached to a unique reclining system. The Think is equipped with a weight mechanism. With most chairs, you get a knob that lets you choose how strongly the backrest pushes you forward. The optimum position of the knob depends on your body mass (heavier users need more resistance, or else they will drop all the way back) and your preferred recline angle. With a counterweight system, the backrest is connected to the seat, so that a heavier user will automatically get a more resistant backrest. The most obvious advantage is that the chair doesn’t have to be adjusted for each user, making it great for environments in which the same chair is used by different people. (This review, however, won’t be concerned with that scenario.)

Usually, the biggest weakness of weight-based systems is that they only take into account one of the two variables that determine the backrest’s resistance (your body weight) – and not the other (your preferred recline angle). As a result, you’re locked into whatever the chair’s designers decided to be the “optimum angle” (for an example, see the Humanscale Liberty review). The Steelcase Think eliminates this weakness by giving you a four-stop dial to modify the weight-based recline angle:

  1. Upright (tilt limiter) – 111°
  2. Mid-stop (tilt limiter) – 117°
  3. Near-upright (“boosted” setting) – 115°
  4. Maximum recline (standard weight-based setting) – 123°

Here are photos showing positions 1, 3 and 4:

Photo showing 3 main positions on the Steelcase Think chair

I did not include a photo of position 2 (mid-stop) because it is almost indistinguishable from the “boosted” setting. The only difference is that with the boosted setting, you can recline to the max if you push hard enough, while the mid-stop setting has a hard limit. I’m not sure why anyone would prefer a hard limit to a gentle, bouncy limit.

The recline mechanism is of the “smooth” type – you can tilt the backrest back and forth around some “neutral” position, but you cannot recline too far back because the force exerted by the backrest on your back will eventually go up. In fact, the resistance on the Think increases quite steeply. Whereas most other “smooth” chairs are pushovers that will let you easily tilt the backrest back by a large distance, the Think fights back and will quickly ramp up the opposing force. It does not feel like a rocking chair – it’s a more crisp, high-energy sensation, like bouncing against something. The Think is, in fact, the most “bouncy” chair that I’ve tested. Viscerally, I found it quite satisfying, and I think this kind of springy, limited rocking is a good match for an office chair, as rocking over a large distance would probably make it more difficult to type and use the mouse.

I am quite convinced that the combination of a smooth backrest and the four-stop position dial is a near-perfect system. This is for two reasons:

  • You can instantly switch from a “typing” (near-upright) position to a “casual browsing” (reclined) position, and back again (because the two positions are pre-set, you don’t have to fiddle with a continuous knob every time). This encourages frequent position changes.
  • You keep the ability to rock, whether you’re near-upright (position 3) or reclined (position 4). This is not the case when you use a standard tilt lock or tilt limiter. Rocking is fun and probably good for your health.

You might think that the pre-set recline angles – as opposed to “infinite”, continuous resistance adjustment – limit your freedom to set the recline angle “just right”. However, in my testing (and I had the chair for several weeks), I never once wished for an extra preset. In fact, adding intermediate stops would ruin the main advantage of the chair, as more clicks would be required to go from a near-upright to a reclined positions.

It would seem that all the chess pieces are in place for a resounding victory – finally a chair that lets you easily switch back and forth between a near-upright and reclined positions, with one click (of a knob), without sacrificing “rockability” – a feat that is out of reach for Steelcase’s “sticky backrests” (Leap, Gesture, Amia, Please – which have very little rockability) and for the “smooth backrests” like the Herman Miller Embody (which have no rockability when the tilt limiter is engaged).

Unfortunately, the Think squanders some of its advantage because of mechanical details. Although the resistance dial on the Think is thankfully pretty easy to access, you have to perform some gymnastics in order to switch from one mode to another. You cannot simply turn the knob – you have to lean forward before that. If you neglect that first step, the knob will (1) not turn at all, or (2) it will turn but the mode won’t change (the click sound will be subtly different). The second failure type is particularly user-unfriendly because it doesn’t give you sufficient feedback that you did something “wrong” and can have you wondering why the new mode feels the same as the old mode. (In some cases, you can turn the knob and then lean forward to “activate” the change, but this works only for some position changes and it’s probably best to just use the more universal sequence in all situations.)

I also have to mention that, after a few weeks of using the chair, the mechanism degraded to the point that it became completely impossible to switch from mode 3 to mode 4, no matter what I did with the backrest. The only way I could get it to work is by turning the knob very rapidly from mode 1 to mode 4. This is a clear mechanical issue that would be covered by warranty – I’m not sure if it’s a manufacuring defect with my demo unit or a manifestation of some design flaw. The issue is not shown in the video below because it cropped up after I recorded it.

All the mode-switching gymnastics are made easier by the fact that it is quite easy to lean forward on the Think due to its “bounciness”. The optimal technique is to first lean back, compressing the spring in the recline mechanism, and then have the spring push you forward with little effort from your abdominal muscles (and without bending your lumbar spine too much).

At great expense, I made a video so that y’all could see exactly how the recline mechanism on the Think works:

The biggest problem with the backrest (and the chair as a whole) is that it doesn’t recline far enough. The maximum hip angle is only around 123° – even less than the Steelcase Amia and Herman Miller Embody. When using the chair, I often wished that I could give my lumbar spine a bit more rest.

Another pretty serious issue is that the lumbar support keeps sliding down, especially if you use the fully reclined position a lot. During my tests, I had to readjust it a few times a day. This is a surprisingly common problem – I’ve experienced it, to some degree, on every Steelcase chair fitted with a height-adjustable lumbar. Fortunately, on the Think, the issue is easy to fix by sticking two appropriately sized pieces of plastic or hard cardboard into the slot in the side of the frame, below the tabs which are used to move the support. It worked perfectly for me – no more sliding down lumbar support.

Photos showing the lumbar support on the Think in the initial position and after two hours of sitting.

The lumbar support on my Think would keep sliding down, especially if I switched positions a lot. (Actual photo before and after 2 hours of use.)

The armrests on the Steelcase Think v2 are one of the best in the industry:

  • They stay level as you recline, enabling you to keep using them in all positions.
  • You can adjust them inward in order to support your forearms as you touch-type.
  • You can retract them quite far, enabling you to move close to your desk – you don’t have to stretch your arms out to reach the keyboard.
  • You can pull them down if you want them out of the way.
  • The armrest caps have the right amount of friction to allow you to slide your forearms on them as you move the mouse.

There are minor differences between the armrests on the Think and the excellent armrests on the Leap and Amia. The Think’s armrests have a bit less left/right adjustability (though still enough to comfortably rest your forearms on them as you use the keyboard) and the caps are less soft (though by no means hard). If I had to criticize the armrests on the Think, it would be on that last point – though, in truth, they never caused me any discomfort when using the chair. I only noticed the difference later, after I had the chance to try out the Steelcase Leap.

The Tom Test

How does the Think fare on my checklist? Let’s have a look:

  • Easy changing between at least two positions (near-upright and reclined): I’m not sure. The reclined position is not very reclined. You can go from the near-upright position to the reclined position with a single click of a dial, but you have to lean forward first.
  • Open hip angle in the reclined position: I’m not sure. The backrest doesn’t recline enough.
  • Lumbar support: Pass. It’s pretty good, but keeps sliding down unless you mod the chair.
  • Backrest should adapt to your back: Pass. It conforms to your back better than most chairs, but the plastic supports can dig into your shoulder blades.
  • Seatpan must not be too long: Pass.
  • Micromovements: Pass. The best “rockability” among office chairs, in every position.
  • Armrests (if you care about them): Pass. Exceptional adjustability, no real shortcomings.
  • Annoyances: Lumbar support keeps sliding down. Mechanical glitches when switching positions.

Final words

The second edition of the Steelcase Think is a good ergonomic chair that I feel does not get the attention it deserves. After testing about 10 high-end chairs, I was seriously considering buying a Think because of its good airflow (suitable for hot summers), and the unique reclining system that enables rocking in every position and – on the whole – easy switching between positions (despite some mechanical niggles). I am also partial to good armrests, and the Think’s are almost perfect. Finally, at $840 or €670 (incl. VAT), the Think is priced more reasonably than other high-end chairs.

On the negative side, the Think doesn’t recline far enough to give your lumbar spine a satisfactory rest break. There are also annoyances like the sliding down lumbar support and the plastic ladder in the backrest which may put uncomfortable pressure on your shoulder blades (both problems can be fixed with easy mods). If you’re willing to look past those issues, I can definitely recommend giving the Steelcase Think a test-drive. In the end, I did not buy a Think – although if I ever come into some extra cash, I’ll be tempted to get one as my “summer chair”.

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Review of the Herman Miller Embody chair

This review is part of my series of reviews of ergonomic office chairs. People have wildly varying opinions when it comes to chairs, and you should always test a chair for a few days in your own work environment before buying it. (See more advice on how to buy a good chair.) Don’t use my reviews to decide which chair to buy; use them as a starting point for your own testing.

Photo of the Herman Miller Embody chair

Let me tell you about effect the Embody has on people. I went into the showroom of my local office furniture dealer with a budget of about €800, stretchable to a non-negotiable limit of €1,000. With a price starting at €1,400, the Embody was strictly out of the question. But there it was – sitting there with that skeletal backrest and gorgeous design, like some prop from Star Trek that accidentally ended up among regular chairs. It would have been a shame not to try it out, if only out of curiosity.

As the flexible backrest cradled my back and the plastic “pixels” massaged my muscles, I started gently rocking back and forth, trying to think about how to drag out the conversation with the salesman to avoid having to get up. “Come to think about it”, I thought, “perhaps I could add €400 to my budget. After all, an ergonomic chair is an investment in health. You can’t put a price on that!” The salesman must have noticed my reluctance to get up. “People look at various chairs, but everybody always ends up on the Embody”, he mused. A couple days later, I was test-driving the Embody in my room.

The Embody seems to take a page out of Apple’s playbook – not just in terms of the design (it could have been designed by Jony Ive), but also the hard-to-justify price. There is no denying that it is a beautiful piece of industrial design, far better looking than the much-touted Aeron. I really can’t think of many chairs whose design is in the same league as the Embody – perhaps the Steelcase Think or Gesture, but that’s it.

The backrest on the Embody is a very flexible sheet of plastic supported by a matrix of loosely connected H-shaped “pixels”. As I mentioned above, the feeling you get when resting against it is that of being cradled and massaged at the same time. I didn’t make a video, so here’s a clip from TheTechReviewer’s review:

The thing about the backrest is that the flexibility is all in the upper torso. In the lumbosacral region, the chair is quite rigid. After 2 hours of sitting, I noticed my sacrum started getting sore from the plastic pegs digging into my spine. I am not the only one who’s run into this issue – one of my friends felt the same way, and there are a lot of online reviews which include the same complaint.

Whether or not you find the Embody uncomfortable in the sacral area, you will probably agree that it is not a “comfy” chair. It does cradle your back, and it does massage it, but it is a rather firm massage. If you want a feeling of induldgent comfiness as you settle into your chair after a long session at the gym, look elsewhere.

The shape of the backrest on the Embody can be adjusted with that knob on the right you can see in the above clip. This is similar to the “lower back firmness control” on the Steelcase Leap. What this does is change the shape from more of an S shape to a straight I shape, or vice versa. If your back is more curved, you need more of an S shape (the lower curve of the S fills in your lumbar region). I was able to mitigate the sacral discomfort by straightening the backrest, but then the upper curve of the S also became straighter and started pushing my upper torso forward in an uncomfortable way. Because the knob controls two sections of the backrest at the same time, there was no way to adjust it to fit the shape of my back. Perhaps the sacral part of the backrest could be made more comfortable by adding some foam in the right place, but I didn’t have the time to test it – plus there’s the question of whether you should have to do that kind of thing on a €1,400 chair.

The innovative backrest is attached to a bog-standard “smooth” synchro-tilt mechanism. This forces you to sit in what is essentially one position – you can recline a bit if you exert your back and thigh muscles, but the resistance rises quickly and you won’t be able to hold the position for any significant length of time. There’s a knob to adjust the resistance, but you cannot use it every time you want to change your position because you’ll go crazy trying to find the right setting for relaxing, and then the right setting for working, every single time. (The knob is continuous – there is no visual or tactile feedback as you turn it, so good luck getting back to your optimal working resistance if you change it.)

There is a trick that lets you recline without using your muscles – you can shift your body weight by putting your arms behind you like so – but then you can’t operate your mouse, so you cannot, for example, do casual browsing in a reclined position. Another way is to make the backrest resistance very low (so you can achieve a good recline angle for an extended period) and, when you want to do some serious typing, engage the tilt limiter to keep yourself (near-)upright. The tilt limiter then acts as a switch for changing position from upright to reclined, and vice versa.

Making heavy use of the tilt limiter is the best solution – though I should probably call it the “least bad” solution because it has some disadvantages. First, the Embody’s backrest doesn’t have a lot of inherent springiness, so when you hit the limit, it’s not exactly super-comfortable (see below clip from bkwtang’s epic review).

Second, if you’re being kept upright by the tilt limiter, you can no longer rock on the chair, and rocking is good for you.

Third, the tilt limiter control itself does not lend itself to frequent use. You have to move the tilt limiter lever by two stops to go from a near-upright position (tilt lock 2 – 112° hip angle) to a reclined position (tilt lock 4 – 127° hip angle), which is somewhat annoying. What’s worse, the lever is positioned at the very back, under the seatpan – hardly the most convenient location for a control that you’re supposed to use many times a day. (On the plus side, it looks like you don’t have to take your weight off the backrest in order to go from one tilt lock setting to another, like on the Aeron. But I’m going by the linked video here, so don’t take my word for it.)

Changing your position frequently is vitally important from the point of view of ergonomics, and your chair should encourage you, not discourage you from doing so. I feel that any chair that doesn’t let you easily switch from a near-upright (110–120°) “typing” position to a highly reclined “thinking / casual browsing” position (around 130°) cannot be called truly ergonomic. (I am well aware that, by this measure, the vast majority of office chairs are not ergonomic.)

The maximum hip angle on the Embody is around 127°, which is similar to the Steelcase Amia and considerably less than on the Leap or Gesture. That’s not a great result – I would like to see at least 130°.

If the smooth backrest makes it hard to switch between two positions, at least it gives you the ability to rock back and forth around your normal position, which is fun and probably good for your health (though less important than frequent position changes). However, if you use the tilt limiter as described above, you will obviously lose “rockability” in the near-upright position.

Photo showing the construction of the seat on the Embody chair

The bottom of the seat on the Embody

The thermal performance on the Embody is excellent. Your back rests on a porous fabric and the flexible plastic backrest, which has tiny ventilation slits. There is no foam in between. The seat is foam-free as well – it’s built like a mattress, with a layer of plastic hexagons on top of plastic springs on top of metal(?) strings. It’s a brilliant design that provides 30–50% better cooling (subjectively) than foam without sacrificing too much comfort. During long sitting sessions in an ambient temperature of 25 °C or higher, the Embody is much cooler than foam-based chairs.

As expected on a Herman Miller chair, the armrests are nothing to write home about. I found them hard to use because they’re a bit too long and there is no back–front adjustment. As a result, they kept bumping against the edge of my desk as I tried to move closer to my keyboard and monitor. About an inch shorter would have been perfect for me. Your mileage may of course vary.

I was able to adjust the armrest width so that I could use them to support my forearms when typing. The in–out adjustment of the armrests is achieved in an unusual way (again, I’m borrowing from TheTechReviewer here):

The result is that if you adjust the armrests inward for typing, they will also have a bit of a slope, which may make it harder to reach for the mouse because your forearm has to “climb the slope”.

A bigger issue is that the armrests tilt back as you recline, taking your arms away from your desk. This is a problem, because you cannot, for example, read something in the reclined position while using the mouse to scroll the page. Here’s how the Embody compares with the Steelcase Gesture (which has very level armrests):

Two photos showing the reclined armrest angle on the Gesture and the Embody.

Armrest angle on the Gesture and the Embody at the same recline angle (Embody’s maximum recline). Source: bkwtang’s long review.

It’s impossible to review the Embody without talking about the price. This is one heck of an expensive chair. The base price in the US is $1260, but Herman Miller will charge you an extra $40 for the better-looking white frame, and (outrageously) an extra $200 for the softer, more breathable Balance fabric (highly recommended given how hard the backrest is), bringing the total to $1400.

The Tom Test

  • Easy changing between at least two positions (near-upright and reclined): I’m not sure if it’s a pass or a fail. You can use the tilt limiter as an “upright/recline switch”, but the lever is hard to reach, and then the backrest becomes a bit too stiff in the upright position. The reclined position is not very reclined.
  • Open hip angle in the reclined position: Pass. Much better than the Aeron.
  • Lumbar support: Pass.
  • Backrest should adapt to your back: I’m not sure. The backrest is flexible in the upper body, but the lumbosacral part can be hard and unforgiving. Could be a pass for you, depending on your back shape.
  • Seatpan must not be too long: Pass.
  • Micromovements: Pass. You can rock on this chair, as long as you don’t use the tilt limiter.
  • Armrests (if you care about them): Fail. They don’t stay level, are a bit too long, and the “sloping” width adjustment is not well-designed.
  • Annoyances: Other than what I’ve listed above, none.

Final words

Like most chairs with smooth backrests, the Embody is primarily a chair for sitting in one position – the “intensive working” position. You can try to make it do two positions, but it will make you feel it wasn’t really designed with that in mind: the tilt limiter makes the back a bit too stiff, the mechanics of switching from one position to another are a bit too cumbersome, and the limited recline angle does not let you truly relax your lumbar spine. In terms of allowing easy upright/reclined changes, it’s really not that different from your average $200 office chair with a synchro-tilt mechanism.

Since I consider changing your position to be an ergonomic priority, a chair that gets a mediocre grade in that area cannot get a great overall grade, even if it is perfect in all other ways (and, to be clear, the Embody isn’t).

Although the top part of the backrest feels amazing thanks to the innovative “pixel matrix”, the sacral section is quite hard and eventually caused soreness for me, my friend, and at least some other people (judging from online reviews). In my case, it would have been enough to send the chair back, but it could be absolutely fine for you, as long as you don’t mind firmness.

This is not a chair for armrest-lovers. Although they’re an improvement over the Aeron, a gaping chasm separates them from the best efforts from Steelcase.

I did not buy the Herman Miller Embody and I cannot recommend it, but it is a great-looking chair with some intriguing features. I would very much like to see some of the innovations used in it – particularly the pixelated back and the mattress-like seatpan – make their way into other chairs.

 

Thanks to Kornak Meble in Wroclaw, Poland for letting me try out the Embody and a few other chairs.

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