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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chairs, despite the fact that its current version turned 14 years old this year, and, in theory, should have been superseded by newer offerings like the Leap v2 and Gesture.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 easier to switch from the upright position to the reclined position (and vice versa) – all you have to do is push against the backrest (or take your weight off it). 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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