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I used to be a laptop tray skeptic, but after trying one out, I’ve never been able to go back. Now I’m a firm believer in the benefits of a laptop tray — so much so that it’s an essential purchase for all laptop users.
The good news is that you can’t really go wrong when buying one. Even the worst laptop tray makes up for its cost in no time. But if you want to get the most bang for your buck, here’s what you need to consider plus a few recommendations from us.
Note that laptop trays, laptop desks, and laptop stands are used interchangeably. Companies label their products however they want. They all work fine so don’t get caught up on the terminology.
Why You Need a Laptop Tray
There’s only one reason to buy a laptop over a desktop: portability. So as a laptop user, most of your laptop time is likely spent on the couch, at the office or library, and in bed before you go to sleep or right after you wake up, right? Well, that could be damaging your laptop and your health.
Ventilation. I cringe every time someone uses their laptop in bed and rests their device on thick blankets and quilts. The soft material molds to the laptop’s shape and blocks the vents that are designed to expel internal heat. Not only that, the intake vents suck in excess dust from the blankets and lead to dust buildup (i.e. poor circulation of air through the laptop).
A laptop tray provides a hard, flat surface for your laptop that prevents blocked vents and minimizes the amount of dust that gets sucked in. This means less frequent dust cleanings, less chance of your laptop overheating, better laptop performance, and a longer device lifespan.
Posture. Laptops are ergonomically horrible. If you use it on your lap, you need to look downwards, which puts pressure on your neck. If you raise the laptop to eye level, the keyboard is too high and strains your wrists. And when using a laptop on the couch or in bed, all of the comfortable positions are bad for your spine — too much bend, not enough support.
A laptop tray isn’t ideal for posture either, but it’s a much better option. The tray’s flexibility lets you angle the base of your laptop for safe wrists, lets you angle the screen so you don’t have to look downwards, and lets you sit up straight while still using the device comfortably. As a bonus, laptop trays can minimize posture-related computer fatigue.
What to Look for in a Laptop Tray
There are two basic types to choose from: ones with legs and ones without legs. The former is better for reclined laptop use while the other is better for sitting up straight, but either will work fine. Ideally, you’ll buy one with foldable legs — the best of both worlds. If you get a legless kind, make sure there’s padding on the underside.
The most important factor is a hard, flat surface. This is crucial for air circulation and heat ventilation. For material, I find wood to be the most comfortable to touch but it can be heavy. For long sessions, lightweight plastic is best. Metal is robust but too heavy (and too cold in winter).
The surface must have a stopper to keep your laptop in place when using the tray at an angle. My first tray didn’t have one and was a nightmare to use. Even better, look for a tray with a sturdy but removable stopper so you can use it for other purposes as convenience demands.
A laptop tray with adjustable tilt angles isn’t necessary but will make your life much easier. Without adjustable angles, your only option to tilt up is to use your legs — and this can be uncomfortable during long sessions. Adjustable tilt means you can keep your tray flat and still angle the laptop up.
Make sure the laptop tray is sized properly. If you have a 13-inch Macbook, you don’t want an enormous tray that gets in the way. If you have a 17-inch Alienware, the tray should at least be big enough to have a few inches of wiggle room on all sides. And don’t forget about extra space in case you ever want to attach an external mouse!
Some trays may come with ventilation holes. These are great but aren’t necessary, so it comes down to personal preference. A flat surface should be enough for proper air circulation, assuming the inside of your laptop is dust-free. The extra ventilation does help, though.
Pros — The mesh design provides an incredible amount of ventilation. Its full metal body is conductive and helps to draw heat away from laptops in use. Eight adjustable angles that range from 12 to 35 degrees. Two built-in stoppers that hold the laptop in place even at an angle. The back of the stand has a built-in cord organizer that can hold up to six cables.
Cons — Can’t rest completely flat. Even at its lowest setting, this stand must be angled. No padding on the underside so it can be uncomfortable, and it’s metal which means it’ll be quite cold during winter. This one is ideally used on a desk or on top of a cheap, flat tray.
Pros — Light weight, small size, and underside padding make it comfortable for long sessions. Eight adjustable angles ranging from 0 to 35 degrees. A pop-out stopper can hold laptops at an angle. Compact design makes it extremely portable and excellent for travel.
Cons — Too small for medium and large laptops. Doesn’t have any room for an external mouse. Pop-out stopper and angle adjusters are thin and prone to snapping if you aren’t careful.
Pros — Wooden construction is comfortable and walnut color is classy and stylish. Five adjustable angles for the surface and adjustable legs that range in height from 9 to 14 inches. Legs can also be collapsed to be used as a flat tray. Has a built-in stopper and enough room for an external mouse. Also has a side drawer for storing pens, earphones, USB drives, etc.
Cons — At seven pounds, it’s pretty heavy and won’t be easy to lug around if you need portability. It has ventilation holes but they’re pretty small and doesn’t come with a built-in cooling fan.
Pros — Big enough to accommodate 17-inch laptops. Legs are height-adjustable from 9.4 to 12.6 inches and the surface has continuous adjustment ranging from 0 to 30 degrees. Legs can fold in flat, which makes for easy storage. Has built-in stopper and wrist guard. Spend $5 more to get the version with a built-in cooling fan. Comes with a 24-month warranty.
Cons — Though it can fit 17-inch laptops, it’s more comfortable with 15-inch laptops or smaller. The metal design is far from visually appealing. The “natural” wood appearance feels inauthentic.
Pros — Can accommodate up to 17-inch laptops. Its surface can tilt to five specific angles. Leg height can also be adjusted. Legs can fold in flat for quick and easy storage. Also, it offers a built-in stopper and ultra-quiet cooling fan that blows upward and is powered by USB. Also has a side drawer for storing pens, earphones, USB drives, etc.
Cons — Somewhat bulky for smaller devices. Leg height adjustments do not lock into place and aren’t so good with heavy laptops, and the screws may need to be tightened every so often.
Other Tips for Laptop Users
Keep in mind that a laptop tray will only benefit you to the extent that you use it correctly. It’s imperative that you adhere to these laptop usage posture tips as much as you can or else you may find yourself with strained muscles or a herniated disc one day.
In addition to posture, don’t forget to stretch. Tight muscles can lead to tension, especially in the shoulders and lower back, and stretching relieves this tension. You’ll feel better and you’ll have more mental energy. Stretching can also help with posture, so it’s a win-win.
Which laptop tray appeals most to you? Or do you think it’s a gimmick that isn’t worth buying into? What posture tips can you share? Let us know in a comment down below!
Image Credit: fizkes via Shutterstock.com