As someone who frequently works on my MacBook Pro in coffee shops, I see all sorts of unusual computer configurations. Yes, there are plenty of laptops and iPads, but occasionally I’ll see someone parked at a table with elaborate risers, keyboards, and equipment better suited to a regular office. And yes, I’ve seen people set up desktop PCs, flat-screen monitors, and even a laser printer once.
I don’t begrudge people their work styles (well, the desktop PC is taking things too far), because my needs are simple. I don’t want to carry more weight than I need to, and I try not to be the type of squatter who makes coffee shop owners lament providing tables in the first place.
When I was introduced to the Roost at Macworld/iWorld 2014, I was skeptical. The Roost is a spindly looking laptop stand that lifts the screen almost a foot above a table surface. Its purpose is to get the screen at a better eye level, so you’re not just another neo-Quasimodo hunched over a laptop screen (which exacerbates back and shoulder fatigue).
In fact, I didn’t go back to the booth until Richard Ford at Insanely Great Products encouraged me to check out the Roost’s design and materials (Richard builds all his own products, so he knows this stuff). Calling the Roost a “stand” might even give you the wrong impression. Instead of supporting the laptop’s weight at the front edge (below the trackpad), the Roost balances the computer at the hinge using curved tabs made of the same material as guitar picks, a plastic called Delrin. (Check the compatibility list to see if the Roost works with your laptop.)
The laptop’s base rests on top of the frame’s arms without connecting to them. Despite what looks to be a precarious position, the computer is attached securely. Nor does it appear that the tabs put any stress on the hinge area.
The Roost looks frail but is surprisingly strong. I didn’t verify this test for obvious reasons (namely, I didn’t want to be kicked out of one of my favorite coffee shops), but the Roost site includes video of the designers stacking 132 pounds of cinder blocks on the frame. I’m also impressed that I can torque the Roost and the Delrin plastic doesn’t deform or snap.
The key detail about the Roost’s design is how it folds into a compact rectangle just 13 inches (33 cm) long and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) thick. It weighs only 6.5 ounces (183 g), so it really is light enough to put into my laptop bag and not notice the difference.
It may be light and compact when folded, but the Roost is definitely conspicuous in the wild. I felt self-conscious setting it up in a coffee shop the first time, as if I were erecting scaffolding on the tiny table to hold my MacBook Pro. Although in this respect I think scaffolding is the right comparison, because it’s an external frame, not a big plastic or metal slab like other stands I’ve seen.
The Roost also made me realize just how much I slouch when I’m not working at my desk at home — one of the main problems with working on a laptop is insufficient separation between screen and keyboard. In my office, the MacBook Pro sits on an old acrylic stand I’ve had for years, but my main focus is on an external monitor directly in front of me, and I type on an external keyboard at the correct height. Sitting at a coffee shop using the Roost, I have better posture because my eyes are looking straight ahead. The screen feels really high in this context.
In fact, I wonder if it’s too high. I’m 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, and my line of sight is almost at the top of the screen — maybe a fifth of the screen’s height from where the pixels begin at the top. I wonder if someone who is considerably shorter than I am would find herself looking up at the screen instead. The height isn’t adjustable; the only variation is a pin that lets you choose among typical 13-, 15-, and 17-inch laptop sizes.
Of course, with the laptop perched so high, it’s not convenient to use its keyboard. That means bringing along an external keyboard and mouse or trackpad. However, many slim Bluetooth devices exist that won’t bulk up your laptop bag. I own Apple’s wireless keyboard and mouse, so I’m already accustomed to using them in my office at home.
The biggest downside I’ve found while using it is that, on a table at a coffee shop, the whole apparatus shakes a bit while I type. Coffee shop tables are notoriously unstable in the first place, so striking the keys of the wireless keyboard transmits just enough vibration up through the Roost that my screen bounces slightly as I work. I’m noticing it less as I use it more, so perhaps it’s something I’ll adapt to. When placed on a more stable surface, the problem isn’t apparent. In fact, I’m considering replacing my old acrylic stand with the Roost when I’m at my home office.
When my coffee cup is empty and it’s time to leave, the Roost folds quickly and compactly. It takes an extra step to retract the arms that cradle the laptop, versus opening the Roost and having all pieces extend in one motion, but after you’ve done it once, it’s not tricky at all. I appreciate the design work that went into not only how the Roost stands, but how it moves, too.
The Roost costs $75 for the black model, or $80 for versions in green, silver, pink, purple, or yellow, if you really want to stand out at your local coffee shop.