Why you should trust me
As the writer of this guide, I spent 10 hours researching and 25 hours testing lap desks. I’ve also written about mouse traps, USB-C cables and adapters, portable solar chargers, and more for Wirecutter, and before that I was a science writer for over four years.
In addition to drawing upon my own experience working from home and in flex-seating offices for the past three years, I consulted with nearly a dozen other Wirecutter staffers to better understand the wide-ranging needs and wants of people who use lap desks.
For a previous version of this guide, we spent an additional 12 hours testing lap desks and interviewed ergonomics expert Alan Hedge, a professor at Cornell University.
Who this is for
Lap desks aren’t for everyone. Generally speaking, they are ergonomically inferior to a regular desk and according to ergonomics expert Alan Hedge at Cornell University should be used for only up to an hour per day—more on that in the health considerations section. That said, life is short, and sometimes you need to work from a slouchier-than-is-strictly-recommended sitting position. Enter: the lap desk.
Lap desks have been around for Thomas Jefferson even used a lap desk of his own design—it’s made of solid mahogany, weighs 5 pounds, and has a built-in drawer for storing quills and ink—to draft the Declaration of Independence. (If you don’t like our picks—and are feeling spendy—you can buy a replica of the founding father’s lap desk or just make your own[PDF].)
Most modern-day lap desks have padding, ventilation, and something to keep your phone, tablet, or laptop from sliding off, but the basic function is about the same. If you like to work on a laptop or tablet—or do a crossword, write thank-you notes, color, consult your tarot cards, whatever—from your couch or in bed, lap desks can help. They provide a work surface that’s flatter and more stable than your bare lap and should effectively shield your skin from laptop burn (details on that and more in the health considerations section). They let you pick up your workstation and take it with you. And they’re used by people with a wide array of needs: remote workers, retirees, commuters, college students, people with injuries or disabilities that prevent them from working at a desk, and more.
We chose not to test gaming lap desks or lapboards for this guide and we don’t recommend them. Gaming laptops get very hot, affecting computer performance, which is why there are so many products designed to keep them cool. But we talked to people who play video games regularly—Wirecutter lead editor Kimber Streams and staff writer Thorin Klosowski—and they said they much prefer gaming at a desk or table because it’s more comfortable, promotes better posture, and gives them more room to use a mouse.
We also didn’t test wheelchair add-ons, weighted lap pads, breakfast trays, or kids lap desks, deciding that they fall outside the current scope of this guide. However, we plan to keep them in mind for future rounds of testing.
How we picked
First, we scanned Amazon and other retailers for the most popular and widely available options. We also consulted outside editorial sources like Bustle, CNET, Lifewire, Lifehacker, ReviewGeek, and The Strategist to see what their favorite lap desks are. From there, we crafted a rough list, taking the following factors into consideration.
- Reputation: We ruled out models with poor owner ratings and reviews—especially in regard to comfort, build quality, and stability. We checked the reviews in Fakespot, eliminating listings with a C grade or lower, which suggests some amount of untrustworthiness in the reviews. We also decided not to test lap desks made by companies with a small or nonexistent Web presence because we’ve been burned in the past by their inability respond to customer-support queries or even keep products in stock for reliable shipping.
- Heat distribution: We ruled out models lacking some kind of heat protection—such as a fan, ventilation, or padding that absorb and radiate heat—since keeping your legs cool and shielded against laptop burn is a main benefit of using a lap desk.
- Width: We eliminated any lap desks smaller than 15 inches wide because we wanted them to be able to comfortably accommodate a 13-inch laptop with a little room to spare. (Because laptops are typically measured by diagonal screen size, the true width of a 13-inch MacBook Pro is 12.8 inches, and a 15-inch MacBook Pro is 14.4 inches.)
- Lefty friendliness: To qualify as the best lap desk for most people, each model had to be usable by both left- and right-handed people. Regardless of which hand you normally use, having a little extra space on both sides of your laptop lets you keep your phone, pens, and other small supplies handy. So we disqualified any models with a built-in mousepad on just the right side, or an obstruction (like a laptop rest or clamp) making it uncomfortable to write or draw with either hand.
- Extra features: We required each model to have some sort of lip, clasp, or slot to hold a laptop, tablet, or book in place, even when the lap desk isn’t perfectly level—say, if you cross your legs underneath it. That way, you can focus on your work instead of trying to keep your stuff from slipping onto the floor every few seconds. Other than that, we noted (but did not require) any additional features, such as a storage pouch or drawer, a built-in fan, a handle, legs, or an angled work surface.
After narrowing our list based on these criteria, we ended up with seven models, which we tested alongside our two previous picks, the LapGear XL Executive (formerly called the LapGear Euro) and the Honey-Can-Do Laptop Desk:
How we tested
We had three or more Wirecutter staffers test each lap desk, using them to work on a laptop for at least 30 minutes per lap desk and filling out a survey after each one. Also, as the writer of this guide, I personally tested each lap desk for an hour or more, taking note of the following factors (listed in order of importance).
- Comfort: We considered how comfortable each lap desk was to use, which was impacted by how the texture of the underside felt against our legs, if it was too heavy, or if it made us shift and squirm in our seats.
- Build quality: We considered the materials used—if they seemed cheap and flimsy, or sturdy and robust—and how well they were constructed.
- Stability: We took note of how prone each lap desk was to tipping over and sending our pens, notebooks, phones, and more toppling to the floor. For the ones with legs, we took stock of how wobbly they were.
- Size: We measured the width of each lap desk at its widest point, making sure the surface had ample room for a laptop and more. We also measured the height from our laps to the topmost surface, because raising the laptop higher off your lap helps with heat management and ergonomics.
- Weight: We weighed each lap desk using a digital scale to get a sense of how heavy was too heavy for our testers (somewhere between 3.1 and 4.6 pounds is “too heavy,” it turns out).
- Extra features: If the lap desk had any extra features, we considered how effectively they functioned and whether they truly improved our overall experience.
- Looks: We considered the overall appearance of each lap desk, taking a variety of opinions into account. Just like any piece of furniture in your home or office—or an accessory you use all the time, like a backpack—a lap desk should look as good as it functions.
Our pick: LapGear Designer
Of all the lap desks we considered, we’d get the LapGear Designer. It feels comfortable on your lap and has a sturdy build. At 18½ inches across, it’s wide enough to fit a 13-inch laptop and mouse comfortably, or just a 15-inch or 17-inch laptop, and it works equally well for left- and right-handed people. It raises your work surface up off of your bare lap by more than 3 inches and it weighs just over 2 pounds. A handful of small touches stood out—a plastic laptop rest to make your stuff stay put, a phone slot, a handle, and elastic strap for storing index cards or a pen—and overall it has a cute, clean-cut look.
Several LapGear lap desks met our minimum criteria and ended up on our testing list. The company (under the umbrella of Creative Manufacturing) is one of just a few we found that specifically focuses on lap desks with many options and styles, a strong Web presence, and generally positive owner reviews. All LapGear products have a 90-day warranty, and when we called customer service anonymously they picked up right away and offered to ship a replacement, no questions asked—except for asking for more details about how the company could improve the product. Of all of its products and competitors’ products we tested, the LapGear Designer shone the brightest, performing well in pretty much every facet of our testing.
The padding on the underside of the Designer is filled with microbeads (little foam pellets) and encased in a soft, comfortable, canvaslike polyester material. It feels squishy yet stable because the pellets inside allow it to conform to the shape of your lap better than solid foam padding. You can even adjust the angle (roughly) to fit your position. The top surface of the lap desk (made of a warm-colored, faux-wood laminate) is equally comfortable to use. Its smooth, matte finish won’t chafe your wrists as you type, practice calligraphy, color a zentangle, or handwrite the first draft of your novel. We prefer this texture to a dimpled plastic, like on the LapGear Smart-e, or the slick, shiny surface of the Honey Can-Do Laptop Desk.
The build quality of the LapGear Designer impressed us and we expect the desk to withstand years of use. Even though the topper is not made of real wood (which might look and feel more luxurious, but would also be heavier) the Designer feels sturdy and well constructed. The materials seem durable—and because they’re petroleum-based, they’re easy to wipe down and spot clean. By comparison, we struck plenty of models from our testing list—see the Competition section—due to a pattern of owner reviews reporting shoddy workmanship and cheap-looking materials.
The Designer raises your laptop about 3 inches off the surface of your lap, which is about an inch higher than most of the other models we tested and helps with both heat management and ergonomics compared with a bare lap. It weighs about 2 pounds, which feels roughly the same as a thick wool blanket laid across your lap. At 18½ inches wide, it’s big enough to fit a 13-inch laptop and wireless mouse, or a larger laptop without a mouse. (If the model we tested is sold out, and you don’t mind a slightly smaller surface area, a smaller version designed for 15- and 13-inch laptops is also available.)
The small lip on the Designer’s near edge (a 6-inch strip of white plastic just a half inch tall) is just wide enough to ensure that your laptop doesn’t slide onto your abdomen while you’re typing. But it also doesn’t prevent a left- or right-handed person from comfortably using a wireless mouse or writing on the lap desk. By comparison, some other models we tested, like the AboveTek, have laptop clasps or other extra features that our testers agreed were super annoying and impeded the basic functions of the lap desk.
As an added bonus, the Designer has a little slot to prop up your phone while you’re working or to store a pen and pencil. An elastic strap in the corner—a feature we’ve not seen on any other model—provides additional storage for index cards or other small items that you don’t want to go sliding off the edge.
In terms of looks, the Designer is one of the most attractive models we tested. It’s simple and stylish looking, and has a streamlined shape that’s easy to tuck under a couch or next to a bedside table. Its faux-wood top is a warm honey color that complements the white details. The handle and bottom cushion are made of a vibrant fabric that comes in a variety of colors and patterns, giving you lots of options to match your personal style.
Although price was the least of our considerations, the Designer happened to be among the most inexpensive models we tested.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although we like the look of the LapGear Designer overall, we wish it was available in at least one neutral, solid color. Paisley and argyle aren’t for everyone, and it would be a shame if your lap desk clashed with your home, office, or dorm-room decor. But since the Designer comes in a wide variety of patterns and colors (seven at the time of this writing) we think most people can find one they like, even if it wouldn’t be their first choice.
Even though a lap desk may improve ergonomics a little, padded options like the LapGear Designer only do so much. If better ergonomics are your primary concern, you should get our also-great pick, which has legs.
Also great: Avantree Multifunctional
If you want a lap desk that raises your work surface even higher off your lap, increasing airflow and improving your posture, you should get the Avantree Multifunctional. It’s not quite as stable, comfortable, or attractive looking as the LapGear Designer but it keeps your lap even cooler, and its adjustable height and angle make it more customizable to a variety of sitting positions. As an added bonus, you can set it on a table as a makeshift standing desk or laptop stand.
Like the LapGear Designer, the Avantree has a laptop rest at the base of the desktop, with ample room on either side of a 13-inch or 15-inch laptop for you to write or slide a mouse around. Plus, you can easily remove the laptop rest—two rubber pieces are included in the box to plug the holes left behind—if you don’t want it there. No other model we tested has the option to switch out the laptop rest like this.
The Avantree seems to be made of high-quality, durable materials—metal and thick plastic—and is robustly constructed. Because it doesn’t have to make direct contact with your lap, your legs won’t get hot or restless. The edges of the tabletop have a little lip that we could do without because it can rub against your wrists and chafe. The legs are also a bit wobbly—and you need to set them on a somewhat level surface to create a solid foundation—but they gave us the least trouble of any lap desk with legs that we tested. And we like that they’re made of brushed metal, so they don’t look super shiny and they slide cleanly into place as you adjust the height.
Weighing 3½ pounds, the Avantree is on the heavier side but it’s still very compact and portable. It’s a few inches wider than the Designer, at 20½ inches across, and its legs extend to about 13 inches tall (it’s less than 2 inches high when the legs are collapsed). Getting the legs to unfold and extend and adjusting the table’s angle takes some practice. But the legs make satisfying whooshing and clicking sounds as they lock into place and are intuitive to use overall.
Compared with the LapGear Designer, the Avantree is pretty barebones. It doesn’t offer any storage options for pens, a phone, or other supplies. And it’s not beautiful by any means; one of our testers compared it to a piece of hospital equipment. But we think those are fine trade-offs for better ventilation and the ability to adjust both the height and angle with precision.
Also great: LapGear eDesk
Most people don’t use a lap desk outside their home. But for people who frequently work on a commute or are generally tight on space, the LapGear eDesk is a more compact and portable alternative. By comparison, the LapGear Designer is about an inch wider (17.7 versus 18.5) and more than two inches longer (12.5 versus 14.8), and its padding is a lot bulkier.
The eDesk is small (17½ inches wide) and lightweight (1½ pounds) enough to fit in a carry-on or large commuter pack, making it handy for travel. And, like the Designer, it has a fabric handle sewn into the top so you can easily tote it around.
The tablet slot at the top of the eDesk is over a foot long and about an inch deep, which is plenty big enough to prop up an iPad Pro. When you’re not using the slot for a tablet stand, it is designed to be flush so that you can set a laptop or book right on top of it, maximizing the eDesk’s surface area. We much prefer this to other compact options we considered—like LapGear’s Smart-e and Designer model for 15-inch laptops—with raised ridges around their device slots that create an uneven work surface. The eDesk also has a strip of padding along the edge closest to your body that functions as both a laptop rest and a cushion for your hands.
The bottom cushion of the eDesk is filled with the same foam microbeads as the Designer, though it’s covered in a thinner fabric that’s noticeably less comfortable. Buttons sewn into the bottom create dimples that help the cushion hold its shape, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the Designer—it has less padding, so instead of conforming to your lap and letting you adjust the angle, it pretty much sits in one position.
The eDesk seems just as solidly built as the Designer but it feels less luxurious overall. For example, if you look at the underside of the eDesk, you’ll see a thick ridge of plastic joining the top of the lap desk to the fabric of the padding—whereas the Designer has a cleanly sewn strip of fabric all around its edges.
Unlike the Designer, the eDesk is available in solid colors, including a neutral gray-and-black scheme. Plus, it’s one of the least expensive models we tested.
- Ergonomics: The ideal typing position is sitting or standing upright and looking straight into a screen, with your feet flat on the floor and your wrists in your lap slightly below your elbows. It’s pretty much impossible to achieve this posture without an external monitor. That said, lap desks have been shown to encourage a better working posture than setting a laptop on your bare lap. And those that let you adjust the height and angle can bring you even closer to that ideal position. (We discuss workplace ergonomics further in our guides to the best ergonomic keyboard, laptop stand, standing desk, and office chair.)
- Eyestrain: Most lap desks allow you to keep your laptop screen at arm’s length, to a greater extent than you could without one, which is easier on your eyes. Maximizing the distance between your eyes and the screen will help prevent Computer Vision Syndrome, which involves eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and neck/shoulder pain, and is a common result of prolonged screen time.
- Laptop burn: When you use a laptop, especially for an extended period of time, it heats up. Over the past 15 years, scientists have studied more than a dozen reported cases of people with red, irritated, or damaged skin from prolonged laptop use. A condition called computer-induced erythema ab igne can cause severe skin damage and even lead to skin cancer. Even though these extreme consequences are rare, a lap desk can help dissipate the heat that emits from your laptop.
- Infertility: Scientists have studied the possibility of a link between prolonged laptop use (directly on the lap) and male reproductive health. But the research has been limited, and we don’t think there’s enough evidence to recommend lap desks as a precaution against male infertility.
- Cancer: Similarly, scientists are interested in studying a possible connection between the electromagnetic radiation emitted by phones, laptops, and other electronic devices, and some types of cancer. But no clear link has been established (nor is it clear whether a lap desk would help).
AboveTek Folding Laptop Table Stand: This was initially the only lap desk with legs we had called in for testing and it was so bad that we had to send for another one (the Avantree). The AboveTek’s legs are hard to adjust, and the laptop clasps (to clip your laptop in place) and rubber strip (to hold a mouse or phone) are cumbersome, uncomfortable, and barely usable.
Honey-Can-Do Laptop Desk: This lap desk (our former budget pick) was nixed in our latest round of testing because it doesn’t have a built-in laptop rest to keep your stuff from sliding off.
LapGear Bamboard Pro: This model developed somewhat of a cult following among our testers. It has a cool, sleek look that’s masculine without being too macho. It feels sturdy and stable in your lap, and its faux-leather laptop rest (that doubles as a cushion for your hands) is firm and comfortable. But even though a few people loved the Bamboard, some hated it. It’s much heavier than anything else we tested—it weighs almost 5 pounds, while the Designer weighs just 2—and has no padding on the bottom. Save for the honeycomb-shaped cutouts in the center, mousepads on either side, three lengthy tablet slots, and padded laptop rest, it’s essentially a plank of wood.
LapGear Smart-e: This one is almost identical to the eDesk, but we found its dimpled plastic surface unenjoyable to write on. Plus, the lip around its tablet slot creates an uneven surface for a laptop or notepad.
LapGear XL: On paper, we liked this one a lot. It’s one of the widest models we tested, its padding is ventilated, and it has dual mousepads, zip-up storage pouches, and a roomy laptop rest. But in practice, that laptop rest is made of hard plastic and makes the whole thing uncomfortable to use.
LapGear XL Executive: This model, formerly called the LapGear Euro, used to be our top pick. But in our latest round of testing, we decided that its lack of a laptop rest—especially coupled with its low-traction surface, which makes it prone to laptop slippage—was a dealbreaker.
We also considered several options from other popular manufacturers, including Hive Modern, iSkelter, Kikkerland, Mind Reader, Nnewvante, and Sofia + Sam. But we ultimately struck them from our testing list because of low owner ratings and Fakespot grades and/or a lackluster array of features.
This guide may have been updated by Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.
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