It's probably fair to assume that if you're reading this article, you're using a notebook computer. Therefore, before you continue, pause for a moment and take a mental note of your posture. Got it? Let's venture onward...
Tech-Induced KyphosisAs a computer-saavy consumer, statistically speaking, the probability that that your primary machine is or will shortly become a laptop is becoming increasingly greater. According to the February 2008 statistics published by market research firm NPD, worldwide sales of desktop machines decreased by 5% in the last quarter, while at the same time notebook sales increased by 20%. While the reasons behind this transition are interesting in and of themselves, ergonomics experts are beginning to become worried about the effect that this trend may have on the spinomuscular health of consumers.
To put it bluntly, while spending several hours each day hunched over a laptop may not feel particularly painful right now, your muscles, ligaments, and vertebrae are all under a significantly greater amount of stress than they should be. Over the years, this poor posture will likely land a large portion of today's young mobile enthusiasts in the doctor's office by their mid-30s, complaining of chronic lower back pain. The most unfortunate aspect of these types of injuries--repetitive stress injury (RSI), cumulative trauma disorder (CTD), and computer vision syndrome (CVS)--is that they can usually be prevented with a little bit of foresight and some inexpensive equipment.
iStand, uStandEnter the Rain Design mStand. Carved out of a single block of aluminum, sand blasted, and then silver anodized, the mStand looks and feels like it came straight out of Jonathan Ive's secret workshop (or a futuristic, ream-sized paper clamp factory). Although the specifications of the mStand indicate that it was designed specifically to complement Apple's widescreen laptops, one glance at the stand's durable construction suggests that Rain Design is underestimating the capabilities of their own product. On the other hand, we can see why they're so enthusiastic about mating a Mac to the mStand. It matches the look and feel of Apple's "Pro" lineup perfectly, and the it's just the right height to raise the top of your MacBook or MacBook Pro's screen to eye level; the point at which your back and shoulders snap into alignment, the stress on your various muscles and joints falls into balance, and Steve Jobs boots into Windows to play an epic round of Supreme Commander against Steve Ballmer.
After becoming accustomed to life with a MacBook Pro as my sole companion (having traded in my tricked-out G5 over a year ago), I was surprised to discover how accustomed I had become to the discomfort of slouching over my little Mac. While it's hard to describe the effect that returning to good posture had on my upper-body without sounding like a split-keyboard devotee, the fact remains: if you tend to use your notebook for long periods every day, don't be surprised if switching to the mStand feels like taking a shot of morphine to the neck. Three weeks into the review, this sensation is still apparent to me when I return home after several hours of working in far less than optimal conditions. Therefore, I've become rather attached to the mStand, which is unusual for me considering the fact that I recently turned down the chance to pick up a free Griffin iCurve from a friend. While the mStand and the iCurve are quite similar in terms of their primary function (both raise your computer to ergonomically-friendly heights), the two key reasons why I accepted the mStand and rejected the iCurve was that the mStand managed to handle the strain of typing without bobbing up and down (an external USB keyboard is still a must, however), and the mStand doesn't look out of place on a nice desk when you don't happen to be concealing its upper surface with a computer.
Hidden TalentsOf course, it doesn't hurt to know that this aluminum monolith soothes your Mac as well as your neck. Whether by accident or by design, the fact that your Mac is separated from a thick aluminum plate by only a couple millimeters of air really helps to dissipate the heat that it generates. For example, our 2.4 GHz "Conroe" MacBook Pro ran up to 10 degrees Celsius cooler than normal when it was placed on the mStand. As you probably already know, the bottom of the MacBook Pro acts like an enormous radiator, allowing wasted thermal energy from the machine's internal circuitry to be quickly transferred to the outside air. When this method of temperature control begins to fail, your MacBook Pro does two things: first, it increases the speed of its twin internal fans, and second, it begins to slowly lower the clock speed of its components in an attempt to keep the machine from melting. While this works, it does so at the cost of noise and reduced performance. Since the mStand can channel heat away from your machine far more effectively than a wooden desk (or your crotch) can, you should notice that your Mac stays cooler and works faster for a significantly longer period of time.
Before we wrap up our thoughts on this review, we found two more things that help set this product a bit further apart from the competition. First, in a nod to Apple's Cinema Display design, the Rain Design team punched a round hole into the vertical portion of the mStand. Since it is ridiculous to wax poetic on the subject of a hole, suffice it to say that the hole is just big enough to support all of the cabling necessary to populate the MacBook Pro's ports, and is placed just high enough to keep said cables out of the user's line of sight. Second, and finally, the front lip of the mStand is proportioned to allow access to the MacBook and MacBook Pro's IR port, optical drive, and screen latch (if applicable)--a nice touch. Despite its diminutive size, the front lip is more than sufficient to make the fear of accidentally knocking a Mac off the stand a laughable one.
Standing TallFor $49, the Rain Design mStand is situated as one of the most expensive products in its category. However, we feel that this price is justified. While most competing products are significantly cheaper, none approach the aesthetic appeal and durability offered by Rain Design's precise, well-engineered architecture. For MacBook and MacBook Pro owners in particular, when you factor in the enhanced heat dissipation and free access to the front of your machine that is offered by this design, we can see very little reason why the mStand should not be considered as essential as a notebook case. For that, our collective hat is off to the fine folks at Rain Design, and we look forward to seeing what they have in store for Mac users in the future.
Pros• Sleek and tough aluminum construction.
• Ergonomically-sound dimensions.
• Doubles as a heat sink.
• Easy cable routing.
Cons• Expensive, but we think it's worth it.