CNN Underscored is constantly testing products — be it coffee makers or headphones — to find the absolute best in each respective category.
Our testing process is rigorous, consisting of hours of research (consulting experts, reading editorial reviews and perusing user ratings) to find the top products in each category. Once we settle on a testing pool, we spend weeks — if not months — testing and retesting each product multiple times in real-world settings. All this in an effort to settle on the absolute best products.
This year, as working from home became the norm, we tested a number of categories — from big purchases like standing desks to privacy-protecting VPNs — that make setting up the ideal home office a bit easier.
Best standing desks
Maybe you’ve been thinking about investing in a standing desk or desk converter to counter all those hours of sitting around, save for the occasional food or bathroom break. Not only has sitting for extended periods of time been linked to myriad health concerns, there is also research suggesting standing intermittently throughout the workday could help with productivity.
So which one should you get? After testing 11 top-rated desks, these are the ones we found to be the best:
The ApexDesk Elite Series 60” (starting at $599.99) is a sturdy, gorgeous standing desk available in two desktop sizes, both big enough to accommodate multiple monitors and devices. With a curved front, it’s more comfortable to use in both sitting and standing positions compared with the other standing desks we tried, allowing us to sit closer to the desk. It also comes standard with covered grommets to manage your wires.
The Uplift V2-Commercial Standing Desk (starting at $549.99) offers the widest breadth of customization options out of any standing desk we’ve encountered, from size to finish to keypads — in addition to being a high-quality desk that’s bound to look beautiful against any decor scheme.
The SHW Electric Height-Adjustable Computer Desk ($248.87) is a surprisingly functional, sturdy desk at an incredibly affordable price, comparatively. It comes standard with a cable management tray as well as a digital keypad featuring four memory presets, and it was a breeze to assemble.
The Flexispot Height-Adjustable Standing Desk Converter (starting at $99.99) is an excellent converter that’s available in several sizes to accommodate a range of workspaces. Both its desktop and keyboard tray provide ample space, and it adjusts with the push of a lever.
Read more from our testing of standing desks here.
Best office chairs
Whether you’re trying to punch up an existing setup or make a temporary situation feel more permanent, one key upgrade you should make is swapping out that dining room chair for an actual office chair that won’t wreak havoc on your back.
Our testing found these to be the best chairs:
The Steelcase Series 1 scored among the highest overall, standing out as one of the most customizable, high-quality, comfortable office chairs on the market. At $415 (now down to $352.75), the Steelcase Series 1 beat out most of its pricier competitors across testing categories, scoring less than a single point lower than our highest-rated chair, the $1,036 Steelcase Leap, easily making it the best bang for the buck and a clear winner for our best office chair overall.
The Alera Elusion Series Multifunction Chair, priced at $170, emerged as our best budget pick, standing up to (and in some cases far surpassing) office chairs that retail for more than five times its price point, particularly in the comfort and adjustability categories.
Read more from our testing of office chairs here.
Best computer monitors
Screen constraint can hamper anyone’s workflow. Who hasn’t wasted precious time trying to find that one spreadsheet buried beneath 15 other open applications on an oh-so-small laptop screen? A full-size monitor lets you multitask without having to constantly scroll through different windows and allows you to neatly arrange them all right in front of you.
Here are the best options, according to our testing:
After many hours of testing with a multitude of content and workflows, the Lenovo L24q-30 monitor stood out as the best overall option. It doesn’t have the sexiest name, but the 23.8-inch QHD monitor has the chops to handle whatever you need it to, from Word docs to gaming. The Lenovo’s super slim bezels don’t distract the eye from its vibrant panel, and its relatively small footprint will fit into any workspace. A blue light filter also helps decrease eye strain, making it ideal for longer workdays. At $169, down from $199, you won’t score a better option.
For those constantly working with visual tasks like photo or video editing, Dell’s 27-inch UltraSharp 4K monitor is a no-brainer, bursting with vibrancy and a level of detail that was unmatched by other flat displays we tested. Its nearly bezel-free design makes it an edgeless wonder, putting the screen — and therefore the content you’re working on — front and center. Factor in the full hub of ports included on the back, and the UltraSharp really builds itself up to be a complete package.
If you have enough desk real estate, Samsung’s CJ791 affords the most space with a curved, ultra-wide 34-inch display. No matter how many different tasks and apps you’re juggling at once, you can neatly arrange them and spread them out in front of you. It’s an incredibly wide and sharp display that’s great for productivity and gaming alike. Plus, like the UltraSharp from Dell, there are plenty of ports on-board. For all you get with it — an ultra-wide 34-inch workspace, multiple ports and outstanding picture quality — you would expect to pay upwards of $1,000. So for the relatively affordable price of $699, it’s a great upgrade for those looking for the most screen real estate while trying to save a few dollars.
Read more from our testing of computer monitors here.
Best ergonomic keyboards
Chances are, the keyboard you’ve got in front of you is rectangular and flat — not much by way of ergonomics despite how much time you spend using it. Fortunately, plenty of companies are getting savvy to the benefits of ergonomic keyboards, particularly how they can reduce hand strain.
After testing several top-rated models, here’s what we found to be the best keyboards:
We found the Logitech Ergo K860 ($129.99; amazon.com) to be a phenomenally comfortable keyboard. Its build, featuring a split keyboard (meaning there’s a triangular gap down the middle) coupled with a wave-like curvature across the body, allows both your shoulders and hands to rest in a more natural position that eases the tension that can often accompany hours spent in front of a regular keyboard. Add the cozy palm rest along the bottom edge and you’ll find yourself sitting pretty comfortably. The K860 also features some pretty handy tech: You can sync the Bluetooth keyboard with up to three devices and swap between them with a single keypress. The Logitech Options app allows you to customize your function keys and keep track of paired devices, too. This keyboard’s extraordinary comfort, broad customization options and silky typing experience justify its somewhat hefty price tag.
The Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard ($59.99; amazon.com) compromises little despite its affordability. It’s built similarly to the K860: a split keyboard, curvature that brings the center of the keyboard off your desk and a palm rest along the bottom edge. Unlike the K860, this one is wired, so it isn’t nearly as easy to swap between devices. However, you’ll find a bit more customization options in the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center than those offered by Logitech Options. Not only can you customize function keys, but you can create custom macros to simplify otherwise complex tasks as well. While this keyboard isn’t as incredible as the K860, it is more than half the price and still heaps more comfortable than a traditional keyboard.
Read more from our testing of keyboards here.
Best ergonomic mouse
Swapping out your old mouse (or trackpad) for an ergonomic model can make a world of difference. Just look at the ever-increasing number of companies offering ergonomically correct mice to combat users’ hand and wrist strain.
After weeks of testing, we found this mouse to be the best option:
The Logitech MX Master 3 ($99.99) is an unequivocally comfortable mouse. It’s shaped to perfection, with special attention to the fingers that do the clicking. Using it felt like our fingers were lounging — with a sculpted ergonomic groove for nearly every finger.
The comfortable build is also remarkably customizable. Namely, there are five extra buttons (in addition to the left and right mouse buttons) within thumb’s reach, all of which can be customized. For instance, you can set the front thumb button to pause and play music and the back button to mute your audio. There’s also a horizontal scroll wheel above the thumb buttons, a feature unique to the MX Master among the mice we tested. Overall, the MX Master 3 is an ergonomic and customizable marvel, justifying its somewhat lofty price tag.
Read more from our testing of mice here.
Best ring lights for video calls
Ring lights have in recent years clearly evolved past their vlogging roots. They are available in many sizes and setups and have become vital tools for budding photographers as well as the perfect addition to home office setups. You don’t have to be vying to become an overnight TikTok sensation to appreciate being cast in a better light on Zoom calls, and a high-quality ring light will definitely help.
These two models shone brightest during our testing:
The Emart 10-inch Standing Ring Light comes with a tripod that’s fully adjustable — from 19 inches to 50 inches — making it a great option whether you’re setting it atop your desk for video calls or need some overhead lighting so no weird shadows creep into your photos. Its three light modes (warm, cool and a nice mix of the two), along with 11 brightness levels (among the most settings on any of the lights we tested), ensure you’re always framed in the right light. And at a relatively cheap $25.99, this light combines usability and affordability better than any of the other options we tested.
Since a 10-inch light isn’t the most compact pack-it-up, take-it-with-you accessory, we also recommend the Whellen Selfie Ring Light. This ultra-portable 3.5-inch light conveniently clips onto your phone, whether you’re using a case or not, and fits easily atop a laptop for video calls. The user-friendly Whellen Selfie Ring Light provided flattering lighting in all of the images we took with it, and it offers both warm and cool settings to adjust the harshness of the light being cast. It’s simply a great light, especially at $16.99.
Read more from our testing of ring lights here.
Other work-from-home necessities to consider
Instead of reusing passwords or keeping a document that stores all of your account logins, a password manager will securely store your information and even generate then autofill complex passwords on your behalf. In our testing, 1Password stood out with its robust filling features that include integration across nearly every platform and browser extension, along with a seamless setup process and an intuitive suite of apps, 1Password is our choice for best password manager. It’s reasonably priced with a total cost of $35.88 for one user or $59.88 for up to a family of five when billed annually. There’s not much that the creators of 1Password didn’t think of adding to the service, and after our testing, it’s the clear winner.
External hard drive
Backing up your data is a must. And the best way to do so is with an external drive. Not only do they provide a tangible feel to backups, but they offer additional security and are often cheaper in the long run when compared to cloud services. Starting at $89.99 (down from $119.99) for 512GB of storage, the WD My Passport solid-state drive topped our list during testing. It’s not the cheapest external drive on the market, but that somewhat lofty price brings big returns. Files transfer quickly: we were able to back up Word documents in just a few seconds, full photo albums in less than 20 seconds, and even large video files in under a minute. Those are speeds rivaling many devices’ onboard drives. My Passport has enough space to store all your files — packing close to 100,000 photo files, or in our case, two backups of our entire library. All that in a stylish yet rugged package.