Logitech Alto notebook stand
In the world of laptop accessories there are laptop stands and there are keyboards, but the $99 Logitech Alto occupies a niche all its own. The sleek black contraption combines a notebook riser, keyboard, and three high-speed USB ports into a single workstation that can be folded up and tucked away when not in use. It's an unusual concept, especially considering that a stand, a keyboard, and a USB hub can be purchased separately for less than the cost of the Alto.
Nevertheless, we laud Logitech for this creative approach to finding a more comfortable way to use a laptop at a desk, and we're impressed that the company got so many things right with the Alto's design. But a few flaws hold us back from making a blanket recommendation of the Alto: First, its fixed height and all-in-one design mean that not everyone will be able to achieve ergonomic bliss with the Alto (owners of ultraportable laptops, especially, may find their displays still aren't raised high enough). Second, placing your laptop on the Alto means blocking off all the ports on its front edge; depending on the design of your laptop, this might be a deal-breaker. So although we think the Alto's price premium could be justified by its stylish looks and one-step setup, in the end we can really only recommend it for users whose laptops have larger displays and no essential ports along the front edge.
Setting up the Alto is rather self-explanatory, and we appreciate that no software installation is necessary. Pulling apart the stand's magnetic closure reveals a device with two halves: on the bottom half sits a full-size keyboard, while the top half is a keyboard-size expanse of shiny black plastic. Pulling on the small latch in the center releases the notebook riser, a thin rectangle of plastic with a fold-out support that snaps into the base to provide stability. You then rest your laptop's front edge on the rubberized bumper, plug the Alto's USB cable into your laptop, and start typing away.
This Alto's design is a good one in many ways. The stand's rubberized ledge holds the laptop firmly in place, and the riser angle seems perfectly engineered to keep the laptop from tipping. Holding the laptop wide open lifts the display to more ergonomic levels while preserving the ease of adjusting the display angle. It also leaves the laptop's keyboard deck open so you can easily reach quick-launch buttons or a fingerprint reader. The Alto's built-in keyboard, which includes a 10-key number pad as well as a soft rubberized wrist-rest, provides a more comfortable typing experience than most notebook keyboards, and a fold-out support beneath it lets you adjust your typing angle. In addition, a sliding switch to the right of the riser lets you "lock" the keyboard to prevent accidental keystrokes. Logitech has included three USB ports so the Alto can act as a USB hub for a few peripherals (though to run high-power USB devices you'll need to purchase a $20 external power adapter); notches in the back of the device help you corral all your cables while your laptop's propped up. And while we wouldn't carry it to the local coffee shop, the whole system folds up tidily for compact storage when you need to reclaim your desk space.
Despite all those great features, we wouldn't say the Alto is without flaws. The stand can only support up to nine pounds, so if you're looking to prop up your monster desktop replacement, you're out of luck. The Alto's all-in-one design keeps the keyboard at a fixed distance from the display (not ideal from an ergonomic standpoint), and its fixed height means that your comfort level will depend greatly on the size of your laptop. For example, our 15.4-inch laptop was lifted to ergonomic perfection on the Alto, but the display on our 12-inch laptop was still a bit too low for comfortable everyday use. Propping up your laptop on its front edge might require you to block off some ports, such as headphone and microphone jacks (and some laptops have card readers and even disc drives up front). Because the Alto stops short of being a full-fledged docking station, those ports are as good as gone when you're at your desk--and you'll also have to plug and unplug your power cord, network cables, and other non-USB peripherals every time you want to go roaming with your laptop.
Logitech backs the Alto with a lengthy, five-year limited warranty that includes replacement or refund if the products are defective. The company's support Web site offers user forums, a knowledge base, and an e-mail form to contact the company.