Let’s be real: Unless you’re one of those kooks who uses a standing desk, you’re probably on your butt all day at work. Never mind all those reports that sitting down will ultimately kill you. I spend more time in my desk chair than I do in my bed, and chances are you do too.
So it’s important to have a high-quality desk chair—known in the industry as “task seating”—that feels comfortable and supportive, and can be adjusted to account for constant changes in the way you sit. A good chair adapts to you, not the other way around.
Below you’ll find five reviews of the most up-to-date task seating choices. While some represent models that have been on the market for years, most have received numerous upgrades over that time, some minor, some major. So if a chair sounds like old news (my last in-depth review of high-end chairs was published in 2013), pay close attention, as some features may have changed.
A quick caveat: Like clothing and shoes, task chairs can fit different body types quite differently. A chair that’s too confining for me may be perfectly comfy for someone shorter, and seating mileage will almost certainly vary from person to person.
Herman Miller Aeron
Last year Herman Miller gave the Aeron, a staple of the modern office, a long-awaited upgrade. The new Aeron—colloquially, but not officially, known as the Aeron 2 ($1,258)—was described by the company as “totally new, from the casters up.” But unless you’re an Aeron nerd, you probably won’t notice the difference. The frame is nearly identical, though changes to the suspension system better support the back while keeping you cool, and upgrades under the hood make it easier to adjust the chair to fit your body. A new color, mineral, is also available.
Fully loaded, the eight adjustment systems are intuitive and easily accessible, except for the arms, which are way too easy to knock out of place. If you use the arms to “push off” when you stand up, even a little bit, they fly backwards, messing up a carefully tuned ergonomic sitch. My other issue, which has kept me from fully embracing Aeron for years, is the severe plastic lip that wraps around the seat. On the sides, this lip creates an inclined rim that forces you into the center of the chair, which is good for your posture but bad for shifting around in your seat. You can’t sit sideways even for a moment, because it hurts to rest your leg against it. Proper posture may be a good thing, but fidgeting is important too.
RATING: 8 out of 10
Haworth calls the Fern ($1,384) the “world’s first chair designed with edgeless comfort,” which basically means there’s no uncomfortable plastic rim here. I’ve sat in many chairs I would consider “edgeless”—Herman Miller’s Embody remains a favorite—but the concept remains engaging. Who wants to rub up against something rigid when the seat is supposed to be soft all over?
The Fern, like most of Haworth’s seating solutions, is a devilishly handsome device, eschewing the industrial look of chairs like the Aeron for a more refined design. The high back lets you rest your head if you slouch a bit, and a total of nine adjustment levers and knobs offer plenty of customization options. That said, the Fern feels a bit small and just a touch constrictive. Even when it’s adjusted to tilt all the way back, the seat feels like it’s angling forward the slightest amount, an issue made more obvious because of the firm (though well-padded) seat. On the other hand, the flexible back moves well along with the user, and the armrests offer a high level of flexibility with three different adjustments available here alone—although, like the Aeron, these too are easily shifted out of place.
Altogether, this is a fine choice for a task chair if you prefer something with a bit more rigidity and crave less brutalistic aesthetics behind your desk.
RATING: 8 out of 10
Not much has changed with Knoll’s ReGeneration since it was developed in 2011—but if you want a low-cost, reasonably ergonomic seating solution, it still fits the bill. The rubber web-backed chair is lightweight and compact; compared to much larger beasts like the Aeron, it looks almost like it was made for a child.
ReGeneration has always been about encouraging movement, and the open design means you can shift around and sit sideways without the seat fighting you. That’s thanks largely to the low seat pan and arm risers that don’t get in the way of your thighs.
Given the low price—at $649, it’s about half that of all the other chairs reviewed here—ReGeneration really can’t compete on the feature front, and it’s missing a few important adjustment options. Recline tension is binary; you can either sit up straight or kick back all the way. There’s no adjustable lumber support in this model, and while my test chair included “high performance” arms that let you slide the armrests around, they feel functionally limited. Still, those may be acceptable tradeoffs given the money you’ll save, particularly if you’re outfitting an entire office with them.
My biggest complaint with the ReGeneration remains the unnatural way that reclining works. Lean back (which requires pushing quite hard) and the chair feels like it’s thrusting your waist forward, almost like it’s going to eject you from the seat altogether. Maybe that’s just the chair’s way of telling you to stand up.
RATING: 5 out of 10
Visually, the Mimeo ($1,290) resembles a smaller version of the Haworth Fern, but its functionality and fit feel closer to the Knoll ReGeneration. This compact chair can fit well into a variety of environments. While the open armrest design gives you plenty of freedom of movement, it ultimately felt a bit small for my frame.
The main issue I had was that I was never able to get the seat quite deep enough to really feel comfortable, and the lumbar support (which is not adjustable) felt like it hit my back too high. The seat back is also the lowest among the chairs in this roundup, so resting the head isn’t an option either.
Like the ReGeneration, the Mimeo’s recline function is an on/off affair. When reclined, the chair automatically adjusts the tension, tightening up the further back you push. This is similar behavior to the ReGeneration, but moderately more successful in daily use because it kicks the seat pan up more appropriately, keeping your body roughly in the right place. While the armrests are small, they aren’t loosey-goosey like so many other task chairs; it takes a real effort to shift them around.
Users with smaller frames may find the Mimeo fits their body better, but while using the chair I always felt a bit like I was sitting at the kids’ table. Pass the Jello, please!
RATING: 6 out of 10
Steelcase Gesture with Headrest
If you’re unfamiliar with Steelcase, the company makes huge, heavy chairs (they don’t call it Steelcase for nothing!) that can take a beating in tough environments. No wispy rubber netting here. Instead, your back is cushioned by a thick pad covered in a honeycomb mesh, and your butt gets a traditional pad, too. The Gesture, which offers nine adjustment options, reclines gracefully and deeply, and features swiveling arms with an extreme range of motion. Even the armrests are sturdy and stay where you want them—though Steelcase still hasn’t fixed a design oddity that causes elbows to slip off these armrests.
As it stands, the $1,150 chair provides a workable seat, but again, it’s the headrest that really elevates it. Adjustable in both height and angle, you forget that it’s there until you decide to take a load off and kick back, at which point it gently cradles your noggin’. Suffice it to say it’s the only chair in this roundup I could take a catnap in. Depending on the demeanor of your boss, that could be either a bonus or a drawback.
RATING: 7 out of 10
When you buy something using the retail links in our product reviews, we earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.