We’ve tested lapboards in the past (from the likes of Corsair, and others) designed for couch-side PC gaming on a big-screen TV, or operating a home theater desktop PC. In those cases, you rest a wide plank, with a keyboard and mouse atop it, on your thighs. But in these pandemic days, with many of us working when and where we can, your couch, recliner, or even bed might be getting a second look as a workspace you use with your laptop. Suddenly, that comfy spot in another room may be an attractive—or your only—alternative to getting away from your spouse’s Zoom calls or your kid’s all-day online classes. That’s where Nerdytech’s $139 Couchmaster Cybot comes in. A deceptively simple design (two sturdy cushions and a flat board to work on), it lets you set up a temporary laptop workspace anywhere, and break it down in a snap when work’s done. We wish it and its accessories were a little cheaper, but if you want to use a nonstandard location for your day-to-day work, it’s a great investment. And your back will thank you.
The Design: Just the Right Height
A typical lapboard, by nature, rests on your thighs and, therefore, requires you to reach down to their level to type. The Couchmaster, in contrast, raises your temporary desk about 7 inches above your couch’s or chair’s seating surface, making for a more natural typing height that also lets you recline your body a bit. There’s no need to hunch over the lapboard, and that reduces tension in your back.
The design of the Couchmaster is flexible, in that you don’t have to fasten the top lapboard portion to the side cushions, so you can push the board as far away from your torso as you like, or pull it close. That way, depending on the length of your forearms, you can move the board to a spot that makes sense for you. For some folks with long arms and short thighs, an on-the-lap lapboard just won’t work. The Cybot’s cushions give you options depending on your body type.
The edge of the board closest to the seated you has some black leatherette inlays at the point where the board meets your forearms. At those same spots, the board tapers down to the cushion, so there’s no sharp edge to dig into your flesh.
Also, the board exerts enough friction on the tops of the side cushions that it doesn’t slide around, even though the cushion surfaces are smooth faux-leather. Even under frenetic typing and some light PC gaming, I didn’t feel it budge so much as an inch.
The top board measures 29.5 inches wide by 13 inches deep. It has slant-cut corners and is made of bamboo with a hard black coating. It’s rigid and a lot lighter than you’d expect, since it looks like it should be made of the dense MDF or fiberboard that defines cheap furniture. It has the rough shape of an ergonomic desk’s tray table, with a slight cut-in where your body will sit before the board.
A large set of ventilation cutaway slots dominate the left side, arranged in a circle. There’s no fan under there, but the cutaways allow for free flow of air below your laptop, and it won’t block any fans that may be on the laptop’s bottom. The left side of the ventilation circle does rest partly atop the left cushion when the Cybot is set up, which may constrict airflow somewhat, but it only blocks about a quarter of the vents’ surface area.
Nerdytec suggests that the vents and board size are good for laptops up to 17 inches. I used the Cybot for several weeks with a 15.6-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 alongside a 15.6-inch Asus ZenScreen Go secondary monitor, and there was room on the board to spare from side to side. A 17-inch laptop plus a portable display might be a push, but that’s an extreme case.
I did use a stationary trackball with the laptop, which meant I didn’t need to use the generous mousing space to the right of my laptop, which was occupied by that second monitor in its stand. But if you are just using your laptop by itself, or gaming on that one screen, you have a vast expanse for mousing. To that end, the kit comes with a generous 10-by-12-inch, Nerdytech-branded mousepad. The pad is backed by a sheet of 3M adhesive, if you want to stick it down to the right of the laptop. When I was experimenting with it, I accidentally peeled not just the paper backing off the mousepad, but also part of the adhesive sheet, before I realized what was happening. If you want to use the sticky sheet (in the end, I didn’t), be careful how you peel it.
The right side of the board has a groove cut parallel to the upper right edge, designed to prop up a smartphone or tablet…
It wasn’t quite wide enough to support that 15.6-inch portable display I had (the groove is just shy of 11 inches wide), but it will prop up an Apple iPad or similarly sized tablet in either vertical or horizontal orientation, or a smartphone. (A tablet may need to be removed from its case, though, depending on the thickness.) A small, T-shaped wedge of bamboo comes with the Cybot and helps fill in the groove partway, if your specific tablet or phone is too thin to stand upright securely.
I like the design of the Cybot’s wood portion. You can also simply use the board on your lap without the big cushions, or prop it on chair arms. You can also dismantle the whole thing in seconds, stowing the lapboard in a niche and gaining two couch cushions or footrests. You can even use the cushions as armrests for kicking back (or pillow fights) when you are done for the day.
Prop Me Up: The Cybot Cushions
As for the big, rectangular cushions, they measure 6.3 inches high, 8 inches across, and 23.6 inches front to back. On the Cybot, the sides and bottom are a canvas-textured gray-and-black Kevlar material, done up in a digital pixel-camouflage pattern. (Overkill? Yeah, probably.) The top portion (where your forearms will rest), as well as the front and back panels, are faux black leather with attractive white stitching. The material doesn’t feel clammy or slick even if you leave a bare arm resting on it for a while. The bottoms of the cushions have zippers that expose the fill, which is a dense memory foam. You can take it out if you need to spot-clean the covers.
One issue to consider is the width of the cushions and the lapdesk top…and your physique. With the desktop’s edges lined up with the edges of the cushion, your body has about 16 inches across in which to sit before your hips are touching the cushions on either side. You can widen the cushions by an inch or two on each side before stability of the desk board becomes an issue. (The firmness of the surface you are sitting on has a lot to do with that stability and how wide you can spread out the cushions.) That said, if you have especially wide hips, you might want to take some measurements first. I’m relatively slight of build, with a size 34 waist, and I had just an inch of clearance on either side with the cushions drawn in parallel with the edges of the board.
One of the cushions, on one side, has a long vinyl pocket with an elastic top, designed to hold accessories, excess loops of cable, or a laptop power brick…
It works well for holding a beverage container, too. There’s a smaller net pocket alongside, too. Nerdytech also supplies a “mouse pocket” you can position where you like on the cushions with a Velcro stick-on. It’s designed to orient horizontally, but the opening for the pocket is on one of its short (vertical) sides, which is fine for mice but limits its utility for stowing other things. You can, if you like, rotate it 90 degrees and position it vertically, with the opening facing upward, but the Velcro is on one of the long edges, which isn’t ideal.
Accessorize Me: The Couchmaster Accessories
Nerdytech sells a series of accessories for its Couchmasters: a $25 tablet holder and a $19 phone holder (these elevate the device via a clip-on bracket), as well as a $9 clip-on ashtray/mini trash receptacle. Interestingly, the company offers, as an incentive to garner online reviews, one of these free (or other Nerdytech swag) in exchange for leaving a review of the Cybot on Amazon.com or Newegg along with a photo you shoot. The free items are sent randomly, though; you can’t specify which one you get. So you may end up with a Nerdytech cap or T-shirt instead for your efforts.
The company offers other variants of the Couchmaster, including the $179 Couchmaster Cycon 2 (which has a built-in USB hub and cable cut-throughs, designed for keyboard-and-mouse gaming on a big-screen TV), or the attractive, pro-looking $129 Couchmaster Cyworx, which resembles the Cybot but with a thatched gray fabric and a blondwood desk portion with gray inserts. (Personally, I found that one more attractive than the Cybot and its military/gamer look.) The accessories are designed to work with them all.
Verdict: Your Back Will Thank You
Is the Couchmaster Cybot revolutionary? Admittedly, reduced to its core, it’s just two sturdy, shaped cushions and a nicely sculpted board. You might think you could assemble your own approximation with a visit to a home-goods shop or an IKEA.
But all the parts of this “anywhere desk” are made with great attention to detail, and you’re set up a minute or two after opening the box. Sure, $139 may seem a bit steep for the bill of goods, but use it for a few days, and you’ll wish you owned it ages ago. Indeed, with three weeks of mileage on the Couchmaster Cybot, it’ll be hard for us, anytime soon, to go back to a desk all day.