I finally yielded to temptation and bought a Freedom Chair from HumanScale as a Christmas present to myself. 😉

…it’s the model without a headrest – although the headrest looks extremely cool, the additional cost is significant and I’d rather get up periodically instead of leaning back, anyway.

The “upscale chair meme” infected me when I saw the “Hot Seat” article in Wired 8.07 some time ago. The article (by Bruce Sterling) compares the Freedom with the market pioneer, Herman Miller‘s Aeron, and with the up-and-coming Leap Chair from Steelcase. There’s also a recent fourth contestant – Allsteel‘s #19 Chair, which seems to combine several desirable features from the other models, but I was unable to find a reseller for it in Brazil.

After over a year of incubation, I did get a chance to compare the three contestants. On a visit to Canada last June I had occasion to sit (briefly) in the Aeron and Leap chairs, while a few months later I found a local store that had both the Aeron and the Freedom in stock. The store kindly borrowed me the Aeron for a week, but I finally decided for the Freedom.

While the Aeron’s mesh back would be ideal for this tropical climate, I found it somewhat unyielding. Since I usually work without a shirt, my back was soon imprinted with a hexagonal pattern. Also, the Aeron’s back and seat are at a fixed angle – the whole upper structure leans back as a unit, cutting off circulation unless I used a footrest. I suppose I’d need a somewhat lowered table to avoid this… also, the Aeron’s armrests are hard to adjust, although I liked the way they swivel horizontally.

I only had about 10 minutes to check out the Leap chair. The multitude of adjustments is somewhat daunting. In terms of comfort I saw no great difference from the Aeron, although it’s hard to tell in such a short time. Unfortunately, although they do have a reseller in Brazil, there are none in my city, and I was unable to locate another place to do a longer test. Coincidentally, Illiad’s User Friendly very recently did a long sequence (from here to here), spoofing the Leap chair’s extreme configurability.

What finally decided me to buy a Freedom, despite also having little time to test it, was the automatic back adjustment and the way both armrests moved together. I’ve been sitting in it for a few days now and both features are a definite win over the Aeron. While the gel padding feels warmer than the Aeron’s mesh, it’s more comfortable. The only part that still feels uncomfortable is that the seat feels a little too horizontal, so that I keep sliding down, and there’s no adjustment for the seat angle. I’m studying the mechanism to see if something can be hacked there.

While some friends are gasping at the price I paid (and there’s a 100% customs charge over the US price!), I feel that, since I’ll spend most of the day in that thing, I’d rather pay a little more now than have to deal with medical complications later.