The Inspect-a-Gadget elves are well-versed in all manner of shiny devices, hard lumps of computing power and even the occasionally frivolous technology gadget (the clue’s in the name, right folks?), so generally speaking the team doesn’t look for external advice, however sagacious and learned that opinion may appear.
But (just in case you hadn’t noticed) these are strange times and the elves were summoned this month to a council of elders who wanted to discuss the right way to choose (and buy) technology for your home office.
The soothsayer and professor emeritus of all things that go whizz, ping and bang on this occasion was Andrew Kirkcaldy, cofounder of By Gamers For Gamers (BGFG), an organisation made up entirely of gamers dedicated game tech including eSports, PC building and games analysis.
In a rare departure, Inspect-a-Gadget presents a guest contribution from Kirkcaldy and team, who write as follows…
The ever-changing shift to home-working on an almost permanent basis has led to an increased priority with how to effectively manage your work, life and homeschooling/parenting roles.
Technology is a central part of this move to decentralising how we ‘used to function’ – from commuting to work, sending our kids to school and balancing our mental and physical well-being in relative freedom.
Gamers know best
Believe it or not, the best people to ask are gamers who spend their time looking for the best, most responsive equipment that tackles all questions.
Many people aren’t experts in what screen is best for visual healthcare, or what chair is suitable for different shaped bodies for long periods of sitting; which desk to buy and its importance; what keyboard or mouse is perfect to combat RSI and shoulder/wrist/ finger strains; what laptop or PC to buy; what a CPU and GPU is and why it’s important?
Why are adjustable armrests important on chairs? Which brand is better? Which one is more affordable? How do I select the right product for my usage time? How can I do my video calls in a noisy household? Why do my eyes hurt? Which headset is the best for me? The list of questions goes on.
Our aim is to educate people no matter what stage of insight they have on products. We are known in the gaming community for our in-depth, informative, fun and interactive advice and our motivation is for people to get the most out of their technology… and that extends from technophiles to technophobes.
We have recently seen an increase in pre-built PCs and monitors, plus peripheral technology like keyboards, mice, chairs etc. from our own data since 2020 – which is a testament to the ‘pandemic way of life. As a result of this surge of interest in customers seeking more productive, consumer technology that straddles both work and play, we are now recruiting 30 more staff into our team of experienced, passionate individuals dedicated to delivering unbiased PC tech, gaming and eSports expertise.
The technologies that have enabled us to work from home have also empowered a lot of people with confidence and new skills to continue to do so. It has led to a shift in how businesses will operate in the future, enabling a more flexible work week… and we are no different in building our company to reflect the current climate and lead by example.
Gearing up your gear
So what should you look for building the perfect work-game station, especially as we enter another year of Covid-19?
It helps to set your budget before you start, with maybe a little leeway to go higher if you come across an item you really want; but also be realistic. You aren’t going to get a curved 32-inch monitor for under £100.
If you are buying multiple items, rank them in terms of the percentage you want to spend. It may be that you simply need a great monitor, but that means a cheaper desk and chair are on the cards. Find something suited to the space you have and set out these terms to your family/housemates.
You know by now that all desks, monitors and chairs are different sizes, so you need to consider the space for your setup. Look for something that also seems to be the right price. There is an awful lot of price hikes going on by third-party sellers during these times as items are more in demand. You might be happy to pay a little extra, but equally, you shouldn’t have to be a victim of price gouging. If I may humbly suggest at the risk of self-promotion, websites like WePC are well placed to help.
A good return on good returns
Seek items from established brands and, where possible, purchase your stuff from stores with a good returns policy – like Amazon. This allows you to change your mind with the minimum of fuss… and tech being tech, there will be times when it doesn’t work as you might expect.
Think everything through. It might seem obvious but not all chairs will fit under all desks and if you need to push it under when you aren’t using it to save space, it can soon become a real issue. Regardless of a returns policy, sending a large chair back is never easy. Your choice will also be dependent on your circumstances – work or play? Both? What kind of job do you do? What games will you play?
So how do you pick the right technology, especially if you are not familiar with gaming brands and tech terms?
The key here is to do your research. We obtain products and do in-depth, fun and informative reviews which is helpful – and essential; but there is no harm in reading actual users’ reviews of an item on Amazon. Bear in mind that some of the more unscrupulous sellers may be ‘massaging’ reviews of certain products to make them appear more popular, although this tends to happen with unbranded gear to make it seem better value.
The rule of thumb is that if it’s from a reputable brand and it has good reviews, it’s a great jumping-off point. Equally, if it’s from a brand you might not have heard of, yet the deal feels too good to be true – then guess what? It generally is.
Pretty much every item under the tech sun will also have videos on YouTube, a lot of which will be made by people just like you – general consumers, so not only will you get to see the product up close (not just from glossy PR shots), but you will also get a better understanding of what other people think of it. Again, companies can send out review models, so just keep in mind that this could lead to more favourable reviews from some quarters.
I concentrate on the negative reviews on Amazon – if there are a fair number of people suggesting a product breaks after a week, then the positive reviews are irrelevant to me. People will moan about everything, but as far as reliability and durability go, they have a right to complain if a product doesn’t live up to expectations.
Ideal set-ups for sit downs
Secretlabs gaming chairs have been hugely popular this year and gamers who know about gaming chairs are most likely to recommend them to colleagues for elongated periods of sitting. Moving to a home working environment initially saw a lot of people working from their couches or kitchen tables – certainly not ideal for spending hours at a time. Increased reports of back pain, neck pain and RSI from lack of support for your wrists will all come back to bite us.
As a generalisation, most people’s posture is terrible to start with, so buying a chair with armrests and lumbar support is a great start. This is one of the reasons WePC would always recommend Secretlabs chairs. They are so good we stocked our office with them.
Things to look for: good lumbar support; adjustability, especially for height, weight and armrests (we guide you through this in our videos) and material – leather / faux leather or fabric. You are going to be spending a lot of time at this workstation, so it will pay to not cut corners on the things that matter – like your health.
This also includes the display you will spend your day looking at it. A good monitor is not the same as a good TV. TVs are positioned further away from you and are designed to be viewed as such. Your face is going to be a lot closer to a monitor, so things such as blue light, and refresh rate come into play.
If you want a good monitor for gaming as well as work, you are going to need to consider the resolution as well. In addition, you need it to be adjustable so you aren’t putting extra pressure on your neck looking up or down at it.
Also worth looking into is the screen’s refresh rate. In layman’s terms, this is basically how many times the screen sends the image to the display. The higher the better here. Most budget screens are stuck at 60Hz, but we are starting to see more affordable monitors with 144Hz and beyond rates. Again, the higher the rate, the better – but also the greater the expense.
You may have heard of 4K TVs and of its increased clarity of picture? Therefore, it will be of no surprise to learn that we have 4k monitors as well. The difference here is that to make the most of a 4k monitor you need to have a pretty powerful PC doing all the hard work. Don’t expect to play games in 4K because you have a 4K display. Until recently, 4K monitors have been out of the financial reach of the majority. They were simply too expensive to bother with unless you were an enthusiast. Now, the cost has plummeted as the industry starts to look at even higher resolutions, and within the next year or so, we believe they will become the norm.
While you are looking for a new screen, you will start to notice curved displays. Once the sole occupant of science fiction films, curved screens are again coming down in price and can provide some extra immersiveness, not to mention they look cool and desirable.
GPUs and you
This is the heart of everything you see displayed on your shiny new monitor and they generally come in the form of an add-on card inside your PC itself. GPUs power the graphics of your games as well as for work, such as video rendering or Zoom calls! The more powerful the GPU, the better it will perform. Thankfully, if a GPU excels at one thing, it generally excels at them all.
The best GPUs can easily cost over £1000, but thankfully you don’t need to spend anywhere near that to get a performance you will be happy with.
So if you have the desk, chair and display sorted you next need to think about keyboard and mouse. You might not realise it, but some mice are designed to be held in different ways according to preference. There has been an upsurge in vertical mice since lockdown too, which reduces the strain on the median nerve/carpal tunnel in the wrist as they are designed so the user can hold their hand in a more natural position.
This is just the start to be honest… we could go on, but let’s stop here and say that, please, do realise that buying tech for serious use is a serious business, even if that serious business is serious gaming… so please stay safe, play safe, buy safe and keep washing your hands.