KN Recommends: work-from-home setup options

KN Recommends: work-from-home setup options

In case you haven’t heard, we’ve got a bit of a pandemic going on right now. Global, even. That means that quite a large percentage of the workforce has shifted to remote working to keep the lights on. While that means network infrastructure has been tested, you might also be testing your home work setup. To that end, we here at KN have some recommendations for you to consider to bolster your productivity. (image credit: Malte Mueller/Getty Images/fStop)

Extra monitors

One thing you’re probably going to be missing from your regular office setup is the ability to have multiple monitors. Now, if you’re like me, you might have an old (but still quite functional) monitor kicking around. The question is, how do you connect it to your newer-era laptop? Well, there are all manner of cables you can find out there. Me, I picked up this HDMI-to-DVI adapter to hook the old LCD into the work laptop, and it’s working like a champ.

On the other hand, maybe you don’t have a monitor but have been meaning to get one? Then something like this $300 Philips 32″ may be the ticket (had a buddy recommend it to me). Can’t complain about the screen real-estate there (it’s bigger than what I’ve got at my regular office), and the one screen could easily do the work of a two-screen setup.

What if, on the other hand, you need to be a little more flexible and on-the-go in your setup (or just want to be when we’re allowed to go out and about)? The same friend who recommended the big screen up above also recommended this $200 portable screen, which certainly gives you a good bit of flexibility in your setup. We’ve also had some recommendations coming in for the Dell 2718Q 4k USB-C which looks to be a $700 option for those with USB-C outputs on their machines.

Keyboard

The screen covers the outputs – but what about the inputs? Yeah, yeah, your laptop has a keyboard and trackpad, and they can get the job done for short stints. But there’s a reason many of us have external peripherals at the office – they’re more comfortable to use for longer periods of time.

When you’re talking keyboards, many are going to think about mechanical keyboards. They bring a much different feel to your typing, one that many folks feel is more satisfying to type with. One that I’m checking out right now (actually writing this article with it) is the $169 Das Keyboard 4 Professional for Mac. At the office, I’ve got a standard (wired) Mac external keyboard, which mimics the look and feel of the Macbook. With this Das, the typing experience is quite a bit different, and you know, it really feels like you’re doing something productive with the tactile and audible feedback. Be on the lookout for a full review soon.

Now, if you want something a bit more compact (and without the USB 3 hub and audio controls) then something like the Vertex Race 3 may be more in order (probably if you want a more portable setup as with the second monitor up above). This is, again, another mechanical keyboard setup with four different switch configurations, and I’m seeing some versions with RGB and some without. Pricing in this lineup looks to be $140 – $160, and this is another one we’ve got on the way in for a review.

If you need something a bit more affordable (and you’re not sold on the idea of a clickier mechanical keyboard) then there are lot of options out there. One brand I’ve been partial to in the past is Logitech, though I’ve not purchased one from them in a long time, so I can’t speak to current quality capability. That said, with pricing starting in the $30-40 range, this is a quick way to get another keyboard (wired or wireless) in the mix.

Mice

Here, this is where things get really subjective, and I’ve found needing to handle the mice in a physical store was something that was always beneficial, for hand fit (sizing, button layout) as well as how the scroll wheel feels. We can’t quite do that these days, however, so here are some recommendations.

For Mac users, there’s something to be said for the slim simplicity of the $70 Magic Mouse 2. I’ve been using one exclusively for a few years now, and it just works well with the Mac. You can adjust it so you still have a right-click, and the fact that you can do multi-touch gestures on it (as on the built-in trackpad) is killer. Of course, if you prefer, you can also get the external track pad as well.

For something that’s a good bit less expensive – but still a massive upgrade from the stock wired mice you’re used to – the $50 (but currently only $28 on Amazon) Logitech Marathon M705 is a great mouse. I used one for a long time, and the battery consumption really does earn the Marathon name – they just last and last and last.

That one is very much for right-handed mousing. If you want something more ambi-dextrous, or just simply cheaper, then the AmazonBasics lineup is where you should look. This one is super-basic (and looks like a Logitech clone) and runs an easy $13.

Headphones / Speakers

We had some recommendations come in for speakers (Apple Homepod x2, for instance) but that lends itself more to you having an isolated space to work in. That said, if you’ve got that, take a look at your existing smart speakers, as you can easily hook those in (via bluetooth) to your laptop, and voila, you can pump up the jams. For those needing to keep it quieter – and get on conference calls – a headset is in order.

If you’re looking for active noise cancelling, the $278 Sony WH1000XM3 are the current belles of the ball, but the $378 Bose QuietComfort 35 certainly have their proponents as well. That said, I’d think taking a look at the $149 Audio Technica ATH-ANC700BT would be worth your while.

If you’re more of an earbud person, why not explore “true wireless”? A pair I’ve used is the $99 Audio-Technica ATH-CK3TWBL (we reviewed them here). If you want to go more upscale, there’s the $175 Jabra Elite 75t or the $249 Apple Airpods Pro. If you’re looking for somehting more inexpensive, we’d suggest checking out the Anker offerings.

Finally, don’t forget about the wired variety of earbuds (or headphones) – most anything you’d plug into your phone would also work on your laptop. I’ve got an older AKG headset that I use a good deal, but that’s no longer available. Something like this $9 Panasonic option or $11 AmazonBasics version would get the job done; this Sony headset with mic (normally $50 but going for $30) would be a solid and affordable upgrade path if you want to stay wired.

Conclusion

Obviously, working from home is a whole new reality for many of us, and you’ll need to adjust and tweak your own setup to your needs (and how many others you’re navigating in your home). None of these items are particularly necessary (well, I’d argue a good headset for calls is), but they can certainly ease the impact of not having your normal office setup, while maintaining your productivity. If we’re going to be staying home for the foreseeable future, might as well make the best of it, we say. Stay safe, stay healthy, and remember to wash those hands, friends.

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