After poring over the top-selling lap desks at Amazon and other large retailers, surveying our readers on their most-desired features, and spending 12 hours using six of the best models we could find, we found the LapGear XL Executive Mahogany Lap Desk is the best option. It has a sturdy and stable work surface that shields your lap from a laptop’s heat, can accommodate a wide range of laptops (and depending on the laptop, even a mouse, smartphone, or notepad at the same time), and is the most comfortable lap desk to use for several hours at a time. Its cushioning allows you to sit comfortably in a variety of positions and avoids trapping too much heat against your legs while you work.
The Honey-Can-Do portable desk is worth considering only if you want to spend less on a lap desk than our main pick costs. It’s just as sturdy and stable as the LapGear XL and has a similar-size desk area, but its cushion traps more body heat against your legs than the LapGear, making it more appropriate for shorter periods of use. Also, you’d need to overlook a distinctly non-executive look for your lap desk.
A lap desk is for anyone who uses a laptop or needs a stable surface away from a table or desk—specifically, well, on their lap.
While lap desks have been around for years, modern iterations focus on electronic use rather than handwriting. A lap desk offers a more-stable surface for a laptop (and a mouse, if you prefer) and protects your legs from the laptop’s heat. (There’s such a thing as “toasted skin syndrome” that results in damaged skin from hot laptops.)
If you find yourself struggling to keep your laptop stable on your lap, or if you get bothered by the heat the computer puts out, a lap desk is an easy and inexpensive solution. Lap desks mainly vary in the desk surface material, the material that sits on your lap, and the size of the desk area—they’re available to fit laptops of almost any size, from ultraportables to large gaming rigs. Some also include fans to actively cool your laptop, but our survey respondents indicated that this feature isn’t a priority, so we looked only at lap desks without fans.
When it comes to buying a new lap desk, key considerations are size (to accommodate your laptop and anything else you want to keep at hand while you work, such as a mouse, phone, or notebook) and comfort (how it feels against your legs and if it adequately shields you from the laptop’s heat). Weight is also a consideration since a lap desk that adds significant weight can become uncomfortable, even after short periods of time.
Lap desks are straightforward products, and while many different sizes and colors are available, we haven’t seen compelling technology or new materials that should prompt you to buy a new one if you already have one that you like.
Lap desks are relatively simple products, and with few significant differentiators aside from color and materials, the number of choices can be overwhelming. We looked at the few existing editorial reviews of lap desks to get some perspective on popular models, though most lacked any rigorous criteria or testing. We also considered the top sellers and best reviewed models at major retailers like Amazon, Target, and Best Buy. Finally, we consulted an expert in ergonomics, Cornell University’s Professor Alan Hedge, to understand the physical benefits and drawbacks of lap desk use.
Based on responses to a survey of our readers, we focused on lap desks that can accommodate 15-inch laptops, priced from $25 to $50 (the range that more than half of our responders preferred). We selected six well-reviewed models made from a variety of materials: the Targus Slim Lap Desk, LapGear XL LapDesk, Cooler Master Comforter, Honey-Can-Do Portable Lap Desk, LapGear XL Executive Mahogany LapDesk, and Sofia + Sam Mini Lap Desk.
We spent over 12 hours testing our finalists, using each with a 15-inch MacBook Pro. This included extended time sitting on a couch plus intentional interruptions to stand up, so we could see what it was like to pick everything up and set it down on another surface. We considered heat transferred from the laptop or trapped from our own body, the stability of each desk in a variety of positions on our lap and when placed on a table, overall comfort, and quality of construction.
Before going further, a note about ergonomics. Laptop computers present several safety issues. To avoid unnatural neck, wrist, and arm positions and resulting injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome or neck strain, experts say the top of a computer’s display should be placed at eye level, about arm’s length away from your body, while the keyboard should be placed such that your arms are bent at most 90 degrees at the elbow and your wrists are in a neutral, straight position. Obviously, without an external keyboard and/or display, a laptop doesn’t provide a good ergonomic setup, and a lap desk doesn’t fix this. It shouldn’t be something you use for hours every day if you want to avoid repetitive stress injuries. According to Professor Hedge, who directs Cornell University’s Human Factors and Ergonomics teaching and research programs, using a laptop (with or without a lap desk) for an hour or less a day shouldn’t cause too many issues over time. Any longer, and you should consider a setup that adheres to ergonomic standards to help you avoid injury over time. (We cover some good gear for this in our guides to the most comfortable ergonomic keyboard, the best office chair, and the best standing desk.)
That said, some laptop and lap desk setups are better than others. If you want to try to adhere to ergonomic principles with a laptop computer and lap desk, look for a lap desk that allows you to keep your wrists as straight as possible to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, which happens when the median nerve that runs from your forearm to your hand is compressed in your wrist. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, and pain in your hand and fingers; severe cases can require surgery to get relief from the symptoms.
The LapGear XL Executive lap desk in mahogany stood out from the rest of the pack in our testing. Its 22.5-by-15-inch top surface is large enough to accommodate a 15-inch MacBook Pro and a mouse (or an iPhone or small notepad). It conforms to and rests comfortably on your lap, it’s stable and easy to pick up off your lap, it shields you from the heat of your laptop, and because of the smart design of its underside cushioning, it doesn’t trap your own body heat against you.
It’s also the most expensive lap desk we tested, largely due to the fact that its surface is made of wood instead of plastic. While a wood desk surface (as opposed to plastic or other synthetic material) doesn’t offer any notable advantage over other surface types at keeping your lap cool, where wood stands out is in overall stability, thanks to its stiffness. In contrast, the LapGear XL LapDesk that we tested has a thin plastic surface that flexes noticeably when you pick it up; it also has sharper edges that make it uncomfortable to grasp.
In our testing, we noticed that the size and shape of the cushioning against our legs made a significant difference in how much heat is trapped. Lap desks that had a single wedge of foam underneath felt hot after short periods of time, even in a cooler room. Both LapGear models we tested have two long strips of cushioning filled with small foam beads, and these strips allow air to circulate underneath—these models didn’t feel nearly as hot as some of the others like the Sofia + Sam Mini Lap Desk, which has a thick foam wedge covering the entire bottom. The XL Executive instead molds readily to your lap, allowing you to work comfortably in a variety of any seated positions, something we found more difficult with other designs.
When picking up a lap desk that’s supporting a large computer and perhaps a mouse or smartphone, the easier it is to grip the desk, the better. The LapGear XL Executive is thin enough to hold easily but stiff enough that there’s no flex when it’s loaded, making it a breeze to pick up without worrying that you’ll lose your grip or that it will tip unexpectedly and dump your computer on the floor.
While we tested all models with a 15-inch MacBook Pro, the LapGear XL Executive can also accommodate larger laptops, with many reviewers on Amazon attesting that it works well with 17-inch laptops. Other owners praised it for use with smaller laptops along with a mouse or for non-computing tasks like writing, drawing, and even eating. We like that even if your primary focus is to use it with a laptop computer, the LapGear XL Executive can provide a stable and comfortable surface for these activities as well. Overall, Amazon users have given the XL Executive model a rating of 4.5 stars out of five over 153 reviews.
Some reviewers on LapGear’s site and Amazon note that the bean bag strips on our pick can flatten out and provide less cushioning over time. Both strips are sewn into a cloth-covered sheet of plastic which is attached by velcro to the bottom of the desk, so the entire cushion section could, in theory, be replaced easily. However, LapGear doesn’t currently offer replacement cushions for sale through its site or Amazon.
If you’re willing to sacrifice a little comfort for a lower price, the Honey-Can-Do portable lap desk is the one we’d recommend. Measuring 23.2 by 15.8 inches, it’s just as spacious as our main pick, and its engineered-wood surface feels just as stiff and stable as the LapGear’s mahogany desk for typing and writing. With some colors of the Honey-Can-Do available for as much as $15 less than our top pick—think hot pink or baby blue—it offers a similar experience on top and smaller price tag, though it features less air circulation and a somewhat unforgiving foam cushion.
The Honey-Can-Do has a single foam wedge as its bottom cushion, and this wedge ends up trapping a lot of heat from your legs. The result is that this model can get uncomfortable to use after about an hour of work, particularly in warm weather or a warmer room. The stiff foam can also dig into the flesh above your knees if you’re sitting with your legs out in front of you on a couch or ottoman.
Still, Amazon users really like the Honey-Can-Do, giving it a rating of 4.5 stars out of five over 337 reviews. Many reviewers mention the lap desk’s value—lots of desk space for a low price—while several mention the same heat problem we ran into. A few also mentioned a strong chemical smell right out of the box; we did not notice one.
We specifically considered some smaller lap desks, including the Sofia + Sam Mini Lap Desk. It has a small surface that just barely accommodated our 15-inch MacBook Pro, though it was still stable enough on our lap. However, the Sofia + Sam desk suffers from the same issue as the Honey Can Do: Its single-piece foam wedge traps heat against your legs. And with its smaller desk surface, keeping a smartphone, notepad, or mouse on it at the same time as a laptop is out of the question unless you have a small laptop (say, 12 inches or smaller). Finally, the thickness of the desk with the foam wedge on the bottom combined with the Mini Lap Desk’s overall small size made it more difficult to grip and move off your lap to stand up than our top picks.
We also found some small and light lap desks specifically designed for frequent travelers. The travel-focused, portable option we considered, the Targus Slim Laptop LapDesk, weighs less than a pound and folds down to less than a half inch in thickness while still accommodating laptops up to 15 inches when fully open. In our testing, it adequately shielded our laps from heat but was downright uncomfortable thanks to a flip-out plastic leg that digs into your legs and offers no cushioning at all. Also, moving it from your lap to another surface can be tricky since the leg can flip back underneath unexpectedly, a recipe for a laptop tumble. True to its description, the Slim Laptop LapDesk is very slim, completely disappearing under a 15-inch MacBook Pro, and it’s thus quite portable but not comfortable or stable enough to recommend.
Some lap desks offer features focused on helping a laptop stay cool, beyond just shielding you from the heat. Cooler Master offers the Comforter lap desk, which has a curved design that allows air flow immediately under the laptop and a cushioned surface against your legs. We found that the curve that gives the rear of the desk its elevation can hit right above the knees on shorter legs, and its lack of thick cushioning can cause discomfort over time. The Comforter has a rubber strip at the bottom to prevent laptops from sliding off, and a top channel created by the curve underneath can be a surprisingly useful place to put a pen or phone. But this one doesn’t offer enough give in its cushioning and shape to be comfortable compared to the other desks we tested.
We also tested the top-selling lap desk on Amazon at the time of publication, the LapGear XL LapDesk. Many Amazon customers praise it for its spaciousness, but its wrist rest draws criticism for its firmness and for getting in the way more than providing comfortable support. This model is the same size as our top pick, but its plastic flexes easily and felt flimsy in our hands when picking it up off our laps with a computer on top. It has the same bean bag strips for cushioning as our main pick, plus two zippered pouches on the bottom that could be used to store small items like a mouse. It’s a few dollars less expensive than our pick, but its overly flexible feel makes that savings moot.