Fluidstance’s The Level: Crucial or Overrated?

Prelude

I believe it was August when Fluidstance first reached out to me about reviewing their product, The Level. Of course I was amenable and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t until October that I realized The Level had been shipped to me but then stolen off my front step before I ever saw it. I wrote a post about this theft and The Level generally and Fluidstance generously sent me another one!

I’ve been using it for the past few months. I didn’t want to write a review too quickly as products like this can be so bright and shiny and fascinating when they first come out but as time passes they fall into disuse – just another item to stuff in the closet / garage / attic. Well, it is a New Year and I am ready to report.

It Is All About Me

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.
Fluidstance’s The Level (Natural Maple), available for $289.

Before I review The Level I need to give you a little bit of context about me. If you already know me, you can skip this section, if you don’t, I think a minute or two of your time will really inform your understanding of my review.

I have a quantity and diversity of ailments oftentimes not seen in someone twice my age. Most of them don’t connect with my review of The Level but a few do. Namely, I have chronic leg pain. These days it is usually low intensity though occasionally it will flare up with a vengeance. Combine this with some knee and lower back pain and I’m a bit of a disaster.

Why does this matter? Because my review comes from the place of someone with chronic health issues and will tend to be informed from that perspective. I hope it will be of use to everyone, but I think it will be especially useful to anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The Presentation

Fluidstance is an Apple-esque company. They don’t make a lot of products but what they do make is top notch in quality and you know this from the moment the box arrives at your door. It is a bit like unpacking an iPhone back in the day before everyone else caught on to how presentation could really affect consumer’s buying decisions.

Inside is a nice sack into which one can insert The Level (to keep it from getting scuffed, wet when raining, etc. I suppose). Then there is The Level itself. It is beautiful with a nicely finished bamboo top and a sturdy aluminum base (I know, sturdy is not the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions aluminum, but this is not your soda can’s aluminum!).

Fluidstance positions itself as an eco-friendly company, something which is especially popular these days, but they don’t just say this. Check their website and you’ll see that the use of bamboo for the wood was chosen because of it’s abundance and renewable nature. The base is recycled aluminum made in a solar-powered facility. Even the finish was chosen due to its low emissions.

 

I like the company culture this seems to express. Fluidstance’s serious commitment to the environment makes me feel that they are concerned about more than making money (not that there is anything wrong with making money, we all gotta eat, sleep, and play) and makes me optimistic that they will steward well in other areas – e.g., genuinely helpful customer support, pride in the quality of the product, and actually caring for their employees.

The Quality

The Level is a solid product. There is no planned obsolescence built in! Seriously, I believe this product will last years – assuming you don’t light it on fire, allow your dog to repeatedly chew on it, submit it to a world’s strongest man crushing objects competition, etc.

You’d think that a product like this, which has a decent amount of weight placed on it day in and day out and which has someone standing on and scuffing around it would begin to deteriorate. Other than a  few cosmetic scratches on the bottom of the aluminum base (which is wobbling around while you stand on it and which may have come via other means – e.g., me not being the best at occasionally moving through doorways or hallways without bumping into them) it looks as good as the day I received it.

Does It Work?

We know its beautiful and responsibly manufactured, but does it work? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes, and especially for me (and you?) with chronic pain.

I bought a sit/stand desk because in addition to being healthier than sitting and burning more calories I experienced significant flares in my chronic pain if I remained in any one position too long.[1] It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I couldn’t stand for prolonged periods of time either without the pain flaring, so I had to spend more time going back and forth between sitting and standing than I wanted to.

Then came The Level. I was worried at first it was just a placebo effect, but it has been lasting. I can stand for much more extended periods without causing significant flareups in my legs (primary pain point), knees (secondary), or lower back.[2]

These days I’m likely to do 2.5 to 3 hrs. standing before I need a break. Previously there were times where the pain began to flare almost instantaneously and it was certainly significant within 1.5 to 2 hrs. These days I might even go 4 or 6 hours standing at one time.[3]

The Level keeps my legs moving a little bit all the time and, if I begin to feel some tension (or for the fun of it), I can increase the amount of movement significantly, all while still working productively.

Found Out the Hard Way

When I first received The Level it didn’t move much and I was surprised. It isn’t a tricky experience meant to throw you on your back, but I did expect a bit more movement. Ends up this was entirely my fault. I had one of those rubber mats one stands on to relieve foot/leg/knee pressure incurred standing on a hard floor. I knew The Level wasn’t supposed to be used on smooth floors (too slippery) but I figured that a rubber mat would serve the same purpose on my hard floors as a throw rug/carpet[4]. I was WRONG. Once I started using The Level on a carpet I experienced a significant (though not unpleasant) increase in motion.[5]

Unless you only want The Level to move only when you move (e.g. it will move when you shift body weight) and not a sort of constant, fluid motion  – use carpet!

Price

The Level isn’t an inexpensive product. The American-Made Level (Bamboo) I was sent retails for $389. Not the sort of money one drops without consideration (at least, not that I do). There are lower priced models available – The American Made Level (Maple with Walnut Finish) for $339 and the American-Made Level (Natural Maple) for $289, but these are still not your bargain-value prices.

As you consider whether this is something you should invest your money in, let me provide a few questions for consideration:

  1. Why would I buy this product? Is it because its new and cool looking or because I’d actually use it?
  2. How much of my life is spent at a desk? Lifehacker once recommended spending your money where your time is spent – and I think this is grand advice. Most of us spend a lot of time at our desk most days!
  3. Could this help with any ongoing health issues I have?
  4. Would this help me significantly increase the amount of time I spend standing rather than sitting?

If you decide to buy something like The Level the next question is whether you should actually buy The Level or should go with a less-expensive competitor. A few questions for consideration on that front:

  1. What is the difference in price between The Level and the competitive product I’m looking at?
  2. What is the quality of the two products? Am I getting more product quality for the extra price of The Level?
  3. What is the reputation of the company? Do they care about their customers? Do they care about this product? Will they be around next year?

Personally, I’m a fan of the middle-of-the-road approach. I don’t need luxury, but I also know that buying cheap oftentimes means buying repeatedly. I’d rather spend a bit more upfront to get a quality product that is going to last than one that will need replacement or repairs.

For me, time is my most valuable asset, not money. If the competitive product will last five years but need to be repaired twice and this takes me 1 hr. each time to call the manufacturer, secure an RMA, go to the post office, etc. – how much is that time worth? This is not necessarily what you are paid, but what you believe inherently is the value of your time. Is your time worth $10, $30, $50, $100, $250, an hour? Factor in the time you are likely to spend maintaining the lower quality product. Is the price once you include your time still lower for the competitive product? If not, you know what to do!

Conclusion

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, The Level is a worthwhile investment. Yes, it makes me cringe a bit to think of buying something so simple for so much[6] but if I divide the cost by the number of days I’ll use it this year it becomes much more reasonable. How many days do we work in a year? Lets say 240. Now we are talking about paying $1.20 per working day for this convenience if we purchase the lower end Level. If we purchase the highest? $1.62/day. Pretty reasonable for a product that will probably last years.

The Level does what it promises – helps one maintain motion even while standing at a desk and thus relieving pressure on the body. For me, personally, I see reduced pain in my legs, knees, and back from using The Level.

What do you think? I’m eager to hear from everyone but would be especially interested to hear from anyone else who is using The Level and has chronic health issues and whether it helps with these. Am I unique in experiencing some relief?

 

  1. [1]Sometimes the pain can get bad after ten or fifteen minutes, definitely if I try to do seated desk work for more than one day in a row I’ll end up somewhat incapacitated by the end of the second day.
  2. [2]I generally don’t notice back pain, unless my leg and knee pain is really low. Its sort of that, “Your head hurts? Let me smash your foot with a hammer and your head will feel much better” gag.
  3. [3]Not usually and this includes perhaps attending a meeting which is sit-down and walking around the office, to the bathroom, etc…You know, normal stuff.
  4. [4]Is there a difference, I don’t feel like asking Master Google at the moment.
  5. [5]Besides the placebo effect, this was another reason I’ve taken a while to write this review. Once I realized I was sabotaging The Level I wanted to spend some time using it correctly before reviewing.
  6. [6]Okay, if you haven’t caught on to this yet, I grew up quite poor.

My Fisher Wallace Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulator Has Arrived!

I came home from working at the church and noticed a small package on the front steps. I couldn’t remember anything of this size I had ordered, so I walked inside and slide it open – to my surprise, there was the Fisher Wallace Stimulator! I’d purchased it on Tuesday (7/9) and received it the next day (7/10). I don’t expect everyone will get it that fast – but I’m glad it miraculously came so quickly to me. Here is a photo of what you see when you open the box:

Opening the Package from Fisher Wallace.
Opening the Package from Fisher Wallace.

I took out the pouch and unloaded its contents, which look like this:

Everything that comes inside of the pouch.
Everything that comes inside of the pouch.

I must say that the first thing that impressed me was the presence of two Duracell batteries. I know, I know, its a very small thing – but doesn’t it just drive you nuts when you get an electronic device and it doesn’t have the batteries!?!? Well, it drives me nuts. Lets take a closer look at the different components:

Fisher Wallace Stimulator - Frontal
Fisher Wallace Stimulator – Frontal

This is the stimulator. Looks pretty simple. The bottom light indicates the device is on, the lights with numbers indicate how high of intensity it is running at – they recommend starting at two. Despite my great desire to start at four, I started with two.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Without Batteries
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Without Batteries

Flip the device over and pop off the battery cover and this is what you’ll see. Nothing too fancy, but note the nice belt clip. This is where I first had problems. There are two little hooks at the bottom of the battery cover that need to slip in a certain way and it took me a few tries (nothing major) to get them in. Then I picked it up and the battery cover fell off! What?! I realized that at the top there is a little latch which can be pressed up or down (most simply snap in, which probably makes them more likely to break – so I think this is a better design). Once I had actually latched the battery cover shut, everything was good.

Fisher Wallace Wire Connectors
Fisher Wallace Wire Connectors

Now these wires plug into the stimulator and then into sponge covers which attach to my head. Looks a little frighteningly like I’m getting ready to jump start a car battery, no?

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges/Holders
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges/Holders

This is the front of the sponge containers. Fisher Wallace kindly inserts the first set of sponges for you.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges After Soaking
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Sponges After Soaking

And here are the sponges after I’ve soaked them in the sink. Not sure if you can tell from the photo but they have expanded significantly.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator Waiting to Be Used.
Fisher Wallace Stimulator Waiting to Be Used.

It only took a few minutes, but now she is ready to go…So, I latch her onto my belt and start her up.

Fisher Wallace Stimulator attached to belt, powered on.
Fisher Wallace Stimulator attached to belt, powered on.

I had no problem attaching it to my belt and you can see the green light says that it is on and the two yellow lights say that it is at level 2. Note that they are actually flashing, but that doesn’t show up in a still photo. 🙂

Dave wearing Stimulator without glasses.
Dave wearing Stimulator without glasses.

And here I am wearing the stimulator…but that isn’t really what I look like when I’m using it, b/c I use reading glasses…it’s more like this:

Dave Wearing Stimulator with Glasses
Dave Wearing Stimulator with Glasses

Yes, that is a little more dorky/geeky looking, like it should be.

Dave Wearing Stimulator Ear Shot
Dave Wearing Stimulator Ear Shot

I also took a close up shot so you can see how the sponge/sponge cover fits under the headband immediately above my sideburns.

Now I did have one other small problem. At first the device was powering on and showing one level 1 activity, but no matter how high I turned it up, it didn’t go up any levels. If I pressed the sponges against my head, the activity went up. I was confused.

As my fingers ran across the two sponge covers at the same time I realized that they didn’t feel the same. I turned the device off, took out the sponge covers and realized that I had placed one backwards (the sponge was pointing out, with the wire against my head, instead of the sponge being pressed against my head). I corrected this user fail and restarted the device – this time everything worked just dandy.

The device has now finished its first cycle and I don’t feel any noticeable difference, nor did I really feel anything during the entire process. If it wasn’t for the lights on the device, I would have questioned if anything was happening.

So, there ya are. You’ve experienced my first trial with this device. I intend on using it twice a day (once in the morning, once before bed) for the next several weeks and report my findings on a daily basis…but don’t worry, I won’t clog Dave Enjoys up with that, instead I’ll post about it over at OCD Dave. So if you want to read about the ongoing saga you can subscribe to Dave Enjoys using the email subscription box on the right of the OCD Dave blog page or you can use RSS (if you are a geek :)) or you can like the OCD Dave Facebook page and notices of new blog posts will go up there.

News Summary for April 5, 2013.