Updated: May 23, 2015

REVIEW: Humanscale Freedom Desk Chair and Humanscale Office Chairs

Humanscale Ergonomic Chair Buying Guide:
Humanscale is a company that makes ergonomic office products - chairs, monitor arms, keyboard systems, lights. In the last 10 years, though, they have really made a strong name for themselves in what they call the "task chair industry" -- that's office and desk chairs to you and me. While Herman Miller might have the most famous chair out there, the Aeron, the Humanscale office chairs joined the competition in 1999. The Humanscale Freedom Chair was their first seating product, while the Liberty Chair followed in 2004. As one of the most popular ergonomic work chairs, the Freedom Chair has won reviews like this one from the New York Times:
  • "For the last few years, the gold standard in office seating has been set by the Freedom chair by Humanscale.."
And this one from Business 2.0 Magazine:
  • "Five stars! Worth every cent, the Freedom task chair removes at least the physical discomfort of your workday."
In this guide, we will take a detailed look at the Humanscale Freedom Chair -- see what features it offers, how much it costs, where you can buy it, how it compares to the Aeron -- and we'll give you our real life thoughts and comments from the unit we reviewed. We'll get one common question out of the way right now -- How much does the Humanscale Freedom chair cost? Expect to pay $850-$1250 for the Freedom, and $1000+ additional if you want the leather upholstery option.

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View the best-selling ergonomic office chairs online here. We found their prices to be identical or better to the retail stores we visited, plus they save you the hassle of driving around wasting time.

Humanscale Chair Design and Ergonomics

The Human Scale Freedom Chairs are designed to encourage movement and posture changes -- it reclines easily while keeping your arms at the right height and your head and neck at the right viewing angle for working. Just lean front or back, and the chair automatically adjusts to fit you correctly. The chair is adjustable in several ways. Most of these movements are done by holding down a lever and then moving the chair part.
  • First, the headrest slide up and down (5" range), allowing you to fit it correctly to your height.
  • Second, the seat bottom slides in and down to conform to your leg length and how much under-thigh support you want.
  • Third, the seat back also can be moved up or down to find the level most comfortable for you.
  • Fourth, as we will see below, the armrests can be moved up and down in tandem with each other.
  • And fifth, of course, you can raise and lower the entire chair (5"+ range).
The Freedom Chair comes in 2 main configurations, either with or without a headrest. Without the headrest, it is called the Freedom Task Chair. Having tested this chair, I would say the headrest is the main reason to get the Humanscale chair. If you don't want a headrest and don't plan on reclining much, then go with the mesh-back Liberty model instead (we prefer the mesh to the foam cushion design).

Humanscale Freedom Office Chair Armrests, Seat, and Seat Back

The arms of the Freedom adjust and move together -- you cannot set one higher or lower than the other. To adjust them, you grab the ends of both arm with your fingers, tilt the entire arm structure slightly upwards (which releases the catch in the back), then slide them up or down to where you want them and drop the front back into place, which will lock them into place. There are no knobs to turn, no levers to fiddle with -- just tip the arms up and adjust them to where you want them. Humanscale prides themselves on this kind of simple design -- chances are you won't need to adjust your arm height often, but it's simple and intuitive. The arms can move up or down over a range of about 6 inches. The actual arm rests are made with a semi-soft gel material, which kind of conforms around your shape like memory foam -- they aren't squishy, but they aren't hard either, just in between. The standard option comes with a black Duron coating (a smooth black rubber material). You can also choose a textile cover to match the chair cushions. You can also choose advanced armrests that are 1.25" longer than the standard armrests and offer pivoting capabilities so you can angle your arms in or out a bit instead of just straight on center. Personally, I'd go with the standard Duron cover material but would seriously consider the avanced adjustable armrests for about $75 extra. For example, I use a mini-keyboard at my desk so my mouse is in a little closer that normal. For me, I like to be able to twist the armrest in a little to keep my forearm supported while mousing. So evaluate your sitting and working style and think about whether or not you need this feature.

OK, that takes care of the arms. Now onto the seat and back cushions and textile options. Unlike the Aeron and other ergonomic chairs that use a mesh material instead for the chair backing, Humanscale offers no mesh options on the Freedom chair. The seat cushions are made either of foam or "Technogel" over a foam core, covered with either a Vellum or Wave material (durable, stretchy upholstery materials) or leather (Prima, Sabrina, or Vicenza leather) in the high end models. The gel option is only available with Wave or Vellum finish -- the leather chairs come standard with the foam cushion. The gel is supposed to reduce back muscle strain. The gel is only available in the seat bottom, not in the seat backs or headrest (which are the standard molded foam). In both cases, the foam cushions are sculpted to ergonomically fit the curves and indentions of the human body. They are supposed to spread your weight evenly over the broadest area. In my view, leather doesn't make the most ergonomic finishing material -- the leather chairs from Humanscale can cost twice as much as the non-leather chair. It seems to me that Humanscale is targetting the highest-end office chair market here, just to charge that high price for the premium leather with no other real benefit. The cloth textiles can be washed with soap and water if you spill something on them, while leather cleaner should be used on the leather finishes.

Colors: One thing Humanscale offers lot of is color choices. Colors for the Freedom Chair range from black and graphite, to mahongany, pomegranate, grass, greenwood, periwinkle, navy blue, beech, and gray. So whatever color you need to match decor, you can probably get pretty close.

Humanscale Freedom Computer Chair Consumer Review and Rating

OK, so here is the real world test of this chair... I've had a Herman Miller Aeron chair for about 10 years now. I can spend from 2-10 hours per day working at the computer, camped out in a chair, so I bit the bullet way back when and plunked down my $900 or whatever, which at the time I thought was outrageous for a computer chair. But hey, they were supposed to be innovative and the most comfortable office chairs around, so I figured the investment was worthwhile. Ten years later, the chair still looks almost brand new, makes a few little creaks and sound when you rock in it, but overall has held up great. It has been very comfortable, but I've always thought the lumbar support could be a little less firm and the edge of the chair under your thighs could be a little more accomodating. So I looked into what the best office and computer chairs are for 2009, and decided to look into the Humanscale Freedom to see if it was superior and any more comfortable. From their website (humanscale.com/howtobuy/index.cfm), I found 2 stores nearby that carried the Freedom chair, and I went to try them out. The first thing I noticed when sitting down in the Humanscale chair was how the recline and headrest worked together -- with the Aeron, this was something totally new. The headrest is connected and angled in such a way with the backrest that as you lean back, the headrest adjusts to keep your head still kind of pointing up and forward -- this is part of the Freedom chair design to allow you to move around and shift posture without misaligning your body and workspace. The gel armrests felt good, the gel seat cushion felt pretty good. Still, I wasn't ready to spend almost $1100 on the spot for a chair I had only spent 15 minutes in.


Humanscale Freedom Chair compared to Herman Miller Aeron Office Chair

Fortunately, the store allowed me a 48 hour take-home trial, so I could use the Humanscale Freedom chair all day at my office and really put this ergo office chair through its paces. So I used it non-stop for 2 days. It's a heavy chair, taller and larger than the Aeron, but still fit comfortably at my desk. I adjusted the seat bottom and back, headrest, and armrests to get it where I liked it. Immediately, I found myself leaning back more, sometimes just slightly, sometimes a lot, using the headerst to support by neck and head while still being able to work and view the computer monitor without difficulty. I liked it some more, and kept using it. After 2 days, I came to this conclusion. For me, when looking into the best ergonomic office chair, I really like the support and weight dispersal feeling that comes with the mesh material instead of cushion. I don't know if I am just used to the Aeron, but sitting in the Humanscale Freedom I felt heavier, I felt like I was putting more weight all over my back when leaning back and on my butt just sitting down. Compared to other chairs, the foam and gel cushion material in the Humanscale was really very accomodating and I think just soft enough, but compared to the Aeron, it wasn't quite as good, EVEN THOUGH I really liked the headrest and reclining features, which almost made me buy the Freedom. But I didn't - I returned it and kept the Aeron.. for now.. So our suggestion is that you try these chairs out, just like we did, and see if you like them. For many people, they are far and away the most comfortable chairs they ever use -- for me, almost but not quite. You might be able to find a store near you that will loan you one -- most of the online sellers also have return policies if you are not satisfied, but confirm with them regarding restocking fees. And you can order direct from Humanscale - they charge a 20% restocking fee for returned chairs, though.

Let's talk about looks. These Humanscale chairs have been seen in the background of offices on many TV shows and movies, and people ogle them for their design and ergonomics. However, if you have never had a chair with a headrest before, it's a little different looking. I had kids tell me it looked like some kind of wheel-chair, others comment it looks like a dentist chair or something. I can understand all those thoughts. With the headrest, it certainly sits up taller than most other computer or desk chairs you've ever encountered. And the way it is contoured to your back and neck, when you are reclined, you do have sort of an invalid look to you, pressed up against the back of the chair. I like the crisp lines and styling, and the minimalist design when it comes to knobs and levers for making adjustments. Thumbs up also on the color selections - I lean towards the darker colors for a computer chair, but I know many people like brighter colors for a home office, and you have plenty to choose from here. Overall I think it is a great chair design -- my only advice would be to offer a mesh version (though I know they won't).


Humanscale Freedom Chair Conclusion and Recommendation

So where does this leave us? Yes, these chairs really feel better and really last longer than a $100-$200 chair you might find at a local office store. Believe it. Are they worth $1000? Yes, without a doubt, assuming you spend a lot of time at your desk and plan on keeping your chair for 5 years or more. Which office chair should you buy? If you like the mesh design, the Aeron remains our recommendation. As runner up, we recommend the other Humanscale model, the Liberty Chair. If you have tried the foam-based Humanscale chairs, and you like the headrest and recline, then absolutely the Humanscale Freedom is your chair. Bottom line, these are all excellent chairs and it gets down to personal preference.