I've been lucky enough to test out a bunch of weird and wonderful tech, but I don't always get a chance to share my discoveries in a full review or roundup. That's why this column exists, to highlight bits of tech that might not fit elsewhere but nonetheless deserve a mention. Enjoy!
I'm gonna warn you now - this is a weird one. Normally this semi-regular column looks at weird tech, but this time we're stretching the usual gaming-adjacent space as we examine two oddities: the Flexispot Desk Bike and the Beyond NRG gaming drink. Both sound laughable at first blush, but a surprising amount of thought has gone into fleshing out these products into something that might be genuinely valuable to you - whether you're after a way to stay fit while gaming or maximise your K/D by any means necessary. Let's take a look, starting with that seriously strange desk and bike hybrid.
Flexispot Desk Bike
Over the past year I began working out exclusively at home, cutting out gym visits in favour of activities that wouldn't contribute to the spread of a deadly pandemic. I used a standing desk to burn some extra calories during the day, and used a stationary bike after work to build up a sweat. So you can imagine when Flexispot, makers of the desk I reviewed alongside that expensive Herman Miller one, got in touch to offer their combination stationary bike and standing desk for review.
It's called the Cycle Desk Bike V9 Pro (yes, really) and it's actually kind of genius? Instead of a standing desk that takes up space and an exercise bike that takes up more space, it's a single unit that I can roll around the house to cycle and/or work wherever I fancy. (And yes, I haven't thrown away the regular desk and regular bike, so actually I have even less space than before.)
The surface itself is comfortably large enough for a laptop, mouse and keyboard (58x51cm) and surprisingly quite stable, thanks to the all-metal construction of the desk mount and the bike itself. The bike is better than my actual exercise bike too; the seat is quite comfortable and the action of the pedals is smooth. The only minor annoyance is that the resistance setting and the digital display are between your legs, rather than near your handlebars, for the obvious reason that you don't have any handlebars. Instead, you grip onto a raised fabric-y lip at the nearest side of the desk, which also doubles as an arm rest while you're working.
On a good day, I can cycle for a good hour or so during my workday, just doing it absent-mindedly while writing an article or waiting for benchmarks to finish, and it's altogether quite pleasant. After work I bring the bike to my wife's office, where she has the other bike, and we do a spin class together. It's not quite as ergonomic as a standard bike for this, as you're often changing your resistance setting awkwardly and really going hell for leather makes it wobble a bit, but it does the job.
There are some nice touches here too. The seat height and desk are adjustable in numerous directions, and just about fit me as a relatively tall person (188cm). There's also a cup holder for your energy drink and/or coffee, an on-board computer, wheel-arms that can be folded inwards for storage and pedals with reflectors on, which is really handy for cycling at night.
I've even experimented with playing games while biking, and it works... OK. I tend to start strong, then get absorbed in the game, then realise I'm not pedalling. Here are some reports on the games I've trialled so far:
- Counter-Strike: Competitive matches are too intense to spare much time for cycling, leading to prolonged periods of inactivity - and running out of desk space whenever you do a quick flick, even if you have a trendy tiny keyboard. But warming up in a DM server while warming up your calves? Totally doable - C.
- Horizon Zero Dawn: A perfect match. You can use a controller for this one, giving you more leeway to adjust your stance, and as it's a single-player experience you can always pause to change your speed setting. Recommendation: eschew fast travel in favour of a brisk cycle across the countryside - A.
- Hades: Way too frantic. Even talking to characters in the starting area is likely to be distracting (Dusa! You're too charming!). Also, constant mouse movement and keyboard spam makes the table shake alarmingly. Do not attempt - F.
I'd love there to be a way to actually integrate the pedalling into a game - imagine playing Africa Trail while actually cycling! - but I don't see an obvious way to do this, sadly. Perhaps some clever person could work out a way of getting your cycling data onto a PC via USB...
So, the Desk Bike. It's totally ridiculous, but at £349 there's an argument to be made for it. It could totally replace a small standing desk and a stationary bike, while also offering better mobility than either option. I don't think it'll make sense for most people - because surely if you wanted either a standing desk or an exercise bike you'd have one or both a year into lockdown? - but I've got to applaud the level of workmanship and utility it provides - presumably honed over the previous eight iterations!
Beyond NRG gaming energy drink
If there's one thing I love, it's the intersection of gaming and not even tangentially-related industries. Gaming socks? Absolutely, I'm buying on day one. Gaming glasses? Tested 'em, made my eyes hurt, sent 'em back. Gaming chairs? It's a recurring series on Eurogamer. Gaming drinks? Absolutely.
So began my experiment to boost my in-game performance and my words-per-minute by ingesting daily doses of Beyond NRG, an energy drink that promises 'a healthy and long-lasting surge of energy, focus and endurance'.
Beyond achieves this through a fine powder, chock-full of 'natural' caffeine, vitamins and so-called nootropics (subject of the famous Chris Bratt video), which are ingredients claimed to improve cognitive function - from reassuringly familiar stuff like ginseng to stuff I'd never heard of like 'bacopa monnieri', 'n-acetyl-l-tyrosine' and 'ashwagandha'. Reading the formula page is a dizzying exercise, but I resolved to ignore all of that for now and just try it out.
The first thing you'll notice upon unwrapping your Beyond NRG order is that everything is really slickly prepared. The (£19.99) battery-powered shaker feels solid and spins convincingly at the push of a button, the (£34.99) tub comes with a cool clear design, and even the one-off sachets (£1.49 each) feel premium in the hand - you feel special for even having ordered this stuff. Then, you'll think about the price. Sure, a 40 serving tub for £35 isn't ridiculous, but it's a heavy investment when you can pick up a 500ml can of Relentless for a pound - and you don't even have to mix that, it comes with the water pre-installed.
But hey, this is a special gamer-grade energy drink. It's Beyond NRG! So, in order to give it a fair shake, I decided to drink one serving a day for two weeks to see how I got on, cutting out coffee and tea wherever possible to focus instead on my one true gaming beverage.
The results were... surprising. I didn't expect much, but for the first few days I had a lot of fun trying each of the flavours provided for me (blood orange: delicious! grape drank: ugh!). I played a match or two of Counter-Strike each evening, and found my caffeine levels were about right - enough to feel alert, but not so much as to feel jittery. Coffee and tea are wonderful, but overindulging in them is not great for your oral hygiene - Beyond NRG felt a lot more like water in that regard. Mixing the sachets into the water with the auto-mixer was consistently amusing, and I only accidentally immersed the DO-NOT-GET-WET battery-powered base in water a few times, with no apparent ill effects.
About a week into my trial though, I had a rather different experience. I had my normal day - a cup of tea in the morning, a walk at lunchtime and after dinner - then settled in for a game of CS. I drank a bottle of the blood orange mix, very tasty, and was about 15 minutes into the game when I started feeling a bit... unwell. I became nauseous, and more concerningly, incredibly aware of my heart beating in my chest. I closed out the game, and my heart was still going like the clappers so I decided to call it there. An hour later, sitting in bed, and I still felt as amped up as I had mid-way through the game. I was eventually able to get to sleep, but I felt uneasy for days afterwards.
I'm still not sure why this occurred - perhaps I had more caffeine than usual that day, or I was particularly stressed about something - but it was something of a disquieting effect. I spent many years drinking energy drinks while battling programming assignments in university, and never experienced anything quite like this. I did start drinking Beyond NRG again a week later, but I remain slightly worried that it'll have this effect on me again - which has tempered my enjoyment somewhat. But hell, I've still got a dozen packets to get through, and my mum would kill me if she knew I was throwing something with even a shred of value away, so I guess I've got to keep going - or just put them in the bin without telling her. One of the two.
This review has ended on a bit of a bum note, but ultimately I've got a bit more of a soft spot for the soluble stuff than I expected. I mean, I can't really recommend it on the basis of my experience, especially at its premium price point, but at the same time there is a lot here that's quite... promising? It tastes better than the average energy drink, the auto-mixer is nifty and the added vitamins seem like a sensible addition, and although they're no substitute for the classics - water, fruit, vegetables and so on. Nootropics are also an interesting idea, although it's impossible to know whether or not they actually do something positive or even anything at all!
Like most 'gamer' things though, I think that the appeal here is an emotional one, not a logical one. It feels cool to drink a gamer energy drink for gamers while you're playing your games, even if this stuff is at best functionally identical to a tall mug of coffee. (Alternatively, if you're reading this review in morbid curiosity and you think gamer drinks are incredibly stupid, then don't worry - it also feels good to drink literally anything else and know you're not wasting money on gamer drinks.) There are tons of alternatives that provide similar effects, from water to tea, coffee and mainstream energy drinks - and they're all alright. (And of course, eating a balanced diet in the first place will also do wonders while costing far less).
At the end of the day then, Beyond NRG doesn't escape from the 'gamer' tag to become something we can whole-heartedly recommend for anyone, but perhaps that's OK - it's a tasty enough energy drink that sponsors esports teams, and that's neat enough. Just be careful with your caffeine consumption, folks.
And with that, our time together comes to an end. Let me know what you thought of these tangentially-related-to-gaming items, and I'd be curious to hear from anyone that's also experimented with unusual desk alternatives or gaming-specific items. Let me know in the comments, or reach out on Twitter. Until next time, farewell!
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