Steelcase Karman review: Setting a new standard for office chairs
The Steelcase Karman goes beyond what mesh office chairs offer thanks to the company’s proprietary Intermix textile which responds and adapts to your body’s movements throughout the day. It’s also one of the lightest office chairs yet at just 28 pounds and Steelcase’s LiveBack technology balances your body weight while supporting your back and spine.
Intermix textile wraps around you
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Chair size: 26.125 inches wide, 26.125 inches deep, 39 - 43.5 inches tallChair adjustable height: 15.875 to 20.375 inchesChair weight: 29 poundsMax weight capacity: 350 poundsAdjustment points: 7Tilt: 16°Warranty: 12 years
The Steelcase Karman is unlike any other office chair I’ve reviewed because so much engineering has gone into making it extremely light and remarkably comfortable. The chair itself has been in the making for 15 years and it takes inspiration from the weight-activation system and arms of Steelcase’s SILQ chair and the streamlined back of its Gesture chair.
Steelcase has also developed its own proprietary performance textile called Intermix which is used in the Karman’s backrest and seat. When combined with the chair’s flexible frame, Intermix is able to distribute your body weight evenly across the backrest and seat to create excellent ergonomic support without the need for dedicated lumbar support, though there is an optional accessory available.
Our Steelcase Karman review will help you decide if this is one of the best office chairs available and whether or not this office chair is worth paying a premium for.
The Steelcase Karman is available to purchase online from Steelcase’s website but you can also visit an authorized dealer instead if you want to see the chair in person before making your final decision. As I mentioned before, this is a high-end office chair that will cost anywhere from $846 to $1,578 depending on how you configure it. The configuration of the Steelcase Karman sent to Tom’s Guide for review costs $1,257 because it features the more expensive Intermix Shift for its backrest and seat along with 4-way adjustable arms.
The Steelcase Karman is truly a sight to behold due to the combination of the Intermix Shift fabric and its flexible frame. Intermix is created through an exclusive weaving process where yarns and other filaments are injected into the weave, making the chair appear to shift colors when looking at it from different angles. Having a hollow frame is yet another thing that sets the Karman apart from other office chairs and it’s also why the chair weighs just 29 pounds.
At the back of the Karman you’ll find Steelcase’s LiveBack technology which uses a geometric design to provide support for each part of the spine, though the company does sell an optional lumbar support for those who think they need it. However, in my own testing, the lack of a dedicated lumbar support wasn’t a deal breaker as LiveBack allows the backrest to mimic the natural movement of your spine. With the Intermix textile responding to even my micromovements with the LiveBack behind it, it almost felt as if there was a lumbar support in the middle of the chair without there actually being one.
At the top of the backrest and base of the seat pan, there’s a soft, flexible plastic that Steelcase refers to as the chair’s comfort edge. It’s designed in such a way to “eliminate hard edges and pressure points” on both your legs and body. The 4D armrests (which are adjustable in height, sideways, front and back and in and out) are made of a similar plastic though there’s a bit more give to allow your elbows to sink in.
The Karman’s wheelbase is made out of polished aluminum and our review model has a black finish. However, Steelcase also offers a number of different finishes to match the chair’s armrests and LiveBack ranging from white to gunmetal and gold. This way you can opt for an office chair that stands out or one that blends in better with your home office decor. At the bottom of the base there are five 2.5-inch casters, and Steelcase offers several different variations including wheels for carpet and hardwood floors as well as hubless wheels for both.
When it comes to comfort, the Karman is unparalleled and this is a result of the weight-activated mechanism in the chair’s frame and how it works alongside the Intermix textile in the backrest and seat. Unlike other office chairs, this one automatically responds to your body when you sit down and even when you change posture in any direction. For instance, let’s say you turn to talk to someone with your shoulder pressed up against the chair. Karman’s Intermix would respond accordingly and wrap around your shoulder offering the same support it would for your back. It’s difficult to explain how well this works in person but I’ve yet to see an office chair that moves with you the way that Karman does.
During my time testing out the Karman, I also really enjoyed leaning back in the chair as it has four recline positions. The second one adds a tension boost and was my favorite, as it adds 20% more resistance than your body provides while leaning back in the chair. Its casters also rolled smoothly across the hardwood floors in my office and I liked how my elbows sunk in ever so slightly into the armrests. At the same time, the Karman’s lightweight design made it easy to move the chair from room to room in my house, and I liked the fact that I can easily lift it with one hand — something that’s unheard of with most office chairs.
Adjusting the height and tilt of the Karman is all done using a handle and knob on the chair’s left side. The handle is used to adjust the chair’s height, which can be as low as 15.8 inches or as high as 20.3 inches.
Meanwhile, the knob (or comfort dial as Steelcase refers to it) is used to adjust how far the chair tilts back when you recline. The first setting locks the backrest in place, the second one lets you recline slightly, the third one gives you a full recline with weight activated tension with a 20% boost and the fourth setting allows you to fully recline with weight activated tension. I personally prefer the third setting as it let me recline all the way and the boost made it easier to return to an upright position.
The stock Karman comes with 4-way adjustable arms and this means you can adjust their height, width, pivot and depth. The armrests can be pushed forward or backward depending on where you want your elbows to rest while using the chair, but you can also pull the entire armrest out if you want more space between them. There’s a button on the underside of each armrest which lets you raise or lower their height from 23 to 32 inches from the floor.
It’s worth noting that you can save a bit (-$44) by opting for armrests that are only height adjustable or quite a lot (-$226) by going with an armless version of the Karman. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend either option as the armrests are well made and quite comfortable. Still, if you’re looking for a way to take a bit off the chair’s premium price, you do have that option.
Steelcase did leave out one adjustability feature that many other office chairs have: seat depth adjustment. Still, the Karman can accommodate people from 5 feet, 2 inches tall all the way up to those who are 6 feet, 4 inches tall. If you fall under or over these heights, you might want to look elsewhere, especially if you’ve used an office chair with seat depth adjustment in the past and really liked the feature. As someone who’s 5 foot, 4 inches myself, I had no problems at all with the Karman and didn’t really mind not being able to adjust the seat depth.
For those with back problems, Steelcase also sells an optional lumbar support module that snaps onto the back of the Karman. It costs $57 extra and based on my own experience using the chair for the past few weeks, I don’t think you necessarily need it but it might be nice to have for some people.
The Karman chair sent to Tom’s Guide for review from Steelcase arrived in one of the largest boxes to ever grace my doorstep. The reason for this is that the chair comes fully assembled and besides unboxing it and configuring it to your liking, there’s no assembly required. This was quite the surprise for me as I usually have to assemble the office chairs I review.
The Steelcase Karman is a unique office chair that immediately sets itself apart from mesh chairs like the X-Chair or the ErgoTune Supreme V3 thanks to the use of the company’s proprietary Intermix textile. Intermix offers the same airflow as mesh but feels more like the fabric you’d find on office chairs like the Branch Verve Chair. The sheer amount of engineering that went into the Karman also helps it stand out and by using less materials overall, Steelcase was able to create the lightest office chair I’ve ever tested.
While you may wish the Karman came with a headrest or even an option to add one later, this is an ergonomic task chair after all that’s designed to keep you seated upright with proper posture. The fact that the lumbar support module is sold as an add-on isn’t a deal breaker either as the combination of Steelcase’s LiveBack technology and Intermix both give your back a great deal of support. If you’re looking for an innovative office chair that not only responds to your body’s movements and looks great while doing so, the Steelcase Karman just might be for you. It is on the expensive side, but Steelcase backs up your investment with a 12-year warranty and this is an office chair you’ll be able to use for years to come.
Anthony Spadafora is the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to password managers and the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. Before joining the team, he wrote for ITProPortal while living in Korea and later for TechRadar Pro after moving back to the US. Based in Houston, Texas, when he’s not writing Anthony can be found tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.
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