Arse Technica rolls again: We review the All33 Backstrong C1 chair
December 1, 2020
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by admin


Not too long after reviewing the Anda Fnatic and Secretlab Omega gaming chairs, I began getting offers of review samples for other chairs. The most curious of the bunch was the one we’re reviewing today: the $599 All33 Backstrong C1.

The Backstrong C1 touts itself as chiropractor-designed—the chiropractor being Dennis Colonello. Colonello teamed up with industrial designer Jim Grove to build a chair that supports and allows movement of “all33” of the vertebrae in a sitter’s spine. Colonello, based in Beverly Hills, has served as a sort of chiropractor to the stars for decades—which perhaps helps explain the new chair’s laundry list of A-list celebrity endorsements.

Design and appearance

The design itself is eye-catching and perhaps even a little visually befuddling. The seat and lower back are mounted on a pivoting horizontal axis, independent of the upper back of the chair, with open space visible in an arc separating the two. The overall effect is reminiscent of mod furniture—the late sixties and early seventies’ vision of futuristic design.

Nothing in the literature I’ve seen for the Backstrong explains the actual function of the independently pivoting lower seat—and just looking at the pictures, I didn’t have the foggiest idea, beyond it being different from anything I’d seen before. Actually sitting in the chair provides the answer—it’s all about lumbar support.

Basically, you can’t really slouch in the Backstrong C1. You can sit however you like—but the seat itself follows your butt as you do, and the weight of your own legs positions the lumbar support firmly into the curve of your spine. The Backstrong C1 is a one-trick pony—more on that later—but that one trick is amazing.

A six-year hitch in the Navy followed by a career in systems administration has left me with a much-abused lower back that won’t tolerate a lack of lumbar support for long. There’s absolutely no chance of getting that lack of support in this chair. If your butt is in it, your lumbar region is getting support, and in my experience with this chair, that’s all there is to it.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of ergonomic adjustment possible with the C1. The seat height is adjustable via the usual gas lift, and the chair has about 30 degrees of recline available… and that’s pretty much it.

Head, arms, and dining room

There’s no headrest for the chair—the back ends at roughly neck height. My wife actually likes that, since it means she can put her hair in a bun without feeling like there’s a clenched fist being shoved into her skull. But it’s double-plus-ungood for the typical gamer posture, reclined to the max with a controller propped on your chest.

The armrests can be flipped up entirely, getting them out of the way if you like to roll your chair up extremely close to the desk—but they aren’t otherwise adjustable in height, width, or angle. And the tilt lock is extremely limited—the mechanism only engages when the chair is fully upright, so you can’t (for example) lock the tilt at five or 10 degrees reclined.

With its light weight and easy rolling, fantastic comfort, and eye-catching looks, the Backstrong C1 would in my opinion make a great conference room chair. If it were less expensive, I’d want six of them at my dining room table right now. But its lack of ergonomic adjustability and support beyond the lower back should probably exclude it from serious consideration for the kind of “everything chair” I think most people are looking for in a home office.

Unboxing and assembly

The Backstrong C1 comes in a significantly smaller and lighter box than either of the gaming chairs we reviewed last month—the specifications on the box claim a net weight of 47 pounds, which is about right, and a gross of 61, which must have included a wooden pallet that we didn’t receive. Although the box says “team lift,” most able-bodied readers can be a team of one if they try hard and believe in themselves.

On opening the box, I was greeted with an absolute mess—a heap of random cardboard sheets, a plastic sleeve that had come loose from the adjustment arm it was supposedly protecting, and a mysterious rolled-up hunk of cardboard I’m still scratching my head about greeted me when I pried the glued-together top flaps loose. Luckily, I don’t actually care about unboxing, and none of the components themselves were damaged.

Better yet, there was a large sheet of lightweight foam folded into the box, which served as an excellent place to set the seat back on my concrete carport floor while I worked—an enormous improvement over trying to set it on the remains of a clear plastic bag, which is what I needed to do with both the Anda and Secretlab gaming chairs.

As unimpressed as I might have been with the “unboxing experience”—scare quotes intended—the actual assembly was fantastic. This is probably the only piece of furniture I’ve ever assembled that genuinely didn’t need its instruction manual. This is how you assemble the Backstrong C1:

  • press the casters into the starfish-shaped base
  • sit the gas lift in the hole in the center of the base
  • bolt the seat plate onto base of the seat (using provided hex driver and four bolts)
  • lift seat, and guide the central hole in the plate onto the gas lift
  • cut zip ties, and unfold the seatback until it audibly locks into position

That’s it. There are even extremely obvious red-on-white labels on the seat plate and seat which demonstrate the orientation of the plate. There were no gotchas, no “but this part was tricky,” and I have no complaints. There is no easier assembly outside a one-piece lawn chair.

The manual said assembly of the chair would take about 11 minutes, but according to the timestamps on my photos, I only needed nine—and at least four of those were me taking photos along the way.

Conclusions

Left: Anda Fnatic gaming chair. Right: All33 Backstrong C1.
Enlarge / Left: Anda Fnatic gaming chair. Right: All33 Backstrong C1.

Jim Salter

I really like the All33 Backstrong C1—its lumbar support is out of this world, and I am desperately in need of as much lumbar support as I can get. Unfortunately, it won’t let me love it the way its $599 purchase price demands. It’s a fantastic (if oddly styled) chair for the dining room table—especially for folks who tend to get lost in a good book and stay at the table for longer than a solo breakfast (or lunch, or dinner) really demands. In that setting, the flip-up armrests also mean you can scoot all the way belly-up if you don’t want soup in your lap.

But in the office, I find the C1 just too limited to be a serious contender. Nonadjustable armrest height and width means this chair won’t support keyboard and mouse hands properly for many, if not most, people. The lack of tilt lock in any position other than fully upright is a real downer, and the lack of a headrest makes the full 30-ish degree recline feel downright weird.

I really hope to see a follow-on design from this company with a full range of ergonomic adjustments and features. In the meantime, it’s difficult to wholeheartedly recommend the Backstrong C1 as a high-end, full-purpose office chair—because despite the price, it really isn’t one.

The Good

  • Absolutely out-of-this-world lumbar comfort and support
  • Slouchers OK—instead of forcing your posture, the Backstrong follows your spine wherever you put it
  • Lightweight and good-quality casters make this chair unusually mobile
  • You can flip up the armrests entirely, if you want to belly-up tightly to a desk or table
  • Eye-catching, retro-futuristic good looks
  • No obnoxious branding (or any visible branding at all)
  • 275-pound user-weight limit

The Bad

  • Lots of exposed plastic
  • Minimal padding, of moderate quality
  • The “vegan leather” upholstery we tested is best described as “acceptable” (there’s also a fabric option we did not receive or test.)
  • Can’t adjust armrest height
  • Can’t adjust armrest width
  • Can’t adjust armrest angle
  • Can’t lock tilt anywhere but fully upright
  • No headrest

The Ugly

  • Shenanigans with the asking price—currently listed as “$1,199 / $799 / use code 2020 for an additional $200 off.”

Listing image by All33

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