Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

Two of the biggest names in office chairs, Herman Miller and Steelcase, both recently released a relatively affordable task chair, each with its own quirks and charms. But which should you convince your office manager to buy?

First, we have to establish the definition of a task chair. They are, according to this site, meant for medium duty use; they're the chairs you see gathered permanently around a meeting table, or in front of a desk for guests—as opposed to behind a desk, where the boss sits, in a true "desk chair." Comfortable, but not exactly meant to be used all day, they tend to have list prices ranging from $500 to $700. Still they're often used by secretaries or other type of office workers (everyone who isn't a boss who can't convince someone to give them a nicer chair) whose jobs require them to get up once in a while. They usually have backs that rise up not quite as high as desk chairs, like the $1000-and-up Herman Miller Aeron and Embody, or Steelcase Leap.

Herman Miller Setu

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

The $650 Setu might be about half the price of the current top seat, but it is definitely not, as we initially reported, a "poor man's Embody." It's quite different.

The Setu is Lennie to the Embody's George: simple, straightforward and lacking in sophistication. That is to say, there's no real customization you can do with knobs and levers, because there are none, save for the obligatory height adjustment. Its "elastomeric" fabric does contour somewhat to the curve of your back, but it's nowhere as customizable as actually being able to change the angles of the chair's spine.

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It's as if Herman Miller tried to build a chair with as few parts as possible, making sure each beam, back and support did the job of one-and-a-half beams, backs and supports. However, their frugality regarding use of material has one downside: the seat is too shallow. Imagine sitting with your ass all the way into the back of the seat; even then, the seat would only come forward to about 3/4 of your thigh. It's not horrible if you're short or if you'd rather sit on the edge of your seat, but those of you who expect support all the way up to the back of your knees will be disappointed.

Otherwise, the Setu is quite a good task chair. It provides ample back support for a full eight-hour day, and the aerated fabric breathes enough that you can even work shirtless on a hot day and things will be alright. (For you, not your co-workers.) The arms protrude enough to be usable, but not too much to be obtrusive. There's plenty of give in the seat and the back to feel like you're sitting with the chair, rather than fighting against it.

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

Conforms to your back nicely

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

Great look, great design

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

More expensive than Cobi

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

The seat is a bit shallow; doesn't go all the way to the back of the knee

Steelcase Cobi

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

Surprisingly, the Cobi is more like the Embody in design and build than the Setu, despite it being from a competing firm. What's cool about the Cobi is that you can actually customize parts of it yourself, picking the color, whether you want arms and whether you want it in stool form or chair form. Each piece adds a little to its $400 base, and our white-framed, fixed-armed, wasabi green seat totaled to $490. If you were going stool mode—high and sturdy, as in bar stool, not backless and stubby, as in foot stool—you'd actually end up at $720, which is $70 more than the Setu.

The look of the Cobi is definitely more traditional than the Setu, with its round seat, protruding arms and tongue-like lip of a back—and it sits the same way too. There are, like the Setu, no adjustments for the back or the seat or the arms, but it conforms more or less to your back as you're sitting. The cradling is less pronounced than the Herman Miller, but enough that you'll still be comfortable as you're working. And the seat is perfectly fine here, not a few inches shy of optimal length like the Setu.

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Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

Priced lower than Setu

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

You can customize your own colors, frame, arms

Task Chair Battlemodo: Herman Miller Setu vs. Steelcase Cobi

Doesn't conform to your back as well as the Setu

Comparison

Your decision here is one of tradeoffs. If you want to go a little cheaper, the Steelcase Cobi is great, but it won't spoon your back quite as well as the Herman Miller Setu. If you want stylishness, Setu's definitely going to impress, but you're going to have to live with that shallower seat and a slightly higher price tag.

The Cobi is customizable at purchase, but all the design choices lead to a more traditional-looking chair, something you may or may not prefer. The more sci-fi-looking Setu may win in the design department but you will definitely not be upset if you pick the Cobi, especially if you want to create one in your favorite color.

This Battlemodo shows both the benefits and limitations of the task-chair category. If you're looking for going further in customizability and comfort, it would be worth it to go with the Embody. It's down to $1099 now, and cradles your ass better than either the Setu or the Cobi ever will. [Steelcase Cobi and Herman Miller Setu]