It was hard to tell at first what some of the differences were, but the main thing that I had a hard time figuring out was what was going to be the best option for my cats?
In the end, all that really mattered is that I found something that my cats enjoyed. And after I thought through a few things, I started to realize that maybe a simple design was the better option. And in terms of quality, a more design was probably going to have the best bet to be sturdy and comfortable.
Why do I say this?
Some of the more initially attractive cat trees that I found were appealing to me because they looked wacky. They looked wacky and fun to me, a human. They had weird toys dangling from them. Crazy platform configurations. Stuff like that.
That could be fun for younger cats, but what atreeebout older cats that just want to sleep most of the time? I wanted to make sure that I found a structure that was good for all ages and all sizes of cats. I was going to want something that was tall, easy to climb, and built for endurance.
This led me to start looking at some of the more simple, fully carpeted, no-assembly-required designs. These looked big, heavy and had large platforms. They had carpet throughout, even underneath the platforms. They were handmade and if you ordered it online, it would come delivered in a very large box, fully assembled, ready to just drag into place.
I bought mine locally, but if I had ordered it online that would have been the case.
I came to the conclusion that the simple designs that provide very large sleeping surfaces are the best. The structure should be easy to climb even for older cats. If an old cat can climb to the top platform, it's a good design as far as I'm concerned.
However, these opinions don't really account for all cat owners. Some may have mostly younger cats. And the funny thing is that as I type thing I don't even have a cat that is older than 5 years old. In a household made up mostly of younger cats, a cat tree that encourages play and acrobatics could be very beneficial and appealing. But you will have to examine your own situation and decide.