This classy number will check a lot of boxes this Christmas

Posted on 22 December 2015

Are you a chronic last-minute shopper? Do you put in weeks of prep work to pull off a photoshoot-worthy holiday season? Whatever your December-time managerial skills may be, we all have a common challenge: to find just the right gift for the special people on our list.

As a gifter, categorizing the giftee can help take some of the guesswork out of the equation. Our budding environmentalist probably wouldn’t appreciate this disposable underwear, nor would this meat of the month club subscription be appropriate for your vegan buddy (though you might have a chuckle over it).

This gifter recently had the pleasure of reviewing the Aerelight A1 – an exciting new arrival on the home lighting scene. If you’ve never heard of an OLED, let me (briefly) introduce to you Organic Light Emitting Diodes. These aren’t at all the LEDs you’re used to – in fact there isn’t even a bulb. Light is emitted from an ultra-thin oganic semiconductor layer. One of the most unique attributes of an OLED device is their thinness (we’re talking 1/100th the thickness of a hair from your head!), and the fact that the substrate can be a flexible thin film allowing for designs with curvature.

An OLED device: so thin, so cool.

Aerelight OLED device

Up until now they’ve been employed mainly in displays for televisions, computer monitors, smartphones and the like, but little attention has been paid to developing functional luminaries. Perhaps the new form factor was initially off-putting, but I think that’s all about to change. Imagine this material in the hands of Zaha Hadid (take a look at what she’s done for Slamp).

Zaha Hadid’s Aria Transparent for Slamp – novel use of materials create spectacular lighting effects

More elegant than a box of chocolates, and more affordable than Chanel, there’s bound to be someone (or two, or three) on your list that would swoon over the A1. Let’s walk through it together.

Tech Enthusiasts & Science Nerds
Let’s start with the obvious. Anyone who’s got their finger on the pulse of the advancement of science and technology will declare this a must-have. Literally from the lab to your table, here’s a piece of kit that just may light the way to your own ‘eureka’ moment.

The A1 doesn’t come in green, yet, but it has the eco cred. The low power OLED is free of heavy metals and consumes only 1W on its lowest setting and 9W at full brightness. The aluminum and wood construction isn’t just beautiful, the materials are sustainably sourced and fully recyclable.

For those who spend their days concerned about form and function, it’s pretty easy to become jaded toward the more pedestrian offerings. The A1 has an impossibly thin design that really highlights the special qualities of the OLED device. The sleek form is very contemporary, and yet so unobtrusive it could effortlessly blend into a traditional space. The weighted base balances the airiness and gives stability. Notice the lack of an ugly, bulky, heat-sink that a traditional LED lamp requires.

Skinny Minnie: gorgeous brushed aluminum frame is only 2mm thick

I’d like to see a next-generation A1 with either a routed aluminum frame so that the wiring and the OLED itself can sit in a channel or a sandwiched version that hides the wiring and silicone gasket. Of course these changes would make the lamp more costly so I’ll happily do without for now.

The A1 was conceived, born, and raised in Canada which is a great reason on its own to pick up this beauty. If you’re giving the A1 this holiday season you’ll also be supporting a Canadian startup which is very forward-thinking of you. What if you’re not Canadian? A favourable exchange rate and free shipping will have you singing Canada’s praises, albeit for entirely different reasons!

Students/Bookworms/Desk Jockeys/Everybody
Okay, really, anyone who uses a desk lamp. After all the talk about environmental credibility, design credibility, and supporting a Canadian startup, when we get right down to it the lamp has a job to do. For me this is where the A1 impresses the most. I already knew I loved everything about the why and how but I expected to feel underwhelmed or at best, neutral, until I actually plugged it in.

The quality of the light is surprising – it’s bright, yet manages to be soft and diffuse at the same time. It’s a warm white that is much closer to neutral than yellow, which I like. Those who are drawing or editing photos will really appreciate a task light that doesn’t cast a colour to their work. Speaking of artistic pursuits, an OLED-based lightbox would be amazing and could even be built into the desktop. I think we’ll see future versions with options for the colour temperature of the light, but for the flagship model I think this was the best choice since most of us miss the comfort of our incandescent bulbs.

The arm of the lamp lacks the adjustability that we’ve grown accustomed to in a desk lamp. I expected this to be a negative for the A1, but it turns out that it’s really not needed. Without a bulb there’s no need for a shade, and without the shade we get a larger area of illumination.

While traditional LEDs boast similar power savings, they face the challenge of how to dissipate heat buildup. Anything with more power than a set of string lights or a single-watt nightlight still gets uncomfortably hot (which also gradually destroys the colour and quality of the light, as well as the bulb itself). I've left the A1 on all day and night - it just never gets hot.

I photographed my desk setup in the afternoon shortly before and shortly after the onset of dusk. When I’m doing design work I like my office to be only dimly lit so as to block out any surrounding “noise” from other objects/colours/etc. I think this is a great test for my desk lamp because the contrast between a dark room and light source can cause a lot of eye strain. I used the brightest of the three settings so that the light would be visible in the daylight photo. The mid setting also provided plenty of comfortable light to work by, and it’s probably the one I’ll use the most. The lamp performed so beautifully I didn’t even notice the transition to dusk and almost forgot to take the second picture. You can see the pages of my reference book are softly and evenly lit and free from glare.

Office setup with some ambient daylight remaining

Office setup after dusk – work area remains glare-free and well-lit

This last idea is more of a consideration toward future development. Correctly lighting photography subjects requires some special equipment and knowledge. The lights are generally bulky, extremely power-hungry, and very, very, hot. Diffusers often need to be employed to soften the light, eliminating harsh highlights and shadows. Additionally, the colour temperature of the light will of course affect the resulting image. I think the OLED could be a great addition to the photographer’s kit, at least for macro and portrait photography.

So just for fun I grabbed a piece of Murano glass from my cupboard to use as a difficult subject. If I’m not careful, this particular piece will photograph with all kinds of harsh highlights and background shadows. Not only is it shiny glass, but it’s filled with gold dust, and the surface of the main vessel is textured just to catch those highlights even more.

This isn’t bad at all for a desk lamp! I think it showcases two of the best attributes of the A1 – the light is bright and soft. Bright enough to photograph my object, but soft enough that my highlights and shadows are also nice and soft. I can also attest that the colours in my subject remain true, meaning that the colour spectrum of the A1 is much more complete than a traditional LED bulb. I can imagine a circular lamp that would be great for portrait work – light and diffuser built into one. It would never get hot, and you could even make the colour temperature tunable so you have built-in colour filters as well!

Aerelight has done a fantastic job with their first offering and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. I think an ultra-minimal suspension would be highly functional and look great over my desk. Who else has picked up an A1? What do you think?

P.S. I *love* the built-in charging in the base of the lamp - just toss your phone on there and it charges itself. I have an older iPhone so I'll need to pick up a special case in order to use this feature, but those of you with newer model smartphones will have this capability built in. Especially in a family where we're all trying to charge our tech...cables are always going missing...this is a great feature!

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