From Lightbulb to Smartphone: The Top 7 Built-to-Last Electricals
1. A Lightbulb Moment
Have you seen The Lightbulb Conspiracy? If you haven’t, consider adding it to your Christmas film list. Maybe you’ve already had your fill of outrage for the year, but persevere – take a deep breath, absorb the information and you can always fix yourself up with the annual dose of It’s A Wonderful Life afterwards.
You see, light bulbs have long been a shining beacon of planned obsolescence: ever since way back in the 1920s when manufacturers gathered and decided collectively to reduce the lifespan of their bulbs. That way, consumers would be forced to buy more; regularly broken lightbulbs would be accepted as the new normal. Well, it worked.
Nanoleaf is set to shake everything up. Launched through an outrageously popular Kickstarter in 2012, they are now producing the most energy efficient bulbs in the world. LEDs are widely accepted as the future of home lighting – but Nanoleaf really are taking it to the next level. The origami-esque shapes naturally shed what little heat is produced, and should a device ever approach damaging temperatures it will subtly dim, prolonging its own lifespan. The Nanoleaf Gem (pictured in white) is amazing. It has an estimated average lifespan of 23 years. It projects light in 360 degrees, just like a normal filament bulb would. It produces a warm, natural light and can be dimmed to suit your mood. If you’re after a gift, you can’t go far wrong with their Aurora system. Check out that glowing polygon – pretty stunning and remarkably energy efficient for something that doubles as a lighting system and a feature piece.
2. An Unbeatable Pair of Headphones
Over 16,500 tons of headphones are thrown away every year globally. That’s an absurd figure – most earphones can’t weigh much more than a small pile of feathers. The e-waste problem is often overlooked, but it’s an ecological nightmare for developing countries that find themselves swamped in electric waste.
Luckily there are a few brilliant solutions out there. Our top choice is a classic: the Sennheiser HD-25. Originally designed for audio engineers on 80s film sets, these have shot to popularity in the DJ community. Why? First, the exquisite sound quality, but beyond that it’s the outstanding durability and repairable components. Like the Fairphone (below) they’re totally modular; if any part fails at any time, you’ll be able to source a replacement from Sennheiser. In the first couple of years, any failure will be covered by their excellent warranty – but we’ve had reports of customers enjoying their original HD-25s long into the second decade of use.
Want something a little more out-there? Gerrard Street is a Dutch headphone manufacturer with a potentially game-changing business model. Obsessed with encouraging the circular economy, they’ve eliminated the need for almost any waste at all. Their professional quality, high fidelity headphones aren’t for sale. Instead, you rent them for less than the price of a Spotify subscription. If you ever tire of them or want a shiny new pair, just cancel your payment and return them to the company. Should any part of them ever break, you’re entitled to near instant repairs – they’ll have a new part shipped to you in days. Again, it’s the joys of modular construction. You then return the broken part (in the envelope provided, for free) and away you go. Their website is only in Dutch at the moment, but spread the word – they have the potential to go global.
3. The Ethical Smartphone
Buying a smartphone always involves a leap of faith. In the back of your mind, you’re pretty sure it’s going to break down in a year, maybe two. When it does break, you ask technical support: can it be fixed? You already know the answer. Sadly the odds are it’s made by the lowest bidder, built by underpaid workers and uses unethically sourced materials. It’s sealed up in an impenetrable case. Up until now there’s never really been a viable alternative – it’s just the market.
But Fairphone are set to revolutionize the smartphone game. They do things differently.
The Fairphone is modular. That means each part of it is easily removable, interchangeable, fixable and if necessary replaceable. The screen can be replaced in one minute, and each of the six modules from battery to audio jack are available in their shop. Fairphone carefully source all of their materials. Where it’s previously been impossible to unearth conflict-free minerals, they’ve sought alternatives and created them if necessary. Fairphone enters communities to enact change, bringing fair work conditions to neglected workers.
With the Fairphone 2, performance is shooting up towards the quality of the flagship names. Featuring a 5-inch full HD screen and running Android 5.1 Lollipop, the phone comes with a generous 32gb of internal storage, and you can add to that with an SD card. It also boasts two sim slots, 2gb of RAM and two cameras, front and rear. The two-year warranty is fantastic, but if you want to you’ll be able to make this phone last and last. You can almost look forward to any problems – it’s such a joy to fix!
The Fairphone 2 is not yet sold in the USA, though if you can find one through a third party seller it will function fine (without LTE). Get in touch with Fairphone and help speed up the roll out!
4. An Intelligent Tool Kit
Most big tech companies don’t like you fixing their products. In fact, they do everything they can to make sure that the interior of their devices is about as easy to get into as Fleetwood Mac’s twelfth album. When our phone, laptop or tablet breaks, we’ve been conditioned to think we only have one option: buy another shiny new product and cast your old flame onto the scrapheap. After all, it was nearly 18 months old – what did you expect?
Luckily there’s a company fighting on the consumer’s side, and it’s iFixit. As tech companies have developed increasingly diabolical ways to keep you out of their products, iFixit has fought back with its range of multipurpose specialist tools. If you are going to give a major brand device this Christmas, this kit is an excellent investment alongside it – most modern phones can be made to last beyond their two-year use by date if given the right amount of TLC. As for this kit – well, it won’t need much TLC as it comes with a lifetime guarantee.
5. A New Kind of Printer
Every printer manufacturer seems to have developed the same trick. Sell the printer cheap and at a loss and rake in the cash selling massively overpriced ink. It’s a nasty practice. The plastic ink containers sold to customers are opaque, tough to prise into, and contain little ink at the start before declaring themselves prematurely expired. Beyond the terrible waste of money, it’s a stupid addition to plastic landfill.
Epson act as a corrective, with printers that think beyond the short term, printers that aren’t exploitative. The EcoTank ships with an incredible two years worth of ink. When it finally does run out, just fill up the cavernous tanks using their affordable refill bottles. It may seem expensive up front but that’s only due to the more honest business model; printers are expensive and ink is cheap. Register your printer for a three-year warranty, about as good as you get in the printing game, follow the care instructions and extend its life on and on.
6. Harness the Elements
Biolite is a genius company. We love a mission-led business, and its mission is among the best going – to bring clean electricity everywhere.
They build amazing portable products that draw from whichever form of energy is most appropriate for that moment – convert your campfire into electricity, force the sun’s rays to power your Fairphone or perhaps charge your rechargeable batteries. What’s more, their entire company, from manufacture to admin, is carbon neutral.
The solar charger is a particular favorite. Solar chargers have been growing in popularity in the last few years, but they usually aren’t very practical beyond a showy first couple of uses. Solar power requires a decent amount of surface area – there’s just no point getting a dinky little device, at least if you want any meaningful charge to get underway quickly. Their Solar Panel 5 is battery-free, resistant to water damage and durably built with the outdoors in mind.
The CampStove is particularly fun. A campfire and a phone charger all in one – it’s something that has to be seen to be believed. Both are covered by a one-year warranty, which isn’t mind-blowing, but the ethics are in the right place and the build quality inspires trust.
7. Forever-proof Rechargeable Batteries
Batteries are the number one throwaway electrical. Less than 10 percent of disposable batteries are recycled; the heavy metals and toxic chemicals are not designed to be thrown back into the earth and cause environmental havoc.
Rechargeables are a great answer and they’re hardly a new item to hit the market, yet they’ve never caught up to the popularity of their single-use cousins. The Eneloop by Panasonic is an excellent offering that should have you considering a change. Rechargeable up to a giant 2100 times, with a higher usable capacity and a lower self-discharge, each one of these batteries is a little pocket rocket that won’t be quitting before its time.
At the extremely reasonable price point, each battery will only need a few charge cycles to pay it’s worth back – and you’ve got another 2000 to look forward to after that. Available in AA and AAA.