Top ten off switches

We all need to turn things off from time to time and there's no better way than with an off switch. But it's so much more than just a faceless button -- we look at some of the best we've ever seen

In the last ten years, the off switch has seen something of a decline, being replaced by its trendier sibling, the standby button. But we miss good old offy -- his sturdy construction and good humour were a welcome break from the monotony of day-to-day life.

There's good news though. With the environmentalists throwing a fit pretty much every couple of hours about how much carbon we're blowing out of our electronic bottoms, trendy standby is becoming a technological leper.

Does this mean we'll see the glorious return of our old friend? Whatever happens, it will be years before all these devices with vulgar standby buttons are purged from existence. In the meantime, we've compiled a list of our favourite off switches along with gratuitous shots of them. We're sure you'll disagree with some of our choices, but feel free to use the comments section to tell us about your favourites. -Ian Morris

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#1 - The emergency off switch
What makes this switch really impressive is its status as a last resort. When you use this bad boy, you'd better mean it or you're going to need someone with a key to come and reverse your decision.

We love this button -- its classical good looks make it a universal crowd pleaser. But it's practical too: you wouldn't want some pathetic little recessed switch when your data centre is burning to the ground because you thought it would be a good idea to fix a broken fuse with a paperclip.

Available from Dortronics the 5210-KR can take a continuous 10 amps at 120 volts. There's also an option for a plexiglass cover to prevent accidental triggering.

#2 - The flip switch
Another classic, its handsome design is once again a sure-fire way to impress button watchers the world over. Although the button itself isn't large, or anything especially special and must be purchased separately, it will do the job of turning something off with a gusto hitherto unobserved.

This is a power switch to treat yourself to. The flipping action will make any deactivation -- or indeed activation -- a pleasure beyond compare. It's also a bargain, with a switch and cover costing a little more than £6 when purchased together. If you have naked switches in need of a cover, you can buy that on its own for £3.60.

#3 - The illuminated rocker switch
The trusty rocker switch is an age-old classic. Found in everything from computers to dishwashers, the rocker switch boasts flexibility. Not only can it be placed in a traditional on/off environment, but it can also be purchased in variants that allow a third state. It's this out-of-the box thinking that has kept the rocker popular for so many years.

This example is from a company called E-Switch and has one little extra that you won't find on every rocker switch: it's illuminated. With a mechanical life of around 30,000 cycles, this switch is sturdy, and built to last. What's more, it has a bargain basement price of just $0.75, when bought in bulk, and we're sure you'll be keen to buy lots of these beauties.

#4 - The illuminated toggle switch
This switch isn't designed for high-drain uses, typically it can only provide a maximum of 20 amps at 12 volts. That will make it suitable for a number of exciting uses though, and what it lacks in power handling, it makes up for in practicality.

This switch will illuminate when the device it controls is turned on, and go off when the device is deactivated. This is logical and practical, and that has earned this switch a place in our hearts. What's more, it's far from expensive and there are even a choice of colours.

#5 - The consumer unit
Here it is, the big daddy of them all, well, certainly for domestic instillations. It's also not just one switch either, so if you love switches, you're going to go loopy for one of these. The good news is, you probably already have on in the cupboard under the stairs.

Obviously there's the master power control, which will generally be left on for most of its life. Then there are the secondary power-breaking switches. These replace boring old fuses and help to prevent your house from burning to the ground when someone tips a cup of water over the TV. This particular model is the Wylex NHRS. Oh, and for those with a taste for such things, this bad boy is metal-clad. Yum. 

#6 - Wall-socket switch
You use this very special switch every day of your life, and you've probably forgotten all about it, so let's take a moment to remember our old friend the wall-socket switch. But this little fella is an unusual one: most of the world's mains sockets don't have a switch on them at all! Shocking, isn't it?

Anyway, the trusty wall switch keeps us safe from equipment overloads at inopportune moments and for that reason, they deserve our respect and adoration.

#7 - Lieutenant Commander Data's leg
Yes, you read that right, one of the best off switches ever is fitted to the android from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Data, as he's known to his friends -- seen here snogging the face off the Borg Queen -- had one secret he only told a select few people. He could be deactivated with a power button on his leg.

And you can see why he didn't tell many people, can you imagine all the practical jokes people would play? Switching you off while you were sleeping, so you miss that early morning shift at work, or maybe even turning you off when you were carrying something heavy.

We've never actually seen Data's off switch -- it was generally activated through his clothes -- but we think it's likely to be a recessed two-position slider switch, possibly with a blue status LED.

#8 - Tube emergency stop
Although it's a bit of a cheat for us to call this an off switch, we're going to throw caution to the wind on this one and cover it nonetheless. Our reason for loving this switch is simple: it's a thing of great beauty. Even though in its life it will probably be activated only a couple of times it offers everything we love in a good switch -- although technically it's a lever.

The only real problem with this off switch is that we'll almost certainly never get to use it. It is, after all, for emergencies only. That said, it's possible to buy these online, so perhaps we'll wire some up and use them as light switches.

#9 - The unswitchable switch
This is an off switch that is very close to our hearts, because it's in our very own data centre. What makes this switch unique is that it can't be turned off. Ever. Due to a misunderstanding with a contractor, the protective case that surrounds it is totally sealed.

While this does a good job of protecting the switch from accidental activation, it could also create a problem when there's a situation that requires the power to be swiftly cut. Still, the main fuse box isn't very far away.

#10 - The kill switch
This is the big daddy of all off switches. If you press this monster, you'd better expect everything to go dark, because this switch is all about killing all the power within a 5-mile radius. Well, at least the power to the Underground track mere meters away.

This glorious off switch lives in Southwark underground station on the Jubilee line and we've been thinking about it ever since we first set eyes on it. Notice how vibrant the red is on the button, how smooth the finish is and how the button is exactly the right size. You'll also notice the red light, which we assume will illuminate if the button were ever to be pressed. We can only dream.

Update: Thanks Martin, you stripped away all the mystery of our favourite switch by pointing out that it is, in fact, a power socket. Hmph. Whatever.

 

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