If you're looking to splurge on something fancy and futuristic, chances are that a desk lamp isn't the first thing that pops into mind. The engineers and designers at OTI Lumonics in Toronto are hoping to change that with the luxurious Aerelight OLED desk lamp. A svelte, slimmed-down fixture, Aerelight is aimed at design-minded early adopters who want the desk lamp of tomorrow lighting up their workstation today.
Of course, early adoption comes at a cost, and with Aerelight, that cost is $240 (about £160 in the UK, plus an extra charge for international shipping). That's obviously an awful lot to pay for a desk lamp -- but it's also relatively inexpensive among OLED fixtures, which often retail for thousands of dollars. You can even find similar, non-OLED models that cost even more.
Aerelight looks good, works well and boasts a Qi charger built into the base that can charge your phone wirelessly, all of which helps justify at least some of the cost. Still, OLED lighting isn't as good as it needs to be if it wants to become the new standard, at least not yet, and that, coupled with an overall imperfect design, has me resisting the urge to splurge.
Spotlight on design
If you want to sell people on a $240 desk lamp, then it's going to need a build that's both beautiful and near-flawless. I think OTI Lumonics was successful on that first front, as Aerelight looks every bit the part of a desktop luxury. It doesn't take up much workstation real estate, and all three color varieties -- black, red, or silver -- look fancy and sufficiently futuristic. If you're in the market for lamp compliments, it'll certainly do the trick.
Using the Aerelight feels luxurious, too. Look the thing over, and you won't find a switch. Instead, it turns on with just a touch, the entirety of its anodized aluminum body (the black, red or silver part) serving as a capacitive surface. If you're worried about heat, don't be -- the OLED panel barely gets warm as you leave it on, and the body itself stays cool.
Tap once to turn the thing on at a low setting, tap again to bump it up to medium and tap a third time to crank it up to full brightness. A fourth tap will shut it back off. Tap on the base, the neck or the head -- anywhere on the metal frame will work.
The one exception is the woodgrain paneling on the base, which isn't just there for cosmetics. It hides the Aerelight's Qi charger -- set a Qi-ready smartphone like the Samsung Galaxy S4 or the Google Nexus 7 down in the right spot, and it'll power up wirelessly. For Qi-free devices like the iPhone, you'll need to purchase a special case.
In my tests, the wireless charging worked fine whether the lamp was on or not, though I had a bit of difficulty placing some phones in the "sweet spot" where the Qi charger kicks in. Of course, that depends on where, exactly, the Qi components are located in your specific phone or case. At worst, it's a small frustration that you'd likely get used to after a slight learning curve.
My main Qi-related design qualm is that the charging base is a flat surface, and one that you can't adjust to different angles. Other Qi chargers have angular designs that make it more comfortable to view the screen while the phone is charging. Something similar from Aerelight would have been a nice, thoughtful touch -- instead, it's a missed opportunity.
A related misstep (and frankly, a bigger one) is that you can't adjust the angle of the neck, either. That OLED panel is fixed in place, so if you want to reposition the pool of light, you'll need to move the entire lamp. Keep in mind that you'll adjust the brightness or turn the thing off entirely as soon as you touch it.
Aesthetically, the Aerelight looks like a prop from the movie "Her," and as a fan of that film's technophile-friendly art design, I mean that as a compliment. However, the build's functionality falls a bit short when compared with similar lights that cost a lot less, and that comes as a disappointment.