Swedish technology brand Urbanista is trying to do something a little bit different. The company’s line-up is characterised by bold colours and a simple city-based naming system, from the ultra-simple polychromatic wires of the ‘San Francisco’ earbuds through to the more sophisticated active noise cancelling over-ear ‘New York’ and ‘Miami’ models.
The company’s newest product is dubbed ‘Los Angeles’, an appropriately sun-drenched destination for a pair of wireless headphones that can be charged using the sun. We spoke to Anders Andreen, Urbanista’s founder and CEO, about this new approach to power-saving technology and attention to detail. ‘We make products for modern urbanists,’ says Andreen. ‘Our brand, products, and packaging must all stand out, just like a fashion brand. These headphones have to be something you want to wear.’ Citing inspiration from sportswear brands like Nike and Adidas, instead of the usual Silicon Valley suspects, Andreen also emphasises how important it is for Urbanista’s products to stay affordable.
The Stockholm-based team is small and dynamic, selling products around the world. The ‘Los Angeles’ model was developed in collaboration with Swedish solar cell pioneer Exeger. ‘The reason we did Los Angeles is to explore how to use a solar cell. It’s a sustainable idea that is taking a step in the right direction, embedding the technology into the design, rather than letting the tech dictate the form.’
Urbanista ‘Los Angeles’ headphones charge in any light
Exeger’s 1.4mm thin Powerfoyle solar cell is incorporated into the headband, the first time this new material has been used in a consumer product. Capable of generating power from any light source – although direct, natural sunlight is of course best – Andreen says that walking for an hour on a sunny day will effectively give you an additional two hours of listening time. ‘When you’re not using them, you leave the headphones on your desk or a windowsill and they’ll recharge,’ he explains. A clever leather carrying case leaves the top of the headband exposed so the device can be charged while protected.
In terms of performance, ‘Los Angeles’ does everything you’d expect a well-range mid-priced pair of headphones to do. There’s active noise cancelling and an ambient mode to pick up background sounds, and the headphones themselves are snug and comfortable. The Urbanista app helps you dive deeper into the performance of the solar foil, showing you in real time how much energy is being drained and how much gained by your proximity to the light. ‘Our focus was on getting the power consumption down,’ says Andreen. ‘When you find a milliamp here and a milliamp there, it all trims down the consumption.’ Fully charged, the headphones offer up to 80 hours of play time, an impressive figure that stretches off into infinity if you live in a sunny locale. Like Los Angeles, for example.
‘We hope and believe that this solar cell product isn’t just for our use, although we’re first to use it,’ Andreen concludes. ‘It’s the first step on a shift towards using the sun.’ If we’re going to be slaves to our gadgets, the least we can do is ensure they last for a long time and use as little power as possible.
Urbanista ‘Los Angeles’, available in Midnight Black and Sand Gold, £169
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Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.
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