As the Internet of Things advances at a rapid rate parallel to the shrinkage of size and cost of the chips that make up our modern computing world, companies eagerly push out new products with often excessive engineering that proves to be purposeless or “smart” editions of their current product lineup. These products become the butt of jokes when engineers replace designers and you get intrusive software updates with unclear benefits to the user, confusing error messages, and security breaches for the simplest utilities such as… light switches. Compact, sleek, and strictly utilitarian, the Quip electric toothbrush represents a beautiful mix of form and function, balancing each with restraint where sensible, resulting in an object sufficiently more advanced than the one it effortlessly replaces.

There is no denying that the Quip is a handsome device. The plastic versions of the brush are somewhat gaudy, however, coming in colors often reserved for cheap bathroom slippers. The “Edition” edition (a gaffe also made by Apple once upon a time for the Apple Watch), the one I tested, sports the same anodized aluminum construction as the Metal editions of the brush. The finish is pleasing and immediately familiar to anyone who has used a MacBook or iPad in the past. Given the choice between medical grade stainless steel and anodized aluminum, I am elated that Quip chose the more stylish, colorizable material that is aluminum. However, the option of stainless steel (despite the unusual chrome look it would sport, as well as the glossy finish that would attract fingerprints) would be appreciated. For a brush designed to last a lifetime (with literal lifetime support as long as you subscribe to their 3 month bristle/battery refill plan), the durability of painted aluminum would be questionable if the nature of the product was to be employed in a more rugged environment. For a cylindrical tube that stays in your bathroom, I have no doubts about the durability and reliability of the enclosure, developed to be as water resistant as a toothbrush would need to be.

Each Quip brush comes with a rubber head with soft, end-rounded monochromatic bristles. No gimmicks of multicolored, different textured and sized bristles along the head. All there is to it is a uniform set of bristles, with a standard texturized tongue cleaner on the back. The choice to go with rubber instead of plastic like many competitors is ingenious, giving the brush a more premium feel with the practicality of an elastic extension that doesn’t combat your teeth/gums by accident. The cute embossed Quip logo on the tongue cleaner (the only part of the brush where the brand is explicitly spelled out) is appreciative instead of a blazenly printed logo somewhere else. The only other branding on the brush is the “Q” mark, acting as the “activate” button. With the All-Black Metal Edition, the bristles are also black (and as hoped but somehow not obviously expected, the refill bristles will also always be black). These black bristles immediately distinguish the Quip from other brushes, while serving the undiscovered purpose of revealing where toothpaste is left over (as you’ll see if you should use this, a LOT of toothpaste gets left in the base of the bristles). The black bristles contrast perfectly and elegantly against standard white toothpaste. As bristles should be, these are soft rather than the medium or hard type that are unnecessarily abrasive to gums. Swapping out bristles could not be more intuitive, applying force snaps them back and off the body, no instructions needed.

The travel cover mirror mount is somewhat of a miracle to use. Despite plastic construction (jarring for the aluminum constructed toothbrushes), it is color matched to the brush head, giving the appearance of a positively monolithic product should you dock the brush with the bristles out. The more hygienic arrangement, with the bristles in, results in a two tone display of either black or white cover and the colored body of the brush. The real magic is how the suction “strip” on the back of the cover, seems to work. With no cup to create a partial vacuum and seemingly no actual adhesive that I could sense (or one that if it were to exist, has definitely faded away after rolling around in my backpack daily), I actually don’t know how the cover mounts itself to a mirror. My best guess would’ve been micro suction cups embedded in the strip, but my naked eye does not see any and I find it hard to believe a toothbrush startup put research and development dollars into making such an idea work instead of just using a regular suction cup. Regardless, the end result is invisible and beautiful, always a good indicator of thoughtful design. The “quip” logo is laser cut out of the plastic, though when not mounted it can easily be read as “dinb”, a mistake a friend of mine actually made when trying to identify my toothbrush. Embarrassing overthought to brand the mount this way, a stain on the otherwise wonderful design. The suction strip also serves as a sufficient, but not ideal, anti-roll mechanism to stop it from falling off your counter should you decide not to mount it. Another incredible detail is the hidden concave base of the mount, rather than being flat (which would introduce the possibility of being slightly uneven or just generally more prone to tipping). From the outside, the mount has a cylindrical base, but it is concaved out at the bottom, bringing the center of gravity of the mount up along the shaft, making it more resilient to falling over. Included is a small slit to allow for potential water drainage from the brush. Brilliant.

There is no app for the Quip toothbrush, no cloud service, no Bluetooth or WiFi chip inside, and definitely no nightly wired charging needed. Such restraint has allowed for renewed focus on the actual brushing experience, where getting the proper 2 minutes of brushing time matters most. Having nailed the industrial design, Quip moves on and introduces a single button that activates the timer. Every 30 seconds, the vibrations briefly stop to indicate you should move onto another quadrant of your mouth. 4 quadrants, 30 seconds of brushing time each, 2 minutes total. No light indicators, no sounds, nothing but using the actual mechanism by which the electric brush operates to signify a change in state. This kind of human factors thinking seems simple yet is unprecedented in the smart toothbrush industry. Instead of a clumsy charging dock, you get a AAA battery that slides out easily from the brush and lasts 3 months. Everything about the electronic aspects of the Quip screams “less is more”, a quality amplified by its nonchalant industrial design.

Other than the hardware, the other big component and differentiator of Quip is the refill plan. After paying the initial price of entry (starting at $25) into Quip for the brush itself, you have the option of receiving a refill pack every 3 months for $5, containing new bristles and a very sleek looking Quip branded AAA battery (the attention to detail and control over every aspect of their product is astounding. Quip even prefers you use their own toothpaste). 3 months is the dentist recommended duration for keeping a toothbrush, so essentially after the buy in price, you’re paying $5 for a new electric toothbrush every 3 months, delivered to your doorstep. This is as financially sound as a smart toothbrush can possibly get. Cancellable at any time, no hidden fees, and no shipping costs, Quip’s business model is transparent, honest, and simple. It’s rare to see a startup have their business logistics so well sorted. One time purchases can be made for heads, AAA battery, or toothpaste (mint and watermelon) as well. No complaints here in the slightest.

In a world of Sonicares and $150 Colgate Smart Brushes that needlessly track metrics like tooth coverage, and sport 4 different modes and buttons and switches, Quip stands head and shoulders above the others with a fine balance between price, functionality, design, and utility. It’s quieter, thinner, lighter, more stylish, more affordable and accessible, and well thought out than the other guys. It’s more everything, and is so by being LESS of everything. If you’ve been around someone brushing with a Philips Sonicare, you’d know. It’s overwhelmingly bulky and surprisingly loud. Using a Quip is about as discreet as any other standard toothbrush on the market. There is no button marked “ON”, no switch, no charging port, or gimmicky branding. At the end of the day, Quip is not a gadget and this is its biggest strength. Backed by a lucrative and trendy subscription model that actually economically makes sense, Quip nails the essentials and goes above and beyond to comfortably be the only toothbrush you would need for the rest of your life. I could go on and on about how the packaging of the Quip made for such a pleasant first experience that percolates into my most recent experience with it an hour ago. I could rave about the wonderful online experience that made it so easy to get a Quip in my hands and new bristles on it every 3 months. But the fact that an electric toothbrush boasting the sensible features that this one does appears so regular while still being gorgeous speaks volumes to what Quip has achieved, is the highest compliment I can pay to the product that best represents the future of daily dental hygiene.

The Philips Wake-up light is something of a retrofuturistic device, an alarm clock designed for the future by people living in an earlier era. The concept is simple, replicate a sunrise anywhere from 20-40 minutes before your alarm to wake you up naturally, with gentle sounds playing as the alarm. This post is not about the effectiveness that Philips claims for this clock in waking you up, it is instead a dive into the industrial design and user interaction model of this product. In a time when even Philips has seemingly moved on with its Hue line of bulbs, relegating “sunrise wake-up” to a feature meant to be toggled inside an app, how does the $140 Wake-up light stack up?

The Philips Wake-up light is a handsome product. The dualshot plastic body is more sophisticated than a basic matte or glossy solid color plastic finish and appears more apt to a device meant to be used in the home than a textured/patterned surface (a la Jawbone). It is complemented perfectly on the front face of the clock with the same dual-shot design. The whole device seems to be one contiguous body with only the ring of buttons acting as the unsightly seam (more on that later). Apparent in this photo another unsightly element of the product, the unusually long and wiry FM antenna. Perhaps a better design choice would’ve been to construct the white plastic band around the clock out of metal and use that as an antenna, but perhaps they had their reasons not to do so.

On the back of the product, the infuriatingly placed speaker grill can be seen. For some reason unknown to me, companies continue producing devices with speakers that do not face their users. In doing so (especially depending on what may reside behind the device) the audio is muffled or lower than anticipated. Placing the speaker perhaps on the bottom front face of the clock would have been greatly appreciated, with laser drilled holes as opposed to the massive boombox-style grill we have now. This shot also gives a better look at how light plays with the dual shot plastic body, very well. The back is unfettered from buttons or switches, thankfully, and just houses a proprietary power plug (a fine decision, as the power input needed for this thing likely exceeds what a regular USB-C power source provides, and that market remains too fragmented to bother with).

The power adapter is well designed in that the prongs were placed on the same axis as the adapter itself. Doing so saves a lot of space in the outlet once plugged in, and is a wildly appreciated design touch in a world where power adapters use one, but take the space of two (sometimes three on an outlet extender) outlets. Where a design choice falls short is the use of two strand wires adhered together instead of being encased in a cylindrical or fettuccine cable. For those unfamiliar, your phone charger, while appearing to be one cable, actually houses several wires inside. Same with your wired headphones (some Beats headphone cables resemble a fettuccine noodle, hence the name I use. This combats tangling). Cables have been this way for several years now, and Philips’ oversight in shipping a power adapter with strung together wires as such strikes me as another example of this product having one foot solidly planted in the past.

I have a tumultuous relationship with the buttons on this device. But before that, just take notice at the two visible seams (one on the white plastic between the buttons, other below it on the transparent plastic). Take notice at the seemingly unnecessary perimeter venting as well (this device does not need that kind of airflow). I’ll let you formulate your opinions on those subjects. Now onto the buttons. First, facing this clock and using the buttons is impossible without muscle memory and plain old memory itself. Either you memorize the button layout and use the bumps on some of them to navigate your fingers around, or you get up and move your head around the perimeter of the clock, searching for buttons (very likely in the dark, where they lack even the most basic of illumination techniques such as glow in the dark radium). Unlike the other aspects of the clock, the buttons are very cheaply constructed, giving a very hollow click when pressed and wobbling around in place. Unfortunately, instead of consolidating all input in one place, there are more buttons (this time, touch-sensitive) on the front face of the clock (where they all should belong actually).

A cool design touch is the illumination of the buttons as your finger approaches them. This is made possible I’m guessing by cranking the capacitive sensitivity of these buttons up to an 11. Unfortunately, this is also made useless as the button titles are not illuminated. Remembering which button is “menu” and which is “select” is not a task I expect to do on my $140 alarm clock. Another example of where user interaction falls short is having to hit the “+” button 30 times to set my alarm to 8:30 AM. Perhaps buttons are not the best mode of input for a device such as this. Also visible in this photo is the digital clockface, which would be fine were it colored white and the time was the only thing it was displaying.

However, it is an ominously glowing red that in a dark room at night bleeds beyond the lit up portions of the clock face. Instead of being a potentially cool-looking matrix LED setup, the display has precut shapes for the icons that strongly resemble the hunky black plastic bedside alarm clocks from the 90s. The LEDs used to illuminate the buttons below are for some reason a distinct color from the clock face. A better-suited display would’ve been a front-lit, touchscreen e-ink panel. Such a display would remove pretty much all non-essential buttons from the actual housing of the device, add more interaction models (such as sliders for volume or alarm time), and look much more elegant (a glowing monochromatic display versus an 80s themed seven segment display, you decide). The quality of the image I embedded reflects my displeasure with such aspects of this product.

Again, the product is handsome indeed. At first look it certainly does not look like any alarm clock that precedes it, resembling the Sun itself. I’m sure that was the motif. The plastic acts as a wonderful diffuser, with no semblance of bright spots or light leaks from the main bulb itself. Some things Philips wholeheartedly nails, and the execution of the light is extraordinary, transitioning between, red, orange, and finally a warm white as smoothly as possible.

In the end, the Philips Wake-up light is what it is. It’s what you get when a company focused primarily on lighting decides to make an all-in-one consumer electronics product. This is a product that does not know daylight savings time exists, and when unplugged forgets what time it is. This is not a product born out of competitive Silicon Valley tech product culture, and there is no Steve Jobsian dictatorial figure at the head of it all shelving products and disbanding teams because of one small detail. Today, the clock seems to have been discontinued in all sense of the word except production and distribution. Years have gone by with no major updates to the line, and with Philips aggressively pushing their Hue lights, sunrise wake-up has been rolled into a bullet point feature rather than a headliner. The whole saga reflects the ongoing assault on specific-use consumer technology. In a world of multifunction devices, Philips had access to a specialized technology not yet completely commercialized as an iPhone app. This is what has come out of it. The reason the Kindle has been able to survive is impeccable engineering, innovation, promotion, and support. Opting instead to stagnate their product and selling it at full price years later, Philips has done a disservice and dished an insult by forcing users to purchase Hue bulbs, a Hue bridge, and use a mobile app to have their upgraded experience of a wake-up light when a single self-contained product was serviceable in the past. Perhaps we are doomed for this complexity that is shrouded in the false veil of simplicity, where our product ecosystems merge and complicate our lives, while companies eager to sell us this vision of the future promise the exact opposite.

Update:

Sitting around my room with nothing better to do and a spare USB LED lamp, I decided to scrap together my own version of the wakeup light. Now, this takes into account absolutely none of the criticism from above, as this was a project with essentially 0 budget and completed in roughly an hour and a half. It is more of a fun little experiment that replicates the basic functionality of the alarm clock that the multibillion dollar Philips corporation came up with, and you can build one too with a microcontroller such as an Arduino, a transistor, and a USB powered lamp. Below is what it looks like.

You can find my code and a circuit schematic I drew up in Microsoft Paint on my Github.