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Review: Cree LED light bulb

Gizmag tries out the 60-watt-equivalent warm white bulb, from Cree
Gizmag tries out the 60-watt-equivalent warm white bulb, from Cree
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The Cree LED 60-watt-equivalent warm white bulb
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The Cree LED 60-watt-equivalent warm white bulb
A room lit with a Cree LED bulb
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A room lit with a Cree LED bulb
The Cree LED bulb in use
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The Cree LED bulb in use
Gizmag tries out the 60-watt-equivalent warm white bulb, from Cree
4/6
Gizmag tries out the 60-watt-equivalent warm white bulb, from Cree
A room lit with a 60-watt incandescent bulb
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A room lit with a 60-watt incandescent bulb
The Cree LED's internal Filament Tower configuration
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The Cree LED's internal Filament Tower configuration

In late March, all of the US Home Depot stores began carrying Cree’s new LED light bulbs. While they’re by no means the first such bulbs to offer the same form factor as standard incandescent bulbs, their combination of a relatively low price and visually-pleasing light quality have got some people – and not just publicists working for Cree – saying that they could be what finally brings LED light bulbs into the mainstream. I recently got a chance to try one out for myself, and I definitely liked what I saw.

LED bulbs in general have several key advantages over incandescents – they’re much more energy-efficient, they last longer, they’re less fragile, and they don’t get as hot. Compact fluorescent bulbs have many of those same features, although (in most cases) they take a while to reach full brightness after first being turned on, and the light they give off is rather unattractive. They also contain toxic materials.

So far, consumers have had two main choices when it comes to standard screw-in LED light bulbs – ones with prices in the tens of dollars per bulb, or cheaper ones that give off a weaker light. The Cree LED Bulbs, on the other hand, start at a price of US$9.97 for a 40-watt-equivalent 450-lumen bulb, and give off a nice-looking, bright light.

The bulb I received was the 60-watt-equivalent, 800-lumen warm white model, which sells for $12.97. The first photo below shows a room lit with it, while the second shows the same room lit with a 60-watt incandescent. They’re pretty much identical.

A room lit with a Cree LED bulb
A room lit with a Cree LED bulb

A room lit with a 60-watt incandescent bulb
A room lit with a 60-watt incandescent bulb

As you can see, it spreads a soft, even light in all directions. I can also attest to the facts that when it’s operating, the bulb makes no noise, has no funny smell, and gets only slightly warm to the touch.

While I didn’t try hurling mine to the sidewalk, the lack of any tinkling filaments inside suggests that it’s fairly sturdy. It also has a protective rubberized coating on the bulb glass, which makes it feel kind of like skin – especially when it gets warm. It’s a small quibble, but I did find that the dust really sticks to that coating. A simple going-over with the Swiffer won’t suffice when it comes time to clean the thing.

The Cree LED bulb in use
The Cree LED bulb in use

If users prefer a less warm, more neutral color temperature, a $13.97 60-watt-equivalent daylight version of the bulb is also available. All three models are said to be 84 percent more energy-efficient than their incandescent equivalents, and have a rated lifespan of 25,000 hours (with a 10-year warranty). According to the US Department of Energy, incandescent bulbs typically last about 1,000 hours.

The Cree bulbs are still in the process of earning the Energy Star qualification.

While they’re certainly much less expensive than some of their competitors, I’m still not about to run out and replace all of my light bulbs with Cree LEDs in one go. As my existing bulbs burn out, however, it’ll only make sense to swap in a Cree – or whatever comes along to best it.

Product page: Cree LED Bulbs

50 comments
Alex Vafiadis
Why would you buy an LED bulb that is only 84% more efficient than incandescent when the current mini fluorescent bulbs use one fifth the power of incandescents which makes them 400% more efficient.
Jon A.
Hopefully the electronics in the ballast don't turn out to be the weak point for these bulbs like they were for so many CFLs.
MBadgero
Alex, your math is off. The 60W LED bulb uses 9.5 watts of power, making it 630% more efficient than incandescent bulbs, and the 40W uses 6 watts, making it 667% more efficient. Jon, LED bulbs use a power supply that is not a ballast, but early LED bulbs had problems with the lifespan of the power supplies. I bought three of the early bulbs five years ago and they all died within two years. The newer bulbs are supposedly tested to prevent this problem, but only time will tell. The life of the power supplies is still going to be the limiting factor of the bulb life, not the lifetime of the LEDs themselves.
shibbyj
Alex.... 9.5 watt for a 60w equivalent bulb is less than 1/6th the power. if I'm not mistaken 1/6th is less than 1/5th. Therefore the LED bulb uses less than the CFL
BrianN
These bulbs are also dimable!!. Cree's home page has a pdf which lists which dimmers these bulbs are compatible with. The 40W equiv bulb draws 6W and 60W equiv draws 9W while CFLs would draw about 10W & 15W respectively. The 84% reference comes from the site's poor wording. "It looks and works like what it is. A light bulb. But unlike incandescent bulbs, it's 84% more efficient and lasts 25 times longer." would be better worded as "It looks and works like what it is. A light bulb. But unlike incandescent bulbs, it lasts 25 times longer and is 84% more efficient than a CFL"
JoeT
I own about a dozen LED bulbs (yeah, it's nerdy, I know). I recently picked up two 60 Watt equivalent bulbs at Home Depot for $13 ea over the weekend. In three respects, these bulbs are better than the Philips AmbientLED bulbs. 1. They look "normal" in fixtures that expose the bare bulb. 2. They turn on quicker. I have the Cree next to two of the Philips bulbs in a bathroom fixture. The Cree lights up about 1/4 second faster (guessing on the time). 3. The Cree is 20-30% less expensive. The overall color of the Philips might be a bit better. All in all, I really LOVE that we have good options. Using LED bulbs is small scale, lazy-man environmental action! I actually get a decent financial return for doing the "right thing".
mooseman
Good stuff! It's great to see LED bulbs about to make big inroads into the lighting market. As more and more are produced, economies of scale will kick in and they will become cheaper too. It'll only be a few years until the switch is complete, just like digital cameras replacing film ones and flat screens replacing CRTs. Woohoo!
Anne Ominous
BrianN: No. The mistake is there, but it's more egregious than what you thought. The numbers between these LEDs and CFLs. Even if you do it the (common but) wrong way, that still only gives a figure of about 66%. If you do the math, the LED bulbs use about 15% of the power that incandescents use. That leaves 85% (allowing for round off errors, etc. we can call that 84). So it's just plain mis-worded, and rather badly. This is due to a rather gross ambiguity of English when people try to describe "how much less", expressed as a percentage. They actually use less than 1/6 the power of incandescents, for the same amount of light. It would be valid to call that more than 600% as efficient. (Or 500% MORE efficient, since the incandescent is being used as the base of 100%.)
Tom Arr
When you took the two comparison shots for the bulbs lighting values, did you prevent the camera from adjusting for a different kind of light source, or did you lock it onto one value to keep the shots truly comparative?
Tom Arr
MBadgero, as I remember reading here on Gizmag I believe, the lifespan of early LEDs was reduced when the individual diodes were grouped too close together which resulted in the susceptibility to heat that LEDs suffer from, and now I think they are starting to space the diodes further apart to combat this.