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C by GE smart LED bulb review: Much smarter than your average bulb

Michael Brown | March 9, 2016
GE’s C-Life and C-Sleep bulbs are a good choice for those who aren’t ready to go whole hog on the connected home.

GE’s C by GE smart LED light bulbs are outfitted with Bluetooth radios, as opposed to ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, or something else that would require a hub (or a router) to control them. The upside of that design choice is that you don’t need to buy anything beyond the bulbs. The downside is that you can only control them locally. You can’t turn your lights on or off from afar, you can’t program them to turn on and off according to a schedule, and you can’t integrate them—as smart bulbs, at least—into a broader connected-home system.

GE recognizes those limitations will be showstoppers for some, so the company’s roadmap includes adding features to the bulbs down the road, including compatibility with the Wink hub (GE was an early investor in Wink, and the company sells other LED bulbs that work with it). If those issues don’t bother you, or if you can wait for GE to deliver on its promises, the company is selling its new bulbs at a solid discount: An introductory price of $50 for a four-pack (two C-Life bulbs and two C-Sleep bulbs—I’ll explain the difference in a moment).

That price will rise to $70 when GE’s promotion ends. GE declined to provide us with a specific date, nor would the company give us a hint as to whether or not you’ll be able to buy the bulbs in other quantities down the road. That makes it hard to know how much they expect to fetch for each bulb, which is important because the C-Life and C-Sleep bulbs have very different capabilities.

Both bulbs are attractive and look very much like ordinary A19 incandescent bulbs, except their lower half looks to be fabricated from porcelain (or something similar). The top half of the bulb is frosted-white glass. A disclaimer printed on the lower half advises that the bulbs shouldn’t be used with dimmer switches (they have their own onboard dimmer mechanism), and that they are not for use in enclosed luminaires. I gather this second restriction is due to heat: the lower half gets too hot to touch with your bare fingertips. They can be used in damp locations, however, so they should be okay in a bathroom.

I already mentioned that you can’t use these bulbs with dimmer switches, but here’s another limitation that impacts all “smart” light bulbs: If the lighting fixture or the outlet on the wall is controlled by a switch on the wall, you can’t control any bulb that’s plugged into that fixture or wall outlet if the switch is in the off position. By the same token, if you screw a smart bulb into a lamp with its own on/off switch and set the switch to off, you’ll never be able to turn the light on with an app. The best way to achieve a truly connected home is to put the intelligence in the switch or dimmer that’s in the wall—that way, you can control the light the old-fashioned way, by flipping a switch, if that's more convenient than setting it remotely.

 

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