The light that Cree's LED puts out is rated at 2,700 K -- the same low, warm color temperature as you'll get with a standard incandescent. When we put that figure to the test in front of our spectrometer, we got a reading of 2,669 K, which is closer to the mark than any of Cree's closest competitors. Shining the Cree LED over a piece of paper for a quick eye test confirms that the color temperature is more or less spot on.
Cree 60W Replacement LED
Philips 60W Equivalent LED
Philips SlimStyle LED
GE Energy Smart 60W Replacement LED
Color rendering index
For those who like their light more on the hot end of the spectrum, Cree also sells a "Daylight" version of the 60W replacement that costs a dollar more and carries a color temperature of 5,000 K. This gives the light a bright white appearance that borders on bluish. If you aren't a fan of that sort of hot, white light, then you'll want to be sure and shop carefully -- the two bear packaging that's nearly identical, and typically sit right next to one another on the shelf at Home Depot.
In addition to color temperature, we also make sure to test the color rendering capabilities of each bulb that we review. Unlike color temperature, which indicates the tone of the light itself, color rendering refers to the light's ability to accurately illuminate the natural colors of other objects. A bulb with a high color-rendering score should be able to make reds look red and blues look blue better than one with a low color-rendering score would.
This "color rendering index," or CRI score, is actually an average of several different scores for several different tones. Incandescent light scores very well across the board, and pure sunlight scores a perfect 100.
LEDs, however, tend to have more difficulty getting that sort of universal color quality. The weak point is almost always red tones, and that's certainly the case with Cree's LED, which put up the worst red numbers from any of the bulbs we've examined. In the graph above, column number 9 represents its score with pure red, and as you can see, it's pretty abysmal.
This isn't to say that a bowl of red delicious apples illuminated by the Cree bulb would suddenly look blue, but their particular shade of red likely wouldn't look quite as vivid or accurate as it would under a bulb with a better CRI score.
For some, this is likely a minor, unnoticeable quibble, but for those concerned with color quality, it could be a reason to go with another bulb. The GE Reveal LED boasts especially strong CRI performance, as does Cree's own TW Series LED -- both score in the 90s, and might merit consideration.
Like the majority of LEDs on the market, the Cree bulb promises a lifespan of 25,000 hours -- well over 20 years if used for an average of 3 hours a day. Cree takes things a step further, however, by backing that lifespan up with a 10-year warranty. That's twice as long as what you'll get from Philips or GE -- both of which make 60W replacements that cost more than Cree's does.
Overall, the Cree 60W Replacement LED offers outstanding value, and lives up to its reputation as a lighting aisle best buy. At $10 each (or lower, if you live in an area that offers energy rebates), you'll be getting a reliable, high quality light that's designed to last decades and warrantied accordingly. The value grows exponentially if you're upgrading from incandescents -- swap out just a few bulbs, and you'll make a noticeable dent in your monthly energy bill.
All that said, Cree's original LED isn't in quite as dominant a position as it was in last year, when the lack of affordable competition made it all but a no-brainer. Since then, prices have fallen faster than anticipated, and the emergence of bulbs like the low-cost Philips SlimStyle (and even $5 LEDs at Ikea) have given consumers more options worth considering, not to mention new, design-minded LEDs like the Philips Clear, which seem to hold some distinct appeal of their own. Cree is still a pack leader -- but the race is getting increasingly tight.