Philips shines a light on aesthetics with the new Clear LED (hands-on)

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/ Updated: June 20, 2014 12:23 PM PDT

The frosted bulbs on today's LEDs aren't just there for softer light -- they also hide the unsightly hardware inside. But what if you're a fan of the exposed bulb aesthetic, and looking for a worthy replacement for those translucent incandescents lining your bathroom mirror?

Philips thinks it has just the thing with its new Clear LED, a 40W replacement bulb which the Dutch company promises will mimic the "elegant shape and sparkling light" of traditional incandescents. With its A60 shape, clear glass bulb, and inconspicuous heat sinks, this LED is designed to strike a more familiar tone with consumers than its often irregular-looking competition.

Like Philips' standard 40W replacement LED, the Philips Clear puts out 470 lumens at a color temperature of 2,700 K, claims full dimmability and omnidirectionality, and promises a lifespan of 25,000 hours. The Philips Clear is the slightly more efficient bulb, though, drawing 6 watts as opposed to 8 from the standard Philips LED. This puts it right in line with the Cree 40W replacement LED, which puts out 450 lumens at 2,700 K using 6 watts.

Still, it's the bulb's traditional appearance and "sparkling" light quality that Philips is focusing on, here -- not comparative performance claims. It isn't the first time Philips has marketed an LED's design as its chief selling point. The recently released Philips SlimStyle LED has an eyebrow-raising, flattened design that distributes the diodes around the perimeter of the bulb (if you can even call it a bulb).

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

The Philips Clear doesn't use quite as unusual an approach, but it does signal that manufacturers are starting to look beyond the usual performance claims and comparisons with incandescents when marketing their bulbs. Philips seems to think that bulb aesthetics might be the next LED battleground, while manufacturers like Cree and GE appear to be focusing more on color quality.

At 2,700 K, the Philips Clear puts out the same, warm light as other LEDs with similar color temperatures. Like many consumers, I tend to prefer warmer tones from my lights, but with the Philips Clear, I wonder if a hotter, whiter color temperature would have done a better job of showing off the diamond-esque quality of the bulb's interior. Hot, white color temperatures also tend to work well in bathroom lights, which seems like an obvious place to put an exposed bulb like this to work.

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The diodes in the Philips Clear sit in the base of the bulb, reflected up through the gemlike prism in the center for a sparkling filament effect. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Another important point of consideration as far as aesthetics are concerned is dimmability, and like the standard line of Philips LEDs, the Philips Clear performs well in this regard. I was able to dim it using in-wall Lutron and Leviton dimmers designed for LEDs, along with a plain, inexpensive rotary model that's rated for incandescent use only.

There wasn't any buzzing that I could hear as I dimmed up and down on any of the switches -- though I did see a very noticeable flicker at certain points on the rotary dial. Still, a very good result that's reassuring for anyone looking to dim this light down low.

The Philips Clear LED is expected to arrive at European retailers sometime this summer, with a US rollout coming by the year's end. Philips isn't sharing the bulb's cost just yet, but with the SlimStyle selling for less than $10 (£6) and the Cree 40W replacement selling for less than $5 (£3), I'd expect the Clear to land somewhere in that ballpark.

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