They aren't smart, but they do have a couple of extra tricks up their sleeve. Here's what you need to know before buying in.
In an age of dirt-cheap smart lights and color-changing LEDs you can control with your voice, people are beginning to expect a lot more from their light bulbs. Now, GE is answering the call with a new "LED Plus" lineup of specialized dumb bulbs. Each one offers an extra bit of light bulb trickery -- built-in motion sensors, built-in Bluetooth speakers, color control, battery backup, etc.
With prices ranging from $8 to $30 per bulb, the LED Plus lineup is just beginning a retail rollout at Target. I'd be surprised if it doesn't soon appear on store shelves at other outlets where GE Lighting products are sold, too.
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Mind you, none of the new bulbs are unique. Competitors like Philips, Feit and EcoSmart each offer gadgety dumb bulbs of their own, so this is largely just GE trying to stay competitive in the lighting aisle. Still, there are a couple of strong selling points in the lineup, so I wanted to put them to the test.
I'll spare you a lot of the usual spec-talk and simply say that each of GE's new bulbs was at least as bright as advertised, if not a bit brighter. And though the multicolor bulbs and speaker bulbs each come with wireless remotes that can dim things down, none of these bulbs are designed to play nice with dimmer switches, so keep that in mind as you shop.
Aside from that, here's a quick rundown of each of the new options, along with the most pertinent notes from the days I spent testing them out. And please note that CNET may get a share of revenue from any sales made via the links on this page.
Cheap, remote-controlled light bulbs with multiple color settings are nothing new, but this is the first time that GE has put one front and center in the lighting aisle. With eight colors and two white light settings that both come with three distinct brightness settings, the bulb covers the bases as a basic alternative to color-changing smart bulbs that cost a lot more.
Pros: The bulb's white-light settings are brighter than advertised, each coming in at well over 800 lumens. Aside from a greenish cyan, the colors are accurate and vivid. Also nice: It's available as either a normal, A-shaped bulb or as a floodlight bulb at no extra charge.
Cons: The remote looks and feels a bit cheap. The bulb's color settings aren't dimmable, and they aren't quite as bright as you'll get from higher-end smart bulbs, including the C by GE Multicolor LED. Those bulbs cost about $10 more a piece, and unlike the LED Plus bulbs, you can automate them or control them with Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant voice commands.
Matching similar bulbs from Philips and from Feit, GE's Dusk to Dawn bulb features a pair of built in ambient light sensors. If they sense enough daylight, the bulb will turn off. When it's dark enough out, the bulb will turn back on.
Pros: Those sensors worked really well when I tested them out, automatically turning on shortly before sunset in my home and then turning off again just after sunrise the next morning. At 843 lumens, per the CNET lighting lab's integrating sphere and spectrometer setup, the bulb is also a bit brighter than advertised.
Cons: Not many! The Dusk to Dawn bulb is the easiest and most affordable bulb in the GE LED Plus lineup, and it tested really well. Just know that those Philips and Feit versions have solid review averages, and might be available for a bit less -- it's fine to go with whatever one's on sale.
Motion-activated lighting makes a lot of sense for the exterior of your home, but not everyone wants to anchor a bunch of bulbs and sensors to a smart home setup. Enter the GE LED Plus Linkable Motion bulb, a $20 PAR38 floodlight with built-in motion and ambient light sensors. When the bulb detects motion within 10 feet, it'll light up for three minutes. When things are still during the daytime, it'll turn off automatically. At night, it'll dim down to 50% when things get still. You can also use a slide switch on each bulb to set it to one of four groups -- bulbs set to the same group will turn on and off in tandem whenever one of them detects movement.
Pros: With well over 1,000 lumens each at full blast, the bulbs are plenty bright for exterior lighting purposes, and the ability to create up to four distinct groups of bulbs without any programming or networking is handy for larger-sized homes. Pairing is a cinch, too -- just set the switch on each bulb to the same letter, then turn the things on.
Cons: The bulbs won't work in enclosed fixtures, and they don't let you adjust the motion sensitivity, either. There's also no way to keep them from shining all night at 50% brightness -- if you'd rather they return to darkness when motion stops, you're out of luck.
I've played around a bit with bulbs like these over the years, so again, this isn't new territory, but the GE LED Plus Speaker bulb features a built-in Bluetooth speaker that can pair with your phone, laptop, smart speaker -- you name it.
Pros: The LED is available as both an A-shaped bulb and a BR30 floodlight at no extra cost, and each one comes with a remote that can control the volume or dim the light up and down -- a very nice addition. You can also sync up to 10 bulbs together for multipoint, surround sound audio, then control them all with a single remote. And while the sound quality won't match our top standalone Bluetooth speaker picks, it's still surprisingly sufficient, and better than you'd probably expect from, you know, a light bulb.
Cons: $30 per bulb is a bit steep, though the addition of the remote makes the price a little easier to swallow. And while syncing multiple bulbs together worked well, you can't split the left and right channels between two bulbs for a stereo effect. I also noticed a slight, out-of-sync echo during one test run. Re-pairing fixed the problem, but it was still annoying.
Hey, how about a light bulb that you can legit use as a flashlight? That's the pitch for the GE LED Plus Battery Backup bulb, which features an internal battery and a little switch that turns the light on even when the bulb isn't screwed in. And yes, that makes this bulb an ideal candidate for your Uncle Fester costume this Halloween.
Pros: Bulbs like these would obviously come in handy during a power outage -- just flip the switch for several hours of low-level light. GE promises 5 hours on a full charge, but it was closer to nearly 12 hours when I tested that claim out for myself. At $15 each, the price seems fair, and similar to what you'd pay for an entry-level smart bulb, which makes this an interesting alternative for folks not sold on the cloud who still want more from their lights.
Cons: The bulb is a little bit bulky, and it won't turn on automatically when the power goes out -- you'll have to fumble in the dark to flip the switch yourself.