C by GE Sol Smart Lamp with Amazon Alexa review: Alexa in a lamp? Sure, why not

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The Good The Sol is a surprisingly likable lamp with a distinctive design and the full capabilities of Amazon's Alexa. It even gives her a couple of extra tricks that you won't get with other Alexa devices, like visual timer countdowns.

The Bad The lamp feels a bit plasticky, it can't call other Alexa devices like the Echo can and it doesn't include Amazon's ESP feature, which is important if you want a lot of Alexa devices in your home.

The Bottom Line GE's Alexa lamp is a good idea and it works well, but it costs a little too much for our tastes.

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7.2 Overall
  • Features 7
  • Usability 7
  • Design 7
  • Performance 8

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"Sol" is the sun-inspired name of GE's long-awaited Alexa lamp. It's basically just a smallish Amazon Echo smart speaker with a big honkin' halo growing out of its head instead of the usual indicator lights. It's available on Amazon, and costs $200.

So, ask yourself: If the $180 Amazon Echo sat beneath a Dysonesque ring of light, would you pay an extra $20 for it?

I have a hard time faulting anybody who says yes. After all, using Alexa to turn lights on and off is one of the virtual voice assistant's most popular features, and the Sol puts the experience into a singular package. Plus, that highly visible ring of light lets GE offer visual indicators for things like Alexa's kitchen timers and the time of day. The Sol gives Alexa one or two new tricks that you won't get with the Echo.

It can't make calls to other Alexa users, though -- for that, you'll need the Echo, the smaller Echo Dot or the touchscreen-equipped Echo Show. More importantly, it lacks Amazon's ESP feature, which makes sure only the Alexa device closest to you responds to your commands. That's a shame -- ESP is all but mandatory if you plan on placing lots of Alexa devices throughout your home. Amazon declined to respond when asked whether or not third-party Alexa devices like the Sol should expect to be able to add ESP in the future via software update.

Still, if you're just looking to bring Alexa into something like a bedroom or office, and you're willing to splurge a bit for something you'll like looking at, then the Sol fits the bill. I like it a lot more than I thought I would.

Alexa, light up the room

If you want, you can turn on a set of lights that indicate the time -- red for the hour, blue for the minute (this shot taken at 8:55).

Chris Monroe/CNET

The Sol is a neat-looking lamp, and roughly the diameter of a basketball at 13 inches wide. It features two rings of light: an exterior ring for the LED lamp, and an interior ring for the familiar, blue glow that indicates Alexa is listening.

That interior ring works just like the ring of light on the top of the Amazon Echo -- it lights up whenever you say "Alexa" and glows red whenever you have her on mute. It also lets Alexa offer visual indicators. As of now, the two that GE offers are a pair of lights that you can turn on to indicate the time (red for the hour, blue for the minute), along with a shrinking ring of light that shows you how much time is left on any timers you've asked Alexa to set.

To get started, you plug the Sol in and sync with it using the C by GE app on your Android or iOS device. From there, you pair the lamp with your Wi-Fi network and enter your Amazon login credentials to enable Alexa.

The Sol works just like you'd expect from an Alexa device, and aside from calling other Alexa users, it can do anything the Amazon Echo can do. That includes music streaming and news briefings, making shopping lists and telling bad jokes. You also get access to Alexa's ever-growing library of "skills," a free collection of extra tricks you can enable that now number well over 20,000.

Along with voice commands, you can control the Sol in the C by GE app, as well as schedule it to wake you up in the morning.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

The first one of those skills you should enable is the "CbyGE" skill, because you'll need it in order to control the Sol's light output using voice commands. Once it's enabled, you can ask Alexa to turn your Sol on and off, dim it up and down or change its color temperature from an orangey, soft white to a stark white daylight tone. There are also touch buttons on the top of the lamp's base to adjust the brightness and volume, and to turn it on and off.