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

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Use Alexa to set a timer, and the lamp will provide a visual indication of how much time is left.

Chris Monroe/CNET

I love lamp?

I think I do -- or I at least love the idea of lamp. As I said up at the top, lighting control is one of Alexa's coolest capabilities, so packing her directly into a lighting fixture makes for a surprisingly compelling combo. 

On top of that, the Sol's sound quality was better than I expected: not quite as good as the Amazon Echo, but close, and right about on par with the midrange Amazon Tap. It won't please audiophiles, but it's perfect for casual listeners, or anyone who just wants to listen to a chapter in their audiobook before bed.

The Sol has a pleasant quality of light, but it's not nearly as bright as a 60W incandescent (right).

Ry Crist/CNET

Reading under it might be a different story, though, because the Sol isn't as bright as most lamps. GE doesn't offer an official lumen count for the lamp, but to my eye, it's nowhere near as bright as a 60W incandescent bulb. Think of it more as an accent light than a primary light source.

My biggest complaint, however, is that it doesn't feel like the premium device that its price suggests. The plastic build and the sparse, hard-to-read design of the touch buttons err on the cheap side of minimalism. The rings of light aren't diffused quite enough to keep you from seeing the individual diodes inside, which emphasizes the artificial quality of the light. It's pretty, but it isn't perfect.

I also think GE missed an opportunity to pack color-changing diodes into the lamp, and make the Sol something of a standalone Philips Hue competitor. Alexa is fully capable of controlling color-changing lights like those, and GE already took advantage of that fact by letting her change the lamp's color temperature. 

Why stop there, though? Adding in a full array of colors would have been a nice complement to the lamp's already unique design, as well as a smart way to help GE justify its expense. The Sol could have also been a good opportunity for GE to finally insert itself into the color-changing category, where it has long lagged. Instead, the opportunity is missed.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Is it really worth $200?

Nah, probably not. Consider that a nearly identical lamp without the Alexa smarts is currently marked down to $40 on Amazon. Even if you take that lamp at its inflated suggested retail price of $100, that's still only half a Sol. Are the speaker and Alexa smarts really worth another $100 when you can get an Echo Dot for less than $50?

Make no mistake, the Sol isn't priced at a value -- it's priced like the first-of-its-kind product that it is. There is no other big-name Alexa lamp to speak of at the moment, which gives GE leverage to charge a premium. That would have been more forgivable had GE given it fully color-changing light or a less plasticky build -- instead, people who want it will have to pay a little more than they probably should. Capitalism!

Still, the Sol is an unexpectedly good idea that's executed fairly well, which is more than I can say about a lot of products that ask for a place in the smart home. If you want a Sol, feel free to splurge on it, but I'd recommend waiting to see if its price comes down at all -- or if other Alexa-friendly lighting manufacturers like Philips, Lifx or Sylvania ultimately try to eclipse it with a lamp of their own.

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