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C by GE Life and Sleep LED Starter Pack review: GE's night-shifting smart bulbs don't cost that much (or do that much)

The C by GE LED Starter Pack includes bulbs that automatically change tones in order to help you get a better night's rest -- and it's a lot more affordable than you might expect.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
Expertise Smart home technology and wireless connectivity Credentials
  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
4 min read

Smart lighting is a common starting point for the connected home, but with a lot of your options, you'll need to keep a control hub plugged into your router or understand what ZigBee is.


C by GE Life and Sleep LED Starter Pack

The Good

The C by GE Starter Pack is surprisingly affordable given that it includes color tunable bulbs that sync with your circadian rhythms. The app makes it easy to create preprogrammed scenes that you launch with a single tap.

The Bad

As of now, you can't sync these bulbs up with any larger smart-home platforms or third-party devices, and you can't control them with voice commands, either. You also can't set basic timers or schedules for when lights should turn on and off.

The Bottom Line

These appealingly low-cost smart bulbs are too dependent on their in-app controls, and don't actually offer much by way of automation.

GE wanted to lower that barrier of entry with its C by GE LED Starter Pack. For $50, you'll get four smart LED bulbs that need no hub, and instead, connect directly with your phone over Bluetooth. Two of these four bulbs -- the C by GE "Sleep" LEDs -- will even change color temperatures automatically throughout the day, going from a hot, bluish, get-the-hell-out-of-bed tone in the morning to a warm, orangey, you-are-getting-sleepy shade in the evening. The other two bulbs, the C by GE "Life" LEDs, are more basic, offering remote smartphone dimming control at a fixed color temperature in between those two extremes.

Read more: The best Google Assistant and Google Home devices of 2019

Four smart bulbs for 50 bucks is an attractive deal, especially when two of those bulbs are color-tunable. Compare that with the Wi-Fi-enabled Lifx White 800 LED, a color-tunable competitor that costs $40 apiece. Osram's Lightify LEDs are another color-tunable alternative -- they cost $30 each, but you'll need to buy a one-bulb starter kit for $60 in order to use them. GE's lights are the best bargain of the bunch -- but I'm not sure I'd recommend them -- at least not yet.

Enlarge Image

The "Follow the Sun" feature lets you program the Sleep LEDs to change tone automatically throughout the day -- but those changes will only work if you're within Bluetooth range.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

The problem? These Bluetooth bulbs don't work with any larger smart-home platforms yet -- that means that you need to be within Bluetooth range (about 50 feet) in order to use them. You also can't make a lighting schedule or set a timer for when things should come on or off.

The only scheduling option you'll get is the "Follow the Sun" feature, which changes the color temperature on the Sleep LEDs automatically at pre-programmed times. Even those changes won't work if you aren't in Bluetooth range.

You can't control these bulbs with your voice, either. Other smart lights will let you sync up with Siri or with her Amazon Echo-based counterpart, Alexa, but not these bulbs. That's a bit of a surprise, as GE told us last year that they were working on color-tunable smart lights that would work with Apple HomeKit for Siri-powered voice controls.

Enlarge Image

GE's app makes it easy to create, customize, and use pre-programmed lighting scenes that you activate with a single tap.

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

That really just leaves the app as your primary means of controlling these lights (aside from, you know, the light switch).

With its minimalistic design, the app is clean-looking and easy to use. It does an especially good job of visualizing the shifting color schedule of the Follow the Sun feature, and also makes good work of walking users through the process to create scenes that let them change multiple lights to preprogrammed settings with a single tap.

But these app controls are largely beside the point. Ideally, you'd use the app to program, group and schedule your lights when you first get them -- and then never open it again.

I speak from experience here. In my own home, I have smart lights that fade on above my bed each morning to wake me up, and ones that turn on automatically when a motion sensor catches me entering the room. It's been months since I've needed to open the apps for any of them (and that was only because I moved into a new house and needed to set things back up). With C by GE, I'd need to open the app every time I wanted to dim a light or trigger a scene.

Enlarge Image

GE's Sleep LED barely gets above 700 lumens at its bluish AM setting. The two warmer tones offer even less light.

Ry Crist/CNET

I also wish the bulbs were a bit brighter. In my tests, I clocked the Life LED at 661 lumens -- well short of the 800 lumens you'd want from a 60W replacement. The Sleep LED did a bit better, coming in at over 700 lumens, but that was only in the hot blue AM mode. The brightness fell significantly at the other two color temperatures: 541 lumens for the midrange Day mode and a paltry 235 lumens at the orange-toned PM mode. I get that the PM mode is meant to help you wind down before bed, but that's still barely enough light to comfortably read a book under.

These bulbs stand to improve with time. GE says that they're looking into things like voice control and compatibility with third-party smart-home platforms, too. Tethering these bulbs to Bluetooth-friendly hubs like the SmartThings Hub or the Wink Hub would be a good starting point, as both would let you schedule the lights and control them from beyond Bluetooth range.

For now, though, the C by GE bulbs sit in their own walled-off garden. As happy as I am to see color tunable smart bulbs at a much lower price, I'd need to see those walls start to come down before I'd start to buy in.


C by GE Life and Sleep LED Starter Pack

Score Breakdown

Features 6Usability 8Design 8Performance 6