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Cree 11W LED with 4Flow Filament design (soft white) review: Cree's new LED offers upfront incandescent appeal

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Everything old is new again. Case in point: Cree's new LED, built to imitate the incandescents of old as closely as possible. It's an understandable addition to Cree's lineup, given the recent changes to the lighting landscape. With phased-out incandescents gradually disappearing from store shelves, more and more consumers simply want to be able to find something familiar.

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Cree 11W LED with 4Flow Filament design (soft white)

The Good

The Cree 4Flow LED sports an appealingly familiar design, and offers better brightness and dimming performance than its predecessor.

The Bad

Cree shortened its trademark 10-year warranty down to 3 years for this bulb. It's also slightly less efficient than the original.

The Bottom Line

This simple, low-cost LED is a strong performer with plenty of upfront value.

Consumers want bulbs that are affordable, too, and to this point, Cree's new LED costs just $8 -- its cheapest yet. That's not a huge price drop from the brand's original LED -- at $10, that bulb boasts slightly more efficient performance and a much longer warranty. That LED isn't going anywhere, and I think that it might still be the better overall value. Still, if you've been holding out for a solid performing, low-price LED that doesn't stick out like a sore thumb, this might be the bulb you've been waiting for.

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Ry Crist/CNET

Design

LEDs have been trying to imitate incandescents for years now. First it was light quality, with LEDs of all sorts quickly keying in on a satisfying, yellowy color temperature of 2,700K. Then, we saw bulbs with diodes strategically placed to mimic an incandescent's filament, along with designs that tried to hide the unsightly heat sinks.

Cree's new LED takes another step, ditching the heat sinks altogether in favor of a convection-based build -- Cree dubs it "4Flow." As the LED generates heat, it pulls cooler, ambient air into the bulb, venting out the hot stuff in the process.

Cree's new LED is an incandescent look-alike (pictures)

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This allows for a streamlined build that bears the exact same silhouette of a traditional, A19-shaped incandescent light bulb. Gone, however, is the glass used for the original Cree LED's bulb. Instead, the new LED is built entirely out of lightweight plastic (much like the flattened out Philips SlimStyle LED , which also features a design devoid of heat sinks).

Gone as well is the 10-year warranty, which up until now, Cree has included with all of its consumer bulbs. You'll only get three years of coverage with the 4Flow LED, a cost-cutting decision that Cree tells me it aimed squarely at consumers who simply want the best upfront value at the register. For people who look at lights as more of a long-term investment, the original 60W replacement LED -- and its 10-year warranty -- will remain on sale.

The dichotomy between upfront and long-term value deepens when you compare the new bulb's efficiency specs with those of the original. With a light output of 815 lumens, the new LED is incrementally brighter than the last one, but with a power draw of 11 watts, it's also slightly less efficient.

Cree 4Flow LEDCree 60W Rep. LEDPhilips 60W Rep. LEDPhilips SlimStyle LEDGE 60W Rep. LEDIkea Ledare LED (frosted)
Lumens (measured* / stated) 835 / 815746 / 800864 / 830815 / 800805 / 800658 / 600
Watts 119.51110.51110
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 74.0984.2175.4576.1972.7260
Estimated yearly energy cost $1.33$1.15$1.33$1.27$1.33$1.21
Color temperature (measured / stated) 2,617K / 2,700K2,669K / 2,700K2,584K / 2,700K2,653K / 2,700K2,562K / 2,700K2,632K / 2,700K
Lifespan 25,000 hours25,000 hours25,000 hours25,000 hours15,000 hours25,000 hours
Color rendering index 808080808088
Dimmable range 5.6 - 100%6.8 - 100%0.7 - 100%11.1 - 100%10.4 - 100%6.3 - 100%
Weight 1.90 ounces3.70 ounces4.55 ounces2.20 ounces4.25 ounces4.10 ounces
Warranty 3 years10 years5 years3 years5 yearsnone
Price $8$10$15$9$13$5

*Lumen measurements include a margin of error of +/- 5%.

You're absolutely splitting hairs here, but compared with the original Cree LED, the new model will add, on average, an extra 18 cents to your yearly energy bill. So, while the new bulb is $2 cheaper at the register, the original would be less costly in the long run, making up that $2 difference after about 11 years of usage.

Cree's new LED is dampness-rated for light outdoor use, so it should work fine as a porch light so long as your fixture doesn't leave the bulb completely exposed to the rain. Cree's team also claims that the bulb is safe to use in enclosed fixtures, though if things get too hot, you might shorten the bulb's lifespan somewhat.

During our initial 60W roundup, the Philips SlimStyle LED left us the most impressed when it came to heat management. From our initial spectrometer readings, the Cree 4Flow LED seems to be right on par with that bulb, which is encouraging, and also not terribly surprising given the similar builds.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Performance

As said before, Cree's LED puts out a warm, golden glow typical of most lighting options these days. If you want something with a hotter, whiter color temperature more akin to daylight, you'll be happy to know that Cree offers a 5,000K version of the new bulb for a dollar more. 40w replacement versions are also available at both color temperatures.

Testing the new bulb out in my apartment, I found it to be plenty bright, which backs up what we saw in our tests. Reading a given bulb's lumen output is more complicated than you might think, but we've spent some considerable time building a specialized setup to do just that.

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Cree's new LED (right), is just slightly brighter and less yellowy than the original Cree LED (left). Ry Crist/CNET

The results for Cree were very good here, with a measured light output of 830 lumens, slightly higher than the stated lumen output of 815, and slightly higher than most of the competition, too. Testing the original Cree out in our integrating sphere, we got a somewhat disappointing reading well below 800 lumens, which suggests that that the difference in brightness between the two might be slightly higher than advertised. With the two lit up side by side, the new LED does indeed look like the brighter bulb, though just barely.

I was less impressed with the new bulb's color rendering score, which Cree advertises as "greater than 80." We clocked it right at 80 with a pretty tight margin of error, so if it's any greater than that, it's only fractionally so.

80 is a pretty average score that's largely been par for the course with LEDs over the past year or two, save for premium-priced exceptions like Cree's own TW Series LED and the Editors' Choice-winning GE Reveal BR30 LED floodlight , which both score into the 90s. Recently, however, we've started to see low-cost bulbs like the Ikea Ledare LED and the Utilitech 100W Replacement LED score in the upper 80s -- I would have liked to have seen Cree follow suit and get out in front of the curve a little bit.

Cree's 4Flow LED dims down to 5.6% brightness, and does so without buzzing or flickering. Tyler Lizenby/CNET

We also made sure to test the new LED's dimming capabilities out. Dimmer switches often produce a small amount of electromagnetic resistance, which can cause bulbs to flicker and buzz as you dial the light up and down. Not the new Cree LED, though. I was only able to hear a buzz when I put my ear against the bulb, and I couldn't detect a significant flicker on any of our dimmer switches (as you can see from the rather boring looking flicker GIF posted above.)

Both the flicker and buzz results are slight improvements over the original Cree LED. While satisfyingly dimmable, that bulb will flicker occasionally on older switches. It also produced a soft, yet audible buzz on each dimmer we tested.

If you're buying a bulb for its dimmability, you'll also want to be sure that it'll dim down low enough for your liking. Again, Cree's new bulb does a good job here, showing a nice dimmable range between 100 percent brightness at maximum settings and 5.6 percent brightness at the bottom of the dial. That's a touch lower than the original, which dims down to 6.8 percent, and lower still than the Philips SlimStyle LED and the GE 60W Replacement LED , neither of which could dim down below 10 percent on any of our switches. Our dimming champ, however, is still the basic, non-flattened Philips 60W Equivalent LED , which dims down to a very impressive 0.7 percent with zero flicker or buzz.

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

I've spent a lot of time shopping for light bulbs over the past year, and I've seen plenty of my fellow shoppers squinting in confusion at the new abundance of funny looking options in the lighting aisle. Cree's 4Flow LED is designed with shoppers like those in mind. Sure, it promises the efficiency and longevity of an LED, but it's that incandescent familiarity that's front and center. That seems like a smart way to get more people to feel comfortable giving LEDs a shot.

Cree's new LED is better than the original Cree LED in many ways -- most notably its improved brightness and dimming performance. At $8, it fits right in with the $10 and under crop we've seen emerge, with competitors like the $9 Philips SlimStyle and the $5 Ikea Ledare . I could make a case for any of them -- but with its high efficiency and its 10-year warranty, the original Cree LED still seems like the best long-term value to me.

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Cree 11W LED with 4Flow Filament design (soft white)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Value 8Performance 8