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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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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.

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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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