Cheaper isn't necessarily better. That's Cree's message in a year where LED prices are plummeting, and where new arrivals fromand can be had for less than $5 each -- an eyebrow-raising comparison to , which sits right next to them on Home Depot shelves. You get what you pay for, Cree warns -- those cheaper competitors aren't dimmable, and they don't last nearly as long as the 4Flow LED, either.
It's a solid argument, and one that's helped Cree carve out a reasonable middle-ground price point that, for many bulb-buyers, is likely worth the extra couple of bucks. Now, less than a year after the 4Flow's debut, Cree's seeking to strengthen its claim by refining the 4Flow's hardware and replacing it with a new-and-improved model that'll sell for the same $8.
Among the improvements are small steps forward in the bulb's efficiency, its lifespan, and in the warranty, which Cree is raising from three years to five. Unfortunately, there are some disappointing steps backward, too. Despite having the same lumen listing as before, the new 4Flow came in a few percentage points dimmer than the original. It also isn't nearly as good on certain dimmer switches, with a constant flicker at minimum settings that we didn't experience the last time around. The new 4Flow LED is still a decent bulb, but it's not as flawless as before, and not as easy to recommend over those cheaper competitors.
The new 4Flow LED looks exactly like the original -- the only way to tell the two apart is to read the fine print on the base of the bulb. There, you'll see that the original is listed at 11 watts. The new 4Flow rings in at 9.8 watts, yet claims to put out the same amount of light (815 lumens), making it the slightly more efficient option.
I really can't fault Cree for leaving the design as-is -- it's a good-looking bulb that perfectly mimics the shape and silhouette of an incandescent. Turn it on, and it's difficult to tell that it isn't an incandescent.
The trick is in the heat sinks -- or rather, the lack of them. The Cree 4Flow manages heat with convection vents in the top and bottom of the bulb, instead. No matter which direction the bulb is oriented, there's always an opening above and below the heat-producing hardware at its core. Thanks to thermodynamics, the hotter air vents out while cooler air vents in -- hence "4Flow," and hence the reason why this bulb doesn't need bulky heat sinks bogging it down.
Like, the new version puts it light out at a yellowy color temperature of 2,700 K, or a whitish 5,000 K if you're willing to spend an extra buck. Cree claims that they've improved the bulb's color rendering score, which measures how accurately it illuminates different tones. The original scored a very average 80 out of 100 -- the new one comes in at 83. It's a pretty minuscule bump -- you really need to get up over 85 before you'll start noticing colors that look any more vivid.
Cree vs. the Competition
|Cree 4Flow LED (2015)||Cree 4Flow LED (2014)||Philips SlimStyle LED||GE Bright Stik LED||Philips 60W Replacement LED|
|Lumens (measured / stated)||777 / 815||835 / 815||815 / 800||786 / 760||821 / 800|
|Efficiency in lumens per watt (measured / stated)||78 / 82||76 / 74||78||79 / 76||97 / 94|
|Yearly energy cost (3 hr. per day @ .11 kWh)||$1.20||$1.32||$1.26||$1.20||$1.02|
|Color temperature (measured / stated)||2,619 K / 2,700 K||2,617 K / 2,700 K||2,653 K / 2,700 K||2,830 K / 2,850 K||2,701 K / 2,700 K|
|Other color temperatures (price difference)||5,000 K (+$1)||5,000 K (+$1)||5,000 K (+$1)||5,000 (+$1)||5,000 K (+$0)|
|Color rendering index||83||80||80||81||80|
|Dimmable range||6.1 - 100%||5.6 - 100%||11.1 - 100%||Non-dimmable||Non-dimmable|
|Dimmer switch flicker/buzz||Light||None||Moderate||N/A||N/A|
|Lifespan||30,000 hours (27 years)||25,000 hours (22.7 years)||25,000 hours (22.7 years)||15,000 hours (13.7 years)||11,000 hours (10 years)|
|Weight||1.90 oz.||1.90 oz.||2.20 oz.||1.60 oz.||1.80 oz.|
|Energy Star certification||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Warranty||5 years||3 years||3 years||5 years||3 years|