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Cree 4Flow LED (2015) review: Cree's new and improved 4Flow LED doesn't dim as well as before

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The Good The new Cree 4Flow LED will last almost five years longer than the original, and Cree backs that claim up with a longer warranty than before. Efficiency and color quality both get slight upticks, too.

The Bad The new 4Flow didn't perform as flawlessly in our dimming tests as the original.

The Bottom Line The 4Flow's convection-based design is terrific, but the new model isn't as as much of a slam dunk for dimmer switches as its predecessor.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Value 6
  • Performance 7

Cheaper isn't necessarily better. That's Cree's message in a year where LED prices are plummeting, and where new arrivals from Philips and GE can be had for less than $5 each -- an eyebrow-raising comparison to the $8 Cree 4Flow LED , 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.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

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 original 4Flow LED , 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
Watts 10 11 10.5 10 8.5
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
Price $8 $8 $9 $10 (3-pack) $5

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