Cree Connected LED Bulb review: The right smart bulb at the right time, for the right price

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The Good The Cree Connected LED boasts solid lighting specs, strong ease of use, a wide range of control options, and a terrific price point.

The Bad Unlike standard Cree LEDs, the new connected bulbs won't dim very well on dimmer switches due to interference from the built-in Zigbee dimming smarts. Also, the all-plastic aesthetic might not appeal to everyone.

The Bottom Line With tried and true hardware inside the bulb and smooth performance on multiple platforms, this $15 smart bulb is a smart bet for connected lighting.

8.7 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 9
  • Design 8.5
  • Performance 8

Cree was hesitant to add a smart bulb to its best-selling LED lineup, but that changed this year with the addition of the $15 Cree Connected LED. Sharing the build and lighting specs of last year's well-reviewed Cree 4Flow LED , the new Connected LED adds in a Zigbee radio. Pair it with a control hub, and you'll be able to turn it on and off remotely, or schedule automated lighting changes.

At launch, Cree's smart bulb was somewhat married to the Wink Hub , which made sense given that you'll buy both off the shelf at Home Depot. Since then, however, we've seen official support roll out for additional control gateways, including SmartThings and the Philips Hue Bridge . You can add the bulbs to the new D-Link version of the Staples Connect Hub , too, although there isn't official, Zonoff-certified support just yet.

The bulb works well across all of the platforms we've tested it with, and it shares the strong lighting specs of the 4Flow LED that came before it. Most appealing is the price. At $15 -- just a few dollars more than you'll spend on non-connected competitors -- it ties with the GE Link LED as the most inexpensive connected bulb on the market. For basic automated lighting, it's the best option we've tested yet, and our current Editors' Choice winner.

Design and features

Cree adapted its smart bulb design from last year's 4Flow LED, packing a Zigbee radio into the existing build. That means that this isn't a bulb that goes out of its way to look fancy or newfangled -- instead, it copies the 4Flow's emphasis on mimicking the silhouette of classic incandescents.

I liked that approach with the 4Flow, and I like it with the new Connected LED too, though some might find the plastic build to be a bit cheap-looking, especially when the bulb is turned off.

The new bulb also shares the 4Flow's convection cooling trick, which uses vents to circulate air through the body of the bulb, eliminating the need for heat sinks. That helps bring production costs down, and also means that the bulb is exceptionally light for an LED, weighing in at less than 2 ounces.

The Cree Connected LED is nearly identical to the Cree 4Flow LED in terms of build and specs. Ry Crist/CNET

The Cree Connected LED shares the same lighting specs as the 4Flow LED, too, and that's largely a good thing. Both claim a light output of 815 lumens, and both clocked in even higher than that in front of our spectrometer -- 835 lumens for the 4Flow, and a very impressive 872 for the Connected LED.

In terms of efficiency, the 4Flow puts its light out using 11 watts, but the number rises to 11.5 watts for the Connected LED on account of the Zigbee radio's power draw. When we tested it out, the number was actually closer to 11.1 watts, so Cree's done a good job of keeping this bulb relatively efficient. Still, it's worth noting that both the Philips Hue Lux LED and the Belkin WeMo LED are even more efficient, each one drawing less than 10 watts.

Smart LEDs

Cree Connected LED GE Link LED Connected by TCP LED Philips Hue Lux LED Osram Lightify Tunable LED Belkin WeMo LED
Lumens (measured / stated) 872 / 815 855 / 800 840 / 800 733 / 750 848 / 805 829 / 800
Watts 11.5 11 11 9 9.5 9.5
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 76 78 76 81 89 87
Color tunable No No No No Yes No
Color temperature (measured / stated) 2,696K / 2,700K 2,830K / 2,700K 2,603K / 2,700K 2,640K / 2,700K 2,680K - 5,273K / 2,700K - 6,500K 3,058K / 3,000K
Additional color temperatures (price difference) No No 5,000K (-$1) No No No
Color rendering score 80 90 80 79 78 - 83 88
Dimmable range 7.8 - 100% 10.2 - 100% 1.2 - 100% 0.5 - 100% 5.4 - 100% 3.8 - 100%
Lifespan 25,000 hours 25,000 hours 25,000 hours 25,000 hours 20,000 hours 25,000 hours
Weight 1.90 oz. 6.20 oz. 6.05 oz. 4.60 oz. 4.75 oz. 2.75 oz.
Third-party compatibility Wink, Hue Bridge, SmartThings, Staples Connect Wink, SmartThings, Hue Bridge, Staples Connect Wink, SmartThings SmartThings, Revolv, Staples Connect, IFTTT WeMo Link SmartThings
Remote (additional cost) No No Yes ($20) Yes ($60) No No
Warranty 3 years 2 years 3 years 2 years 2 years 2 years
Starter kit price N/A $80 $50 $100 $100 $100
Bulbs per kit N/A 2 2 2 2 2
Price per bulb $15 $15 $20 $30 $30 $30

Cree also did a very good job with color temperature here, landing extremely close to the stated 2,700K. At 2,696K, the Cree Connected LED lands closer to the mark than any other smart bulb we've tested, so if you're picky about that perfect shade of warm, yellowy light, you'll like this LED.

The one place where Cree's smart bulb lags behind at least some of the competition is the color rendering score, which measures how accurately a given light source illuminates different shades. The Cree Connected LED hits a rather ordinary score of 80 out of 100, and given that both the WeMo LED and the equally inexpensive GE Link LED hit closer to 90, I'd have liked to see Cree do better.

Pair the Cree Connected LED with a compatible control hub in order to enjoy remote control and automated lighting changes. Ry Crist/CNET

To access the Cree LED's smart features, you'll need to pair it with a control hub that can translate its Zigbee signal into Wi-Fi. Like the GE Link LED, the Cree Connected LED came out the gate trumpeting Wink support at launch, but soon expanded its third party compatibility to include options like SmartThings, Staples Connect , and the Philips Hue Bridge .

Different platforms offer different features -- SmartThings and Philips bring IFTTT support into the picture, for instance -- but in general, the automating experience is largely the same. We tested the bulb on multiple platforms, and never ran into any difficulties pairing it or controlling it.

Regardless of which platform you're using, you'll be able to turn the Cree Connected LED on or off remotely, dim it, or automate it using whatever controls your system offers. These likely include setting the lights to a timed schedule, or syncing them up with things like motion sensors.

The bulb paired easily with each of the above-mentioned platforms. Wink and SmartThings both have dedicated settings and pairing instructions for the Cree LED right in the app, which helps. Staples Connect doesn't offer device-specific support for Cree just yet, but it was able to detect the bulb as a generic Zigbee device on the first try.

Syncing the Cree LED with a Philips Hue setup was pretty painless, too, although I needed to manually reset the bulb during the pairing process in order to help the bridge find it. Doing so isn't tricky -- just turn the bulb on for 2 seconds, then off for 2 seconds a total of four times.