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GE 100W Replacement Relax LED review: Relax, it's just a light bulb (that costs too much)

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The Good The 100-watt replacement version of GE's Relax LED was slightly brighter than all of the other bulbs we tested, and it was the least affected by heat build-up, too.

The Bad The bulb's claims of "HD Light" color quality are overstated. It also buzzed noticeably on every dimmer switch we tested it with, and wouldn't dim any lower than 15 percent.

The Bottom Line The Relax LED isn't as unique as it would have you think, and there are better-performing bulbs at the 100-watt replacement level that cost less.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.1 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Value 5.5
  • Performance 6

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GE is a mainstay of the lighting aisle, and it offers several different types of 100-watt replacement LEDs. These include variations on GE's tri-branded Relax, Refresh and Reveal LEDs, each one promising a different quality of "HD Light."

The Relax LED is front and center here, because it's the one that's closest to the kind of standard light bulb you're probably already used to. At an asking price of $13, it puts out 1,637 lumens of brightness at a color temperature of 2,700K -- pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a basic 100-watt bulb. Don't let the "HD" labeling fool you -- there's very little distinguishing this bulb from countless others just like it, including decent value picks like the Utilitech 100W Replacement LED that cost a lot less.

GE claims that the warm, cozy tone of the Relax LED is ideal for helping you unwind at the end of the day, but the same is true of most every light bulb with a color temperature of 2,700K or less. GE's team tells me that the bulb uses special phosphors to shift some of the light toward the red end of the spectrum, but I'm not sure that it makes a noticeable impact. In fact, as I compared the Relax LED with GE's own standard 100-watt replacement LED, I couldn't detect much of a difference at all. The "Relax" bit seems like little more than branding.

On the left, a standard GE 100W Replacement LED. On the right, the GE Relax 100W Replacement. I couldn't detect much of a difference -- can you?

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

There's nothing inherently wrong with that. I'm actually happy that GE is trying to convey the differences in color temperature using clear-cut packaging and easy-to-understand terminology. Still, it might have behooved the company to do a little more to help the bulb feel less ordinary. A trick like one from the Philips Warm Glow LED, which mimics a flame and drops the color temperature from yellow to orange-tinted light as you dim it down, would have been a good start.

Speaking of dimming, the Relax LED wasn't one of the top performers in my tests. In fact, it was one of the worst. I was only able to dim it down to an average minimum of 23.5 percent across all of the dimmers I tested it with, and the lowest I could get it on any of them was 15 percent. For comparison, that Utilitech bulb I mentioned was able to dim down to an average minimum of 1.1 percent -- and you can get two of those for less than you'd spend on a single Relax LED.

Perhaps even worse, the Relax LED buzzed noticeably on each dimmer switch I tested it with. That alone would be a deal-breaker for me if I wanted the light to dim. I encountered the same problem with the standard GE 100W Replacement LED, too, so maybe it's time for GE revisit its LED designs.

Another sore spot: that claim of "exceptional color contrast and boldness" thanks to the bulb's "HD Light." For the most part, I think GE is referring to its Reveal bulbs, which do indeed help the colors in your home look more vivid and true by filtering out excess light from the yellow part of the spectrum. That's not the case with the Relax LED, though. If there's any sort of significant bump to the bulb's color-rendering capabilities, I'm not seeing it.

100w-led-heat-graph-light-bulb

Both the GE Relax LED and the standard GE LED finished tied at the top of this test, losing less than two percent of their initial brightness over 90 minutes in an enclosed sphere. Anything less than five percent is an outstanding result.

Ry Crist/CNET

The one bright spot with this bulb was that it finished tied at the top of my heat management tests, where I see how heat build-up affects performance over the course of 90 minutes in an enclosed integrating sphere (and for the record, GE doesn't recommend using its 100-watt replacement bulbs in enclosed fixtures). Like most LED bulbs (and most electronics, for that matter), the Relax LED heats up as you use it. That heat causes the brightness to dip slightly before things stabilize when the heat sinks kick in. For my money, anything less than a 10 percent dip is an acceptable result. With the Relax LED, that number was below 2 percent, which is outstanding.

Still, it's tough to recommend a dimmable bulb that's as mediocre at dimming as this one is, especially when it doesn't do much else to distinguish itself. With superior competitors on down the lighting aisle that cost a lot less, I say keep shopping.

For more on bulbs like this one, be sure to check out our overview of the best 100-watt replacement LEDs, which we'll update regularly as new reviews come in.

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