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GE 40W Replacement Vintage-Style Filament LED review: Classic looks but so-so dimming from GE's Vintage-Style LED

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Incandescent light bulbs have largely been phased out in favor more efficient fluorescent and LED options, but there's plenty of lingering nostalgia for the bulbs of yesterday as well as plenty of design applications for that golden glow of a filament.

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GE 40W Replacement Vintage-Style Filament LED

The Good

The GE 40W Replacement Vintage-Style LED does an excellent job of mimicking the glowing filament of a classic incandescent, and it does so in stylish retro fashion. It's also one of the most efficient 40W replacement bulbs you can buy.

The Bad

The bulb doesn't quite cast light evenly in all directions, and it doesn't play nicely with dimmer switches, either.

The Bottom Line

For classic lighting ambiance, GE's Vintage-Style LED does the job, but there are better bulbs out there if you just need something simple to throw beneath a lampshade.

Enter the filament LED, an emerging trend where LED light bulbs arrange their light-emitting diodes in a way that mimics the look of the classic tungsten filament in an incandescent light bulb. So far, these bulbs have mostly come from smaller manufacturers looking to stand out, but now GE is in the game too, with a new 40W replacement "Vintage-Style" filament LED of its own that sells in a $20 two-pack at Sam's Club stores.

Vintage is the right word for it. In addition to the faux-filaments, you get a classic-styled elongated shape, a candle-like 2,316 Kelvin (K) glow and a subtle sepia tint to the glass. It's a design that does a good job of bringing back a classic aesthetic, and if that's what you're going for, I think you'll be pleased with what you get. But if you're looking for the smooth dimmability of old school incandescents, look elsewhere -- this bulb flickered on every switch I tested it on.

Check out GE's new nostalgia LED (pictures)

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Keeping it old-school

GE's filament-style LED mimics the look of yore by arranging the light-emitting diodes into four vertical columns and suspending them in the center of the bulb using filament-esque wiring. It's a pretty simple trick, but one that works well to give the bulb a distinctive appearance.

Turn the LED on, and you'll see a warm, yellow glow that tilts toward the orange side of things, thanks to a faint sepia tint in the bulb's glass. GE pegs that color temperature at 2,400 K, but I clocked it even lower than that, at 2,316 K. The low color temperature fits the bulb and its faux-filament quite well, giving it a golden glow that works nicely with the overall aesthetic.

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GE nailed the classic aesthetic with this modern light bulb.

Chris Monroe/CNET

All of this is to say that if you're buying this bulb for its old-time appeal, you won't be disappointed. It'll definitely lend a vintage feel to an exposed bulb setup.

Of course, there's more to design than how the bulb itself looks. Let's start with brightness. With a light output of 440 lumens, GE pitches this bulb as a 40W replacement LED. The average 40W incandescent puts out about 490 lumens, so it's fractionally less bright than the bulbs it's aiming to replace, but still comfortably in the ballpark.

GE's filament LED vs. other 40w replacement LEDs

GE Vintage-Style Filament LEDOsram 40W Replacement LEDCree 40W Replacement LEDPhilips 40W Replacement LEDIkea Ledare LED
Lumens (measured / stated) 447 / 440496 / 450483 / 450479 / 470658 / 600
Watts 566810
Efficiency (lumens per watt) 8983816066
Yearly energy cost (3 hr. per day @ .11 kWh) $0.60 $0.72 $0.72 $0.96 $1.20
Color temperature (measured / stated) 2,316 K / 2,400 K2,561 K / 2,700 K 2,608 K / 2,700 K2,646 K / 2,700 K 2,632 K / 2,700 K
Other color temperatures (price difference) none5,000 K (+$1)5,000 K (+$1)5,000 K (+$1)none
Color rendering index 8078808088
Dimmable range 0.0 - 100%3.8 - 100%3.5 - 100%0.8 - 100%6.3 - 100%
Dimmer switch flicker/buzz ModerateLightLightNoneNone
Lifespan 15,000 hours25,000 hours25,000 hours25,000 hours25,000 hours
Weight 1.30 oz.3.05 oz.3.70 oz.4.50 oz.4.10 oz.
Warranty 5 years5 years10 years5 yearsNone
Price $20 (2-pack)$8 $10 $12 $5

GE's bulb puts out those lumens out from a power draw of just 5 watts -- less than any of the other 40W replacements I've tested to date. What's more, that number might be a bit conservative, as in my lighting tests, the bulb's power draw came in even lower than stated.

That puts the bulb's efficiency right around 90 lumens per watt, which is, again, better than any of the other 40W replacements I've tested. Run the thing for an average of three hours per day, and it'll add just 60 cents to your energy bill each year. A 40W incandescent, on the other hand, would add about $5 to your bill.

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GE's filament LED is highly efficient, but it doesn't quite put its light out evenly in all directions.

Chris Monroe/CNET

At $10 per bulb, that gives GE's filament LED a payback period of about two and a half years, after which GE says it should continue to last for at least another decade. That's very good considering that the bulb comes with a five-year warranty, but keep in mind that other LEDs we like -- namely, the Osram 40W Replacement LED -- cost a little bit less. Many of those also boast considerably longer lifespans.

Something else to consider with regard to bulb design is the direction of its light output. GE's bulb puts out light in all directions, but it doesn't quite do so in even fashion -- you'll get more light up above the bulb than you will down below it. That's understandable to a point, as GE looks to have sacrificed a certain degree of omnidirectionality in favor of the bulb's vintage design. Just be aware that there are better bulbs to read beneath.

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The bulb offers sufficient brightness for a 40W replacement.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Performance

As said earlier, the numbers all add up for this bulb. It offers sufficient brightness for a 40W replacement, it boasts an appropriately warm color temperature and it's more efficient than other bulbs like it.

But numbers only tell you part of the story. Another key consideration is how well the bulb works with dimmer switches, something you can only see by plugging the thing in and adjusting it up and down on a variety of switches. Fortunately, that's exactly what we do with every dimmable light bulb that we test.

With GE's filament LED, the result wasn't great. The bulb flickered on all three of the switches we test with. Sometimes the flicker was subtle, sometimes it was significant. Other times, it would stop flickering and dim normally for a bit. At any rate, it was enough for me to tell you to flat-out avoid this bulb if you're planning on dimming the lights.

It's a shame, and kind of a surprising misstep, too. Part of the classic appeal of incandescents is that, typically, they dim really well, and look particularly striking when dimmed down low. To GE's credit, the filament LED gets the low-light part right -- the bulb dims cleanly down to zero percent, something none of the other 40W replacements I've tested can quite claim. But that doesn't matter if it's going to flicker badly along the way.

We've had better luck dimming other LEDs. The Osram bulb I mentioned earlier is particularly good on dimmer switches and would be a much, much better choice for anyone planning on dialing the light up and down.

The filament LED did a better job in our heat management tests, where we measure how much light each bulb loses due to heat, and how long it takes each bulb to hit its steady state, the point at which heat stops affecting brightness. Testing in one of our climate-controlled chambers, the bulb's 447 lumens was over 90 percent of the initial 490 lumens or so that we saw when we first turned it on. It also hits that 447-lumen steady state in about 40 minutes, well within the hour that we're looking for.

Granted, the bulb is probably a bit too big for a lot of enclosed fixtures, where solid heat management gets really important. Still, it's reassuring to see strong evidence that the hardware inside the bulb is sound.

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At $20 for a two-pack, it's a bit pricier than some of the new low-cost lighting options.

Chris Monroe/CNET

The verdict

As a design play, the GE Vintage-Style LED is a success. It's a good incandescent lookalike with some nice extra touches, like that elongated build and tinted glass. If you're looking for a little bit of classic lighting ambiance, it'll do the job nicely while helping to keep your power bill down at the same time. At $20 for a two-pack, it's a bit pricier than some of the new low-cost lighting options we've seen in the past year, including GE's own Bright Stik LED, but it isn't unreasonable.

The bulb is less successful from a practical perspective. Other 40W replacement LEDs offer better directionality, better dimming capabilities, and in some cases, a lower cost of entry. My favorite of those is the Osram 40W Replacement -- if you're just looking for a good bulb to throw under a lampshade, a bulb like that is a much better choice.

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GE 40W Replacement Vintage-Style Filament LED

Score Breakdown

Design 8Value 6Performance 7