I'm a product development and manufacturing expert who has shipped millions of pieces globally for retail and live shopping.
The Smart Home Trend
Remember the days when we had to switch on and switch off everything? Ah, the days of yesteryear, it seems now our entire lives are controlled by a device in the palm of our hand. From communication to convenience, smart phones themselves have changed the way we do .... literally everything. Gone are the days of walking to that boombox to turn it on and spend sometimes an endless amount of time finding a station to listen to. Now we just say one of three phrases "Hey Siri", "Ok Google", or my personal favorite "ALEXA" [insert superlative]; followed by a command "Play classic Christmas music", "Set my alarm to 6:45am", "Search for smart home lighting bulbs" or "Turn off the master bedroom lights". Then in an instant, (depending on that internet speed of course) you're met with gratification and you can move on with your day or follow with another set of commands while staying completely stationary. Sure it's lazy, the convenience factor here rises above all the rest really. We want it and we want it now is how I see it and when it comes to light toggling in your home there's really no better feature. The Smart Home trend or Connected Home is one of the best conveniences of our present day. For those of us who work from home it adds a relative smooth operation of your daily workflow and when it comes to smart lighting it only adds to that smooth operation whether you're home all day or not!
Who wants to come home to a dark terribly lit home? or lets say you've got that smart doorbell attached but you have to leave your porch lights on all day or install pricey sensor lights just to make sure that the doorbell cam can capture a good image of the delivery person dropping stuff off or the unexpected relative dropping by for a visit. With smart lighting you can automate directly from your device when lights turn on/off which can save you heavily on that electric bill at the end of the month especially when most of these are LED bulbs. Gone on vacation? those lights will continue their schedule making it appear as if someone is in the home and it's not completely empty. Even better if you have multicolor bulbs installed you can automate different color schemes daily to give it better effect. Now that we're on the subject of multicolor bulbs, as with any product, not all bulb manufacturers are the same. Each come with their own set of pros and cons while some rise above the rest. That's what we're here for today to go over one of these manufacturers, a well-known one at that; C by GE enters the stage with their new wifi-enabled line of bulbs.
So lets take an in-depth dive together on where they stand and how they measure up compared to the very pricey king of smart lighting LIFX.
The Road To The Multicolor Bulb
After a couple years of using basic white smart lighting for bedroom using a lower-end brand that uses the Geeni app for iOS, I was in the market for something different and more robust. I recently went to visit a family member of mine who had just finished connecting her home with LIFX multicolor strips and bulbs. When she gave access to the app with its robust UX and features, I knew immediately that I absolutely had to do the same. That was until I saw the individual price for each LIFX bulb/light strip and then thinking about all the places I would put them (basically $$$$$$$$$$$$$). So needless to say... I was deterred, only because at that point it was more looking at an investment to lighting as opposed to just an impulse grab. I gave up for awhile needless to say and just continued using the Geeni bulb. It was getting the job done, I was still able to automate, the brightness was lacking but it was just a light right?
Winter ended, Summer came and went, and the best season Fall was on the horizon. Where I live currently it gets quite gloomy and grey during the long winter months and that had been on the top of mind since the beginning of Fall. I kept going back to being at my families home and remember how colorful it was over the holiday the year prior. As would be to any consumer this reignited my need for multicolor bulbs and this time I was ready to purchase. I didn't want to sit a whole gloomy winter season with no color in my life.
So the search for the perfect [alternative] began! Straight to Amazon was my first thought and this time I was just going to drop for the investment into LIFX. Unsurprisingly.... they're sold out, not only there but everywhere I looked in person and even on their own home base site. Immediately I was annoyed at my level of procrastination on this lighting adventure. After a week or so I decided to go to Best Buy for some movie and game shopping. To my surprise the smart lighting was on sale but the shelves were already so bare. Sitting on the shelf nearest the entrance were two brands - C by GE & Lifx (I had already crossed out Phillips Hue at this point), I went straight for the Lifx bulb but there was only one left and it was the 60W version and not the 1100 lumen ones at my families place. I intended to buy at least two to cover one room and one just wasn't going to be enough. Merchandised right next to LIFX was this two pack of C by GE Color Direct Connect bulbs. Pricing on it was the same price as LIFX but for two! It was time to research at this point and the reviews were all relatively sparse for the Direct Connect version at least.
Apparently GE had released C by GE [no direct connect] version some years prior and well.... it had terrible reviews solely based on the no wifi feature for those bulbs and the need for a "smart plug" which immediately placed it out of range of the main competitor LIFX. However, this Direct Connect version was new and after some light researching was wifi enabled. So, the choice here was go with something new and get two OR go with what you know already and get half as much. Both bulbs were 60W and I just didn't want to settle with a 60W for LIFX because it just isn't the best they have. C by GE was another story, this was the best they had and well I decided to leave the store with and with very little expectation. My decisive factor was that if I hate I'll just return in and get the LIFX one and order another 60W LIFX from Amazon and wait. Needless to say I've decided to keep the C by GE and I'm glad I took the chance.
C by GE App for iOS (Also Available on Android)
First things first! You have to download the app from your respective app store and install it on your device(s) while also creating an account. In my previous experience with setting up lights with the Geeni app I was not excited for this part of the process. With the Geeni app... your light blinks like a strobe light for an amount of time with this irritating strobe effect that can likely make some people have a seizure. This wasn't the case with the C by GE Color bulbs, you just screw them in, turn it on, and go to the app to add them. The process took only a couple minutes or less in total and adding them to the network was really fast. Each bulb had firmware update and I thought "Oh great" with my trash DSL internet service provider this is going to take forever. Well it didn't, the firmware update took under a minute to download and install. The lights at this point were ready to use.
Thus far the UX of the app was pleasant and smooth, there was no major obstacle to jump over to get them connected. Now it was time to play with these bulbs and get them automated.
The automation feature has it's own tab at the bottom of the page when you open the app. In this area you can create settings to automatically turn on/off your lights as well as selecting the color scheme for each automation. For example lights turn on at 10:30am with a Cool White color and they will shut off two hours later at 12:30pm. From my perspective with regards to the UI itself, there's a bit too many "clicks" to be had here. Instead of using a single page format with toggles and settings, C by GE takes you through a window by window process and when you go to edit these settings lets say if you'd like to change the color of the lights themselves you have to go through this window by window process. It's not annoying, it's just tedious if you end up having a bunch of lights connected and a ton of different automation times set. Each "on" and each "off" automation has it's own single setting and on the front information of each setting it actually doesn't show you what time is "on or off". You would have to select one and hit edit to figure out if it's the on or off automation. Overall the automation works well as intended but there is just some UI issues that need rework to give the consumer a better overall UX.
My rating for the Automation setting is: 7/10 - This app needs a single page settings control, with settings for both on and off on one single automation.
Color Wheels for both Multi-Color & White Light
Onward we go into the color wheel options for both multicolor and white light settings. You can access both wheels with a single touch from the main home page within the app. Once your lights are toggled on, a color dot will appear under the toggle button, touch the color circle and it will open the color wheel page. Now remember, for me this was the main feature of the bulbs and my expectations were low but I still had the expectation for them to work as intended.
Lets begin with the multicolor wheel and selecting as advertised 16 million colors. To select a color you just tap anywhere on the color wheel and your light(s) will immediately change to the color selected on the wheel. The first color selector I used was LIFX and on that app you use a slider which performed excellent for me. So seeing a giant wheel I was like ok this should be fine. Well in the end it was a bit underwhelming and not necessarily in the performance of the bulb itself but the UI for multicolor selection. I would say that the color selection is real finicky, some colors are brighter than others (we will get into each color and their spectrum below) while some were almost non-existent. I will reiterate that I do not think this is necessarily an issue with the bulb itself but more of an app UI design issue. What it would be nice to see setting wise in this color selection area of the app is the ability to select a color and then control it's saturation so you can take advantage of actually achieving 16 million colors.
The color wheel itself has a built in saturation control. The more towards the center of the wheel you go the less saturation of color, while the further out you from center on your respective color the deeper the saturation of color. The main problem I find here in combining these to is that it's cumbersome in achieving the right temperature color. Sometimes you'll pinpoint the right color saturation and as soon as you lift your finger the dot will slightly move while sometimes completely changing the color saturation. Since this is a UI issue, then these issues can be fixed with a color selection page redesign. Using a single slider to control the color and another slider to control the saturation would immensely improve this area and give the consumer a wider variety of color options as well as taking full advantage of the bulb capabilities. To go even further it would be great for both color and saturation to have values attached to it so that friends with the same bulbs can get a specific color you have.
My rating for the Multicolor Wheel is: 6.5/10 - It needs a UI improvement and isn't doing justice to the bulb.
White Light Color Wheel
Moving on to the White Light color wheel, though this is also a wheel for color it actually performs much better than the multicolor wheel. Located on the wheel there are three general options for white light ambience - Cool, Soft, and Warm. Like the multicolor wheel you touch and drag your finger across the circle to achieve your desired light ambience. For the white light this type of setting worked really well for me and it's simply because it's just white lighting with an ambience control feature. The temperature of the lighting is much easier controlled in this manner and actually discovered uses for each type of lighting through the day. In the mornings I'll start with Cool White and moving throughout the day to the Warm White; this is all done through setting automation for each ambient temperature throughout the day. So by sunset time we are in a very warm lighting before moving into the nighttime color schemes. I have little to complain about when it comes to the white lighting features.
My rating for the White Light Color Wheel is 9/10
All The Colors of The Rainbow .... and MORE
With the C by GE Full Color LED Bulbs you can light up your room with every color of the rainbow. As advertised on their website "Choose from millions of colors...." is it true? Well, yes and no I would say. You can get a huge range of colors in this item don't get me wrong, but as we discussed above here the problem likely isn't with the bulb itself but with the multicolor selection wheel. I was able to get a ton of colors out of the bulb using the multicolor wheel including every color of the rainbow. But how did the colors hold up? What was the vibrancy and saturation level? In this section I'll breakdown each base color of the rainbow and how they held up. Some are great and some are not so great so let's jump into it!
The red spectrum in this bulb was one of two of the strongest colors between overall vibrancy and color saturation. Going from a deep crimson red to a pale pink, this color spectrum was excellent for brightening a room and giving great ambient light for watching movies or shows at night. Magenta, Hot Pink, Light Pink, you name it; taking up a good portion of the color wheel the range in color selection was high and less finicky to get.
My rating for this color is 9/10
The orange colors, which I was expecting to give more of the amber lighting from the white color wheel; had excellent vibrancy and color saturation. The one issue with achieving any of the many orange colors was with the multicolor wheel itself. Orange on this color wheel takes up a very very small amount of space that is more narrow than the width of your fingertip making it cumbersome to trail through the orange spectrum successfully at time. This didn't make getting the colors impossible, it just took some finicking to get there. I use this color alot on some automations that I have set up towards the end of the day near sunset.
My rating for this color is: 6.5-7/10
I'm going to just throw this out there in the beginning here.... Yellow as definitely among the weakest of the color spectrum in regards to both vibrancy and saturation. Like orange, yellow takes up a tiny portion of the multicolor wheel, in addition the overall spectrum of yellow was too subtle to notice any significant changes in the color. Leaning more towards yellow with a green hue or yellow and orange mix was always where this color would be when trying to select on the wheel. This may only just be a color wheel UI issue as I've been repeating a lot in this article thus far.
My rating for this color is: 2/10
It was odd to me that green has the second to largest area on the multicolor wheel next to blues and red. Because it has such a large space on this wheel you are able to achieve so many different types of green ranging from a very vibrant and bright green to a pale and neon green color with subtle hue differences in between. I'm not sure if it's even possible with a light but I would have liked it to achieve a sage green or dark forest green would be really nice. Each selection had a great saturation of the color and was pretty bright on 100% brightness.
My rating for this color is: 8/10
Taking up the largest area of the multicolor wheel is the blue spectrum. By far my favorite color spectrum with this light as you can achieve so many different blues. There is actually 2 color sections for blue - a primary color section that has deep and heavily saturated blue colors and a light blue section that you could also achieve nicely saturated and vibrant light blue tones. From a deep ocean color to an icy light blue, this spectrum was fun to play with and great to use in dual color schemes.
My rating for this color is: 10/10
Finally we get to the purple spectrum and if I could sum up this color in one word I would just say meh. Maybe I had too high of an expectation for this color after messing with the LIFX 1100 lumen bulbs. Nonetheless I still feel let down when it comes to this color. You would think that you get a deep color purple just like you could get a deep color blue.... well no you can't. More often than not the light would be more of a blue with a purple hue in it. Like my issue with orange, this is likely do to the multicolor wheel UI and not necessarily the bulb capability. Purple takes up such a small amount of space in between blue and this pink color space on the multicolor wheel that it's difficult to get nice purples out of it. Some colors I have gotten were a nice lavender and a purple that was relatively pale and not very vibrant or saturated. Sometimes the color on the wheel would definitely not represent the color that was coming out on the bulb, in fact most times it was like that with this color specifically. Purple definitely needs some work in the app....
My rating for this color is: 1/10
Bring Life To Your Spaces With Vivid & Bright Colors!
Are They Worthy of Your Time?
Are C by GE Full Color Direct Connect LED bulbs worth your time? The answer is YES! When comparing these guys to the other Merkury Innovations bulbs that I do have in my house as of now; I would say these guys are a leap ahead in most areas. The app is designed better than the Geeni app that Merkury uses and the connection process was much easier than Geeni in terms of speed and steps. When it comes to the leader of full color bulbs LIFX, GE will have to really step their game up and come out with an 1100 lumen version and fully redesign the C by GE app. The C by GE app in my opinion is kind of what is standing in the way of this product being really great. To me the bulbs are highly capable so the product itself is right on the level of excellence. When it comes to the app though the single touch multicolor wheel UI stands in the way of the bulbs fullest potential. Sure there are also some UX issues to be addressed in the automation and scene setups to reduce the amount of windows and clicks it takes to set up each but those are very very minor compared to the multicolor wheel functionality.
I would like to see in a future app update that they completely drop the multicolor wheel experience and use sliders that have very very small values in terms of sliding through each spectrum of color. This will help to really go through the hues of each of color and take out the guesswork of properly touching the multicolor wheel in a specific area. In addition I'd like to see a brightness and saturation control built within the same window of the color selection. This would make choosing a color, it's saturation and brightness all controlled in one area boosting the over all UX. By making these changes I believe we will be able to really take advantage of the "millions of colors" capability of the bulb itself. I see GE wanting to separate themselves from the other makers and for the most part they have in both a positive and negative manner. It's not to say that they should copy their competitors in terms of UI but they certainly can look at their major competitor and use UI that does actually make the overall UX smooth and functional.
There's a long way to go with these products, using the "Direct Connect" differentiator in the name of these newer bulbs to separate from their bluetooth counterpart was a head scratcher for me. No one wants to use bluetooth bulbs or purchase additional hubs in order for an item like this to work. So they really should just ditch the bluetooth bulbs all together and solely focus on the direct connect product line, in addition to changing the name to something less obtuse. Also the lack of Apple Home Kit integration without a hub is partially irritating, however integration to Amazon Alexa and Google Home is relatively smooth. I'm looking forward to seeing what will be coming out and if they actually get the C by GE app up to par in a sooner than later update.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2020 J Starling