In 2013, North Carolina-based lighting manufacturer Cree managed to achieve something once considered unachievable: the release a low-cost, high-performance LED bulb sporting a shape and a sticker price that resonated with consumers. Since then, the game-changing Cree LED — the best-selling consumer LED bulb in America — has gone through a few changes, mostly of the slimming variety. This past October, the bulb was reintroduced with a more svelte profile and a smaller price tag of $7.97.

With a continued emphasis on low cost and high innovation, the Cree LED has held its ground as an unfussy, no-frills affair as the competition — namely, GE and Philips – duke it out on the smart LED playing field with WiFi-connected options. Content with focusing on beauty, brawn and budget-friendliness, Cree has yet to dabble with the fourth “B” — brains. Until now.

Launched, it would seem, in direct competition with GE’s “commercially viable” Link LED, the new Connected Cree LED Bulb has achieved its smarts. It’s compatible with existing Wink and ZigBee hubs and can be remotely turned on/off, dimmed or scheduled via a handheld Android or iOS device. A 60-watt replacement bulb that consumes only 11 watts at full brightness, it boasts the great design, warm/flattering light (815 lumens with a soft white color temperature of 2700K) and superior energy savings (it consumes 82 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb) found in its non-smart elder sibling.

Cree LED bulbAs for the all-important price, the Connected Cree LED Bulb rings in at $14.97.

This is the same price as the 60-watt replacement GE Link. That bulb has a slightly lower output of 800 lumens and a lifespan of 22.8 years compared to the 25 years touted by the new Cree bulb. Both gimmick-free sub-$15 bulbs are similar in appearance although the Cree Connected LED is a bit less hefty — and also a bit less adventurous —in design than its competition. It's also encased in a durable, shatter-proof plastic shell, much like the non-connected Cree LED.

The one thing that the GE Link might currently have over the Cree Connected is a spokesperson in the form of a ridiculous Jeff Goldblum. The guy knows how to sell a light bulb. But if Cree decides to bring back a no-nonsense (but very tongue-in-cheek) Lance Reddick in a series of TV spots to help push its new bulb, things will start to get interesting.

In the meantime, you can pick up the Cree Connected LED Bulb at Home Depot starting later this month. I’ll also be updating this post with my own thoughts on the Cree Connected in the coming days after I receive a bulb for testing. Although you’ll find prominently positioned Plumen bulbs, about 75 percent of the light bulbs in my own home are LEDs; a majority of them are Cree with some Philips and Sylvania bulbs in the mix, as well. With the exception of a LIFX bulb that I’ve since replaced, I’ve shied away from smart LED bulbs so I’m curious to give the latest offering from Cree a trial run.

Any thoughts on this latest development dedicated (or not-so-dedicated) Cree-buyers? Would you be more likely to try out a smartphone-controlled light bulb if it cost less than $20?

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Cree's newest LED comes equipped with added smarts
Having long sat on the sidelines of the smart bulb brouhaha, the LED manufacturer jumps in with a $15 contender.