In late March, all of the US Home Depot stores began carrying Cree’s new LED light bulbs. While they’re by no means the first such bulbs to offer the same form factor as standard incandescent bulbs, their combination of a relatively low price and visually-pleasing light quality have got some people – and not just publicists working for Cree – saying that they could be what finally brings LED light bulbs into the mainstream. I recently got a chance to try one out for myself, and I definitely liked what I saw.

LED bulbs in general have several key advantages over incandescents – they’re much more energy-efficient, they last longer, they’re less fragile, and they don’t get as hot. Compact fluorescent bulbs have many of those same features, although (in most cases) they take a while to reach full brightness after first being turned on, and the light they give off is rather unattractive. They also contain toxic materials.

So far, consumers have had two main choices when it comes to standard screw-in LED light bulbs – ones with prices in the tens of dollars per bulb, or cheaper ones that give off a weaker light. The Cree LED Bulbs, on the other hand, start at a price of US$9.97 for a 40-watt-equivalent 450-lumen bulb, and give off a nice-looking, bright light.

The bulb I received was the 60-watt-equivalent, 800-lumen warm white model, which sells for $12.97. The first photo below shows a room lit with it, while the second shows the same room lit with a 60-watt incandescent. They’re pretty much identical.

As you can see, it spreads a soft, even light in all directions. I can also attest to the facts that when it’s operating, the bulb makes no noise, has no funny smell, and gets only slightly warm to the touch.

While I didn’t try hurling mine to the sidewalk, the lack of any tinkling filaments inside suggests that it’s fairly sturdy. It also has a protective rubberized coating on the bulb glass, which makes it feel kind of like skin – especially when it gets warm. It’s a small quibble, but I did find that the dust really sticks to that coating. A simple going-over with the Swiffer won’t suffice when it comes time to clean the thing.

If users prefer a less warm, more neutral color temperature, a $13.97 60-watt-equivalent daylight version of the bulb is also available. All three models are said to be 84 percent more energy-efficient than their incandescent equivalents, and have a rated lifespan of 25,000 hours (with a 10-year warranty). According to the US Department of Energy, incandescent bulbs typically last about 1,000 hours.

The Cree bulbs are still in the process of earning the Energy Star qualification.

While they’re certainly much less expensive than some of their competitors, I’m still not about to run out and replace all of my light bulbs with Cree LEDs in one go. As my existing bulbs burn out, however, it’ll only make sense to swap in a Cree – or whatever comes along to best it.

Product page: Cree LED Bulbs