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Circuit Breaker

The C by GE Sol light looks futuristic but doesn't need Alexa

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My room looks infinitely cooler when lit by a glowing smart ring, but I don't need or want my fashionable lamp to include Amazon's Alexa assistant. I've been testing the C by GE Sol light for the past few months and have grown attached to it. It’s a large glowing ring with a built-in microphone and speaker for playing music and controlling Alexa.

I genuinely enjoy having the Sol in my room and would recommend it as a light. It features both a bright white and nighttime yellow mode, similar to Apple's Night Shift. But I wish the lamp was cheaper and that GE had neglected to include Alexa, as the voice controls make no sense and are more cumbersome to use than the company's C by GE companion iOS / Android app. The physical buttons are easier to use, too. In short: we don't need Alexa in this connected gadget.

Here's the good: users can preprogram lighting scenarios for the Sol, like "bedtime," "wake up," or "movie time," in the event that you want a yellow glow at night and a bright white light in the morning or the light off completely for a movie. These go-to icons are mildly useful, although I mostly used the light at night because my room gets sunlight during the day. The glowing ring by itself is sufficient to light a room and looks good, but you can amplify the Sol experience by turning on the lamp's interior lights, which convey information like the time of day, whether the Alexa mic is off, and the time left on a timer.

Red and blue light tell the time, with the blue light representing the hour hand and the red representing the minute. I didn't get how to read it at first, and honestly, I still don't fully understand or use it, but the red and blue at least make the lamp look more futuristic. But with that said, you have to manually turn the clock on and off in the lamp's app, meaning that even if you turn the Sol off, the clock stays lit.

Setting up the Sol was relatively painless. You have to pair it to your home Wi-Fi and then enable the C by GE skill on Amazon's Alexa app. The steps were simple, and I've had no issues reconnecting to the device, even if I unplug it. I realize the power cord looks atrocious in these photos, by the way, and I'm sure I could have done a better job at hiding it, although I don't readily have an idea of how I'd do it.

I don't have many complaints with the light, but it costs too much for what it is. It sells for $150 through GE's website. For comparison, an Amazon Echo Dot costs $29.99, and a starter pack of two Philips Hue bulbs and a hub costs $70. (These two products together cost less than the Sol.) You could also get a better-sounding full-size Echo and the Hue bulbs for $170. This would be a better move. I don't think the unique Sol design warrants more money, especially considering its Alexa features aren't as built out.

Alexa presents the critical problem with the Sol, despite being the lamp's main selling point. The assistant can't play music from Spotify, and when it plays music off Amazon, it sounds atrocious. It's both muddled and blown-out. While voice content sounds okay, Alexa can't register commands if the volume is too high. I've ended up shouting as loudly as possible in an effort to get the Sol to shut up. Also, good luck if you're hoping to control the light through Alexa. The voice commands are difficult to use, particularly if you want to adjust the lamp's brightness.

Here's a screenshot from GE's FAQ page on the voice controls. The instructions looks more like equations than commands to say aloud.


The percentages are where the commands get particularly difficult. I have no idea what my desired brightness percentage is because the app, which you can see below, assigns brightness a number, not a percentage. Also, I don't think in brightness percentages? But regardless, these commands aren't intuitive, and when I find voice-enabled gadgets annoying to use, I resort back to their respective apps. You might figure out what brightness you like and then constantly reference it, but I still prefer going to my iOS app and making adjustments.

GE could have created a cool smart light without Alexa, and I probably would have recommended it. I don't need my lamp to be a speaker. My speakers already do a good job at being speakers. I'm hoping GE strips the light of Alexa, adds a few more color lighting options, and lowers the price, because I'd absolutely buy a Sol in that case.