Review: The C by GE Sol Is a distinctive smart light that works with Alexa
A great design that's more form than function
The first thing you're likely to notice about the C by GE Sol is its look. Although it is listed as having a "Sleek modern design" on GE's website, the Sol Lamp would fit perfectly on Captain Kirk's 1960's Enterprise. Powered off, the two-in-one lamp and Amazon Alexa device resembles the infamous Dyson fan. But when the lights turn on, the retro sci-fi look stands out beside its peers. If you're in the market for a unique smart lamp, it would be hard to argue against the Sol as it's definitely a conversation piece.
Getting your C by GE Sol set up is both simple and a little cumbersome. Stick with me. On paper, all you need to do is plug the lamp into a wall outlet, download the C app to your mobile device, and link the lamp to your network. It's that simple.
Bear in mind, though, you'll also have to re-sign into your wireless network, link your Amazon account to the Alexa, and cope with few instructions or help if anything goes wrong. The C app, itself, is also not the most intuitive or stable of apps on the market, either. While I didn't have any major problems with it, more than once I dealt with some disconnection issues.
For my overall setup, however, I had the good fortune of having no hiccups. But I can see the potential for some frustration if the barebones instructions aren't quite enough for some people.
Once you're plugged in, synced up, and ready to go, you can get to work playing with light levels, scenes, and commands.
More than a light
On its own, the Sol Lamp is an eye-catching light source. Under the hood, however, the C by GE Sol also boasts a built-in Amazon Alexa — along most of the features which come with Alexa — including a few tricks of Sol's own.
From scheduling sleep-wake times, light level timers, and voice control, the Sol Lamp is a proper Alexa device, just with a large halo of light built on its head. One of the Sol's more practical features is using the light in combination with timers — and it's rather eye-catching pushing out an inner blue ring of light that then shows a visible countdown when the timer is set.
You may notice I said the Sol's Alexa integration has "most" of the popular Amazon Alexa features. Currently, the Sol cannot call other Alexa devices, and it also lacks the handy ESP (Echo Spatial Perception) feature. The latter feature ensures that only the closet of your Alexa gadgets will respond to your commands and questions. However, the Sol is expecting support for ESP, as well as other integrations, as the device matures.
As you might expect with any Alexa device, the C by GE Sol comes with a speaker so Alexa can reply to your commands and questions. Unfortunately, on this element, the Sol is a let-down. I can't imagine many circumstances where anyone would want to subject themselves to listening to any music through Sol's speaker. The sound fidelity is nowhere near good enough for anything other than pure voice responses. Music, of any genre, lacks definition and is muffled, and tinny. Anyone seriously interested in listening to music is going to want to invest in a proper speaker.
As for voice control, the Sol comes with the standard fair: the ability to control scene changing, color temperature, brightness levels, and so forth. Whether I was asking Alexa about the weather, my schedule, or the time of day, I rarely had to repeat myself. On the rare occasion that she did misunderstand me, simply clearing up my speech and tone resulted in the proper responses.
One neat, if slightly unusable, feature is the Sol Lamp's clock mode. In this mode, the inner and outer rings indicate the time: blue for hour hand and red for minutes. While I like the concept, in practice the clock mode was a little hit and miss. In a completely dark room, I found the mode much too bright and in a fully lit room, it sometimes took an extra second or two to piece together the time than it would from simply glancing at a standard clock. I definitely like the idea and functionality, but in practical terms, it's not the most useful clock.
Lastly, it's also worth noting that if you already have some C by GE light bulbs, the Sol lamp provides an easy way to sync those up to your ecosystem, giving you voice control.
If you're looking for nothing more than a smart lamp, then the C by GE Sol might be a bit pricey at $149.99. Since it includes Alexa, you're essentially buying Amazon's assistant with a light attached to the top. The lamp also isn't bright enough to be a room's single light source. I doubt this would be a problem for the majority of people, but don't run out and grab the Sol thinking it'll be the only light you need for your bedroom or dorm.
Overall, the Sol is a decent lamp with Alexa support for those interested in adding Amazon's assistant to their smart home ecosystem or expanding their Amazon Echo and Amazon Dot devices into a new room. While the mediocre speaker is a letdown, I found myself enjoying the light's aesthetics and timer features quite a bit. Hopefully, in the future, GE will offer the option for a standalone lamp, without Alexa, for those not wanting to dive into Amazon's popular virtual assistant.