Wolverton: New light bulbs don’t live up to their promise

When it comes to ultra-efficient light bulbs, consumers could soon see an alternative on store shelves to LEDs and CFLs.

But they may not find the new bulb a better option.

As I detailed in a story for today’s paper, a startup company called Finally has come out with a bulb based on induction technology. That’s the same electromagnetic principle that allows Apple Watch by resting them on a charging pad, rather than having to plug them in directly.

Finally promises that among all energy efficient bulbs, its are the most like the old incandescents. They have a similar shape and give off the same color of light.

Those selling points, by themselves, aren’t what they used to be. Many of the latest LED bulbs come in shapes that look like the old incandescent bulbs. And you can find plenty of LED and CFL bulbs these days that offer the same color of light as the old bulbs. You just have to know how to read the labels on their packages — you’re looking for bulbs that say they give off “soft white” light, or ones that have a color temperature of around 2700 Kelvin (typically abbreviated as K).

But there are other reasons you may not want to buy Finally’s new bulbs. As I detailed in my article, Finally’s bulbs are more expensive than CFLs and many LEDs and they aren’t as energy efficient as LEDs. Also, unlike many of the latest LEDs, they aren’t dimmable.

And the bulbs have other shortcomings that I didn’t have room to cover in my article.

One such drawback is that they contain mercury, a toxic substance. Mercury is also present in CFLs and has been one of the factors that has discouraged some consumers from buying those bulbs.

When a CFL breaks, some of the mercury can leak out, which can pose a hazard unless it is cleaned up immediately. Similarly, if a Finally bulb were to break, some of its mercury could leak.

Finally says nearly all the mercury in its bulbs is in solid form, and its bulbs contain less of the toxic substance than is found in a typical CFL bulb, implying that they pose less of a risk that CFLs.

Another shortcoming of the Finally bulbs is that they are slow to light up. As the company notes, the bulbs turn on instantly when you flick on a switch. But they’re reminiscent of CFLs in that way in that they can take 10 to 20 seconds to reach their full brightness.

I tested a Finally bulb in a bathroom light fixture in between two LED bulbs. The difference was noticeable. When I flipped the switch, the LED bulbs immediately gave off a bright, soft warm light bright. By contrast, the the Finally bulb was somewhat dim and gave off a pinkish-red glow. Only gradually did it approach the brightness and color of the LED lights.

So, while Finally’s bulbs offer another efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs, they aren’t the perfect replacement the company promises. Indeed, from my experience, it’s hard to beat the latest LEDs.

Photo: Two 60-watt equivalent energy efficient bulbs: a Philips LED light bulb (left) and an induction bulb from startup company Finally Light Bulb (Troy Wolverton, Mercury News).

 

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  • Excellent follow-up! This is the conclusion I was reaching at the end of this morning’s print article, too, and I wondered why that wasn’t the lede. LEDs are improving by leaps and bounds, as you pointed out, and this technology sounds a little like inventing a better Palm Pilot. Also, the chart with the article says LEDs aren’t dimmable, which is no longer accurate and seemed to downplay how good they’re getting. One thing not covered: LEDs’ light patterns are improving but still aren’t as good as the old omni-directional incandescents. I’ve bought lots of LEDs recently that were cheap enough and bright enough, but they didn’t put the light there it needed to be or had harsh over-bright spots in their coverage.

    • You are right that many LEDs these days are dimmable. The chart accompanying today article was referring to a particular Philips LED bulb. I was trying to compare the Finally bulbs with specific comparable bulbs of different types.

 
 
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