C by GE 3-wire Smart Dimmer review: You won’t need a neutral wire to install this Wi-Fi dimmer

GE Lighting’s series of C by GE smart switches, originally released in 2019, has evolved as one of the more capable Wi-Fi smart switch brands on the market, offering advanced features like motion and ambient light sensing, while coming in at a reasonable price.

At CES in January 2020, GE Lighting announced it would upgrade its C by GE in-wall switch lineup, and now those products are here. The big step forward: The new series of in-wall switches and dimmers don’t require neutral wiring, so a standard single-pole switch only requires three wiring connections: line, load, and ground. Even better, the new 3-wire C by GE product line will automatically determine which wire is being used for line (power coming into the box) and which for load (power going out of the box to the light being controlled), so you can connect the two (typically) black wires without worrying which is which.

What hasn’t changed? For starters, the design: C by GE dimmers remain some of the homeliest switches on the market, and they’re actually not that easy to use physically, with a smallish button in the center of the device that must be carefully and forcefully depressed in order to turn the light on or off. Clickable paddles above and below that central button are used for dimming, there are no touch-sensitive controls here. Also a bummer: These switches still only support 2.4GHz Wi-Fi networks, not 5GHz.

c byh ge 3 wire smart dimmer 2 Christopher Null / IDG

The new 3-wire line of C by GE smart switches don’t require a neutral wire. They can also figure out which wire coming out of the wall is line and which is load.

I installed the dimmer with minimal fuss. Having to deal with only three connections—and not worrying about line vs. load—really streamlines the operation, and it makes getting everything back into the electrical box a snap. Setup was simple and error-free in the C by GE app, and after a quick firmware update, the switch was ready for use.

If you’re using this switch by itself, without other C by GE products, setup and operation are simple and straightforward within the app. First, the app sets the appropriate power level by asking about the type of light bulbs you have installed (fluorescent, incandescent, LED, etc.). Once configured, an on/off toggle and a slider let you set the brightness of the lights. The lighted ring around the central power button is configurable in the app as always on (useful for locating the switch in the dark) or always off (if you want to limit light pollution). I’m using this switch in a dark basement, where it works well as a nightlight.

c by ge 3 wire dimmer installed 1 Christopher Null / IDG

The LED light ring on the C by GE 3-wire Smart Dimmer can be turned off in the C by GE app.

Things get more interesting when you use the switch in conjunction with other C by GE products, because all C by GE gear is designed to coordinate activity. By default, if you set two C by GE devices as being in the same room within the C by GE app, any switch in that room will control all the other C by GE Wi-Fi devices in that room, whether those are other switches, plug-in outlets, or smart light bulbs. This behavior works whether you turn on the switch via physical control or the app. It’s automatic and can’t be disabled, so if you don’t want this kind of coordination to take place, you must move the devices to different rooms within the app (no matter where they are physically located).

It’s an interesting concept, but in many environments it might take some getting used to. The best use cases might involve coordinating switches that aren’t physically in the same room—such as turning on all your outdoor and some interior lights when the sun goes down.

Fortunately, it’s easy to move lights from one room to another if you need to make changes. I tested these features with C by GE’s older 4-wire Motion-Sensing Dimmer Switch, as well as a C by GE smart plug switch, and everything worked as expected: Turning on one of the trio would cause all three to turn on simultaneously. Dimming is also coordinated on devices that support it.