Most of the new lithium-ion power tools to hit the market this year have focused on high-voltage applications — utilizing Li-ion’s ability to provide higher amp loads for longer periods to create some incredibly powerful tools. Though no one can accuse Bosch of shorting the market on power — see our post on the release of their 36V Li-ion 1″ cordless rotary hammer — they’ve also applied Li-ion technology to the low-voltage end of their Litheon line to create some truly unique task-specific tools — such as the recently-released PS20 pocket driver, and the PS10 I-Driver which should hit store shelves in August.
Bosch’s small 10.8V Litheon battery system enables the I-Driver to incorporate a 0-600 RPM motor delivering 80 in-lbs. of torque — plenty to disabuse you of the plastic toy visions that fill your head when you hear the words “cordless screwdriver.” And, as you’ll see from our hands-on experiences after the jump, the I-Driver’s run-time is nothing short of astonishing.
The I-Driver comes pre-packaged in a handy soft carrying case. Opening the case reveals the driver along with all its accessories: two Litheon 10.8V batteries, a 30-minute charger, two small 1/4″ quick-change screwdriver bits (a standard slot and a Phillips), and the manuals and warranty paperwork.
The first thing we noticed about the I-Driver is that it’s a bit larger than we imagined it when looking at photos. Though it’s much smaller and lighter than an 18V cordless drill — the tool you invariably end up comparing it to once you’ve used it — it’s still a hefty, industrial-feeling tool.
Officially, the I-Driver weighs in at 2.2 lbs. and is 11-1/2″ long. It features an articulating rotary head that releases with the push of a button on the side and locks into five different detent settings ranging from 180-degrees (straight) to 90-degrees. In 90-degree mode, the head measures only 3-1/2 inches, making it a great tool for use in tight spaces. A quick-release chuck holds bits in firmly and then releases them with a pull on the surrounding ring, while a metal storage hanger on the back of the handle gives you the option of clipping it to a tool belt on hanging it on a peg.
Fit and finish are superb. The all-metal articulating head doesn’t rattle at all, and the rubber grips molded into the body give it a very solid, high-quality feel.
We were a bit skeptical of Bosch’s 100-3″-screw-on-a-single-charge claim, as we’ve seen older NiCd-powered cordless drills die after 50 or so. So, we swung by our local hardware store and picked up 100 3″ wood screws and grabbed a section of scrap 2×4 from the bin to try it out for ourselves. In the process of driving a ton of screws, we learned a lot about the I-Driver.
Besides letting you work in cramped quarters, the shape of the I-Driver when in 90-degree mode makes driving screws really easy. It seems to require less pressure to keep the bit engaged than pistol-grip drill/drivers, and when you do need to apply pressure you can push directly on the back of the head. During the whole process your arms are in a more horizontal position, which means you get tired a lot less quickly. And if you do find your arms in a bad position, you can just adjust the head to put them back where you’re comfortable.
Unlike the mechanical clutches on most drivers, the I-Driver’s clutch is electronic, which helps to keep the head smaller to fit in tighter spaces in 90-degree mode. Clutch limits are set via a slider on the body of the tool. Besides the obvious size advantege, there’s an added benefit that you can change the clutch setting with one hand, keeping your other hand free to hold a fastener or keep things in line.
We also discovered that you can move the I-Driver’s head from “straight” mode to 90-degree mode and visa versa with one hand by just pushing the button and flicking the whole driver in your wrist. You wouldn’t want to do that all the time as it puts a bit of wear on the tool, but it works fine in a pinch. The head adjustment release button is quite large, too, so you can push it with a gloved finger.
Speaking of fingers, you can get two or even three of them around the trigger. This may not sound like a big deal to you as you read it here, but believe us when we tell you that your finger doesn’t get sore after a few screws the way it does on a pistol-grip style driver — a fact that really strikes home after you’ve driven 50 or so 3″ wood screws in a row.
When you squeeze the trigger to select a speed, the I-Driver’s “soft start” circuitry smoothly ramps the motor up to the speed you’ve requested, making it easier to maintain control of the tool and fastener when driving. It does take a bit of getting used to, but after only a few tries we were able to start screws by lining them up and just mashing the trigger all the way down. It’s convenient, but a side benefit of this is that it’s so easy to control that you end up driving screws in at a higher RPM, which translates into even more runtime.
How many screws?
We were able to drive 105 screws on our first freshly-charged Litheon battery — 5 more than Bosch’s claim. We drove all 105 in direct succession, one after another, which generated a significantly higher workload than the I-Driver’s likely to see in a production environment.
During the process, the I-Driver did get warm, but never uncomfortably so. And while we’ve all read about the way Li-ion-powered tools operate at full power until the very end of their charge, it’s interesting to actually experience it. We noticed no difference at all in the I-Driver’s output until it completely shut down as it drove the 105th screw. No slowing, no low-torque period at the end of the charge — just full speed ahead until dead.
When we dropped the hot, fully-discharged battery into the charger, we did manage to engage its heat protection circuitry which made us wait about 10 minutes before beginning the 30-minute charge cycle. To put this in perspective, though, it’d be pretty rare to drive another 105 screws in 40 minutes, so you could use the I-Driver continuously on a jobsite with the two included batteries.
If you can’t tell already, we’re pretty big fans of the I-Driver. In fact, we only had one complaint during our testing: from time to time the storage hanger on the back of the tool came loose during use, which was a bit annoying. The hanger itself is a great addition, but we do wish it would engage a bit more firmly when “stowed.”
All in all, we were blown away with the I-Driver’s power. While it won’t replace your 18V cordless driver for all applications, it’ll definitely relegate it to only the largest of tasks while the I-Driver occupies prime space in the tool-belts of professional installers and craftsmen.
Look for the I-Driver on store shelves in late July or early August for around $150.