Sean gave you a quick mention of DeWalt’s new 20V MAX line recently, and I’ll agree: it’s damn interesting. We’ve got a lot more information on these coming, but let’s start out with the most commonly-purchased power tool, the drill/driver.
First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way: If you looked at the 12V MAX line and thought, “Wow! That looks pretty modern compared to previous DeWalt tools. I wish they’d update the 18V line the same way,” then you’ll be happy. That’s pretty much what they’ve done. But as the origin tools of the new 20V MAX line, these three tools say a lot about DeWalt’s latest direction. Read on for details.
Why the hell are these called 20V?
Let’s also clear up all the voltage funny business. I’m guessing that most Toolmongers already know that, based on the way li-ion battery cells work, the packs designed for “classic 18V” applications are actually 20V — but are effectively 18V when installed on the tool. This slight difference in cell output has driven us down the 10.8V/12V and 18V/20V path on many occasions. The bottom line: We commonly see li-ion tools labeled both 18V and 20V, and most brands choose which of these labels to apply as a marketing decision.
DeWalt is no different. They’re faced with the same difficult decision other brands tackled a few years ago: To take full advantage of modern battery chemistry and tool technology, they’ll have to change battery mounting and electronics, which means that they can either dumb everything down to make it backwards-compatible or just let all the old tools go and replace them with the new hotness. With some 68 million (no, really) 18V batteries in service in the market today, though, the latter simply wasn’t an option.
So DeWalt chose, well, both.
According to DeWalt, they’re going to keep their 18V line in production. They even plan to continue upgrading the existing line within the limits of the existing battery mount and electronics requirements as required to remain backwards compatible. If we understand them correctly, you won’t just see the existing tools remaining available. You’ll also see new tools (and innovation) in the 18V line.
Think of the new 20V MAX line as their technology-forward premium line, designed to incorporate all the newest ideas without worrying about backwards compatibility.
So if you’re considering buying your first DeWalt drill — or you’re replacing an old one and don’t mind switching battery systems — and you want to buy DeWalt’s top-of-the-line, the 20V MAX is for you. If you have a bunch of existing 18V DeWalt tools and need to replace just the drill — or have 50 service trucks with 18V drills and an armload of batteries on each one — you can stick with the existing 18V and upgrade tools and batteries as you wish.
I mentioned a “line of drill/drivers” because DeWalt released two. Let’s look at the tale of the tape:
The 12V MAX
Ok, I’m being tricksy. This first model isn’t new, but it does represent what DeWalt sees as the low-torque end of the user spectrum, perfect for driving machine screws and small bolts, drilling small holes, and occasionally drilling a bigger hole with something like a spade bit.
The 20V MAX Compact
This is the middle-of-the-road torque solution, and it’s all-new. It can do everything the 12V model does, but it’s a bit heavier, runs a lot longer when doing similar tasks, and can handle bigger jobs, too, like drilling medium-sized holes in steel or large holes in wood, or even backing a medium-sized hole saw. It’s offered in both drill (DCD780C2) and hammer-drill (DCD785C2) models. (Note that hammer-drills are not more powerful. They simply include a vibration system that helps break up masonry. If you don’t expect to drill into masonry, you don’t need a hammer-drill, and there’s no reason to turn it on otherwise.)
It’s 7-1/2″ long, which makes it a little shorter than last year’s competitor’s models. And it’s pretty darn light, weighing in at 3.4 lbs (3.5 for the hammer model). It ships with the 1.5 Ah battery, though it can accept the larger 3.0 Ah model as well, and it features a two-speed transmission, spinning at 0-600 or 0-2,000 RPM. Up front you’ll find a ratcheting 1/2″ chuck.
The 20V MAX Premium
This is the new top-of-the-line model designed for use in all 18V-like applications. Consider it as DeWalt’s best foot placed forward. Like the compact, it’s offered in drill (DCD980L2) and hammer-drill (DCD985L2) models. Unlike the compact, it features an all-metal three-speed transmission, delivering 0-600, 0-1,250, or 0-2,000 RPM, plus a metal ratcheting 1/2″ chuck. It ships with the 3.0 Ah battery, but is compatible with the smaller model, too.
While we haven’t had a chance to spend the time with these new tools that we’d like to in order to publish a true hands-on review, we did get to play with them a bit at Stanley Black & Decker’s press event recently — and they’re surprising.
It’s hard to see in photos, but these drivers all seem significantly smaller than we expected. It’s as if the “compact” thought process has finally made its way up to the larger tools in the line. By no means are these tools tiny, but it’s as if DeWalt treated them like race cars, stripping away any extra space or stuff to make them as small and as light as possible — while still doing the job for which they’re designed. Even the premium model seems remarkably small for its power.
This really stands out in the hand grips. They’re surprisingly thin, which translates into a really comfortable hand feel. In this aspect, they really do look like scaled-up 12V models. They’re much easer to control as well, and I suspect they’d make a pretty big difference in comfort to anyone who uses their drill all day. Of course, we suspect this will prove to be a weak point in drop testing. That grip is all that holds the heavy drill and heavy battery together. Still, we’ll hold off on judgment until we’ve had a chance to test them ourselves.
We suspected that the premium 20V MAX’s three-speed transmission was a gimmick, but changed our minds after a well-chosen demonstration. The DeWalt folks attached a 1″ wood twist bit and suggested we have a few gos at a 1×12. It turns out that most drills (including the older DeWalts) couldn’t muster quite enough torque on their high-speed (usually 0-approximately 2,000 RPM) setting to drive the bit. So you were stuck with either switching to the slow speed, resulting in much slower drilling, or trying to manage the variable speed via trigger, which was pretty unmanageable. But the premium’s 1,250 RPM “middle” speed was perfect for the application. Bottom line: it’s another option for you, and you don’t really give anything up to have it.
MSRP for these will start around $220 for the 20V compact drill (add $20 for the hammer-drill functionality) ranging up to $279 for the 20V premium and $300 for the 20V premium hammer-drill — all surprisingly reasonable considering that these drills seem competitive with this year’s new releases, at least those we’ve seen so far.
We’re working on putting together a full-on comparison test of all this year’s new models later this summer, so keep your eyes out for it. In the meantime, we can say that these new drills are definitely a departure from DeWalt’s previous evolutionary updates and certainly worth a look.