Ok, so maybe it’s more of an evolution than a revolution, but Black & Decker seems to have definitely discovered how valuable a cheap, simple cordless screwdriver can be to the average user. Back when the original SmartDriver came out, we saw lots of press comparing it unfavorably to the Bosch PS20 (which cost three times as much) and other drivers with more features and tech. But we stuck it out, pointing out that for a certain market segment, the SmartDriver’s simplicity (and cheapness!) scored big. Now Black & Decker offers a whole freakin’ line of SmartDriver-inspired inexpensive drivers. Read on for the rundown.
There’s a lot of ’em folks, and though they’re all pretty similar, they each target slightly different markets.
The Alkaline Models
For folks who aren’t going to keep up with a charger — or just don’t use the thing often enough to worry about charging it — B&D now offers two cordless screwdrivers powered by alkaline batteries — in this case, four good ‘ole AA batteries. The AS600 takes a straight screwdriver form, while the AD600 fits in your hand like a pistol grip. Both models offer (as you’d imagine) very low torque (40 in-lbs for the AD600 and just 20 for the AS600), and both spin at a fixed speed of around 120 RPM. B&D recommends them for tasks like hanging mini-blinds, curtain rods, and pictures, and installing light switch covers. Both drivers are dirt cheap, starting at around $15.
Admittedly, this is a pretty niche market. I imagine that most people will only install a few light switch covers at a time, in which case a standard screwdriver would do the job nicely. And pros who install hundreds at a time would probably opt for something like the PS10 with its soft-start feature and digital clutch. Then again, these models might work fine for other applications, too — anything that requires driving machine screws.
The Multi-Position Handle Models
Next up, B&D offers a crap-ton of SmartDriver variants that bend or twist in the middle the model 9078, and VP810 are pretty much straight driver models with a center hinge, designed to assist in the installing low-torque screws during the assembly of flat-pack furniture or shelving. Both also feature mechanical clutches to help avoid stripping screws, and both also include a spindle lock so you can convert them to manual screwdrivers should you need more torque than they can provide.
The PD600 takes the middle-hinge concept a little further with two speed settings (180 and 600 RPM) as well as an increased torque rating of 80 in-lbs. All three include built-in, non-removable rechargeable batteries and MSRP in the $30 range.
Probably the closest to the original SmartDriver of the new breed, the PD400LG retains the SmartDriver’s shape and function, but adds an annular LED light and a strange rotating/pivoting middle that allows it to assume either the pistol grip or straight driver form. It spins a little faster, too, operating at a single speed of 180 RPM and topping out at 40 in-lbs (placing it firmly in the low-end-assembly category). MSRP is $25.
The Compactified SmartDriver
You may notice that all the previously-mentioned drivers lack one of the SmartDriver’s major features: a lithium-ion battery. Ironically, the li-ion chemistry offers as much to low-end and DIY users as it does to pros; pros covet li-ion’s ability to deliver the massive current necessary to drive powerful tools, while homeowners love the way it holds a charge literally for years. You could toss the original SmartDriver in a drawer, come back six months later, and expect to discover it sitting there ready to go.
The LI3100 A does include a li-ion rechargeable, bolted in to reduce cost. Like the other new drivers, it spins at 180 RPM, but it gets a slight boost in torque to 48 in-lbs — not enough to really stand out, but enough to push B&D to suggest that it might work for “general assembly” as well as furniture and blinds. It’s also slightly smaller than the SmartDriver and includes a small, bottom-mounted LED worklight. MSRP is $51, though we’ve seen it list for $30 at the big box shops.
The No-Brick Model
Though I suspect most Toolmongers don’t have issues keeping up with the power bricks that come with their tools, this actually strikes me as a pretty decent idea, especially for folks who’re prone to losing accessories. The DP240 is essentially a super-basic rechargeable screwdriver, but it incorporates the charger right into the driver itself. As you can see above, prongs fold down, allowing you to plug it right into a 120V socket. Specs suffer slightly from the other models, as the DP240 rotates at just 150 RPM and delivers only 26 in-lbs of torque, but it does include a spindle lock. MSRP is $34.
So what does all this mean? While it’s easy to dismiss these drivers as “low-end” (they are, of course), it wouldn’t surprise me to find that each of them is targeted at a specific consumer group. I was surprised when I discovered some of the awesome uses for the SmartDriver (and Skil’s iXO, which followed later). Despite their fixed speed motors and integrated batteries, we heard of people using them successfully for everything from putting together IKEA stuff to fixing up ATMs.
So do any of these do the job for you? Or someone you know? We’d like to hear about it in comments. (And yes, we know that your $150 superduperdriver is better. Ours is, too. But what if you only had, say, $30 to spend?)