Any power tool consists of a power system — a drive motor, essentially — and a series of mechanical devices that interconnect that drive to some kind of spinning or reciprocating tool: a drill, saw, or driver. So why not just make the motor and handle detachable from the rest of the mess (interconnect and tool) and sell the latter separately so you can just swap them onto the tool when you need them?
Well, we can think of three or four reasons why it might not work. But Black & Decker decided to give it a try. They’re calling it the “Matrix” system: a battery/motor/trigger in a drill/driver form factor along with a series of attachments, currently a drill/driver, oscillating tool impact driver, jigsaw, detail sander, trim saw, and router.
Until we see one in person, we won’t throw any stones. But we have a couple of concerns:
First, we’ve talked to scores of product engineers over the years who’ve put long hours of soul-searching and number-crunching into finding the perfect combination of mechanical transfer system, gearing ratios, and even details like saw blade/drill specs to come up with the right balance of power, utility, and battery life to make a tool useful. And we fully believe in the importance of this task. Seriously, if you’ve ever wondered why one cordless drill, saw, or whatever just seems to work night-and-day better than another, you want to look to this balance for the answer. So the idea of using the same motor and battery assembly for every tool gives us pause. If Black & Decker optimized it for the drill, will it make a poor saw? Or jigsaw? Even if they change the gearing — and it does appear that the gearbox is included in the accessory rather than the power unit — how much utility will we lose over a properly-matched motor power curve and gearbox?
Looking quickly at the specs, it seems to us that B&D cut the middle. It’s a single-speed drill/driver, running at 0-800 RPM. Homeowners (likely the prime target for this product) probably won’t live and die for that high-speed (up to 1,500-2,000 RPM) setting. But anyone working in steel, for example, will lament not having it.
Next, we’re a bit concerned with ergonomics. As a drill, the Matrix is a little chunky for its size and power, but it doesn’t look too bad. But stick a trim saw on the end of it, and it looks wonky as hell. It also doesn’t look like it’ll make a very comfortable jigsaw or oscillating tool, especially for anyone who’s used the standard (or standard cordless) versions of those tools.
But let’s not skip out on the pluses of this new system, either: it’s based on the new 20V battery platform. While the batteries certainly won’t be interchangeable, the cells themselves are likely similar to those you’ll find in DeWalt, Porter*Cable, and other Stanley Black & Decker brands. That’s a good thing. The new batteries represent a pretty significant jump over previous Black & Decker battery quality.
At least in drill/driver form, the B&D looks a lot more comfortable to hold than previous models. Actually, it seems inspired quite a bit by the DeWalt and Porter*Cable models, which is also a good thing.
Let’s assume that B&D imagines this as a homeowner solution — a tool for those folks who do a project from time to time, but who don’t need a full-on kit of tools. That kind of makes sense, at least until you look at the pricing. The drill/driver itself MSRPs for $70, which isn’t bad for a half-decent li-ion drill. Attachments, however, run $30/$40 each, so by the time you’ve built up a four or five piece kit, you’re pushing $200 — which is in range of the venerable Ryobi 18V One+ li-ion combo kit.
Then again, you’re looking at different tools. Most combo kits, like the Ryobi, are going to give you a trim saw, drill, and maybe an impact driver. While Ryobi does offer a One+ jigsaw, it’s of the old style and runs around $90. So if you were trying to built a kit of, say, a trim saw, jig saw, sander, router, and drill, the Matrix system is pretty much the only way you’ll do it for this price.
Or, you could just buy a good cordless drill and spring for a cheap corded jigsaw, a cheap (but decent, as they’re available cheap) corded trim saw, and a nice palm router — which might prove a better all-round solution.
Anyway, they’re all available now online and in some stores, though the online offerings look a bit spotty. Watch out for those folks asking significantly more than retail.