Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The 5 Best Cordless String Trimmers

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 7: Best cordless trimmers

#5 American Gardener YS24 Yardstick. The $100 American Gardener YS24 Yardstick is a 10", 24V, 10.5 lb, single 0.080" line trimmer with an unusually long battery run time. This cordless trimmer runs rare 24V lead acid batteries which give approximately 30 to 45 minutes minutes of continuous run time (although, of course, interrupted operations will give you better run time). In this world of quickly changing model numbers, the Yardstick has been around for almost a decade, and still does well.

The Yardstick is a rather heavy trimmer, whose operation is helped by a harness  if you are not a strapping broad-shouldered outdoorsman: "it's a little heavy", "not light by any stretch but its no heavier than a gas unit", "product is also extremely heavy - best suited for a young, strong person","tad bit heavier than I would like", "weighs about the same as a small gas trimmer", "only drawback I've have found is the weight of the trimmer. My arm gets really tired after trimming for 45 min", "wish it had a strap."

The long lasting battery actually lasts long and the DC motor provides good torque: "battery last a long time", "charge lasts approximately 45 min. which is usually sufficient for a half-acre yard", "plenty of power and run-time", "every bit as effective as any gas trimmer I have owned without the noise and the complications of a gas engine", "gets though heavier stuff than I would have imagined", "the charge lasts way longer than I need." The battery is internal, so, to recharge the unit, you need to leave it right by the charger, which is fairly slow: "takes about 16 hours to charge."

The trimmer easily converts into an edger: "really trims & cuts GREAT." The line is a heavy duty 0.080" line, which allows the user to replace it eventually with heavy duty commercial square section line. While some would prefer dual line spools, we like the precision of single line trimmers. A few users complain about the line not feeding very well: "you need to take your time reloading the string", "line would break continuously [ ] I learned that you need to wind several empty spools, then let them rest for a couple of days int he sun to let the plastic string "set" or curl to the spool."

Several users complained of breakage of small parts including the cutter - it appears that starting 18 months ago, the box includes replacements for these parts as well: "replacement cutter, springs and other parts included with the product [ ] the parts that were described as being of poor quality in earlier reviews were included in case replacement was needed." Some users mention other mechanical parts failures, but in limited numbers altogether.

As for other cordless models, the batteries end up eventually not taking a charge, although the Yardstick seems to have good battery longevity, probably due to lead-acid technology: "I've had it for about six years, and the battery has held up well since then." Others mention their battery running out after a more typical three years. This, however, is when many users run into trouble, as it appears that the American Gardener parts department is quite unreliable, and it takes a long time to get anything from them: " "I ordered a new battery and charger. I have currently been waiting seven weeks for the replacement." Worse, many users mention having battery trouble right at the outset, and not being able to get replacements for free: "when I called about warranty, told me sounded like problem was battery and batteries have no warranty", "battery would not hold a charge. When I talked to customer service they said it has a two year warranty but does not cover the battery."

We find it incredible that, if batteries turn out to be faulty after a small number of months, they do not get replaced under warranty: this is a major issue in American Gardener customer support policy, one which is so significant that it impacts our recommendation as a whole.The Yardstick gets 68% positive ratings with a likely error under 7% (122/179 on Amazon).

The American Gardener Yardstick has shown good quality and functionality and has a long track record, along with reasonably good user reviews. It has excellent battery run time, the Achilles' heel of cordless trimmers. Its nonexistent battery warranty, however, only allows us to recommend it with reservations.

#4 Ryobi P2002. The $120 Ryobi P2002 is a real disappointment, because we had very high expectations of the brand. The Ryobi brand has traditionally been associated with high quality, no compromise, compact yet powerful Japanese-designed and manufactured outdoor tools.

It turns out that Hong Kong-based company Techtronic (which also purchased in the same decade Milwaukee and AEG tool lines from Atlas, Royal and Dirt Devil from Geier, and Homelite from John Deere) purchased the the Ryobi's US subsidiary in 2004. Almost all of Techtronic manufacturing is centralized in mainland China and Indonesia. We were expecting a top quality product with outstanding support. We found a solid product, but abysmal product support: practically no product information on the site, missing product manuals, part cross references, and a phone number...

After spending several hours obtaining phone numbers from their distributors (1.800.525.2579, #2 option, then #5 option to get an operator), we then spent an hour on the phone with good-natured call support operators who unfortunately had practically no access to data, and could not even find out for us battery weight or Ah, because they had no documentation available. Their primary distributor, Home Depot, is also totally lacking literature/ document information. As a result, we are not in possession of some important information on this product: it is remarkable not to be able to get a hold of critical product information after several hours of interactions with a company.

The P2002 is a solid 12", 7.5 lb, 18V Li-Ion cordless trimmer, convertible to an edger by rotating the head/ handle. Unfortunately it includes a hateful auto feed spool design, cordially disliked by most users.  Unusually, Amazon only sells a battery-less, charger-less version, which makes it uneconomical. The P2002 is part of the One+ Ryobi line, which works interchangeably on the same battery and charger format. The Home Depot package includes a compact battery (#P103), probably to minimize weight, but the outcome is that the string trimmer comes with 1.2 Ah only, and a very short autonomy - too bad, as the #P104 battery, for about an extra pound, would have doubled the autonomy of the battery (be careful not to order the P100, an older NiCad battery for the One+ line).

The straight shaft is telescopic, and the handle adjustable, although some users were not able to tighten it enough for it to remain solidly anchored. The trimmer uses single line spools, which we see as a positive in terms of precision and battery power, although it does not cut quite as fast. Users consider the P2002 good for the average size lawn: "It's not going to be ultra-powerful, but for your average lawn, it will get the job done", "run time is only 20-25 minutes",  "my one wish is it had a little more power. It makes it through patches of tall weeds, but only barely."

As usual, users dislike the auto-feed feature: "auto feed [...]now feels more like a gimmick to get me to spend another $20 every few months", "string nightmare." The safety switch has to be held down with some force while trimming, and makes the handling experience a bit unpleasant: " safety switch is an annoyance too in that it has to be held down." The trigger does not make it easy to start, and is difficult to use by people with arthritis: "It is very difficult to push in the white handle, unless you are a good strong man, with long fingers." Several users compared this model with an 18V Black and Decker cordless trimmer, finding it superior in battery run time. The P2002 collects 77% positive ratings (65/84 on Home Depot and Amazon) with a likely error under 9%, and gets a good review from Consumer Guide.

The P2002 is a solid model with good performance and reasonable quality. But, in the end, while the unit gets good reviews, product data and consumer support for Ryobi US is so poor that we can only recommend this model with great reservations. What a pity!

#3 Black and Decker NST2036. The $170 Black and Decker NST2036 is a seriously heavy (11.9 lb) but powerful (36V) 14" trimmer. It uses a straight telescopic shaft with most of the weight concentrated in the handle, making it easier to hold and move. The bump and feed spool (we like that compared to the awful Black and Decker AFS) uses heavy duty 0.080" dual line.

The NST2036 as a whole is a heavy duty machine, only usable by those with a strong back and with serious trimming needs - although weight is relative, and  this cordless trimmer is actually lighter than many gas trimmers: "near gas trimmer power without the noise and without the pollution", "heavy duty trimmer, it has some weight to it", "lots of power, be sure to wear proper [ ] safety glasses and shoes","as powerful as any gas powered trimmer I've used" . It comes with a harness, which is necessary to handle its bulk - although the harness itself could be better: "unit is a bit heavy and a better harness for use would be good, I am using the one from a Husky brush saw","adjustable shoulder strap [is] not very comfortable but a must for older people like me who can't handle the whole weight of it for a long period of time." The trimmer does not convert into an edger.

The NST2036 uses a traditional NiCad 36V battery with 2.4Ah capacity, more than other Black and Decker models, but less than what a serious trimming job typically needs, approximately 15 minutes, more if you run at lower speed. You really need two batteries (an extra battery costs $100) if you have the needs that justify buying this model : "2 batteries are needed","battery life is questionable", "Don't buy this trimmer without purchasing the second (expensive!) battery", "I had to buy another battery [ ] to finish trimming around my four acres."

The trigger is a variable speed trigger, and keeping the power down very significantly boosts battery run time: "learning to control the variable-speed trigger was the trickiest part. I've found that keeping the speed down doubles the time a battery charge lasts. I ordered an extra battery so I can usually work for almost an hour and a half", "You don't need full power all the time and it makes the battery last longer, when your not trimming don't hold the trimmer on like a gas trimmer","battery seems to lasts longer if the trigger is not pulled full on while trimming." The dual charger is very slow, needing 12 hours to finish the job, although, on the other hand, it also seems to be quite safe for the batteries themselves, since we saw few complaints about defective batteries - a very common problem with the 30 minute fast charger of the WorxWG151.

The bulk of the complaints go to the short battery run time, with people complaining of only getting 15 to 20 minutes (which is what the spec calls for). Customer support is good, as tested by The NST2036 gets the best cordless trimmer ratings from Consumer Reports, albeit still lower than many gas trimmers, although we are not convinced that Consumer Reports properly rates trimmers. The model gathers 66% positive ratings with a likely error under 10% (59/90 from Amazon and Consumer Reports).

The NST2036 is a solid cordless model, probably the closest there is to a gas trimmer, with good engineering and no obvious quality problems. It battery life runs to specs (15 minutes) but probably requires the use of two batteries in most cases, increasing the price to $270 total. The trimmer is heavy for an electric trimmer, and will only work for people with a solid back. It should only by used who actually have a need for all of its power, along with the ability to carry it. We believe that Black and Decker is updating its cordless trimmer line to Li-Ion, and will probably come out with a lower weight version of the NST2036 in the next year. Within these limitations, we heartily recommend the NST2036. 
#2 Greenworks 21602. The $180 Greenworks 21602 is a 12", 20V, 7.5 lb curved shaft trimmer powered by a Li-Ion battery with an unusually long run time.

The unusual and remarkable feature of the Greenworks 21602 is definitely its long lasting Li-Ion battery, with a solid 6Ah capacity, a feature only equaled by the Troy Bilt TB57: "Battery lasted over an hour", "long run time of this battery is a real plus (I'd say it is easily the 45 min as advertised)", "I live on a small farm so it gets heavy use. The battery lasts longer than I do", "after trimming just about everything on our 4-acre lot [ ] the battery was still 3/4 charged. Total time out in the field was probably 30 minutes, and roughly 20 minutes of that was actual running time", "20 volt lithium-ion battery is a real performer [ ] I've used this 3 times now and I still haven't re-charged the battery", "trimmed my yard multiple times on the first charge and still have 3/4 battery power remaining." The battery recharges in 4.5 hours on the included charger.

The 20V battery produces enough torque to satisfy the large majority of its users: "plenty of power for my needs ", "if the gas-powered trimmer's "power" was rated a 10, then I'd give this an 8 or 9", "plenty of power for trimming long grass, and my husband has used it a number of times to cut back the weeds in the woods behind us as well", " It has a hard time with some types of tall grass (I'm talking 2.5 to 3 ft "barn grass") [ ] Other types of tall grass (fescue) it handles much better, you just have to go slow. It's dynamite with reasonably length grass and easily handles thick grass up to about 2 feet tall."

The 7.5 lb curved shaft trimmer is comfortable to handle: "light and well balanced", "I was concerned that the battery would feel unbalanced or heavy as I am 5'1", but that is not the case at all. Both my husband (5'10") and I can use it very comfortably", "device is easily balanced and much lighter than my John Deere", "lightweight, powerful." The shaft is not telescopic but the handle can be adjusted up and down. The device converts easily into an edger with a guide wheel: " really like using this as an edger as well. The wheel rolls easily and keeps it at a consistent height so the trimming is even and I don't use up a lot of extra string like I used to trying to hand-hold the old trimmer at an angle", "The start/stop is instant, its so light that I just cruise around trimming and flip the head to the side to do edging", "what surprised me was how good of an edger this trimmer is. A simple button-push and rotation of the trim head and you're in edger function", "so easy to handle and get just the edge and trim you desire." While handling as a whole appears very good, the safety trigger seems to be a bit of a problem to some: "trigger to run it does fatigue my trigger-finger/hand."

The 21602 has a form of auto feed, where it feeds 1/4" of single 0.065" line every time you start it - resulting in significant line consumption when you try to conserve power: "have not had problems using up the string too fast. Since it auto advances each time you start it, the frequency of start/stops could make a big difference", "the auto feed worked great, but if you start and stop a lot, you'll probably burn thru some serious string."

Greenworks provides the best warranty in the industry: 4 years on the trimmer, 1 year on the battery. However, there is a big hic, as customer service has been very poor in terms of quick exchanges: "It won't start (less than a month later) [ ] We called the company [ ] who ultimately said we had to return it to amazon and they'd send a replacement. [ ] When I asked directly, she gave me the phone number of their nearest distributor (more than 1000 miles away), who said they've had the Greenworks account for about a month, and there is nobody anywhere near me who could repair or replace it [ ] The Greenworks website says their goal is customer satisfaction, and we're not very satisfied with their service", "I called the Greenworks warranty number this morning, and the customer service rep was just awful. I got the distinct impression that they didn't want to stand by their warranty. [ ] Then she told me I should take it to a service center and gave me the telephone number of the closest one. When I pointed out that the warranty specifically states that Greenworks will replace the battery at no cost, she reluctantly agreed to send a new battery", "I called the Greenworks number [ ] I was told that someone would call me within an hour for a "resolution." After two days without a call from Greenworks, I called again. This time I was on hold for 15 minutes when I gave up. I never heard from Greenworks after my first call. [ ] My conclusion is that the warranty by Greenworks is worthless." These are very poor evaluations of customer support. At the same time, this product has only been for sale for a few months, Greenworks itself is only a couple of years old, and we can understand that there may be some early ramp-up problems. The Greenworks 21602 has 78% positive ratings with a high likely error of 19% due to low number of reviews (14/18 on Amazon).

The Greenworks 21602 has truly excellent specs, and does very well in the field. The Greenworks warranty is significantly better than that found with the rest of the industry.  It fills the sweet spot for most home owners in a way that has not been met in cordless trimmers so far - we are quite impressed by this product, which appears head and shoulders above other Greenworks products in related fields. Despite the limited number of reviews, the lack of company track record, and the several very poor reports on customer support, we are recommending the product at this time, conditional upon a lengthy discussion that we are planning to have with the company over its customer support practices in the next 2 weeks, after which we will update this review.

#1 Black and Decker LST1018. The $120 Black and Decker LST1018 is a  12", 18V, 6 lb, single 0.065" line trimmer. Its Li-Ion battery charges in 45 minutes to one hour, vs. 8 to 12 hours for traditional cordless NiCad Black and Decker trimmers.

 The LST1018 is destined to eventually replace the best selling NST2018, which it is equivalent to, with the significant exception of the battery: the LST1018's 18V battery is Li-Ion, lowering the device weight to 6 lbs (from 6.8 lbs), with better ability to hold a charge, and a higher number of recharges in the battery's life cycle. What is not changed, however, is the capacity of the battery, which remains at 1.5Ah. What this means is that the LST1018 run time is the same as the NST1018, 24 minutes on the specs, but, in practice (as we saw in our review of the NST1018) more like 15 minutes. The conclusion - you need two of these batteries, rather than one: "battery charge lasts only about 15 minutes cutting time which goes by very quickly", "lucky to get 20-25 minutes before recharge", "Lithium battery does not last any longer than the NiCad battery trimmer [NST1018] that I own from Black & Decker", "battery runs for about 20 minutes", "only negative is that the battery does not last as long as advertised", "big problem is the short battery life. We have an average size yard and I have to stop and recharge the battery at least 4 times to finish the job", "You are lucky to get 20-25 minutes before recharg[ing] it, [you] need [to] buy an extra battery (which is not cheap)", "downside is that the battery charge lasts only about half an hour, but then by that time I need to take a rest anyway", "the first charge only lasted 15 minutes but that's pretty good considering what I had to trim." The need for a second battery ups the price of the LST1018 to about $200, a significant jump. Don't forget to leave your Lithium batteries topped up!

With the 20V battery, the DC motor gives out enough torque for most light duty backyard needs: "It chops right through weeds and even trims shrubs as (if not more)effectively than the gasoline Weed Eater it replaced", "plenty of power for typical suburban yard work. If your looking for heavy duty this is not for you. But, if you are looking for a good trimmer for typical yard work this is a great product", "truly [ ] lightweight but very powerful tool", "handles easily and eats everything in its path, from thin weeds to thick brush." Thanks to Li-Ion technology, there is little or no time on low power, and the battery mostly goes from On to Off when depleted: "shuts down when the battery runs low." It is not quite enough for some users with higher needs: "very weak power as a trimmer and no power as an edger."

The charger is lightning fast, possibly at the cost of future battery health: "battery recharge time is the fastest I have seen", "the battery recharge time is fast. Trim some at the beginning of your yard mowing session until the battery is low, plug the battery into the charger, mow the lawn, come back 45 minute to a hour later and your string trimmer battery is ready to go again. Finish the trimming", "quick charge", "battery charger is also an improvement with a relatively quick recharge", "battery charged fully in 20 or 30 minutes."

Thanks to the optimized design and low weight Li-Ion battery, and with an adjustable handle, the trimmer is really lightweight and maneuverable: "lightweight, cordless, recharges quickly and easy to use", "this weed eater is the lightest", "the fact that it is lightweight and so easy to use is enough for me to make up for the fact I might need to recharge it midway through", "The trimmer is much lighter, easy to maneuver, and has sufficient speed to do a good trim job", "it's a good weight for me, and the adjustable handle allowed me to find a comfortable height. (I'm petite.)", "this thing is light weight. My mother has a pinched nerve in her neck, but I've bought her one of these trimmers because it's so light I'm confident she can use it without straining anything ", "perfect for someone of small stature or who has physical limitations on how heavy a piece of equipment they can handle. Easy, easy, easy to use." The trimmer converts very easily into an edger: "edging feature works great", "quick change head."

As usual, users complain about Black and Decker's awful AFS auto feed technology, but, in the case of the LST1018, quite a few users are actually pleased with it - did the technology change? "Trimmer line feeds out improperly", "never have the string release hassles", "love the automatic cord feeder", "line forwards on its own, no need to bump it." Of course, the model has only been on the market for a few months, and pesky maintenance and operations cost issues might crop up later.

Because the model is recent, we have not seen many complaints about mechanical issues.  The most common complaint, however, is the standard one about cordless outdoor tools, i.e. batteries that do not charge or that do not charge enough: "the bad news is that after 10 minutes of weed-eating, the battery is completely dead. I used it three times with the exact same results. I didn't even get 15 minutes", "Within 10 to 15 minutes, the battery goes completely dead." Normal expectations fort NiCad batteries used on outdoor equipment are two to three years. Lithium batteries can go through more recharge cycles, so we would expect the LST1018 batteries to last more than a couple of seasons - of course, only time will tell. The LST2018 gathers 73% positive ratings, a good number for the category, with a likely error below 13% (35/48 from Amazon, Lowe's, Home Depot).

The NST2018 got excellent reviews if we disregarded AFS issues. The LST1018 improves on it with lower weight, better battery, and more longevity -did the AFS get revved up too? Along with the Greenworks 21602, the Ryobi P2002, the Worx WG151.5 and the Troy Bilt TB57, The LST1018 is one of the first trimmers in the Li-Ion wave to take over the place of old NiCad trimmers in the cordless market. We should see many more coming up  in the next two years. Right now, thanks to its combination of low weight and good usability, the LST1018 is king of the hill:-)

Next we rate cordless trimmers with long run time... So come back soon!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fantastic compendium!

Regarding the yardstick:

Walmart sells the same unit in green under the weedeater brand.

The unit is called the Weed Eater C-Max Cordless 24 Volt Cordless Line Trimmer/Edger

The model number is WLT24.

Regarding replacement batteries/parts:

Sears once sold a variation of this under the craftsman name. You can get the batteries (and probably other parts) through sears for $39 ($56 with shipping and tax).

George Gear said...

Great comment - thanks very much! We were not aware of the Walmart and Sears connections. We'll double check the battery ordering info from Sears and amend the review:-)

Anonymous said...

Was hoping you would have updated your finding, You sure had a great deal to say and done very professional. It was fun to read and understand and well said. Just need to keep it updated and it would have helped me out, but as of now it did help me catch up on some history, didn't help me buy one today. Thanks keep up the good work.

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