Thursday, July 22, 2010

Cordless Trimmers With Long Run Time

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 8: Cordless Trimmers With Longest Run Time

Cordless trimmers face two primary user objection: battery run time, and power. While they allow their owners independence from the tethering of a corded electric trimmer, they are not able to approach the run time of a gas trimmer, which can be replenished at a moment's notice with an extra quart of gasoline. In fact, because batteries are so heavy, most cordless trimmers end up with short run time so as to allow for a lighter, handier trimmer. The result: most cordless trimmers have 15 to 20 minutes of autonomy before needing to plug in another battery. Are there options for the home owner who needs 30 to 45 minutes of run time?

In our exhaustive review of the cordless trimmer market, we encountered three trimmers with unusually long run time. Two of them are very new models with a Li-Ion power plant, while the third one has a very long track record and a lead acid battery.

Cordless trimmers with longest run time

#3 Troy Bilt TB57. The $170 Troy Bilt TB57 is a trimmer with killer specs: 12" cut path, 20V Li-Ion fast charge (4 hour) 6Ah (!!!) battery, heavy duty 0.080" diameter line - with only one troubling side, its high 10 lb weight, probably due to the heavy, long lived battery.  Troy Bilt has a reputation for building tough equipment, and a previous corded electric trimmer, the TB50, picked up a high reputation for long lasting quality - why did they ever discontinue it? Their site is one of the few manufacturer sites with user ratings, an outstanding feature which is very customer oriented. It is all the more disappointing to find a problem with this model. The battery is the best part of the trimmer: it lasts a long time, and allows for solid trimming for most lawn jobs, including decent size weeds. The string itself is solid, although the dispensing is not perfect, and one customer suggests replacing it with the titanium professional trimmer line.

Going through the reviews, it is apparent that usability is a significant issue. The 42"-56" telescopic shaft appears to short for many users: "I found the straight shaft awkward and too short", "arm is too short", "I'm 5' 8" and I find myself crouching down","handling is horrible." The trigger is stiff and hard to keep on while you trim: "after about 15 mins it became painfully apparent that the trigger is way too stiff. My fingers were cramping up." The unfortunate auto feed feature gathers its shares of usual complaints.

What is more worrisome of all is quality and support issues. The switch appears to have a common failure mode, and it is not easy for users to get it taken care of: "I called the manufacturer, and they gave me the name of the closest authorized repair shop, who never called me back", "never heard back from Troy Bilt when I told them about this problem." At this time, the TB57 gathers 56% positive reviews (15/27 at Amazon and Troy Bilt), with a high likely error of  19% due to the low number of reviews. The TB57 is a high price model (due to the excellent battery). The price would be totally justified by a reliable, highly usable machine. If you are able to look beyond the usability issues, it may be best to wait another few months before pushing the trigger on this model, until early manufacturing and support issues are taken care of.

#2 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.

#1 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.

Next we rank heavy duty cordless trimmers... So come back soon!

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