Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Screening Cordless String Trimmers

Best Electric String Trimmers and Lawn Edgers Review Part 6: Screening cordless string/ line trimmers

As a whole, cordless line trimmers give us reasonable choices to pick from, and the heaviest of them compare well in performance with good quality gas trimmers. The category has improved every year, and keeps on improving. The biggest changes in process are the switch under way from NiCad to Li-Ion batteries, promising longer runtime and lighter weight, and the unfortunate appearance of auto feed features, uniformly disliked by customers, but possibly generating a new profit center for manufacturers.

These models did not make the cut

The Black & Decker CST cordless series includes the CST800, an 8", 6.5 lb trimmer, the  CST1100, a 9", 7 lb trimmer, and the CST1200, a 12", 7 lb trimmer. They are all 12V NiCad, bump and feed (we like that) trimmers. They are somewhat heavy for what they provide. As a whole, the line picks up only 53% positive reviews (29/ 55 across Amazon, Sears, Target).

The Black and Decker  Black and Decker NST1024  is a 13", 8.8 lb trimmer with 24V NiCad power and a 1.7 Ah battery. Black and decker is in the process of swtiching its NST cordless line, which is now NiCad based, to Lithium. The NST1024 is still NiCad powered, and its reviews are middling, picking up 56% positive reviews ( 34/61 from Amazon, Sears, Lowe's) with a likely error below 11%.  

The Craftsman 74815 is a 12", 18V trimmer, seemingly manufactured by Black and Decker as a derivative of their CST cordless line. The 74815 was reviewed by Consumer Reports, and gets mid-range ratings, getting panned for it operation against tall grass and weeds. The 74815 picks up a low 56% positive reviews (30/54 on Consumer Reports and Sears) with a likely error under 13%. 

Sunlawn went into bankruptcy, and left the Sunlawn 9" trimmer, a 12V, 7.1 lb NiCad model, orphaned and without company support. The model has few, mediocre reviews.

The Earthwise OPP00110  is a 10", 12V, 6 lb trimmer. It does not appear to be widely distributed, and has no reviews on line.

The Greenworks 21062 is a lightly distributed NiCad trimmer, in a product line which includes a better distributed and well reviewed Li-Ion model.

The Sun Joe TRJ600C is a 10", 20V trimmer with a straight telescopic shaft. The Li-Ion battery charges on a one-hour quick charger to 1.3Ah - a fairly low amount, but also, unfortunately, typical (that's what most of the Black and Decker models do). The 8.6 lb weight is heavy for the specs of this model. The model converts easily to an edger, and has a handy edging wheel. The instructions for the model are abominably poor, which is often the case. Several users have had bad problems starting up the trimmer after receiving up, possibly due to poor assembly instructions, or to a bad batch of batteries (as discussed by the  support rep). Many units have electrical problems and batteries which do not charge. When the trimmer works, it does a good job for a small yard with average trimming needs - the 20V Li-Ion battery is a good choice, although 1.3Ah is just a bit low to last as long as some larger yards will need. The trimmer gets 58% positive reviews (19/39 at Amazon, Walmart, Sears) with a likely error of 15% or less. We cannot recommend the product at this time due to the high number of electrical issues, but, once the problems due to bad batteries are dealt with, we feel that the product may be worth it - we will adjust our review later if user reviews warrant it.

The Toro 51467 is a small, 8", 12V, 6.4 lb NiCad trimmer  using a 0.065" line, bump and feed spool technology (we like that). Many users complain about significant mechanical and electrical quality issues: "shield will not stay on and the two-piece arms become disconnected", "electrical connection between the two pieces is HORRIBLE"," guard around the trim line will not stay on",  "assume there was a defect in the wiring somewhere but was unable to disassemble it to look." The battery often appears to be having difficulty holding a charge: " [in] a [...] little over one year [...] it already stopped holding its charge", "ran fine as long as it was plugged in. battery doesn't hold a charge", "The battery stopped holding a charge even before I'd used up the string that came with the trimmer. I guess they could advertise that the line never needs replacing", "runs out of power within about 10 minutes." Some users complain that it is not easy to hold despite its small  size: "when it did work, it was a huge strain on your arms for such a small trimmer. I have had gas trimmers that were easier to hold", "cannot be tipped to trim borders while holding all these buttons."  The previous model, 51464, got very poor functional ratings from Consumer Reports. The 51467 carries a 2 year warranty, and gets 67% positive reviews (66/99 from Amazon, Sears  and Home Depot) with a likely error below 10%.

The Troy Built TB55, still for sale, was obsoleted by the TB57.

The Worx GT150, an 18V NiCad trimmer, was superseded by the GT151 Li-ion powered models. The model gets very low ratings from Consumer Reports. It gets 51% positive ratings (132/228 from Amazon, Lowe's, Home Depot, Consumer Reports, Mowers Direct).

Better than most, but still wanting

The $100 Black and Decker NST2018 is the best selling cordless trimmer online.  It is a 12", 6.8 lb model, and comes with two 18V NiCad batteries, each of which worth 1.5Ah, worth 15 to 20 minutes of run time. The trimmer is lightweight and easy to handle, including for women and seniors: "I purchased this to use because I am a recent widow. My husband had a very nice, big gas trimmer that I couldn't pull to start.[ ]  I live on a farm so I have a lot of trimming to do. This trimmer is so nice. [ ] it is self feeding and it is very lightweight. I highly recommend this for any woman who needs to do the yard trimming", "lightweight and easy to maneuver", "lightweight and easy to use. My 10-year old son even feels important in helping with chores thanks to this nice trimmer", "It was too hard for [my wife] to start our gas trimmer and too heavy. This trimmer is lightweight, battery life is great, and it does a great job", "this is a lightweight machine (in weight) and work capability but fits my wife's needs to trim around her flower beds." The trimmer converts easily into an edger, although there are a few complaints about the plastic parts which allow the conversion.

The battery charger takes 8 hours per specs, although some users report higher numbers. The second battery is a must: "you will need to keep multiple batteries on hand", "I've got over 2 acres with planted beds and a meadow. One battery just about makes it through an edging run. So, having two is a must","both batteries are capable of handling my entire yard", "wear one down, plug it in to charge, install the second batter and keep going."

As usual, customers complain about auto feed: "Auto-Feed System (AFS) string feeder uses WAY more line than a bump-feed trimmer. Again, without even having completed my yard ONCE, it has already chewed through a whole 30-foot spool of line", "it feeds too much string at once, and then throws high velocity projectiles (string bits) at the user's legs, if you're lucky", "the twine [ ] vanishes REALLY fast, isn't very cheap--or efficient either."

The worst complaints, however, go to the low run time for the batteries, which often appears to be significantly less than the expected 15 minutes: "I have a very small back yard, just over 1000 SF, and I am not kidding 3 dead batteries and one empty spool of string later, my yard was only half done", "burned through both batteries in about 20 minutes", "it takes about 18 hours for maximum charge, after which, u only get ten minutes of power. Exactly 10 and no more", " each battery lasted around 10 minutes before the power output was so weak it could no longer cut through the weeds", "batteries last about 10 minutes, so if this is an issue stay away from this item." It is clear that the specs call for 15 minutes per battery. Some battery problems, when they occur right after reception of the trimmer, may be explained by some poor battery quality control. It is probable, however, that a good bit of the dissatisfaction comes from the fact that NiCad batteries only have a limited number of recharges in them, and progressively decrease maximum capacity as time the number of recharges go up: "batteries do not hold a charge after repeated use","By the second year I was getting (and this is NO exaggeration) LESS than 3 to 5 minutes from each recharged battery", "so we have now owned it over three years and it can not hold a charge to save its life." In fact, we read numerous reviews of other cordless trimmers where the users referenced the short life of the NST1018's batteries as compared to their newer trimmer.

Customer support is good as tested by ConsumerPla.net. The NST2018 gets middling ratings from Consumer Reports, and 74% positive ratings with a likely error below 4% (459/594 from Amazon, Sears, Lowe's, Home Depot, and Consumer Reports).

The NST1018 is a good lightweight machine, with solid functionality, and good customer support. The fact that it comes with two batteries is excellent. Auto feed, as usual, is a problem. We are concerned about the life expectancy of the batteries, and feel that the newer, Li-Ion powered Black and Decker LST1018 is a better bet for the consumer.

The $75 Earthwise CST00012 is made by American/ Great Lakes, a family-owned company in Indiana which manufactures 50% of the manual reel mowers in the US - the Earthwise product line, however, is manufactured in China. It is a 12", 18V NiCad trimmer with a straight, telescopic shaft. The 8.2 lb weight is high, but not unduly so for a NiCad model (it would be lower for Li-Ion). The trimmer easily converts to an edger by rotating the handle.

Users like the CST00012 for small yards and average trimming needs: "Great for light duty work"," Lightweight, easy to use, good battery life, good general trimmer but not as powerful for heavy stem weeds", "great trimmer. The charge lasts about 30 minutes. It is lightweight and works great." It is not quite powerful enough to deal with heavy Southern grasses: "doesn't have enough power (even when the batteries are fully charged right off the charger) to cut through all the runners that most southern lawns spread by. Although it cuts through the grass blades and some of the smaller runners, I have to go back through and trim at least 1/2 of the runners off with a pruner because the cord doesn't cut through them", "not strong enough to go through tough crabgrass."

The semi-auto feed does not appear to encounter as many objections as Black and Decker's malfunctioning AFS: "semi-auto feed line was a little difficult to operate whereas I had to manually pull string out several times." 

We found phone support to be very good, although the Earthwise site is not yet ready. The model gets  73% positive reviews (24/33 at Amazon, target and Ecomowers) with a high 15% likely error (due to the low number of reviews). We are not ready to recommend this trimmer yet because the product line is new and, to a degree, unproven, because the manufacturer's site is not yet available, and because we feel that a newly introduced model should be using Li-Ion technology. We will monitor user reviews and update our recommendation as needed. 

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, but we have a hard time recommending it at this time until the problems with this new model are taken care of.

The $150 Worx GT WG151.5  (the WG151 is a slightly older version) is a lightweight 10", 18V, 5.3 lb trimmer. Its battery system is Li-Ion powered, holds a meager 1.3Ah, and has a blinding fast 30 minute quick charger. The WG1151 is a Li-Ion version of the NiCad powered WG150. Worx also offers two interesting variants of this model, the WG165, a 24V, 10", 5.6 lb version, and the WG166, a 24V, 12", 5.8 lb version: of the three, we would prefer the WG165 (all three models carry the same battery Ah rating). Worx heavily markets its trimmers using well known infomercials. Engineering appears to be in Italy while manufacturing is in China.

The WG151 is lightweight for a cordless trimmer and easy to handle. Many users are quite satisfied with it as a light duty trimmer: "great small house trimmer", "easy to handle and cuts great", "light weight makes the job less taxing", "amazed at how easily this trimmer does my regular trimming." Users also warn that we should not expect heavy duty trimming from it - but no light cordless model should be expected to provide that. Many users report the battery to last 30 minutes, which is a good amount of time for a cordless trimmer, and compare battery runtime favorably to the Black and Decker NST2018. The trimmer easily converts into an edger: "works great as an edger as well", "edges great and easily switches back to the trimmer."

As usual, people dislike the unfortunate auto feed feature, which uses small spools of single end 0.065" line: "goes thru line like mad, will sometimes use a whole roll of line in one day", "feed is difficult", "my fourth reel in less than two months." Customers reports significant numbers of mechanical breakdowns, but the most frequent issue is a battery that stops charging, probably due to the fast charger: "after a little more than a month and a half the unit quit [...] defective battery", "with a fully charged battery, it lasted all of 15 seconds", "battery failed after one month's use", "the battery is shot", "got two batteries and one of them has already stopped charging." 

The darkest stain on this model, however, is the quality of the company's customer service: "don't ever get involved with their customer service", "I've been struggling for nearly two weeks getting the warranty honored", "I have tried to contact Customer Service to have them replace the battery, but so far have not been able to make contact with anyone", " if for any reason you have a need to invoke a warranty claim on the trimmer, charger, or battery, plan on having at least a free half hour to wait on the phone for a customer service representative. Customer service is only available during a traditional work-hour week. This means if something goes wrong you better be mindful of the anniversary date of your purchase and give calling the Worx customer service your highest priority in your schedule. The email access is unreliable because it seems Worx has only one person responding. If she is out of the office, you will get an automated reply email instructing you to use the phone system." To add insult to injury, it appears that some customer support people at Worx are quite abusive: "if you submit a comment online some nasty person berates you instead of offering help." The WG151 gathers 67% positive reviews (161/239 from Amazon, Lowe, Consumer Reports and Mowers Direct), with a likely error under 6%.

Altogether, the WG151 is a light and handy cordless trimmer, with some quality problems, and very poor customer support. The quality problems experienced by this trimmer do not appear to be totally out of line with respect to its competition, but the relative high price does not make the WG151 a one season throw-away candidate. We cannot recommend this model due to the very poor customer support evidenced by the many complaints.

Next we rank the best cordless string trimmers... So come back soon!

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