REVIEW: KOBALT 40V MAX TOOLS

By  March 14, 2014

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Power tools, sunny Florida, and the Daytona 500. Not a bad way to spend the weekend with the team behind Kobalt’s 40V Max Outdoor Power Equipment, who seek to erase everything you thought you knew about electric tools. The collection includes two lawnmowers, a trimmer-edger combo, hedge trimmer, pole saw, leaf blower, and chainsaw. All operate on the same interchangeable 40V lithium ion battery and boast a five-year warranty. The tools are affordable, starting at $149 and topping out at $399. Each comes with a fresh battery, and the lawnmowers come with two.

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The last electric tool I used was a weed whacker–edger combo. Within minutes it was essentially useless because of a shoddy battery. It required several hours of charging, making big jobs almost impossible to complete in one day. Going into this event, I’ll admit I was completely skeptical. When we arrived at the Outpost lodge near Jacksonville everything changed. Kobalt set up a series of stations with real-world scenarios so we could get a true feel of how the tools function in the field.

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First up: the set of lawnmowers and a trimmer-edger combo. Anyone who’s spent considerable time around a traditional mowers can tell you they’re a pain.  Upon entering the test area, I was instantly transported back to my youth, when mowing the lawn meant green sneakers, clothes smelling of gas fumes, and a sore arm from spending 10 minutes trying to start the engine. Not so with these mowers. Both were actually less noisy than the trimmer. Start-up was also pain-free. Press the on button, pull back the blue lever, and you’re off.

Kobalt’s 19-inch mower ($349) is suitable for small to medium-size yards, with a run time of about 45 minutes, while the larger 20-inch ($399) can tackle larger lawns. The 20-inch mower’s dual battery system gives you an extra 45 minutes of run time. When one battery runs out, you simply swap it and keep mowing. Both are high-performance, and the only real difference comes down to run time and design. I was initially doubtful of cutting power, but both mowers handled thick patches of grass with ease.

The string trimmer–edger combo ($149) also performed better than expected. The weight is distributed evenly, and it’s hefty yet light enough to make detailed work possible. The trimmer’s cut path is 12 inches wide thanks to a double line system, which is normally found in gas-powered trimmers, and we’ve been told it can cut up to 1.75 miles on a single charge. More than enough to tackle the whole yard.

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Our next station consisted of the leaf blower ($149) and hedge trimmer ($149). Going into this, I thought my favorite tool would be a chainsaw or tree trimmer, but it ended up being a leaf blower. That’s right, a seemingly unsexy leaf blower. Try one out and you’ll see what I mean. It’s light, powerful, and cord- and fume-free. Who knew an electric blower could move 250 cubic feet of air per minute, with a wind speed of 140 miles per hour.  The pit crew for Team Lowe’s Racing even uses the blower to clear debris from pit row. I didn’t believe it until I saw the tool in action during the first pit stop of the Daytona 500.

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The hedge trimmer is also well balanced and just hefty enough to feel satisfying. It cuts at 2,800 strokes per minute with 24-inch, dual-action blades and made quick work of the shrubs in front of us. It also has a variable trigger for speed control, which makes detailed work easy.

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The last station consisted of the chainsaw ($179) and pole saw ($169). Again, I was skeptical about an electric chainsaw doing anything, let alone actually cutting through a five-inch-thick tree limb. I won’t say it cut like butter, but the chainsaw did hold its own and was easy to operate like the rest of the tools. You need to use more downward pressure with this saw compared with a gas-powered model, but the obvious advantage is gas-free clothes and ease of use.

Kobalt’s pole saw was my second favorite of the day. If you’ve ever used a tree trimmer, you know that they are heavy and the weight is usually distributed unevenly, making them more dangerous than helpful. They also typically have  straight saw heads, making it difficult to see what you’re cutting. The team at Kobalt addressed these issues by changing the angle of the saw head, reducing the weight and balancing everything out. It’s considerably lighter than anything I’ve used, and the angled head makes a huge difference. To top it off, the pole extends to more than 10 feet when fully extended for hard-to-reach limbs. Long gone are the days of cutting through a branch without realizing it, only to have it and the tool come crashing down.

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There’s a clear target consumer here, and it’s homeowners or renters looking for pain-free and affordable tools. I was thoroughly impressed by the ease of use demonstrated by the entire lineup and how much power Kobalt was able to pack into an electric tool fleet.

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To me, any of these tools is a healthy investment, for a few reasons. First, the batteries are interchangeable and simple to use. I was able to unlock, extract, and replace the battery with one hand. Also, if a battery fails, you’re not left with a useless $150 brick. Second, they are powerful enough for quick work around the house or extended work if you have several tools or batteries. Third, they are affordable. If you can find a leaf blower with as much power for under $150, I’d be surprised.

The full lineup of Kobalt 40V Max Tools can be found at select Lowe’s stores across the country and will be available nationwide when the company rolls out its seasonal products in various markets. For more information, visit lowes.com.