Review – Black+Decker SMARTECH 20V MAX Bluetooth Equipped Lawn Care and Power Tools

You might not think of Bluetooth and lawn care in the same breath, but if Black+Decker has their way, you will. Their new line of SMARTECH tools and lawn care products use the same Bluetooth equipped Lithium Ion battery. We tested their new EASYFEED™ String Trimmer, POWERBOOST Sweeper, 22 in. POWERCUT™ Hedge Trimmer, and Lithium Cordless Drill/Driver. All use the new SMARTECH 20V MAX battery.

Black+Decker is one of the oldest names in tools in America, founded in Baltimore in 1910, they pioneered many refinements in tools, including the forerunner of the first ¼-inch drill for consumers in 1941, sporting a pistol grip and trigger switch. It’s not uncommon to find 60-year old Black+Decker power drills still working perfectly, tough as nails in construction and built to last.

While it’s not uncommon for appliance and tool manufacturers to include modern technology into upgrades of their product line, we were curious about the inclusion of Bluetooth and smartphone technology into their latest products. While the tools themselves are new and improved models, which is to be expected, the distinction cited by Black+Decker was a new line of 20 Volt lithium ion batteries that powered the new line. Named the SMARTECH MAX series, the new batteries fit a wide-variety of products with more to come.

What separates the new batteries from others is their use of Bluetooth to communicate 4 aspects of the batteries status to users via a dedicated app on both Android and iOS platforms. The batteries charge status, location, ability to lock or disable the battery, and naming can all be quickly accessed by your phone. If you are asking if you need this capability, it’s a reasonable question. After all, most decent batteries have some sort of visual indicator to let you know if it’s charged or not, just push the button. The locate feature is a combination of an LED that lights up on the battery, helpful if you have several batteries and looking for the one that is charged, and importantly it also has an audible notice, a loud beep, to help find that battery that is in the garage, but you can’t remember exactly where. We liked the idea of an audible signal to help a consumer find the battery no matter where it fell behind something. Also, we found that the battery held it's charge for over a month, so we were able to use the locate feature even if we hadn't used the battery in quite a long time.

We liked the ability to lock or unlock the battery, which if you had curious small kids, might prevent injury, and lastly, the ability to name each battery does help to figure which one is ready to use and which one needs a charge. The last feature that might come in really handy, especially if in a field far from a house, is that the batteries have a built-in USB port, so you can charge your phone from the battery in almost no time, given the hefty current load the batteries can support. So, if you are stuck in the woods or on a jobsite without a charged cell phone, this battery can slide off your trimmer and charge up your phone, a pretty nifty feature, that falls under the “Why didn’t I think of that” category.

The tools themselves all worked splendidly, the drill was powerful, nicely balanced, and had plenty of torque. The String Trimmer (Weed Whacker in common parlance) worked as expected, and our son powered through some thick weeds and edged a long line of sidewalks without stressing the battery. The blower worked well, although it’s a lightweight model that while easy on the shoulders, arm, and back, it's not designed for wet or heavy leaves. For those you might need to break out an AC or gas powered model, but we found it worked fine for around 15 - 25 minutes, and for most tasks we didn’t feel the need to break out the extension corded models.

One thing we liked about the system was the uniformity of the battery usage and the flexibility it offers. Black+Decker have a couple of bundled options, and we think that most consumers will opt for the 20V MAX* SMARTECH™ EASYFEED™ String Trimmer and POWERBOOST Sweeper Combo Kit option, two tools you will use on a weekly basis. For the power tools, the SMARTECH™ 20V MAX* Lithium Cordless Drill/Driver is a solid choice.

String Trimmers are often one of the most frustrating tools for lawn care. String jams, balance, weight, run time, all make the difference between a great tool and a tool you know will cause you to curse. We were happy to find that the EASYFEED™ system advanced the trim line with the push of a button, so no bumping on the ground is required. This is a bigger deal then you might imagine, but if you have had to bump (kind of a euphemism) multiple times to get line to feed, and had to replace worn out bump caps, then just pushing a button is a joy. And it easily converts from trimmer to wheeled edger making edging long patches easier and more accurate.

The tools come with a battery charger, which charges from dead in around 3 hours. The charger is one aspect that could use revision. The shipping version has power brick, connected by a black wire to a small dock that you slide onto the batteries. We would prefer an actual full sized dock that you can sit on a bench, plug in, and then slide the batteries onto. The current design feels a bit under engineered, and since most power drills have full-sized battery chargers, we would love to see that design passed on to the SMARTECH line. But, the current charger works fine, and we recommend having two charged batteries on hand for lawn work, since batteries always seem to die just a few minutes before finishing the job at hand.

All the tools have a 2-year limited warranty. And the SMARTECH iOS and Android compatible app enables Bluetooth controls allowing remote battery locking/unlocking, battery locate, state of charge and programmable alerts and reminders. We found the Black+Decker SMARTECH 20V MAX Bluetooth Equipped Lawn Care and Power Tools a solid choice, lightweight, well-balanced, and feature rich.

Harris Fogel and Nancy Burlan, posted 11/18/2016

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