Before you say anything, yes, shown above is a crystal-bedazzled Bosch IXO screwdriver from a few years back. Like many other cordless screwdrivers, it has a built-in rechargeable that is NOT user replaceable.
Earlier this week, we examined reasons FOR cordless power tools with built-in batteries. Here, let’s talk about why these tools aren’t very consumer-friendly.
1. Batteries are Consumable Components
Batteries, even Li-ion rechargeable cells, are consumable components.
With most tools and other types of products, consumable components are designed to be replaced.
Thus, you should be able to replace the battery in all power tools if they become defective or wear out over time or with use.
This might take you back to high school or college-level math, but consider the chain rule (or hypothetical syllogism in logic):
Batteries are consumable components.
Consumable components should be replaceable.
Therefore, batteries should be replaceable.
2. Throw-Away Culture
Buy, use, throw-away, repeat.
This cycle has been increasingly prevalent in today’s day and age, but it’s still somewhat new.
Historically, durable goods were made to the last and from quality materials. While not quite planned obsolescence, tools with built-in batteries are destined for the landfill (or electronics recycling center), it’s only a matter of when.
With power tools that have replaceable batteries, if a battery or charger fails, you can replace it much more easily than if the battery is built into the tool or if the charger is proprietary.
3. Successful Proofs of Concept
You can still buy Ryobi Tek4 cordless power tool batteries, even though the product lineup has been discontinued and off the market for several years now.
Ryobi and Home Depot have continued to support the now-obsolete tool system, and will likely continue doing so, ensuring that the tools remain useful.
If they can do it, why not other brands?
Another good example is Milwaukee’s RedLithium USB line of cordless power tools and accessories. You can charge the batteries in-tool, or in an external charger. If or when it comes time to buy and install a fresh battery, you can do that easily. However, that was a goal that Milwaukee Tool set out with.
Milwaukee’s product teams designed the RedLithium USB power system alongside an initial roadmap of tool and accessory launches, and are now expanding that system.
4. Any Other Reasons?
To be clear, I’m of the mindset that tools with built-in batteries are designed and engineered in such a manner that is the maximum benefit of the desired user base.
There are absolutely benefits to user-replaceable batteries, but the question is whether tools with built-in batteries would be better off engineered with replaceable ones. I feel that in most cases the answer will be no.
Are there any other reasons against built-in batteries that I’m not seeing?
Sometimes it Might Not Matter
Consider the SpeedHex FlipOut cordless screwdriver, which was a Lowe’s holiday season emphasis 6 years ago.
The FlipOut has a built-in 8V Max Li-ion battery, likely 2x 18650 cells.
Every so often, someone leaves a comment on the original post, asking for help in sourcing replacement batteries or a charger.
Let’s say that the tool was instead engineered with a replaceable battery pack. That wouldn’t have been much better – you can’t buy the tool anymore today, and so there’s little chance that replaceable batteries would be any easier to come by. Thus, it would have cost more without any long-term benefits.
As well-designed tool with a built-in battery should be expected to last quite a few years.
I recently purchased new Bosch cordless screwdrivers from Europe – the new “Go” and new IXO. The Go is more for editorial exploration, and the IXO is as well, but I’m also curious to see how well my kids work with it.
There are cordless screwdrivers with replaceable battery packs, but they are larger, heavier, more powerful, and quite a bit more expensive.
Personally, I hope that brands don’t move to built-in Li-ion or Li-Polymer batteries just because they can.
Aside from flashlights, I have a single product that takes 18650 cells, and it’s not the easiest to take the product apart to access the battery for charging. Eventually, I will be replacing that battery and am thankful that I can.
It would be nice if brands designed their 4V Max-class cordless power tools to work with a user-replaceable 18650 cell, but there is too much risk of users selecting the wrong type or class of battery, and going with proprietary or branded cells require more commitment than brands can commit to a tool or two every couple of years.
I loved my Dremel Stylus, and would absolutely buy another one, built-in battery and all. I also owned a Dremel cordless screwdriver with similar form factor. I wish that both tools had user-replaceable batteries, but I think Dremel made the right call with the designs.
With these tools, their ergonomics likely wouldn’t have been possible without the batteries being built into the tools.
What Would You Do?
I’m sorry, I really intended this post to be completely one-sided against tools with built-in batteries, but I couldn’t find much to say in defense of this position.
Here is another question. For all of you that feel so strongly against the Ryobi 4V screwdriver I posted about the other day, and other tools like it, imagine you are the product manager for a tool brand that wants to launch a new 4V cordless screwdriver. Put your preferences aside. What would you do? How would you engineer this tool differently?
With maybe 9 out of 10 cordless screwdrivers featuring built-in batteries, and the other being parts of 1- or maybe 2-tool systems that are rarely if ever expanded, what decisions would you really make?
Would a separate battery system really benefit your target audience’s needs? Or would a built-in battery be the best path?