Lowes’ Kobalt brand has recently launched their “new” line of 20V Max li-ion cordless power tools. I put new in quotes because the tools seem to be unchanged from the Kobalt 18V cordless power tools that came out nearly two years ago.
Unless I’m mistaken, these are essentially the same tools as Kobalt’s 18V line, but with slightly higher specs and new higher capacity Li-ion batteries.
Kobalt 18V Drill/Driver vs. 20V Max Drill/Driver
- 0-450/0-1650 RPM
- 455 in-lbs max torque
- 0-450/0-1650 RPM
- 485 in-lbs max torque
Kobalt 18V Impact Driver vs. 20V Max Impact Driver
- 0-2400 RPM/0-3200 IPM
- 1280 in-lbs max torque
- 0-2500 RPM/0-3300 IPM
- 1550 in-lbs max torque
Combo and Additional 20V Tools
The 20V Max 4pc combo kit comes with the drill/driver, impact driver, a reciprocating saw (which also appears unchanged from the 18V version), and a multi-LED worklight. There’s also a 1/2″ drive impact wrench that is slightly more powerful than the 18V version.
Battery Capacity Upgrade
The new cordless kits come with 2.0Ah and 4.0Ah battery packs.
18V vs. “20V Max”
20V Max branding is the product of Stanley Black & Decker marketing executives that understand how people think. 20V* Max tools operate at about 18V under load, so the difference is mainly in perception. Which tools do you think are more powerful, 12V Max tools, or 10.8V? 16V Max or 14.4V? 8V Max or 7.2V? 20V Max or 18V? That’s the main motivation behind 20V Max branding.
A couple of years ago, 12V Max branding replaced “10.8V” in the North American market. Stanley Black and Decker was the first to fully adopted 20V Max branding, with their Black & Decker, Dewalt, Porter Cable, and Stanley FatMax cordless tool brands, and I really thought that more brands would follow their lead by now. Not that’s it’s something I wanted to happen, but it’s what I expected.
While Dewalt and Porter Cable’s 20V Max introductions were tied into complete product redesigns, these Kobalt 20V tools don’t appear to be much different than their 18V equivalents.
Update: This is apparently causing some confusion, sorry about that. “20V MAX” branding was first used by Stanley Black & Decker’s marketing dept, and is still almost exclusively used by SBD brands. However, Kobalt’s 20V Max tools are manufactured by Chervon (a power tool development company and manufacturer) – as were their 18V tools. It is only the 20V MAX branding of these tools that come from SBD.
Kobalt’s 18V and 20V Max li-ion chargers, batteries, and tools are all cross-compatible with each other. You can charge Kobalt’s 18V NiCd batteries with their 20V Li-ion charger as well.
One word sums up how I feel about the 20V line: disappointment.
Specifically, I am disappointed how, after after almost two years, all we get from Kobalt are slightly upgraded on-paper specs. 100 RPMs and a couple of tens of in-lbs of torque could be attributed to testing variations, creative rounding, or using updated parts from suppliers.
No new features? No new tools? No brushless motors? No redesigned charger (the old one was large and very noisy)? No improved ergonomics? No 12V line?
The impact driver and impact wrench do have more appreciable increases in maximum torque delivery than the drill/driver, but the overall designs are similarly unchanged.
Yes, the new Kobalt 20V Max li-ion battery packs have higher capacities than the 18V packs, but that isn’t anywhere near enough to balance my disappointment.
I reached out to Lowes and Kobalt, asking if and how these new 20V tools are different from the 18V models, but they haven’t gotten back to me yet. Even so, I think the specs and product photos are pretty conclusive, in how they show the tools have not been significantly updated.
Don’t get me wrong, the Kobalt 18V/20V tools are good performers, but it frustrates me to see Kobalt rebrand their 18V tools as 20V tools, when they only offer a slight refresh of on-paper specs.
Back when Kobalt first released their 18V tools, Lowes and Home Depot engaged in some hostile competitive marketing. This was briefly discussed in our Ridgid vs. Kobalt drill/driver post. It will definitely be interesting to see how Ridgid responds to Kobalt this time around.