Power, speed, and run time are among the criteria that separate the welcome cordless-tool gift from the model that gets used once or twice before it's banished to the basement. But in Consumer Reports tests, we found plenty of choices that do all they should do with batteries that last through most jobs and don't take hours to recharge if they do run down. Here are some of our top choices that were lightweight in their respective categories and easy to handle.
Drill/drivers for general use around the house:
Hitachi DS18DSAL, $170, CR Best Buy
This 18-volt drill is nearly as fast and powerful as contractor-worthy models yet weighs just 3.4 pounds. Pluses include a 1/2-inch chuck, two speed ranges, two lithium-ion batteries, a smart charger, and an LED work light. We also found its handle especially comfortable. While recharges take some 10 minutes longer than the optimal 30 minutes or less, they're still reasonably fast.
Ridgid R9600, $180, CR Best Buy
As if top-notch power and speed weren't enough, this 18-volt Ridgid drill comes with the brand's R86034K impact driver, which performed respectably and cost nearly as much on its own. Included also are a 1/2-inch chuck, two lithium-ion batteries, a smart charger, and an LED work light with a separate switch. We also liked the speed control and, for easier handling, the rubber grip.
Makita BHP454, $280, Recommended
Loads of speed, power, and run time make this relatively light, heavy-duty drill perfect for decks and other big jobs. At 5 pounds, the 18-volt Makita weighs less than most in this category. Perks include 30-minute recharge time, a hammer-drill mode for masonry, two lithium-ion batteries, a smart charger, and an LED work light. A battery-charge indicator would be a helpful addition.
For lighter jobs that don't need lots of power or speed
Hitachi DS14DSFL, $140, CR Best Buy
This model combines the smaller, 3/8-inch chuck you'll find on other lighter-duty drills with enough drilling speed and power for some larger jobs. Good balance and easy handling are pluses. Features include two lithium-ion batteries, two speed ranges, a smart charger with 40-minute recharge times, and a flashlight. However, there's no battery-charge indicator.
Cordless impact drivers for jobs needing more torque
Hitachi WH18DSAL, $160, CR Best Buy
This 18-volt model had impressive speed, plenty of power, 40-minute recharge and easy handling. It's also fairly lightweight for this category. Included are two lithium-ion batteries, a smart charger, and an LED work light. On the minus side, this model is especially noisy—like many impact drivers—and there's no bit holder.
For a cordless screwdriver
Milwaukee 2401-22, $100, Recommended
Many such models are agonizingly slow, but the Milwaukee is fast and, at 2.1 pounds, also reasonably light for this class. Power and run time, while scant, are good for a screwdriver. There's even a battery-charge indicator, along with two lithium-ion cells and quick, 30-minute recharge times. But keep in mind that the same money buys a much better, if heavier, cordless drill that also drives screws.