The best cordless drills and drivers make your job easier
Cordless drills can replace conventional drills and manual screwdrivers, equally adept at boring holes and driving screws. However, with the large number of models available, it's important to assess your needs before choosing the cordless screwdriver or driver that's right for you.
The most important factor, reviewers say, is choosing a cordless drill with adequate power. That's easier said than done, because cordless drill models can range in power from 7.2 volts to 20 volts or more. According to J.D. Power and Associates, most owners prefer 18-volt drills to 12-volt drills because they have more power and can run longer between charges. But not all 18-volt drills are the same, and expert tests show that performance varies widely (battery run time can differ by more than 100 screws), with higher prices not necessarily leading to a better tool. For some homeowners and tradespeople (like electricians and finish carpenters), top-rated 12-volt drills can be a good option to consider because they are less expensive and smaller, experts say.
Battery type can affect performance, too. The best cordless drills and drivers use Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, which are lighter and more compact than nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) or nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. Li-ion batteries also keep their charge longer between uses, making them a better choice for homeowners who don't use their tools every day.
Another factor affects battery life and price: Amp-hours (Ah) is a measure of run time, or how long the battery will supply power before needing a recharge. Construction crews often opt for higher amp-hours (3.0 or even 3.5 Ah) to avoid downtime during the workday. For homeowners, a compact 1.5-Ah battery is usually sufficient, especially if recharging takes 30 minutes or less.
Cordless drill alternatives
Cordless impact drivers have more torque than cordless drills and can drive screws and lag bolts without a pilot hole, for minimal strain on the hand and wrist. These aren't the same as hammer drills, and they don't replace a cordless drill/driver. The main drawback with impact drivers is noise -- ear protection is required.
For more power, experts recommend hammer drills. These look like regular drills, but they hammer at the drill bits as they rotate, driving through concrete, brick and block. Most have a regular drill setting too, "so when set properly, a hammer drill can almost always bore the hole," Popular Mechanics says.
If your needs amount to furniture assembly and hanging items on walls, you might be just fine with a cordless screwdriver (which can't drill holes). We cover cordless screwdrivers in a separate report.
Cordless drill reviews
We found the largest review of cordless drills and drivers at ConsumerReports.org, where 61 drills, eight impact drivers and 10 cordless tool kits are put through objective tests of speed, power, run time and charging time. Comparisons from Popular Mechanics, Tools of the Trade and TheFamilyHandyman.com also reveal top performers. Both homeowners and contractors comment on drills at consumer sites like HomeDepot.com and Amazon.com.