When Kobalt Tools got into the lithium-ion cordless power tool business back in 2011, I initially raised my eyebrows. I was curious, and they made a rather grand entrance, with end cap displays all over Lowe’s and tons of fanfare and media attention. When I got my hands on their tools, my eyebrows raised even further — this time in amazement. Run-time was stellar and these inexpensive tools were doing very well in the general tasks for which they were made. Getting back to the present, Kobalt isn’t done innovating, and has managed to beat several other manufacturers (who shall remain shamefully unnamed) to the punch with new 2.0 Ah and 4.0 Ah batteries and some next-gen tools. I figured the best way to go over the new tools was to get my hands on the Kobalt 4 Tool Combo Kit. It had all the new tools and it also included the new batteries (one of each type) as well as a universal charger. This review can be read as more of an “update” on what to expect with the new tools. Hopefully, by the end of the review, you’ll know whether or not you want to get the new batteries, grab a new tool or two, or upgrade the whole kit.
The Kobalt 4 Tool Combo Kit: 20V vs. 18V
The biggest differences between the 18V combo kit we reviewed several years back and this Kobalt 4-Tool Combo Kit (20V) are summed up by the new 20V batteries and one other thing: Kobalt opted to offer an impact driver in place of the cordless circular saw that came with the 18V kit. This makes sense on a number of levels. For one, people are really starting to take to impact drivers. They’re loud, but who cares when you can get so much torque out of a tool that doesn’t try to wrench your wrist out of its socket while sinking a 3/8-inch lag bolt or hole-sawing through a couple of 2x4s. Those who still want a cordless circular saw can pick up the old K18NC-06AB (tool-only) for around $60. The only caveat is that it’s quickly going out of stock, making us wonder if Kobalt is readying a 20V replacement.
The other difference, of course, is the use of 20V batteries. These new batteries don’t just slap on a “20V” label to take advantage of the peak voltage at the start of a cycle, they also offer 2.0 Ah and 4.0 Ah run-time. That means they use the new larger-capacity cells that give you more juice without taking up any extra space or weight. The charger is also new and can charge any 20V or 18V Li-ion battery as well as any of Kobalt Tools’ legacy NiCd packs. That’s really cool considering most manufacturers don’t offer that kind of backwards compatibility.
In terms of what Kobalt is currently offering (though we can’t speak to how long these kits will stay on the market), there are currently four different Kobalt 4 tool combo kits that range in features and price:
This is a first-gen 18V NiCd battery-based 4-tool combo kit that comes complete with a 6-1/2″ circular saw, reciprocating saw, drill/driver and a non-LED lamp. This kit is almost ridiculously priced at just $169. While we’re not big fans of NiCd batteries, at this price the kit is almost disposable. That kit can be found on Lowe’s website by clicking here.
This 4-tool combo kit steps up the tools to use the company’s new Li-ion batteries, and also includes a reciprocating saw, 6-1/2″ circular saw, 1/2″ drill/driver and an improved LED lamp for just $199. This is a noticeable step up, though it continues to use the older drill/driver and a second-generation reciprocating saw design that still doesn’t take into account the newer tool’s design. It also only comes with two slim 1.5 Ah batteries, which really don’t allow either the circular saw or reciprocating saw to shine as well as they might. Click here to view this kit.
As I mentioned earlier, we reviewed Kobalt’s latest 18V 4-tool combo kit and it includes tools very similar to what is in the current kit with the exceptions noted above. The 18V reciprocating saw, updated 6-1/2″ circular saw, 1/2″ drill/driver, and LED lamp retails for only $40 more than the prior 18V kit. Given the updated tools, it’s a no-brainer if you’re making the jump to Li-ion—particularly since this kit also adds a 3.0 Ah battery into the mix instead of simply using two slim packs. For $239, this was the bargain kit to grab, but unfortunately it is no longer available on Lowe’s website. The site makes no mention of whether or not there are a few left in stores though.
This latest 20V kit (K20-LC4000A) I’m reviewing now retails for $299, and for that you get the updated 2.0 Ah and 4.0 Ah batteries plus the impact driver in lieu of the circular saw. It’s the current premium offering, but at under $300 it’s hard to not continue to appreciate the value of the kit, provided you need all of the tools included.
The Tools—One by One
Going through each tool one by one seemed like the next best thing to do in a review like this. I won’t spend as much time on tools that haven’t changed all that much, like the 20V recip saw and the LED light—two tools which seem to have been given only minor or even cosmetic upgrades. Most of the tools have had slight tweaks in their specs, leading us to think Kobalt did more than just slap a new label on the tools, but none of the changes are as significant as the battery upgrade or the impact driver insertion.
Kobalt 20V Lithium-ion Drill/Driver (K20LD-26A)
One of the things I immediately noticed about this drill was that Kobalt had upgraded the chuck. And, aside from this one change, the other primary visible components of the drill remain the same, from the LED light to the textured grip on the handle (which, again, are oddly reminiscent of Ridgid’s Hex Grip system). The new chuck ratchets quite nicely, and it’s super easy to get a solid grip on both smooth 1/2-inch drill bit shanks as well as smaller 1/4-inch hex driver bits. The clutch control remains simple to operate, the 2-speed gear switch flipped back and forth easily enough with my thumb, and I found the drill to be comfortable to use—the balance is near-perfect.
An LED, which is trigger-activated (and still does not stay on after you let go of the trigger), sits just under the clutch and does a decent job of lighting up the work area. You do get a dramatic shadow at and above the point of contact due to the presence of the chuck, but I didn’t have any problems finding my fasteners or holes. Kobalt also seems to have lessened the dramatic angle of the tool this go-around, reducing the tilt so that the 20V drill is a bit more parallel to the surface when you stand it up on the battery. The old K18LD-16A was more old-school, similar to many NiCd drills back in the day.
I tested the 20V Kobalt K20LD-26A drill on several projects and also with a variety of fasteners, including some Outlaw screws and even some 3/8″ lag screws that I turned into pressured treated 4×4. The Kobalt has plenty of power, though it does tend to wind down a bit as the lags get closer to bottoming out in the wood. The spec on this drill says 455 in-lbs of torque, which is a reasonable, but not class-leading amount of power for a drill of this size. On the bench it came reasonably close to spec, around 435 in-lbs, or within 5% of the manufacturer’s stated number. If only cordless impact drivers were as easy to measure!
- Chuck: 1/2″ ratcheting
- 2-speed gear box
- Speed: 0-450/1,600 RPM
- Torque: 455 in-lbs
Kobalt 20V 1/4-inch Impact Driver (K20ID-26A)
A couple things are great to note about this impact driver. First off, the 18V model was the fourth-highest ranked in our torque tests when we did our infamous 18V Cordless Li-ion Impact Driver Round Up. Our comment back then was that run-time suffered. Now, with the maximum speed goosed up slightly to 2500 rpm and the torque upped to 1,550 in-lbs, this tool is even more suited for getting the job done. Add to that a 4.0 Ah battery, and run-time is helped as well. We also lamented the fact that you used to only be able pick up this tool by itself (without a battery or charger). Now, Kobalt has created a 20V kit option, so you can pick up this impact driver for your favorite dad, uncle, or grandfather—this is one present you won’t see getting returned!
The Kobalt impact driver was tested on several job sites and we found it was able to sink a 6″ x 1/2″ lag to 90% into our stacked laminated 3/4″ sub-flooring test material. This tool has some serious horsepower for something that is bundled. On its own, this driver costs $149—not bad given the fact that it comes with a 2.0 Ah battery.
- Chuck: 1/4″ hex
- Speed: 0-2,500 RPM
- IPM: 0-3,300
- Torque: 1,550 in-lbs
Kobalt 20V Orbital Reciprocating Saw (K20LR-26A)
Kobalt’a 20V Lithium-ion Reciprocating Saw doesn’t change much from their 18V model. It continues to serve out a 1-1/8″ stroke and an orbital mode, but they tweaked it to deliver a slightly higher 3100 strokes per minute (SPM). We still love the adjustable shoe, but we’re still missing a front-mounted LED work light that would really improve the use of this saw in demo situations where you don’t have a ton of light (just about every situation I’ve found myself in this year). The saw is still pretty rough during use, and there’s not a lot of attention spent on vibration reduction—save for the rubberized overmold. We threw a couple of high-quality Diablo blades on this tool and it sliced through nail-embedded 2x4s with much success (though our arms took a bit of a beating in the process!)
- Blade stroke: 1-1/8 in.
- Speed: 0-3,100 SPM
- Orbital action (on/off)
- Adjustable shoe
Kobalt 20V LED Work Light (K20LL-26A)
I couldn’t determine any real significant differences in the 20V LED work light provided in this kit. It still uses 24 LEDs , but it will now run seemingly forever on the new 2.0 Ah battery (and if you REALLY wanted longevity you could slap the 4.0 Ah battery on this thing and run it for over 24 hours). While the LED light is incredibly versatile, we’re surprised Kobalt still hasn’t added a hook so you could suspend it from a rafter or hang it on a framing nail.
Kobalt 20V/18V Lithium-ion/NiCd Battery Charger
Kobalt enhanced its new battery charger to make it fully compatible with the new 20V batteries, but it also made sure not to remove functionality that makes it also able to handle older 18V Li-ion and even 18V NiCd batteries. It doesn’t look much different than the former charger we reviewed a couple years ago, but it does bear one very significant change. It now seems to be a lot “smarter”, charging partially-depleted batteries in only a fraction of the time. We used the 20V drill driver to drill several holes in 2×4 material to run CAT6 cabling and found that it had only dropped a single bar. Popping the 2.0 Ah on the charger, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it would only take 11 minutes to top off the battery. This is a huge upgrade from the former charger, which seemed to always require a full recharge cycle.
With this new kit you’re paying $300 for the latest battery technology and three great tools (plus an LED work light) that will be warrantied for 5 years. Even the batteries will be covered for 3 years. At this price, however, Kobalt is pricing itself to incur more competition from manufacturers like Porter-Cable and Ryobi, who offer their own kits in various configurations. The difference is, unlike manufacturers like Porter-Cable, the Kobalt 4 Tool combo kit offers 4.0 Ah battery life and power. What Kobalt needs next is to expand its offerings. Perhaps a hammer drill, jig saw, and possibly a 20V 6-1/2″ circular saw upgrade or replacement is on the horizon. Now that Kobalt is on the new battery platform, who knows what might be next?