When we went to Kobalt’s Press Event in New York where they debuted the new line of 18V Li-ion tools, one of the things we were most impressed with was the Compact Drill Driver. This was a tool that, while not perfect, took a lot of cues from successful products that had come before it. Kobalt’s first foray into the world of Cordless Power Tools didn’t appear to be so introductory as some other manufacturers’ have been. They more or less leapt right into the second generation tools, making themselves more competitive than if they had debuted a product lacking many of the features and qualities we now come to expect.
Kobalt KT200A 18V Compact Drill Driver Build Quality
This Kobalt KT200A 18V compact drill driver is very similar to the one included with their 18V 4-Tool Li-ion Combo Kit, but it’s slightly different. For one, being a “Compact” model, it’s about a 1/2″ shorter. It also adds 50 RPM to the top speed. Other than that it’s almost business-as-usual and comes with the standard 2-speed switch and variable speed trigger. The two speeds top out at 450 RPM (high torque mode) and 0-1650 RPM (high speed mode) respectively. And torque on this tool is actually quite impressive. The K18LD 16A puts out a full 455 in-lbs (peak), which makes this tool competitive with a lot of other tools at this price point. While Kobalt is priced alongside Ryobi and Porter-Cable, they have indicated they are really trying to take on the likes of Ridgid. Some specs, like torque, are even specifically geared to topple the numbers put out by the likes of Makita and Milwaukee. Kobalt’s 18V Li-ion Drill/Driver uses a standard 1/2″ all-metal, ratcheting keyless chuck that seems to be a bit larger (and further forward) than some of the competition, though we liked how easy it was to change out bits. The ratcheting action really gives you a secure feel that the bit is seated and it’s easy on the hands. The clutch goes through 24 stop positions before terminating in drill-mode.
On the outside, the drill features gray and black rubber overmold with the Kobalt Blue accent colors used on the front and back of the handle. These brighter color areas are actually rubberized to give users a solid grip through the use of micro-hexagons (very are oddly similar to a competitor’s Hex Grip pattern). In either case the tool didn’t tend to slip, even with bare hands. The drill has an older angle to it, instead of the more modern parallel design implemented by most manufacturers to give their tools a more reduced footprint. The tool feels good, with a decent power-to-weight ratio so you get a lot of oomph for that weight. The drill seems really well-balanced and the driver feels like you could hold it overhead for a considerable amount of time before getting fatigued.
The trigger-activated LED is momentary – it doesn’t stay on when you release the trigger, but it can be engaged prior to the drill spinning, which is great. This is fine, but you’ll need to expend a little effort if you’re using this drill to light up a work area. The LED is positioned right above the trigger and it seemed to do a really good job of illuminating the work area without casting a dramatic shadow. It’s also quite bright and was a handy feature when the place you’re drilling or fastening isn’t well lit. The sled-style battery slips into the tool from the front and we found that it was fairly easy to remove and re-install.
The Kobalt KT200A 18V compact drill driver includes a 2-bit storage adapter and belt clip that can be fastened to either side of the tool. The angle of the tool’s drivetrain is a tad old-school, opting for the up-angled alignment as opposed to the more popular (and more compact-looking) design where the drivetrain is parallel to the ground.
In the Field
We used this tool on several projects, including building the set for our upcoming video reviews. When pre-drilling and then driving 3-inch lag bolts into 2x4s to secure casters to a set base, it didn’t seem to have any difficulty powering through (we pre-drilled the holes to avoid splitting the wood). Using low speed, the tool did a great job of driving the bolts home. Overall, we felt that the drill performed confidently at most tasks we threw at it. Kobalt’s new 1/2″ drill feels… comfortable. We attributed most of this to the balance of the tool as well as its speed, which got our varied tasks completed quickly and precisely. During heavy loads, drilling through PT with a spade bit, for example, torque seemed to drop off somewhat with the compact battery, and even more after it had drained down to two bars. For high torque applications, we’d recommend picking up one of the high capacity extended-run batteries, they will actually raise the maximum performance potential of the tool.
What’s cool about the new “Multi Chemistry” charging system is that it works with Lithium-ion AND NiCd, so regardless of which platform or battery you pick up, you’ll be good to go. In addition, it includes an LCD screen that tells you how long you’ve got left until the battery is done charging. Of course, due to the nature of how this lithium-ion system works, the Kobalt charger will take 20 minutes to charge a slim pack regardless of whether the battery is completely empty, half empty, or 3/4 of the way full. In that way, it’s sort of a fancy egg timer, but a timer is nice nonetheless. We like it and it worked well – and 20 minutes to recharge a battery is excellent, not to mention you can get a quick charge in just a few minutes to get those last few screws driven in (this is what we refer to as an “undocumented” feature.
All of Kobalt’s tools are compatible with Kobalt 18V Lithium-ion AND 18V NiCd batteries. It’s not just the charger that’s cool, it’s also the whole system. Battery, charger, tool – they are all interchangeable. The NiCd tools will take the Lithium-ion batteries, and the Li-ion tools will take NiCd batteries. Kobalt pulls this off because, while the Lithium-ion tools are not blessed with tons of “smart” electronics inside, the batteries are smart. The Li-ion batteries themselves perform the duty of monitor both power draw as well as heat. When you put a Li-ion battery onto a “dumb” NiCd tool, it can keep the tool from, well… blowing up the battery. Instead, the batteries can tell if they are being pushed too hard or getting too hot, shutting down the tool if necessary and forcing you to reset the system by ejecting and re-seating the battery.
If that’s not good enough for you, consider that Lowe’s includes a 5-year “hassle-free” guarantee on the power tools and a 3-year “hassle-free” guarantee on the batteries and charger. That means that if you bring in a malfunctioning power tool to Lowe’s, the company will swap it out, no questions asked, for 5 years. The same warranty is in place for the batteries, but for 3 years.
After using the Kobalt KT200A 18V compact drill a good bit there seem to be several apparent ups and downs. In terms of features, we are impressed with Kobalt’s debut into the cordless power tool world. This is an impressive “first generation” tool. There are higher end manufacturers who are debuting tools at much higher prices who don’t have things such as battery level indicators and bit storage. Still, going after Ridgid and other high-performance manufacturers is going to be a tough pill for Kobalt and they’ve got their work cut out for them.