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I have been thinking about the growing complexity in the cordless power tool industry. A couple of years ago, 18V vs. 20V Max (they’re really the same thing) was the biggest source of confusion. Now? There’s a lot more to it.
For the sake of this post, we’ll only be looking at 5 brands – Bosch, Dewalt, Makita, Metabo HPT, and Milwaukee.
Original Post Date: 2/11/2020
Latest Update: 6/1/2021
Bosch has recently started promoting their new line of Profactor cordless power tools, which is an extension of their 18V cordless power tool system.
Before that, Bosch had been emphasizing their next-gen Core18V batteries, which are basically larger form-factor and higher capacity battery packs. Profactor seems to be a way of remarketing the Core18V product line.
There are also a couple of Bosch “BiTurbo” tools that only achieve peak power when paired with a Core18V 8.0Ah to 12.0Ah battery.
In 2019, I wondered about the types of new tools Bosch’s 12.0Ah battery might power, and now we know – this will be an exclusive high capacity for the Bosch Profactor line of cordless power tools. Why? They won’t say.
Bosch still seems to be chasing after competitors, and time will tell as to whether Profactor is a success story or not.
Dewalt 20V Max & FlexVolt
As you are probably aware, Dewalt’s FlexVolt lineup is their heavier duty cordless power tool system, featuring a 60V Max battery that can also be used with their 20V Max tools and chargers.
You can’t use 20V Max batteries in Dewalt FlexVolt tools, but one-way compatibility is still very much appreciated.
Dewalt has blurred the line a little bit this year, with new 20V Max FlexVolt Advantage and Power Detect tools that deliver a performance boost when paired with higher capacity 20V Max of FlexVolt batteries. These tools don’t quite deliver FlexVolt-level power, but they come close, and are fully part of the 20V Max system.
Dewalt recently announced a new FlexVolt 15Ah battery, and I’m very much of the opinion that this won’t just be about a new battery but a new level of tool performance as well. We’ll see.
See More on: Dewalt 20V Max Tools || FlexVolt Power Tools
Makita 18V, 18VX2, XGT 40V Max
Makita has their 18V cordless power tool lineup, and also 18VX2 tools. 18VX2 (36V equivalent) tools tend to be a little bulky, and Makita has reached tech limits as to how much power they can squeeze out of 18V battery packs without stepping up to larger form factor cells.
Makita USA has said they they don’t plan on ever releasing next-gen compact 4.0Ah or 8.0Ah LXT battery packs to the 18V system, which is disappointing and positions them far behind competitors.
Following lengthy delays, Makita launched their 40V Max XGT system, a 36V Li-ion system that is completely incompatible with their 18V system. Makita’s 18V and X2 tool developments seem to be slowing down, but the brand insists they haven’t reached the end of the road yet.
Makita’s XGT launch was a contradictory mess, with press presentations entirely focused on comparisons to Milwaukee’s MX Fuel and Dewalt FlexVolt systems, with claims that XGT will be a true “One Battery System” unlike competing brands’ systems. But, it’s not.
Makita USA also pointed to competitors’ larger battery sizes, exclaiming that they cannot be comfortably paired with smaller tools such as an impact driver. But how is this larger and heavier XGT 5Ah battery impact driver-friendly?
Makita also seems to be pushing their latest and greatest developments into their 18V form-factor 36V/40V Max XGT lineup, with 18V LXT equivalents having less frills and features. I can understand an 18V-sized 36V battery delivering more performance, but what’s the excuse for not giving flagship 18V tools the best features? This wouldn’t be so concerning if there were an XGT to 18V adapter of some kind, but there isn’t one and Makita won’t discuss why.
Publicly, Makita USA has been touting the XGT lineup’s features, such as “rare earth magnets,” “pure copper wire,” built-in microchips,” and “digital communications” – basic technologies also found in competing brands’ brushless power tools.
At least they’re not drawing comparisons to their ancient NiCad line as they do with their 18V LXT and 18V X2 systems.
Makita looks to be the first brand to build deterrents into their tools and batteries, to limit performance or charging capacity of 3rd party XGT batteries. It will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend.
Metabo HPT 18V and MultiVolt
Metabo HPT (formerly Hitachi) has their 18V line, and new MultiVolt 36V/18V line.
Similar to the relationship between Dewalt’s 20V Max and FlexVolt system, Metabo HPT’s MultiVolt batteries are compatible with their new 36V tools and also their existing 18V tools. 18V batteries won’t work in the 36V tools.
And, there’s a MultiVolt AC adapter for users who need unlimited runtime and don’t mind being plugged in.
The brand has recently come out with an industry-first full-size router, and there’s plenty of potential for more “firsts.”
Other innovations, such as their compact reciprocating saw, are an interesting deviation from the typical specs race most brands compete in.
Metabo HPT’s cordless platforms are easy to follow, but there’s one major common confusion, and that’s the name. Those in-the-know are aware that Metabo HPT used to be Hitachi Power Tools, but plenty of people mistakenly think Metabo and Metabo HPT are the same when they’re not.
Milwaukee’s M18 system is straightforward, and perhaps the easiest cordless power tool lineup to make sense of.
Here are their battery options:
- 3.0Ah – High Output
Extended Capacity (XC)
- 6.0Ah – High Output
- 8.0Ah – High Output
High Demand (HD)
- 12.0Ah – High Output
Basically, you go with the compact battery for light duty tools, XC batteries for heavier duty tools, and HD batteries for highest power tools. The compact High Output battery can be used in lieu of the XC tools for all of the core tools, and the XC High Output batteries can be used in their heaviest duty tools in place of the HD 9.0Ah battery. The 12.0Ah battery provides the highest power and longest runtime.
There’s a little more to keep track of, but every M18 battery fits in every tool. No, a standard XC battery isn’t the best pairing for tools optimized for the HD battery, but it’ll work. For instance, you can use an M18 5.0Ah battery with the brand’s M18 Fuel cordless table saw, but HD and High Output batteries are the better choice for more taxing cuts.
Milwaukee also has their MX FUEL cordless power equipment system, which is an entirely different class of tools that 18V tech simply cannot power.
Apples vs. Oranges
Comparing the different cordless power tool systems is getting more complicated.
It appears that Bosch and Milwaukee are following similar paths for their 18V systems. On one hand, users have to properly match the battery to the tool and application, but on the other hand, you have full system compatibility.
Dewalt and Metabo HPT are following similar paths, where you have higher-powered tools that require higher-voltage batteries. The batteries are one-way cross-compatible with 18V tools.
Neither approach is really better than the other, they’re just different.
Then you have Makita, with their 18V and 18VX2 tools, and now 40V Max XGT. The incompatibility between 18V and 40V Max tools and batteries is a big downside. Except for the optional charging adapter, XGT is a completely separate system, and this is a huge competitive disadvantage given the one-way compatibility Dewalt and Metabo HPT built into their higher voltage systems.
Dewalt FlexVolt vs. Milwaukee M18 has been an interesting comparison, but also a difficult one. It’ll be interesting to see which brand raises the ceiling next, but I have a feeling it will be Dewalt with their 15Ah battery.
The “more volts are better” argument doesn’t really apply anymore, with Milwaukee especially going to great lengths to squeeze as much as they can from 18V systems. Milwaukee could potentially double-up on batteries, but the same could be said about Dewalt – don’t forget that they launched FlexVolt with a couple of 120V Max (60V Max x 2) tools.
Metabo HPT’s MultiVolt 36V battery has an 18V form factor, and can power their 18V cordless power tools. Plus there’s the AC adapter.
Makita’s XGT 40V Max (36V) battery is also an 18V form factor, but will not work with anything but XGT tools. Complicating the matter is that when they start releasing XGT single-battery versions of 18V X2 tools, runtime will be greatly diminished unless larger and heavier batteries are used. Even then, going from 18V X2 to 36/40V Max will likely be a side-grade.
Bosch’s Profactor tools launched a few years after they were announced, and they kept the unconventional branding such as FREAK, Hitman, and Surgeon.
Things will only get more complex as the brands take different approaches towards higher performance “cordless jobsite” solutions.
Which approach to higher performance tools do you prefer or find most appealing?
If you haven’t upgraded yet, or would make different decisions, would you go with an “everything fits” system, a dual-voltage system with one-way compatibility, or two separate systems?