Subcompact 12-volt drill/drivers are among the fastest growing tool categories in recent years. Though most people call them cordless drills, the “drill/driver” nomenclature is important. The “driver” part of the name means that the tool has a clutch ring to set the torque delivered and thereby control the depth of driving screws, a feature not found on old-school corded electric drills.
Subcompacts have enough power and runtime to please both casual tool users and pros whose work requires driving smaller fasteners and drilling smaller holes than more common 18-volt tools are actually needed for. After all, why constantly carry and lift more tool than you really need? With motor and battery technologies rapidly improving, these smaller tools rival the full-size cordless drill/drivers of just a few years ago.
The feature sets associated with these new tools remain full-grown, too. All of the tools we tested have 3/8" one-handed drill chucks, two gear selections for a choice between higher torque or higher speed, and variable-speed triggers. In addition, every tool has multiple clutch settings that range from barely seating a 1" screw in drywall to drilling mode, which puts out all the power the tool motor can muster. Other common features include LED headlights and trigger lock-off switches, and a few of the tools have added features such as onboard fuel gauges and reversible belt hooks.
Head to Head Test
using the latest generation of subcompacts as their only drill/driver. If you plan to do this, make sure you know your tool’s performance limits so you don’t overload and burn it out. If you do find that you need a larger backup tool for occasional uses, it will undoubtedly be cheaper and easier to invest in a strong corded model rather than a cordless tool. Cordless batteries are expensive and require charging maintenance to stay in good shape.
–Michael Springer, Tool Expert