Charged Up Cordless Tools

Mobility, like chocolate, is addictive. Who among us isn't hooked on phones we can use in the bathtub and computers that travel with us? Now, appliance designers think that as battery technology improves, cordless models will be the must-haves of the '90s.

Already, the trade-off between power and portability has lessened since Black & Decker's first Dustbuster, introduced in 1979, picked up grit for about two minutes before it ran out of juice. Today's Dustbuster Plus ($70) runs for up to 15 minutes, has a bigger dirt holder, and comes with attachments for all those hard-to-reach places.

But while the Dustbuster is still the most popular cordless household appliance, the big advances are in power tools. Sears Roebuck's 12-volt Craftsman drill/screwdriver ($160) was the Christmas bestseller. Weighing just over a pound, with a keyless chuck and a six-torque speed, the drill comes with two battery packs and a one-hour charger, so most jobs can be completed without interruption.

SAW RIGHT. Less ambitious home-improvement buffs love cordless screwdrivers, too, such as B&D's half-pound Power Driver with Torque Control ($30). The company claims you can put in 150 screws without a pilot hole before the battery runs out. Makita even makes a cordless, four-pound circular saw. At $262, it's pricey, but Consumer Reports gives it high marks for light carpentry.

Indoors, a key advantage to cordless tools is safety: You're not trailing an orange snake. Outdoors, convenience is paramount. Woodzig makes a line of lightweight cordless power pruners, ranging in price from $40 to $120, with rechargeable battery packs. Some have pole extensions that let you prune tall trees.

Cordless lawnmowers are in favor among the environmentally conscious who don't want to spew gasoline fumes into their gardens. Ryobi's Mulchinator ($460) cuts up to half an acre per charge, mulching as it goes. It runs for an hour and a half and weighs 75 lb. Sears' mulching mower ($399) does a quarter-acre, running for an hour.

Of course, gizmo stores are packed with cordless items that no one really needs but that look cool. For just $200, you can buy Panasonic's Smooth Operator, a twin-head rechargeable razor that works in the shower. Aiwa offers the Wireless Radical portable cassette player ($150) with a cordless headset. And the wizards at Koss have invented an infrared transmission system ($230) for your TV or stereo that works with cordless headphones--as long as you stay in the same room.

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