After enough time at CES, you end up with a knee-jerk hostility towards anything that includes the word "smart." It signifies overcomplicated versions of ordinary tools and appliances — a fridge that runs Twitter, a baby bottle with an inclinometer. But we're willing to give Black and Decker's Smartech power tools a pass for now, because they're actually a decent idea.
Instead of creating smart tools per se, Black and Decker made what is essentially a smart battery, set for release this summer. At $69, it's about $20 more than a standard 20V lithium-ion battery, and it's compatible with any existing tool that runs off one, allowing users to pair them with a smartphone app. The app can manage several different batteries at a time, and users can name them to differentiate between, say, a drill and a hedge trimmer. It displays each tool's current charge level, and it includes a location-finding feature that sets off small flashing lights and a high-pitched beeping noise.
There's also a "lock" button that remotely disables the battery, stopping children or unauthorized parties from turning it on. Batteries can pair with any number of phones, so Black and Decker assures us that losing or breaking one won't permanently lock you out of your tools. In what's perhaps the best single feature, the battery also includes a USB port that turns it into an external power pack for a phone or tablet.
It's possible to imagine a more sophisticated version of this battery — one, for example, that displayed the precise geolocated position of a given tool or toggled different features on and off. But this risks the kind of convolution that pushes smart products over the edge. The app already contains a certain amount of filler; it's not exactly bad that there's a section devoted to guides for things like building bookshelves, but it certainly feels unnecessary. Because sometimes, the smartest thing of all is knowing when to stop.