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The traditional steel tape measure has been around since 1829 when James Chesterman patented it. These manual measuring tools are accurate when the tape is held level, but measuring longer spaces usually requires two workers - one to hold the end of the tape and the other to record the measurement. If the tape is sagging, there are sure to be subtle differences. Today's laser measuring devices allow only one person to take measurements, and when used properly, they can be very accurate.
Laser tape technology has improved dramatically over the last decade, so we were pleased to be able to test today's popular models. We tested basic products that provide simple distance readings as well as more advanced models that allow us to store measurements and calculate surface area and volume.
Digital tape measures offer a variety of solutions to measurement challenges, and the models below all have a place in our lineup of the best digital tape measure options for most users. Learn ahead of time what to look for when buying a digital tape measure and discover the pros and cons of the models we tested. Spoiler alert: Not all of the models we tested performed well - find out which ones didn't in the "Tested" section below.
Best overall: Bosch GLM 20 Blaze 65-foot laser surveyor
Value for money: Skil 65-foot laser rangefinder and level
Upgrade option: DeWalt DW099S 100-foot laser rangefinder
Best for Surfaces: Dremel Cordless 3-in-1 Digital Laser Meter
Best for Long Reach: Makita LD050P 164 ft Laser Rangefinder
The digital tape measures in this series have all performed well in our hands-on tests, but they offer a variety of different features. These measuring tools are not one-size-fits-all. Some are better suited to specific uses than others. However, we have found each to be very accurate and suitable for most DIY, hobby and construction purposes.
The Bosch laser rangefinder is a great example of a simple but highly accurate digital measurement tool. For many people, this is all that is needed.
We love the ability to measure up to 65 feet at the push of a button. We loaded up two AAA batteries (included) at Bosch and started testing. This simple digital tape measure was very easy - we pressed the front button to turn on the device, then pressed the button again when we were ready to measure.
As with most digital tape measures, the end of the tool (as opposed to the laser) must be aligned with the starting point when measuring. We learned the end of the device against one wall, pointed it at the opposite wall, and then pressed the button again. Bosch fired a red laser dot that appeared on the opposite wall, indicating the endpoint and providing us with a distance reading.
We then tested the Bosch digital tape measure on a 6-foot test station and found it to be off by 1/16th of an inch. In the 20-foot test, it was accurate to within ⅛ inch.
There's nothing too fancy about this simple digital measuring tool, but it does have two noteworthy additional features. First, Bosch displays the measurements in real-time mode, which means we can walk around and point the laser at any object within 65 feet to read its distance. As we walked around, the digital readout automatically changed to suit.
Second, Bosch also stores a measurement when it takes another one. We were able to measure the length of one wall in the room, press a button once to store that number on the top of the LED screen, and then measure the adjacent wall. This gives us the length and width of the room at a glance.
Bosch is small enough to fit in a pocket or toolbox, but we wanted it to come with a protective cover. When we put it in the tool bag with a few nails, our screen got scratched.
Get digital accuracy and the ability to calculate surface area without spending a lot of money. In addition, those who want to measure curved surfaces can use Skil's 65-foot digital tape measure.
In our 6-foot measurement tests, Skil's accuracy was within 1/16th of an inch. In our 20-foot test, it was within ⅛ inch - very accurate. The unit offers the ability to calculate surface area, and we found it easy to use and accurate. We measured the width of a room, pressed the home button to save the number in memory, and then measured the length of the room by repeating the action. After that, by pressing the home button twice in quick succession, Skil multiplied the two numbers together to get the surface area of the room. This feature will come in handy for builders, realtors, or anyone else who needs to calculate surface area instantly.
We also can switch between metric and imperial measurements using the side on/off button. More importantly, the feature that makes this digital tape measure unique is the ability to measure curved areas, such as curved stair railings or arched doorways, with the wheel on the bottom corner of the device. By selecting the wheel function from the side button, we can roll the device from one point to another and find the distance. The measuring wheel is a relatively new feature on digital tape, so finding one at this price point is impressive.
One of the first things we noticed when unboxing the DeWalt digital laser was the standard yellow color on all DeWalt tools. We are familiar with the high quality of DeWalt products, so we were curious to see how this digital tool would perform. Overall, we were impressed, but we think there are a few features that could be improved.
The tool performed well in our 6-foot and 20-foot measurement tests, the former within 1/16th of an inch and the latter within ⅛ of an inch. We then took it outside to see if it could measure up to 100 feet, and then we backed away from our store - stopping every few feet to take measurements. At 82 feet out, we could no longer see the laser dot on the side of the store, but we continued to take measurements on the LED screen until we were 94 feet out. This was the farthest measurement we received - less than 100 feet, but in the general area.
The DeWalt digital tape measure allows users to calculate the surface area of a square or rectangle as well as the volume of a cube. This is where the DeWalt shines! We follow a blinking chart on the LED screen that prompts us to take a specific measurement, and then the tool uses the measurements we enter to calculate the volume of the area. This is a great feature for anyone who needs to calculate volumes in the field.
However, we were not impressed with DeWalt's Bluetooth capability. We downloaded the app, which required creating an account and allowing the app to access our smartphone data, but the app would not do anything that the tool itself could not do. We did find that the DeWalt tape measure would sync with other paid subscription-building apps, but we chose not to purchase those apps for testing. We also wished there was a protective sleeve to help protect the digital tape measure from scratches in the toolbox or tool bag.
Dremel is known for making power rotary tools, so while a laser measuring tool may seem a bit out of place, we're glad the company introduced it.
The Dremel tape proved to be simple to operate - just one button on the front to turn it on and off and take measurements. The trick is knowing how many presses will trigger a particular function, but we figured it out in about 15 seconds. It will hold up to two measurements and multiply them together to find the surface area.
In our 6-foot and 20-foot measurement tests, the Dremel's distance was slightly less than ⅛ inch, which is great. However, it excels at measuring curves with the wheel adapter.
With the wheel mounted, we were able to accurately measure the railings of arched doorways and spiral staircases, making the model indispensable for builders and painters who need accurate measurements, even if the surface is not perfectly flat.
The measure also comes with a tiny flexible tape measure that may be more useful to hobbyists than DIY, but we found it appealing. The tape attachment snaps on top of the tool and contains 5 feet of tape. When we pulled the tape out, the Dremel displayed the distance. We can't think of good use for it, especially because it's so short, but it may come in handy at some point. The included tool protector would be nice, especially for attachments.
The Makita LD050P has the longest measuring distance of any digital tape measure we've tested. After it passed our 6-foot and 20-foot tests, both of which were less than 1/16 inch, we took the tool outside and measured it while we were away from the side of the store. At 164 feet away (the maximum distance listed), we could still see the laser dot on the store; in fact, it looked almost as bright as when we were 50 feet away, and we got an accurate reading. The biggest challenge when measuring that distance was keeping the laser dot stationary-even when we kept the tool as still as possible, it tended to oscillate and wiggle.
In addition to calculating surface area and volume, the Makita Outdoor Laser Tape Measure will also calculate the missing sides of a triangle if the user enters measurements from the other two sides (called the Pythagorean function). We used this function to calculate the third side of the triangle by entering the distance between the other two sides. It took a few tries, but the flashing graph on the tool screen guided us through each measurement and we finally got it right.
This is the most complex digital tape we have tested, and the Pythagorean feature probably won't be used by most people, but overall we found it to be a highly accurate tool, and we would rather have the feature but never use it than need it and not have it. Makita comes with a protective canvas case and hanging loop for hanging on a belt or tool pouch.
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