Pros: Memory functions, english-metric conversions
Cons: pricey, bulky and heavy
Seems like everything's gone digital these days, and while that's generally a good thing, there are times when going digital just seems to be an excuse to sell more chips. You know what I mean? Take the Starrett 1" x 25' Electronic Digitape: what earthly reason is there for a digital tape measure, I ask you? OK, maybe there are a couple of reasons, and those are what I consider the "pros" of the tool...
The Device Itself
Remember the Visible Man model you gawked at as a kid, the one with all the innards on display? Sure you do (unless you were gawking at Visible Woman). Well, the Digitape's a "Visible Tape Measure" along the same lines: a transparent aqua case lets you look at all the mechanisms inside, mechanical and electronic. The halves of the case are held together by four screws, allowing replacement of the tape itself.
The case measures 3-1/2" x 3-1/4" x 1-5/8" exclusive of the belt clip. It's made of impact-resistant plastic. The tape is the usual yellow with black markings in 1/16" graduations. Like many other general-use scales, the analog readout features cumulative inches in black or foot-and-inch markings in red (for instance, a black 41 or a 3-foot marker and a red 5). Sixteen-inch centers are prominently marked in red for framing. A barcode-like black strip runs up the middle of the tape; this is what allows the reader to give digital readouts.
A large thumb-operated locking button is found in the usual position, and the tape-return mechanism includes a friction brake to avoid snap-back of the extended tape. The tape itself has the usual end hook that slides to allow inside/outside measurement precision.
What's Digital About it?
An LCD panel of about 1" x 1/2" and four buttons are clearly visible on the top of the case. When the ruler is pulled out from the case, an internal reader scans the code printed on the tape and calculates the measured length to the nearest 1/16th inch (minimum measurement of one-fourth inch). This measurement is displayed in the LCD window; the numbers are 1/4 inch high for easy reading. Button number four toggles among five modes:
* inches and fractions
* decimal inches
* decimal feet
* feet, inches, and fractions
All that toggling can occur at any time, whether the tape's extended or retracted; whether there's a measurement frozen in memory or not.
Button number three switches the display from inside to outside measurement, automatically adding the case's 3.5" (8.9cm) length to the inside measure. An arrow displayed on the LCD acts as a reminder for the mode.
Button number two zeroes the digital display at any point on the tape. This lets you measure multiple increments from a single starting point.
Button number one freezes the current the measurement onscreen, in flashing numerals. The number stays there even as the tape retracts (and after it shuts down in power-save mode). No more having to memorize the number while you hunt through the nail apron for a pencil! To unlock, you can either zero (button two) or press button one a second time.
The electronics are programmed for "sleep mode" after five minutes to prolong battery life. A "frozen" measurement is retained in memory during shutdown, and the reader doesn't re-zero if you let it sit locked and it shuts down.
Most tape measures come with 1/32" markings in the first foot of the ruler; this one doesn't. Another thing I miss is the "cheat sheet" printed on the back of my Stanley, with nail sizes, screw pilot-hole diameters, and nominal board size vs actual measurements. Admittedly, my Stanley's about thirty years old; perhaps nobody does this any more.
The Pros and Cons
Upside: It's starting to get harder and harder to remember the numbers I measure, and it's also getting harder to remember where I put that pencil. That digital readout and memory are godsends sometimes! The conversion button is occasionally useful, though not often if you're working on your own project and don't need to go from mode to mode. Battery life seems pretty good: my ruler is still on its first battery after a year and a half of sporadic use.
Downside: At a list price of $42 ($35 at Amazon.com), it costs more than twice as much as a conventional measuring tape. At just over a pound, it weighs perhaps twice as much, too; and because of the PC board and other electronics inside, the case is about a third to a half again as thick as a conventional ruler. And last, although I don't expect any problems soon, you must replace a worn-out tape with the one that has the special strip printed down the center. I sure don't expect that to be cheap!
Make no mistake, this is not an indispensable product. Truth be told, it's not even something I'd have bought for myself (I'd have probably bought more clamps... again), but I received it as a gift. In fact, this goes right up there on my list of "Useful Gifts for the Guy -- or Gal -- Who has Everything"!