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Best Laser Measures

Updated September 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 16 Models Considered
  • 68 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 129 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best laser measures

    Last Updated September 2018

    Whether taking frequent measurements is part of your job or you’re remodeling your home, an accurate laser measure can save you valuable time. These tools offer unbeatable precision for calculating not only distance but also area and volume.

    And a laser measure is a tremendously convenient tool. Any measuring task is now a one-person job – you don’t need someone else to hold the other end of the tape!

    But with so many options available, choosing the right one can be confusing. At BestReviews, it’s our mission to help you with all your shopping decisions. If you’d like more information, please continue reading our laser measure shopping guide.

    Some of the best laser measures feature an inclinometer, effectively, a digital spirit level. Cheaper models may have simple bubbles. These do the job but aren’t as accurate.

    How laser measures work

    A laser measure (also called a laser tape measure) is a relatively simple idea. The tool generates a beam of light, which is aimed at a target. Digital circuitry measures the time it takes for the laser beam to reach and bounce off the target and return to the unit and thus calculates the distance. There are two ways it does this: pulse or continuous beam laser light.

    Pulse: This method is called “time of flight” – the tool uses a series of pulses and measures each one.

    Continuous beam: This method is called “phase-shift” – what is effectively a reflection from the time the beam leaves the device until it returns.

    Although the pulse method might be considered more accurate in that it gives several readings very close together (rather than just one one), in practical terms, build quality, optical precision, and software are more important factors when it comes to laser measures.

    EXPERT TIP

    While these tools fit in a pocket, some laser measures come with a pouch and belt loop for added convenience.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Laser measure features to consider

    Although laser measures are perhaps most often thought of as a contractor’s tool, they’re also valuable for architects, realtors, and keen DIYers. While all models perform basic distance functions, there are other features that set various models apart.

    Capabilities

    • Length, width, area: Measuring from point A to point B in a straight line is what a laser measure is most often used for, but that’s the very least of its capabilities. By measuring length and width, the tool can calculate area. Most can add height to that, giving you volume.
    • Plus and minus: Some have plus and minus (also called contiguous) functions, allowing you to add and subtract from a given set of readings. You can subtract a diagonal, for example, and thereby work out a triangular area.
    • Pythagorean mode: The other capability that many find useful is a Pythagoras function, which can calculate an unknown distance where beam reflection isn’t possible by using two other parameters (see FAQ for more details).
    • Metric: All laser measures are switchable between U.S. customary units and metric measurements.
    • Sound: Most laser measures make a sound when operated, though it’s not actually necessary. Some owners prefer to turn it off, and most tools give you that option.
       

    Distance

    In theory, a laser light beam goes on and on until it hits a solid object, and a portion of that light will always be reflected. In practice, it gets weaker over distance. As the tool works by calculating the reflected beam, it’s vital that it’s strong enough to come back!

    Smaller, cheaper tools often have a lower-powered laser, so measuring distance is restricted. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It depends what you need the tool for. If you’re doing internal renovations or fitting partition walls, a tool that will range to 60 or 70 feet might be all you ever need – and there’s no point in spending more. If you’re working in commercial situations, there are models that can exceed 300 feet.

    Accuracy, controls, and display

    • Accuracy: Even the least accurate laser measure we reviewed measures to plus or minus 1/8”, but 1/16” is common. That’s good enough for virtually any operation, though the best measure to 1/32”.
    • Controls: In order to make the tool as compact as possible, some manufacturers reduce the number of buttons, assigning several functions to different key combinations. While most people get used to it, it can be confusing at first, and our research found that larger, clearer key panels were preferred.
    • Display: The same is true of displays. Some are very small, and these can appear cramped and confusing when displaying several readings at the same time. Unless there’s a definite need for a very small device, most users prefer the clarity of a larger display.
      A back-lit screen is great in low-light situations. Some do suffer from poor visibility in bright sunlight, though that’s a common problem with digital devices.
       

    Speed and memory

    • Speed: Laser measures can take readings in a fraction of a second, though many take a second or two. In reality, any delay is more likely caused by the operator lining things up than by the speed of the device.
    • Memory: Memory is important if you have a lot of readings to take, though few laser measures will remember more than the last five or six. If you’re taking a lot of measurements, you still need good, old-fashioned paper and pencil unless you invest in a Bluetooth-equipped laser measure, which can send details directly to your phone, tablet, or laptop.
       

    Battery life

    Although there are a few laser measures with rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, most use one or two AAA batteries. These are cheap, and it’s easy to carry a spare set, so battery life isn’t much of an issue. As a result, manufacturers seldom quote it, though some say their tool will take several thousand readings before needing new batteries. Owners we consulted said their laser measures lasted anywhere from a couple weeks to a couple months.

    Many laser measures have an automatic sleep or off mode to extend battery life, which operates after a couple of minutes of inactivity.

    Warranty

    We usually look at the warranty period as a reflection of the manufacturer’s confidence in their equipment. With laser measures, two years is common; the best offer three.

    Most laser measures run off one or two AAA batteries (usually included). A few high-end models have rechargeable lithium-ion batteries.

    Laser measure prices

    You can expect to pay from $30 to over $200 for a laser measure.

    Inexpensive: Cheap laser measures can be found for around $30 to $35, and even at these prices you’ll find some feature-packed tools. What might be a concern is durability, but if you only have occasional need for this kind of device, these low-cost models could be the ideal solution. Spending more, from $35 to $50, won’t necessarily get you greater range, or more accuracy, but in our opinion you’ll get better reliability and repeatability. Professionals will also want a more robust alternative. While it’s best avoided, it’s likely these tools will get bumped around, knocked or dropped from time to time.

    Mid-range: Good mid-range laser measures can be found for between $50 and $120, mostly depending on range. You’ll get excellent accuracy and all the functions most people need.

    Expensive: High-end laser measures cost considerably more. If maximum range and Bluetooth connectivity are on your wish list, you’ll find few under $200.

    DID YOU KNOW?

    Lasers can be difficult to see in some lighting conditions, particularly outdoors. Laser enhancement glasses make the beam much clearer, and most cost less than ten bucks.

    Laser measure tips

    • Stand still while you measure. While laser measures can read with either you or the target on the move, the readings will be unreliable. For best results, both the measure and the target should be stationary. Although these tools are designed to be handheld, for maximum accuracy you should hold the device steady against a solid object or rest it on a stable platform.

    • Have a visual target. While targets aren’t usually necessary, some people like a visual reference point. It doesn’t need to be anything complicated – a sticky note will do.

    • Clean the lens. It’s important to keep the lens clean in order to maintain accuracy. Use a soft, lint-free cloth and the kind of liquid or spray used for eye glasses or camera equipment. Never use household cleaners. They can contain abrasives that could cause permanent damage.
    Some laser measures have apps for smartphones and tablets. Bluetooth-enabled laser measures can transmit data directly to these devices.

    FAQ

    Q. Is the laser in these devices dangerous?

    A. You should never point any kind of laser device directly at anyone. In the U.S., laser pointers (including laser measures), are Class II or IIa – “safe for normal operation” – or Class IIIa (also called 3R) – “safe when handled carefully.” Neither would normally harm eyes within “aversion response” (the time it takes for a person to blink or turn away – 1/4 second or less). If accidental exposure is longer, there is a risk of “flash blindness,” which you might get with sudden bright light of any kind, but it should only be temporary.

    Q. What is Pythagoras measurement or Pythagorean mode?

    A. This is also called indirect measurement, and it enables you to calculate height or distance even when you can’t bounce the laser beam off a surface. For example, let’s say you want to know how tall an exterior wall is. Using the Pythagorean theorem, if you know the distance to the wall and the angle to the top, it’s possible to work out the height. A good laser measure does the calculation for you.

    Q. What’s the difference between a laser rangefinder and a laser measure?

    A. Both can use the same laser technology, although high-end rangefinders also use ultrasonics (sound waves). The big difference is accuracy. Laser rangefinders are used for targets that might be hundreds of yards away. A couple of feet variation isn’t a problem. Laser measures range to only a couple of hundred feet away, but the best can be accurate to 1/32”.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Bob
      Bob
      Writer
    • Bronwyn
      Bronwyn
      Editor
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Kyle
      Kyle
      Writer

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