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Faster starts, fewer tangles, and easier handling are among the string-trimmer features you'll find as manufacturers improve these bladeless yard tools.
Those developments have become talking points for the big-box stores that now account for most of the nearly 10 million string-trimmer sales each year. So have lower prices. While you'll still find $300 professional-grade trimmers at dealers, a growing number of mainstream models that cost less than half that price are now available at your local Home Depot, Lowe's, Sears, or Wal-Mart.
Still other improvements could increase the cost of some string trimmers no matter where they're sold. Here are this year's highlights:
Foolproof starts. Up to now, firing up the gasoline-powered trimmers that most people buy often involved a frustrating series of choke adjustments and yanks on the starter rope before the engine sputtered to life. A new system on Craftsman (Sears) and Troy-Bilt models requires three steps: Push the primer bulb, flip the choke lever, and pull the cord. Models with this system started with one or two pulls.
Snarl-free string. Tangled or jammed cutting line is another common problem. Some manufacturers have addressed it by replacing the usual spool with a fixed-line head that uses two precut pieces of cutting line. Found on Echo and Craftsman models, the system lets you replace lines quickly without tools. It also eliminates having to bump the head on the ground to release line--a source of jam-ups. While you'll need to replace line more frequently, the two pieces should handle most yards.
Slimmer trimmers. At 11 pounds on average, this year's gas trimmers are more than 1 pound lighter than those we tested only a few years ago. Some corded electric models are better balanced by mounting the motor on top, rather than at the bottom with the …