Leatherman Free P4 Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Easy tool and plier deployment, Leatherman pedigree
Cons: No bit driver, magnets pick up metal grit
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Thanks to loosened hinge tolerances, all joints on the Free P4 move freely. Thanks to magnets and locking attributes, these spinning hinges don't come open when you don't want them to. It is the "loose" hinges that set this tool, and the entire "Free" line from Leatherman, apart from others. The tested tool deployed, from day 1, like a long-used, "broken-in" multi-tool, but stayed closed when you needed it to remain closed. In terms of ergonomics and usability, this offers an incremental improvement over some of the other options. In other ways, the Free P4 felt pretty…average. When Leatherman brings the "free" design to a set of features like those on their other award-winning multi-tools, we'll take notice. Until then, this is a great, while simultaneously average, multi-tool.
The Free P4 has a pretty typical feature set. We are especially pleased with the scissors and the two different knife blades (one straight, one serrated). As compared to other recent offerings, Leatherman separated the bottle and can opener on this tool. They also increased the size of the scissors as compared to their top of the line products. The file is smaller than we'd like to see. At this point in history, we really need to see a bit driver (and ideally a full-size, standard 1/4" bit driver) in a multi-tool for it to contend with the big dogs. The Free P4 doesn't have a bit driver. Watch out for it; we bet that one of the next products Leatherman releases is a full-functioned "Free" tool, with bit drivers, etc.
This is a high-end multi-tool in some ways. The materials are proven, but it has also been proven that better materials can be integrated into a multi-tool. The pivot tolerances have changed none in our months of testing. None of the features have experienced any degradation. As a new product, and one with pretty innovative attributes, we are a little wary of the long-term durability. A couple of questions linger. Will the magnets lose their "charge"? How about the plier handle pivots? In order to pivot freely but lock in place when needed, the handle pivots are equipped with spring-loaded latches. The entire main pivot bushing moves in an enlarged hole, all under spring tension. This entire mechanism is hidden. We trust Leatherman's R and D but have to point out this unproven function in a very high-load part of the tool. Friction-style plier handle pivots (as on virtually all of our other tested tools) are known to provide lasting security. We don't know how the pivots of the Free P4 will hold up.
It is in terms of ergonomics that the Free P4 really stands out. Rumor has it that Leatherman, with its generous warranty, receives thousands of returned and well-loved multi-tools each year. They receive each of these with instructions and requests. Apparently, according to the same rumors, a remarkably common request was that Leatherman not "fix" loose hinges on older, well-used tools. People wanted their broken screwdriver repaired, or the blade reconditioned but didn't want the hinges tightened. Users enjoyed the free hinging pivots of "broken-in" tools.
In response to this, again, according to web rumors and legend, Leatherman designed a whole line of tools with free-spinning pivots. Now, friction in the pivots of a multi-tool keeps it closed when not in use. To address this, Leatherman keeps the Free P4 and others in the line closed with magnets. All works as intended, and the easy deployment is appreciated. Is it "game-changing?" We don't think so. There are pros and cons to this design. Notably, the magnets pick up ferrous debris from work sites and pockets.
Further, in terms of ergonomics, we like that every single tool is accessible from the "outside." On the flip side, there is a perplexing and clumsy sharp protrusion on the plier handles. It seems absolutely unnecessary that this particular piece of metal protrudes as it does. It isn't enough to cause an injury, but it is a noticeable discomfort in most plier applications. With gloves on, the protrusion is unnoticeable.
Size, weight, shape, and carry options combine to determine a multi tool's portability. The Free P4 is pretty average in dimensions. For the functions you get, its stature is typical. The externally-accessed tools mean that the closed, pocketed form is a little rough around the edges. The outside edge of each tool is exposed to your pocket. This can wear on your pants material and collects coins and other pocket detritus. Clipping the tool to the opening of your pocket, with the included clip, largely addresses this. It also keeps it up and in better reach. Finally, the included sheath is secure and low profile.
The Free innovations don't come "free." This is a very expensive tool. Its price tag approaches that of Leatherman's top of the line tools, but the materials and features lag behind those chart-toppers. As Leatherman amortizes the cost of innovation and broadens the line of "Free" tools, we hope the costs come down and the feature set and options increase.
The Leatherman Free P4 came with great PR excitement and promising innovations. Indeed, the design upends decades of certain design limitations. As the "top of the line" Free tool, we wish the P4 came with a more sophisticated suite of features and materials.
— Jediah Porter