Having not used anything in this lineup, I thought it would be great to check out the original Armbar and the two newer tools. It's a great way to see how the design has evolved or perhaps improved, and if Gerber's new iterations are a great addition for your everyday carry.
The original Armbar Drive features an in-line screwdriver, scissors, awl, cap lifter or light duty pry bar, and a blade. When I think of the Armbar series I immediately think of this model, I think it's probably the most widely used model out of the lineup. Being only 3.625" long and 0.71" wide, it's compact and great for carrying loose in your pocket, ready for what the day may bring. The original has some quirks shall we say, but they aren't enough to dismiss the package as a whole.
The blade on the Drive has a cutout to facilitate opening, my initial impression is that this would be a one hand opening blade. Due to the overall size of the tool, there's not much to hold onto and with a tight pivot, one hand opening is tricky. The pivot has loosened some with use, but one-handed access is still somewhat awkward. The main blade is held open with a liner lock, and there no vertical or horizontal play. With a 2.5" blade you're probably not going to be using it hard with to disengage the lock. The Armbar like my other Gerber tools, has liner locks that have a great deal of travel. I appreciate a well-tuned lock, one that allows the lock to move it's way across the lock face as the knife ages. I think it's just poor QC when a lock maxes out and is only stopped by hitting the other side of the handle.
The Armbar series utilizes a slip joint type of system to keep the onboard tools in the closed or opened position. I have no issue with this design, it does a good job for the most part. Both the awl and the scissors are pretty stable in the open position, I do think the spring for the screwdriver could have been strengthened. The driver doesn't snap open with any kind of authority, and unless your careful, will buckle under use. A positive though is that the driver can also be used at a 90° angle, this is great for achieving some extra torque.
The scissors and the awl do a pretty good job, Gerber is owned by Fiskars, so scissors should be a breeze for them. The scissors come out of the tool folded flat, so they take up less room in the tool. This design is used on a great deal of Gerber multitools, if it's not broke don't fix it. Folded into position, the scissors do a decent job, they handle paper, light fabric, and even some things like paracord. They do struggle with some thicker materials or things that might cause the scissors to bind. It's not fault of the tool, after all this is a light duty tool and implements should be treated as such. The awl does a great job on various materials, I used it on wood and made a new hole in my belt, excelling at both. An awl is great, because there are some places you don't want to go with your knife blade, and you just need something to poke with.
The combo tool on the end of the Drive is quite interesting, it features a bottle opener, and a light duty pry/ hammer. Popping open a cold one works decently, I didn't have to try more than once to get it to work. The light duty part of the pry and hammer function is most certainly just that. The hammer function has been used to push some ice cubes into a bottle to keep it cold and tap some small nails into a wall. When it comes to the pry function, hadn't used it much other than lifting the tab on a soda can. These little features work but I don't know how much stress I would put them through, course in a dire situation I'm sure they would get the job done.
So as a whole, the Armbar Drive is not bad, it's really compact for the number of tools on board. It features the basics, which are likely to come in handy or get you out of a potential jam. It's not without its flaws, but what tool isn't, I do feel it makes up for its shortcomings. Now it's been 3 years since the release of the Armbar Drive, has Gerber been taking notes and made necessary adjustments to the Scout and Trade? Let's take a look and see the pros and cons of these multipurpose gadgets.
First up is the Scout, I feel like this is more of an attempt at a Swiss Army type of load out. The scout features a 2.5" blade, scissors, saw, and can opener. The Scout also features the same multipurpose pry on the end of the tool. A great addition to the new tools is a pocket clip, folks no longer have to have their Armbar bouncing around in their pockets. I didn't mind the loose Armbar scenario, made it feel more like a Swiss Army knife. The pocket clip is wide enough at the top for various pockets and what not and has plenty of tension to keep the tool in place.
The blade is opened via a thumb hole or cutout like the Drive, it's still tricky to open one handed due to how tight Gerber has them from the factory. The liner lock still travels all the way to the other side of the handle when the blade is open. At this point it's safe to say, this is the way their going to come and the company feels it's acceptable for the price point.
As for the saw and the can opener, the saw was able to cut through 2" branches with ease. You could certainly tackle larger, but your hindered by the side of saw blade, but it does admirably for its size. The can opener is very nice, it's reminiscent of those on scout knives I have from the 70s. The elongated tip allows for deep cuts into the tin and makes getting them open easy. These two tools combined with the same scissors from the Drive, create a great "scout" style pocket toolbox.
Now the Trade is a little different, it's a blend between the two models. The Trade has the same driver and awl from the original Drive but adds the saw from the Scout. I see the Trade being useful for someone in construction or maybe maintenance, someone who needs to turn a wayward screw or trim something small rather than going back to the truck.
The driver on the Trade is the same as the one on the Drive except one noticeable difference. The spring for the driver might be a little tighter, but I think it may be the now squarish pivot being used. With the old-style pivot for the driver, it was similar to an old pocketknife. That system is still being used, but the addition of the squared section puts extra tension on the spring. This design change isn't dramatic and doesn't completely change the spring tension, but it helps.
The Armbar series have not necessarily seen improvements in the overall design, but instead have become more job specific. They work good for their size and make a decent replacement, or companion for a Swiss Army knife or full-fledged multitool. The issues I have are perhaps nit-picky, and addressing those issues might result in consumer pricing. It's no wonder why they're so popular with consumers, it's quality and a brand people trust, at price that fits just about every budget.