Preparing to run comparison tests of the world's tallest telescoping boom lifts presented a problem: What was the best way to measure the height of an aerial work platform reaching nearly 200 ft into the air?

A $50 measuring tape was one option, but wind, deflection and other factors could have taken up time and thrown off the results. Instead, we opted to test-drive a laser-range meter that was far more expensive, retailing for $539, but proved to be much easier to deploy than a long spool of tape.

Prior to the testing, Hilti lent ENR its latest model, the PD-E—the "E" is for "exterior"—which was designed for outdoor use and released last summer. It stands at the top end of the product family, which includes the interior-based PD-I for $359 and the pocket-size PD-5 for $219.

A rugged plastic case detailed with rubber bumpers surrounds the PD-E, which comes with a belt pack. Soft buttons take the user through a simple menu that calculates distances, angles, area, volume and layout points.

Using two AAA alkaline batteries rated to last for up to 5,000 measurements, the PD-E has an e- paper screen that was unfazed by the harsh, Las Vegas sun we encountered during the Super Boom Shootout. The tool's range of 656 ft, with a tolerance of 1/16 in., was plenty of firepower for our needs.

Each reading took only a second or two. We shot measurements from the ground and air using a target to help reflect the laser. A sight on a side of the PD-E helped us align the beam and calculated the length of the tool—green lights on the base told us which end was referenced. It also displayed plumbness.

At times, we used an optional 4-ft pole, and the tool quickly recalibrated for it after we screwed it into the base. For tight corners, Hilti also includes a flip-out pick.