Sanding in Corners
The Hitachi's 4-inch-wide platen design is unique. The idea behind this feature is you can track the belt to the edge of the platen to better sand flush in corners. However, I found no advantage to this design, and the 3-inch platens on the Bosch, Craftsman, Porter-Cable, and Ryobi tools did just as well. In fact, the extra width of the Hitachi gives it an awkward and bulkier feel in tight spots. The DeWalt's platen isn't flush with the right side of the sander body. The body overhangs the platen on the right side by about 7/16 inch. Since the motor overhangs the platen on the left, this means it simply can't sand flush to a wall, backsplash, or other vertical surface.
The removable front handle on the Bosch unit is a thoughtful design feature. It helps the tool fit a little closer into corners and other tight spots. DeWalt's tool has a removable front cowling that exposes the front roller. This makes it easier to work in corners, but for obvious reasons, you've got to be careful not to bump anything you'll have to go back and fix later.
Dust Ports. Dust collection is very important to me. All of the sanders tested have dust bags. While dust bags help, I typically find that the dust pickup is marginal, so I usually attach a shop vac. Fortunately, that's easy enough to do with any of the tools in the test except the DeWalt, which has a rectangular dust port and won't accept a circular vac hose.
Dust Bags. The bags on the Porter-Cable and Hitachi are on the right side of the machine where they blocked my view when I sanded flush into a corner, but you can see the work just fine in other positions. If you do get stuck with the bag in the way, the Porter-Cable's pivots, which helps in corners. On very rare occasions, Hitachi's must be removed for corner work, which, needless to say, generates some dust. The DeWalt's front-mounted dust bag is hard to see around whether you're in a corner or not.
The Porter-Cable, Hitachi, and Makita have the largest dust bags, which I like, because they require less emptying. The Bosch, Craftsman, and Ryobi bags are on the small side and are positioned off to the left side of the sander. They might need to be removed in some tight spots like the Hitachi's, but that's still the best place for them on these low-profile tools.