To make sure we had a level playing field we used brand new K3 Silver tennis balls in all of the machines and we did our test on a Har-Tru court to make sure we could see the ball marks. We were so fair we even swept the court between machine changes. What we found may surprise you.
The Lob-Ster Elite 3 was the first opponent. The features most touted by the manufacturer we found to be both frustrating and disappointing. This particular model has what the manufacturer calls triple oscillation. It will oscillate horizontally (forehand, backhand), vertically (short, deep), and both horizontally and vertically simultaneously. It can also do this either randomly or to two lines. What we found is that while the machine functioned like most others when it oscillated horizontally, the vertical oscillation was almost useless. Since you cannot change the speed or spin while the machine is firing out balls, you might get a nice groundstroke followed by a ball that goes in the bottom of the net followed by a ball that hits the fence on the fly.
The Tennis Tutor was our next victim. Similar to the Lob-Ster machine the Tennis Tutor Player claims to be able to simulate match play. Our experience here was disappointing as well. The machine can be programmed for a beginner, intermediate, or advanced player just by the touch of a button. While it was very easy to set up, it operates much like the Tutor Plus model. It will feed balls reasonably consistently as it sweeps back and forth across the court randomly, but the ball characteristic changes at all levels at an actual match play pace were insignificant. Typically the only changes were in the horizontal oscillation. While the theory is great, in practice there is no battery powered machine that can actually simulate true match play.
We then moved on the Sam Sp4. I was very curious to see how well the ten function remote worked. Unfortunately what we found was most ball machine users feed through an entire hopper of balls before they actually decide to make any changes in their workout. We also found there is no way to tell if or how much you changed the ball characteristics without constantly firing balls. It was much easier and less frustrating to go back to the machine and make the changes from there.
The Silent Partner Pro was interesting because it is able to run both off of A/C and battery power. Not a fast charger mind you but one of the few portable machines that is actually either A/C or Battery. Now the big claim here is a top speed of 95mph. Not that we had a radar gun but it sure seemed to be about the same speed as the others and I don’t know too many club players that hit their groundies 95mph.
Last but not least we tussled with the Playmate Volley. There were a few things different about the Volley. First it is the only portable machine with a completely exterior removable battery pack. No longer do you have to take the entire machine to an outlet to charge it. The other thing we found different was the oscillation. While it didn’t oscillate vertically or attempt to simulate match play it did oscillate internally as well as actually oscillating randomly to 2 variable, individual points. This machine actually makes you recover because you cannot tell where the next ball will go.
We are a pretty harsh group since none of us own ball machines and would rather just go out and play. But when you can’t get a game and you’ve only got a window of about 45 minutes to get in a workout, a ball machine is a great solution. Not to mention that finding 45 minutes is getting harder. We decided that overall none of the machines from a speed, spin or elevation standpoint outperformed another. In most aspects all of the brands are quite similar. After making some phone calls we found when one is shopping for a battery powered ball machine the first order of the day is battery quality and life. A non-memory battery that carries the same warranty as the machine is the key. Find something that will always fit your game and is built to last.