Aug 21 2014

The Babolat Play Pure Drive (Part 2)

Babolat | Equipment Review | Racquets | Technology       Clif Render      
Babolat Play Pure Drive

This is the second in a three part series on the Babolat Play Pure Drive racquet. In the first part, we talked about the racket's origins, my history with the racket, and the different applications that make up the Babolat Play Ecosystem. If you've not read Part 1 yet, you may want to do so before continuing. Part two will dig down into the detail of capturing data, what the data is and what it looks like in the various application interfaces so, without further ado, let's proceed.

Capturing Data

Babolat Play Pure Drive Plugged In

The Babolat Play Pure Drive data capture process is fairly straight forward assuming your racquet is charged. If it isn't then you need to use the provided micro USB cable to fully charge it before use. Once the racquet is sufficiently charged (the LED on the butt cap glows green when plugged in and fully charged), simply long press the power button (the shorter button) on the butt cap of the racquet and the LED will begin to flash blue. This indicates that the racquet is active and tracking shot data. Once you are done playing, long press the Bluetooth/Tag button (the longer one) and the color of the LED should change from blue to purple. Your play data is now ready to be synced up with your smartphone or tablet.

To Sync your data for the first time, go into the Bluetooth configuration settings for your device, scan for Bluetooth transmissions, and pair your device with your "Babolat Play" racquet. Once the racquet is paired, you can launch the free "Babolat Play" application (you already have it installed, don't you?) and sign in. Next tap the Racquet icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen. The app will search for your racquet and connect to it for data transfer. If the App can't detect the racquet then make sure that the LED on the racquet is still flashing purple. If it's flashing blue then long press the Bluetooth/Tag button (the longer one) till it flashes purple and give it a try again. If no light is flashing then you may have to power the racquet back on before you can switch it into Bluetooth transfer mode and try the upload again. The first time the App connects to your racquet, there will be some extra prompts to associate the racquet with your profile but, before long, you should be up and going with all of your recent play data loaded into your device and ready to go. If you decide to upload your data directly via a Macintosh or Windows computer then you can skip all the Bluetooth instructions and just plug it in, click "Syncronize" and go.

How did we ever play with
racquets without firmware?

If you just read through all those instructions and you are thinking that it sounds like an awful lot of work and that you might just play with it a few more times before uploading your data, please don't! Remember what I said in my last post. If you don't upload your data right after you play, you are increasing the chances that a firmware update might invalidate all of your untransferred data. Don't do it! It only happened to me one time but that one time was more than enough. How did we ever play with racquets without firmware?

The Data

An Undefined Session

After your tracking data has been loaded onto your device, the app should drop you off in the Analyze section of the software if you are using an Android or iOS device. If you used a Macintosh or a Windows computer then you will be prompted to launch the web interface and you can dig in from there. In the Analyze section, you should now see an entry labeled "Undefined". You can tap on the undefined entry and scroll down to see all the detail for the session including Total Time and Playing Time, Total Shots, Rate (in shots/minute), energy expended, Best Rally, Number of shots of specific shot types, spin types, and impact locations.

Tapping on the newly uploaded session also gives you the opportunity to permanently associate that play session with your Babolat Play account by "Qualifying the Session". Once you have tapped the entry, click on either "Training" or "Match". If you select "Match" then you can add an opponent (or opponents) as well as a partner if you're playing doubles. You can also specify other information about the playing surface to help you remember the occasion and how you felt that day. If you tap on "Training" then you will have many of the same options. Once you have made all of the required selections and have clicked "Save", that Play session is forever associated to your account. You will now see that session in the list as either Training, a Match Won, or a Match Lost. You can now tap on that entry from any device (including the web) and see all the details that you saw when you did the initial upload. Also, these details have been added to your account and you will now have your first Global Ranking (be it ever so humble). Enjoy!

Just make sure to qualify your session
by tapping rather than swiping and
you'll be fine.

One warning about "Qualifying the Session". There are actually two ways to do this through the Mobile App interface. The first way, as I mentioned above, is to simply tap on an "Undefined" session. The other way is to swipe across an "Undefined" session and then select "Edit". Editing the session like this will allow you "Qualify the session" but it doesn't allow you to specify if it was Training or Match play so the qualification options are somewhat limited. Why there are two ways to qualify a session and why they don't do the same thing, I don't know. Just make sure to qualify your session by tapping rather than swiping and you'll be fine. In addition to Editing, swiping an unqualified session will also allow you to "Favorite" and/or "Delete" an unqualified session or "Favorite" and/or "Share" a Qualified Session.

As you continue to play and upload more and more data, you will begin to progress in the Babolat Play Community. Your rating will change and you will gain a "Pulse" ranking which is a throbbing, pulsing, 3 axis measurement of your Technique, your Endurance, and your Power. The average of these numbers are what determines your global ranking.

The Sections of the App

Navigation in the application is very intuitive. There is a slide-out menu that can be opened by clicking on the three horizontal bars in the upper left hand corner of the screen. This menu gives you access to the primary sections of the application: Pulse, Analyze, Evolution (only available on the web), Skills, Record, and Community. Other options are available in the menu for "Settings", "Help", and "Log Out".

My Pulse - Somewhat Lacking

The first section of the app is the the Pulse section. As I mentioned, this section gives you a 3 axis measure of your Technique, your Endurance, and your Power and the average of those numbers is what determines your overall standing in the Babolat Play community. I'm in the 1500's but someday I hope to make it up into the 1400's or maybe even (dare I say?) the 1300's. This ranking changes daily as more people play and upload data. It's a little depressing when you go to bed to wake up and discover that you have dropped several hundred places over night. Ugh. It's the story of my life. In this section, you'll also find the "Upload Data" racquet icon in the upper right hand corner of your screen along with a little pull up section at the bottom showing you a small overview of your last play session and info on your current experience category.

The next section down in the list is the Analyze section. Here, you'll see the list of all your play sessions (both qualified and unqualified). You can tap on the session to see detailed data about the session including, Total Time, Total Shots, Shot Rate, Energy Expended, Best Rally, Number of Forehands, Backhands, Serves, and Smashes, First and Second Serves, Impact locations, and much much more. There are lots of interesting things that you can look for in here. For instance, if you end up playing more of your weaker shots during a match than usual then this probably means that your opponent figured out your weaknesses. Are you miss-hitting your backhand more than usual? What does the impact locator show? Are you striking the ball in the center of the racquet or somewhere else? This is why you have the racquet to figure out what you're doing wrong and to try to pin down how to fix it. This section also has the "Upload Data" racquet icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen.

The Evolution section comes next but it is only present in the Web app. It is really just a graph of how your Pulse numbers (Technique, Endurance, and Power) have changed over time. You can export this data in lots of different ways. The interface is really cool and can show some interesting trends but I'm not sure how helpful this information is - particularly as it applies to the endurance numbers. Endurance is really just how long you played per session which probably has more to do with who you played and what kind of match or training session it was than anything reportable. Regardless, though, it's there if you need it.

What can I say? It's fun. They
don't call it gameification
for nothing!

That brings us to the next section of the interface - the Skills section. Here is where you will see your Experience Level (Newbie, Rookie, Fanatic, Prodigy, Ace, etc…) along with your percentage complete and indicators as to how far along you are with Forehands, Backhands, Serves, and Smashes. There's not a lot else in this section but I do find myself coming here often in hopes of hitting that next level. What can I say? It's fun. They don't call it gameification for nothing!

The Records section comes next (unless you're using the web interface then Records comes last). In this section, you'll find information about all your best moments – your strongest serve, your longest rally, your longest match time, and many other bits of statistical minutia. While this section is interesting, I'm not sure exactly how much help it will be. You can see when you hit your strongest serve, for instance, but the power of that serve is represented by a percentage rather than a number of any significance. I believe that this number is a percentage of the strongest serve that they have measured. It would be a good bit nicer to see a more useful measure like swing speed or force of impact. As it is, the percentage really only serves to tell you how close you are to the best they've measured. If that value is routinely updated then it could be a moving target which wouldn't be particularly encouraging. Other records here are more numerically helpful such as Match Time, Match Energy, and Longest Rally. The Records section is much easier to navigate on the web than it is on a mobile device (understandably so – there is only so much space on a mobile device). In the mobile app, the individual records are nested under specific categories and figuring out which records are there isn't all that straight forward. The web interface is very clear, however, with all the record categories displayed clearly on one page. If you want my advice, log onto the web at least once to see what all is available and then use the mobile app once you've figured out which records you are most interested in.

A Comparison in the Community Section

Last, we have the Community section. This section uses your combined Pulse score (an average of your Endurance + Technique + Power percentages) to rank you among all the other players using the racquet. You can also see how you rank among other players of your same experience category (Newbie, Rookie, Fanatic, Prodigy, Ace, etc…) and, if you're using the web interface, you can also see the pulse score for the top 3 in the Babolat stable of pros: Rafael Nadal, Li Na, and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga. Spoiler Alert: they're much higher than the rest of us.

That brings us to the end of part 2 of our three part series on the Babolat Play Pure Drive racquet. In Part 3, I'll dig down into shot detection with the Play. How does it work? How good is it? Is it worth your time and money? Also, I've got a few thoughts for Babolat on how to make the product better and ensure that the Play line of products lives on. Until then, if you have any questions, corrections, or other clarifications, please let me know either by email or by commenting below. In the meantime, I'll do my best to keep the content here as up to date as possible. Now get out there and Play!

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