Sep 1 2014

The Babolat Play Pure Drive (Part 3)

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

This is the last part of 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 haven't already, you might want to give Part 1 a read through. In Part 2, we dug down into the details of capturing data and what the data looked like in the various application interfaces. Part three is a detailed analysis of Babolat's take on Shot detection: How it works, how good it is, and whether or I'd consider it a Buy or a Bust. I also have some specific advice for Babolat on what they need to do to ensure that the Play Line of products lives on. So let's dive in.

Shot detection

If your strokes are completely
non-traditional, don't expect
perfect accuracy...

The core function of the Babolat Play Pure Drive (and its associated applications) is shot detection – its ability to detect shot types (Backhands, Forehands, Serves, and Smashes), spin types (Topspin, Slice, and Flat), First Serve versus Second Serve, and general Impact Location. Overall, I found shot detection accuracy to be pretty good. I went through a fairly all-encompassing series of controlled tests to measure how accurately the racquet measured shot type and spin. By rotated through a fixed number of each type of shot made with each type of spin, I felt fairly comfortable at my assessment of the racquets ability to interpret shots for the (maybe slightly above) average recreational player. Babolat Play correctly interpreted my shot type and spin 80% of the time. Out of the two "Player Analysis Technologies" that I have tested (the Babolat Play and the Zepp Tennis Sensor), this device was by far the most accurate. I expect that this accuracy rating will fluctuate based on player experience and stroke maturity. If your strokes are completely non-traditional, don't expect perfect accuracy with this device - or with any form of Player Analysis Technology, for that matter.

Babolat Play App Showing Smash Deficit

There were only two areas where I was personally unable to get a satisfactory level of accuracy in my tests. The first was in regard to detecting overhead smashes. Because the motion of the overhead smash is so similar to that of the serve, I noticed that the device often misinterpreted the two. Hitting overhead feeds with a coach or hitting partner didn't really help matters, either. Only rarely do overhead smashes register properly during play. Usually you end up registering extra serves and no overheads. Several times during serve practice, however, I noticed that serves in too quick a succession often get interpreted as overheads. I assume that is due to the timing of the shot being more similar to the timing of a serve returned as a lob and taken as an overhead. I wouldn't be super concerned with the registering of overheads except for the fact that one of the social features of the Play allows you to move up the ranks through different experience levels. In order to move up, however, you have to his specific numbers of Forehands, Backhands, Serves, and Smashes. Several times already, I've been held back primarily by the overheads that I hit that never registered. Also, it appears that this set number of shots is a bit of a moving target. I recently saw my experience level drop a good bit due, I assume, to changes to the required number of shots. Either that or my shot data is disappearing. Either way, It's a pretty depressing prospect to see yourself becoming more and more of a Rookie (or a Newbie) every day. Ugh.

The other area where I could not get decent detection was with regard to backhand topspin shots. And, since I wasn't able to get that shot to register reliably with either the Babolat Play Racquet or the Zepp Tennis Sensor, I threw those numbers out on the assumption that the inaccuracy of my stroke was the flawed portion of the equation.

My testing was done using both Android and iOS devices and the results appeared to be consistent regardless of Smartphone/Tablet operating system. My testing was all done left handed so there is the possibility that left and right handedness could be a factor. In regards to impact detection, I didn't have a good way to measure the accuracy of the placement on the string bed but comparisons to the Zepp device test data yielded somewhat similar location data. The Play racquet, however, should be more accurate as the exact dimensions, weight, and configuration of the head of the Babolat Play racquet is a known factor whereas the Zepp Device can be attached to any racquet leaving lots of room for potential error in regards to impact location analysis.

IFT Approved Symbol

One big plus to the Babolat Play is that it is approved as a "Player Analysis Technology" device by the ITF so it can be used in sanctioned match play. To my knowledge, there is only one other consumer targeted device that has this level of approval, the Sony Smart Tennis Sensor. And since it won't be available in the states until January 2015, The Babolat Play Pure Drive is currently your best (and only) choice for use during match play.


Overall, I have been very pleased with the performance of the Babolat Play Pure Drive due primarily to its accuracy, intuitiveness, and ease of use. Also, ITF approval is a big deal for me because I want to be able to make use of my Player Analysis Technology in sanctioned match play as well as in fun match play. The biggest drawback that I see to this particular product are its price and the fact that its functionality is limited to a single frame. For many, these will be the deciding factors when it comes to whether or not to go the Babolat Play route or whether to purchase another racquet add-on that does something similar.

Just looking at the Zepp Tennis Sensor for comparison, the Babolat Play Racquet is a fairly expensive option. The Zepp device retails for $149.99 while the Babolat Play Pure Drive sells for around $399 ($200 more than its non-intelligent counterpart). That's a $50 difference and potentially requires a racquet change. If you use more than one racquet and want tracking ability on all of them then that's an extra $200 premium per racquet and, honestly, I'm pretty sure that the software won't even let you pull data from multiple racquets – it's a little finicky when it comes to that sort of thing – so multi racquet use may not even be possible - or, at least, not straight forward. Quite the limitation. UPDATE: Due to price drops, the First Generation Babolat Play Pure Drive is now selling for around $299 which is actually $50 cheaper than the Zepp making it an even more attractive option for those of you not opposed to purchasing last years technology.

...the fact that this technology
is limited to a single frame
is really what concerns me the
most for Babolat and for
the future of their technology.

Yes, the price is an issue, but the fact that this technology is limited to a single frame is really what concerns me the most for Babolat and for the future of their technology. Can they possibly sell enough of these to merit continuing their Connected Racquet experiment? I desperately hope so as their offering is, in my opinion, the superior one but I honestly don't see it happening unless something in the plan changes. My advice to Babolat is to separate the guts of the Babolat Play Technology out into a self-contained module that can be purchased separately from the Racquet itself and manufacture all new Babolat Racquets with a cavity in the butt that fits the shape of the Play module. The racquets would have to ship with an appropriately weighted insert in the cavity, of course, but the specs for that cavity could be licensed industry-wide. Within 5 years, I suspect that every manufacturer would be producing Play-compatible frames. Individuals could move their Play modules between racquets so the $200 premium for the Play device wouldn't be nearly as painful AND I could finally have this technology in my Aero Pro Drive. This really is the way to go, Babolat. Just take a look at how Sony is positioning their Player analysis device. It is a $200 add-on that attached to any racquet with a compatible adapter. At the moment, the list of compatible racquets is short but, over time, it will grow. Come on, Babolat! It's time to jump back in the lead. Vamos!

That concludes my series on the Babolat Play Pure Drive Racquet. As I mentioned in Part 1, this analysis and review has been made at a specific point in time. Problems that I find and mention here may have been corrected by the time you read this. Functionality behaviors may have changed. I will continue to update this post as I notice changes and they are reported to me but if you encounter any new issues or notice any changes that I'm not aware of, please email me or add comments with corrections and I'll pass them on. Thanks!

The Sony Smart Tennis Sensor

Next up on the blog will be a review of the Zepp Tennis Sensor, a similar offering with lots of promise. Future reviews will include the Shot Stats Challenger - a totally awesome looking bit of player technology that I recently backed on Kickstarter. It tracks many of the same stats as the Babolat Play and the Zepp Tennis Sensor but has the potential for even more accurate shot detection because it attaches directly to the strings. It should release later this fall. I'll make sure to let you know when it becomes commercially available. I'm also hoping to dig into the Sony Smart Tennis Sensor if I can get my hands on one along with a compatible racquet. As I said, just let me know if you have any questions or corrections and I'll do what I can to address them. Thanks!

Comments (2) -

Marco Antonio Campos Marco Antonio Campos says:

Thanks for your extensive review as it should help me demoing this raquet next week. now that the Aeropro Drive is sold with it I may go withat one. I say I'm an intermediate to advance recreational player (3.5-4.0 ntrp). Would you say this could really help improve my game or more gimmicky to just view your stats and compare with others?

Clif Clif says:

Sure thing, Marco. Glad to be able to share what I know. I'm in the same playing range that you are and I do find it helpful. It's not going to be a magic bullet, by any means, though. Like so many things, you are going to get out of it what you put into it. One thing that I will advise (regardless of whether you get the racquet or not) is that you schedule a lesson or two with a Pro (if you haven't already) and let them tell you what kind of things you need to be on the lookout for. This Racquet can be a great part of your improvement when used in conjunction with some amount of individual coaching, practice, and regular match play.

Personally, I don't share my results on Facebook or anywhere else and I pretty much ignore my "Standings" as they are constantly in flux but I still get a lot of use out of the racquet and what it tracks. I review my data after every match looking for trends. I usually look at shot type breakdown (forehands, backhands, etc...), Shot Location (on the stringbed), and Power numbers. If I've had an off day and nothing felt right, I often discover either that I was striking the ball off center a good bit or I was hitting more backhands than usual (not by choice). If I find that I'm striking balls off center then either I wasn't paying good enough attention to each shot (Watch the ball, dummy!) or some other technical flaw or flaws have crept into my game that I need to either correct on my own or have a pro take a look at.

When I've had a good game, I almost always find that I'm striking the ball more cleanly in the middle of the stringbed and with higher than normal power numbers. Since I play a lot of doubles, my Forehand/Backhand numbers can sometimes be misleading as volleys aren't separated out into their own categories yet. One thing to note is that the racquet's data will not tell you exactly what you're doing wrong or how to correct it. It will only show you the results of what you are doing wrong. It's up to you (or your pro) to figure out what the data means.

Being a very goal oriented person, I love to see my "Level" adjust upwards although I have also seen it go down more than a few times which is disheartening. The "Level" metric is fun to watch but not really very useful. If I'm a 68% Rookie today and a 73% rookie next week, what does that really mean? Did I actually do better at something or did I just do more of the same. Either one looks the same. You "Level" improves solely based on the quantity of shots hit rather the quality of shots his. One is just as good as the other. That being said, I still like to check it.

So I guess the short answer is "Maybe". Someone in your range can certainly make use it's metrics to improve your game. It just depends on you and the kind of person you are. If you're a stats guy and metrics really matter to you then definitely go for it. I'm not really huge on stats but I do love data and I use it whenever I can. If you're the kind of person who is quick to adopt technology and quick to lose interest, you might want to think twice. It does take a bit of commitment and that $150 premium (although much better than the initial $200 premium for the Pure Drive) has to be a consideration.

Hope that helps!

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