Babolat Play – Review of The Sensor Built-In to the Racket
Babolat Play is the only tennis sensor that’s built in to the racket. Rather than going down the path of compatibility with the Sony Smart Sensor, Babolat went for a sensor that’s already there, embedded in the handle. We play tested the Babolat Pure Drive model. For the record, the Babolat Play racket felt exactly the same as its non-censored cousin.
Device Usability 9/10
We can’t help but give this the highest score of all the sensors available on the market. No brackets or fiddly twists and turns to get a sensor in the cap or string bed. No rubber mountsto interfere with your grip. So long as the racket is charged, you need only switch it on and away you go. By far the biggest advantage of the Play is that you won’t notice any difference in weight or usability of your racket when the device is on and recording data.
Unlike the Sony Smart Sensor, Zepp and Qlipp, the Babolat Play doesn’t have the capability to present the player with live data while hitting Admittedly, the Zepp only presents the type of shot hit rather than anything usable. Live data can be rather advantageous if you or your player are trying to make improvements to speed or spin for example.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the Babolat Play is that, under the rules of tennis, it’s legal to have the device on during a match. Note, you can’t download and view the data until after the match. Not that you couldn’t do this with the other devices, but because the Play is built-in and doesn’t cause racket performance or grip issues, the comparison from “training” to “match” data is not only easy, but worthwhile.
Babolat Play Scorecard
On-Court: Too easy. Press a button and you’re away - Score: 9/10
Data Accuracy: Data output is accurate, but not enough of what’s needed. - Score: 7/10
App: High on bells and whistles, low on substance - Score: 5/10
Video: No link to iOS or Android video - Score: N/A
Overall: Some positives, but no video and too many unnecessaries are a problem - Score: 5.5/10
The Babolat Play racket picks up our forehands, backhands and serves well. Volleys were a problem for us no matter how much we tried to shorten the back swing and the follow through. A couple of serves were read as smashes but that’s also a problem for the Sony Smart Sensor.
The biggest let-down was the lack of data output for the stuff that matters and too much focus on the stuff that really doesn’t mean much and probably won’t improve your game. Racket speed is not provided and a ball speed extrapolation is only provided for serves.
There’s a percentage provided for “Power” which the Play racket’s instruction manual states “…is calculated on the basis of the speed of the racket head” (so that’s why the Qlipp developers did it that way). Using the racket over a hundred or more sessions might give you a better idea what the percentage actually means and how it can work for you as a player. In isolation though, it doesn’t mean much. Just give us the raw numbers like racket speed and ball speed extrapolation and we’d be a lot happier.
Spin is shown as a “Spin Effect”, which is essentially a mark out of 10 (shown as filled in tennis balls). Presumably, this can be compared to the Sony’s 1 – 10 mark for spin or the Qlipp’s percentage. Without the fundamentals of racket speed and ball speed, it just doesn’t provide us with anything useful.
The Impact Locator (Babolat’s version of the heat map, shown right) is great. After several sessions one does begin to wonder why more shots are showing at the top of the frame rather than in the sweet spot. Could it be that Babolat need to move their sweet spot circle up a little higher?
This is where we get really frustrated. Not because the Babolat Play app is a piece of trash or horribly clunky like the Qlipp. It’s very well put together. There’s also the Evolution Dashboard which can be viewed on your laptop or desktop. No matter what the device, the Play software is easy to navigate and easy to use.
So why the frustration? Looking good and being easy to navigate is half the battle for any app, particularly one trying to illustrate data in a cool and seamless manner. Like the Qlipp (and in large part, copied by the Qlipp), the Babolat Play app provides information that either isn’t necessary or doesn’t provide a player with information to make improvements.
The app shows all our session details in easy to read format. The drill-downs to each shot are excellent. The drill-down information is the problem. There’s also the dreaded “Flat” display for spin (more on this here).
The biggest two problems are a) no link to iOS or Android device video. The Qlipp and Sony Smart Sensor are the two providing it and it’s the best feature of both devices; and b) there’s no drill-down to examine shot-by-shot. This not only provides players and coaches the ability to view what’s wrong based on the data, but also confirm a way to improve based on the video and drill-down information.
Not much more to say. No video and no 3D dude a la the Zepp. All that’s left for this section is to say that video and associated video drill-down are functionalities that should almost be a minimum standard after data accuracy.
On-court usability is the big one. Nothing fiddly about using the Babolat Play. The fact that you can collect data from training and matchplay without making any feel or weight changes to the racket also scores big marks.
The App is easy to navigate and we especially liked the laptop/desktop Dashboard, something that could be adopted by the rest of the market.
Quite simply, there’s way too much of the stuff you don’t need and far too little of the stuff that matters. No racket speed, ball speed (except on serve) and a power measurement that’s a little confusing.
By far the greatest downsides are the inability to drill down into a shot by shot analysis and the lack of video functionality.
Final Word on Babolat Play
The decision to make is, first of all, are you a Babolat Pure Drive or Pure Aero user? If you’re not, don’t bother shelling out the $350-$450 price tag just to get a racket sensor as there are other options. If you are, the question becomes is it worth spending the extra hard-earned to get the sensor in the racket? Over time, probably, but we’d love to see better functionality and data displays inside the app to match the ease of use of the Babolat Play racket.