Head Tennis Sensor – Game Changing Mount. How About the Analytics?
The new Head Tennis Sensor arrived on retail shelves a few days ago, amid very little fanfare it must be said. The sensor is “powered by Zepp”, which rings a few alarm bells based on our testing.
We’ve been testing the Head Tennis Sensor for the last couple of months. The companion app was clunky and difficult in beta form. The release of the retail version has many improvements, and Head is insisting there will be many more throughout this year.
Device Usability 9/10
The Head Tennis Sensor shines on this metric. The sensor is the same weight as a normal Head cap. Removing the cap from the racket and replacing it with the sensor version is seamless.
The best part by far is that you won’t know it’s there. There’s no protrusion from the cap a la Zepp and Sony Smart Tennis Sensor. It’s the first of the removable sensors to add zero weight difference and zero feel difference to your racket. The Babolat Play rackets made no difference to the weight and feel either, but the permanence of it meant you couldn’t switch it from racket to racket.
The battery charges via a magnetic charger per the Zepp. Just attach the charger to the sensor, wait for the light to turn green and you’re ready for action. Connecting via Bluetooth is also easy. Tap the racket at the top of the screen to find your sensor and you’re ready for play.
One issue we found was the lack of an On/Off button or switch. To switch the device on, you only need to place your racket in an upright position ie cap to the sky. While the racket was resting in a horizontal state, it would remain off. That’s great in theory until you realize how often your racket is stored upright in your bag. Bye bye battery quite quickly.
Head have changed the firmware such that the racket needs to be shaken to switch the device on. We still had issues but will continue to test for improvements.
Again we emphasize we’re looking at the raw data and its accuracy here, not how it’s presented in the app.
We were pleased to find there was no issue with groundstroke identification. No issues with the Head Tennis Sensor reading the difference between a forehand and a backhand. Spin measurements off the ground were good as well. We’re not fans of the “Drive” measurement, but overall the sensor picked the difference between topspin and slice well.
In early testing, we were able to fool the sensor with some heavy kick serves. The extra pronation made it think a kick serve was a forehand. That’s been fixed in the latest algorithm to the extent that all serves were correctly displayed.
Where the data accuracy falls down is at the net. Smashes were almost always displayed as serves. Perhaps more alarming was the device’s inability to consistently detect volleys correctly. Many “text-book” backhand volleys were read as slice backhands. The problem was there on the forehand side as well, although less so than the backhand.
Much like the Zepp 2, the Head Tennis Sensor provides measurements for Ball Spin (RPM) and Ball Speed (in mph or kph). There’s also a Sweet Spot measurement and a Ball Heaviness measurement. All of these are difficult for us to test from an accuracy point of view (in fact we’re not overly sure what “Ball Heaviness” is). We’ll be attempting some more testing on this soon.
6/10 might seem harsh for a sensor that’s getting groundstrokes and serves right almost all the time. Again, we stress that once so many incorrect readings are given – in this case for volleys and smashes – the entire session is rendered inaccurate because you have a whole heap of volleys in with your groundstrokes, plus smashes mixed in with serves. Moreover, there’s no shot-by-shot shown in the app, and therefore no way to identify certain shots as anomalies.
If you never, ever, ever go to the net, then this device is well worth considering.
The companion app to the Head Tennis Sensor shines a little brighter than the Zepp 2. The look is a little more professional and it feels less like a Social Media tool and more like a serious game analyzer.
The difference starts with the home screen which gives the user options to “Play”, “Train”, “Compete” or “Practice Serve”. That’s a marked difference from the Zepp 2 home screen which shows you your location and asks you to start a singles match.
“Play” is basically your practice button. If you’re having a hit session that you want to record, that’s the place, and it’s not functionality that’s even offered with Zepp 2. “Train” appears to be a learning centre with “recommended courses”. “Compete” takes you to the same screen as “Start Singles” in Zepp 2. This is where you’ll go if you’re playing a match and want your shots recorded.
“Practice Serve” is Zepp 1’s 3-D Man reincarnated. The Zepp 1 had a serve swing analyzer that allowed a player to view their service motion from all angles. It’s the closest Zepp 1 came to competing with Sony’s video functionality. While not in Zepp 2, 3-D Man, in all his buffed glory (you have to see it), is in the Head Tennis Sensor’s app.
It’s useful for ball impact zone and possibly a little acceleration vs deceleration training, but it’s hardly a game changer. It is the one place in the app where you can view all the recorded serves in a shot by shot format rather than as averages.
One thing that gave us hope with the app was the ability to view each individual shot and the stats of each shot by scrolling through the session. Alas, this is only available while you’re actually IN the session ie on court. There’s no way to view shot by shot in the history of the app. Massive let down!
It’s so disappointing that, once again, a sensor is ONLY displaying statistics as session averages rather than giving a player a shot by shot analysis that would actually help with game improvement. A bunch of averages really doesn’t help anything other than your chest pumping social media profile.
There was enough in the app for us to rate it higher than the Zepp 2 app, but it’s still lacking a whole lot of substance.
A note on Android vs iOS and devices. For some as yet unexplained reason, we couldn’t get the “Practice Serve” functionality to work on an iPhone. Android was fine, as was all other functionality on a phone. The problem came when trying to use the app on a tablet. Zepp have admitted that the Zepp 2 app DOES NOT render properly on a tablet. It would appear the same is true for the Head Tennis Sensor.
We’re yet to fully test the video functionality of the Head Tennis Sensor. We do, however, have a fair idea what I final view will be. The only video functionality we can find is in the “Compete” section of the app. It’s called “Smart Point Capture” (SPC).
It’s highly likely that SPC will be similar to Zepp 2’s “Smart Rally Capture”. Given the app is developed by Zepp, we’re thinking they’re the same thing. We’ll reserve judgement until we fully test it in coming days. For our review of the Zepp 2 video functionality, see here.
We know for sure that there’s no video functionality allowing a player to video an entire hit session for analysis at a later date, and certainly nothing that allows a player to view said video shot by shot. It’s for this reason that the “Overall” score of the Head Tennis Sensor is lower than all other scores above.
The physical hardware of the Head Tennis Sensor is game changing. It’s the first time a removable sensor has made zero difference to the weight or feel of a racket. It’s a huge improvement on everything that’s come before it. It will be a tough act to follow for Babolat when the Pulse is released later in the year.
Our play tests showed a distinct problem with the volleying and smash algorithms, to an extent that only made the data worth investigating if all you’re doing is practicing groundstrokes and serves. The app is an improvement on the Zepp 2 but still lacks substance because there’s no ability to view a shot by shot analysis, either on a Dashboard feature or via video after the fact.
Final Word on the Head Tennis Sensor
This is Head’s first foray into the world of racket sensors. They are to be congratulated on the physical design and on-court usability of the device. The data and the app let the whole thing down, however. It feels as though this version of the app should be the beta, not the version that’s released to the public as the first run for the device.
We’ll hope future updates improve the issues. The device represents much better value than Zepp 2 at around 100USD. If you have a later model Head racket and you’re desperate for a sensor to go with it, make sure it’s this one rather than Zepp 2. That said, you’ll be hoping the firmware and algorithm updates improve the output.