Sony Smart Tennis Sensor – Review of the Popular Analytics and Coaching Gadget
Of all the tennis sensors we’ve tested, the Sony Smart Tennis Sensor has the advantage over the competition when it comes to data accuracy and presentation. Aspects of the others have merit and potential, but Sony have a product that fits everyone. Well…….almost.
Device Usability 7/10
The Sony Sensor comes in its own little carry bag which, at first, seems a little cumbersome. But given it fits nicely into the side pocket of any racket bag, it’s not really an issue. The sensor is attached via a bracket into the butt of compatible Yonex, Head and Wilson rackets. Again, it seems cumbersome to have to use several bits and pieces to attach the thing securely to your racket. With the exception of Babolat Play which has a built in sensor, the Sony is the easiest of the other 2 to attach to your racket.
Therein lies one of the few problems with the Sony Sensor – racket compatibility. At the time of writing, any player using a Babolat, Technifibre or Dunlop racket (plus a few others) can’t simply buy the sensor and attach the device to the butt. Even Head users might be disappointed by the fact that the bracket and sensor tend to rattle around compared to Yonex and Wilson.
The only possible fix is to get on to your club pro or racket technician and change the butt-cap. Then select the racket from the app drop-down list that best resembles your racket and away you go. It’s not ideal but it’s doable. We have a couple of Head rackets with Wilson caps for this very purpose.
Switching it on and connecting it to your iOS or Android device is straight forward. For those who have a little grip over-hang, it’s going to feel a tad strange and may even pop off on the odd occasion. The upside is that a sensor placed in the butt of a racket won’t adversely effect racket performance as much as one in the string bed.
There’s been a rather large batch of Sony Smart Tennis Sensors with battery issues throughout the first half of 2016. Once plugged into an available USB port, the red light on the sensor illuminates, then blacks out rather quickly. These will be replaced if returned (talk to your retailer). It remains to be seen whether this is an ongoing issue with future shipments.
Sony Smart Tennis Sensor Scorecard
On-Court: A bit fiddly bit pretty easy - Score: 7/10
Data Accuracy: Best on the market. Even heat map does well - Score: 8/10
App: Shows what you need to know. Navigation is easy - Score: 8/10
Video: Great drill-down to shots. Slo-mo could be better - Score: 7/10
Overall: Compatibility the main issue. Other than that, gets a tick from us - Score: 7.5/10
Sony have done some sort of job on the accuracy of the Smart Sensor. Not that we’ve tested absolutely everything (yet) but the heat map, spin, and the device’s ability to decipher the difference between groundstrokes, volleys, serves and smashes is pretty impressive.
What will take some time for the uninitiated to figure out is what the Spin data is trying to tell the user. The first thing to understand is that each shot produces a spin level of between 1 and 10 for topspin and -1 and -10 for slice. The spin is given as a round number with no decimal point, but when displayed as an average for multiple shots, is displayed to 1 decimal point. It’s very different to, say, the Qlipp which provides a spin mark out of 100.
We’ve found that the data is much better analyzed as a group of shots in a session rather than on a shot by shot basis. No matter what the level of player, if your spin is, on average, below 3.5 to 4 then you might want to think about radicalising that grip for more spin.
The other thing to point out is that Sony have provided all the information necessary for players and coaches to improve their games or that of their players. No attempt has been made to provide the user with data that doesn’t mean anything.
The home screen shows all previous sessions by default, with color-coding for court surfaces, whether there’s media attached to the session etc. Clicking on any one session takes the user to a wheel of information from which a breakdown of each shot (or the entire session) can be seen. The heat map, spin and speeds are all displayed with a tap.
The curtain function at the bottom of screen allows the user to zoom in on a shot, or group of shots – fabulous if you want to see the difference between match data and practice data, or maybe hand-fed balls and rally balls.
Using video mode is as easy as using your tablet or phone as a video. Once you’ve allowed the app to have access to video, you’re away.
Once inside the app the video is displayed and a shot by shot reading given at right of screen. You can also view the video in full screen. By far the most valuable feature of video is the ability to show a group of shots on continuous play. If you want to view all topspin backhands in a video recording, simply select that shot from the drop-down menu and away you go. If you want to look at your footwork, leave it to play all shots.
The ability to display video of, say, your slice backhand rather than all backhands is of particular value and something exclusive to Sony. The Qlipp, for example, only shows backhands rather than allowing you to see only slice.
You can play videos in slow motion but it’s frame by frame slow motion rather than continuous. It’s a small issue but this is one area where the Qlipp app shines.
Simple. Data accuracy is the biggie. Until the competition gets their data close to that of the Sony, there’s not much point in using anything else. The competition isn’t sure of whether a forehand or backhand has been hit, let alone heat maps, racket speeds etc.
Aside from that, the App is user friendly with excellent features such as video mode and a string bed map that is probably trying to be too accurate, and suffering as a result.
The sign-up process is slow and involved. The ability to use the sensor for multiple users would be great (although not in Sony’s best financial interests). The rattle in Head rackets is a problem that needs fixing.
The biggest downside is racket compatibility. The Sony Smart Sensor is compatable with most modern rackets in the Wilson, Head and Yonex ranges (note, not junior rackets despite the Burn Junior having a compatable butt-cap) but try using it with a racket that’s more than a couple of years old or something from Babolat, Technifibre or Dunlop and you’re going to have to get more creative to use the device.
Final Word on the Sony Smart Tennis Sensor
If you’re a good club or social player, cracking balls once or more per week, the Sony Smart Sensor will help you improve your game. The analytics for coaches of elite players or juniors are also invaluable. Improvements could be made, but if you’re looking for accuracy in your data and display, invest in the Sony Smart Sensor.