While the game of tennis is steeped in tradition, the sport is no stranger to incorporating new technologies.
Professional tennis players use many methods and high-tech tools to help them maximize their performance. After all, an athlete has a much greater desire to improve if they have quantifiable metrics to work from. Some of these tools have recently become available to aspiring amateurs and hobbyists.
Changes in tennis technology over the years have predominantly been about materials, progressing gradually from wood to graphene. Most recent developments, however, have been digital sensors that track your shots. While this market is still in its early stages, there are already a number of products to choose from.
Essential reading: Compare sports trackers with our interactive tool
For players who like to take-up tennis challenges, Babolat and PIQ have developed a bundle composed of a PIQ sensor and its Babolat wrist display. This high-tech neoprene wristband is billed as the world’s first connected wristband with a real-time display.
Created in 1875, Babolat is the world leader in tennis racket sales. PIQ, on the other hand, is at the intersection of technology and sport – a leader in sports robotics. The duo has built a Swiss-design multisport sensor on a platform that delivers real-time analytics.
I’ve pretty much tried everything under the sun when it comes to high tech tennis gadgets. Now its time to test-run the Babolat and PIQ.
Features and software
Tennis sensors come in all shapes and sizes. Some are attached to the butt of your racket, some are built into the grip, while others sit on your strings and also function as vibration dampeners. Babolat and PIQ is different in that it sits on your wrist and collects information. This means it can be used with any racket.
The system comes with a wristband, PIQ Robot, PIQ Fuel Battery Bank, tennis activation card and instruction booklet.
The IP67 water-resistant PIQ Robot is the heart of the system and where all the clever stuff happens. This is a nano-computer which houses sensor technology such as NFC and Bluetooth Low Energy. It also incorporates 13 axis to measure performance metrics such as velocity, height, air time, G force, amplitude, trajectory and more.
Babolat also sells a less sophisticated Babolat Pop wristband. It provides the same measurements as Babolat and PIQ, and shares the same user community. The main difference is that PIQ Robot is a more advanced multi-sport model and it has a LED screen display which allows you to see your stats in real-time.
Because PIQ Robot is a multi-sport model, you can use the same device to track other sports such as golf, kiteboarding and skiing. They all use the same core unit, but sell with separate accessories. Each sport has its own smartphone app, so you need to make sure you are pairing with the correct one. I easily managed to pair the tennis sensor to track my non-dominant wrist when testing the Everlast and PIQ boxing wearable last week.
To use the Babolat and PIQ, you are meant to place the tracker inside the wristband. PIQ Robot must be centered, on the top of your wrist and pointing towards your fingers.
The band is made of neoprene and feels quality made. Its very thin and lightweight although playing on a hot sunny day, I did wish at times it functioned a little more like a regular sweatband.
The system comes with the PIQ Fuel charger that sports a built in battery of it’s own. Once the USB stick is full it can top up PIQ Robot up to three times. The wristband sensor works up to eight hours on a single charge, which means the portable charger can give you more than 20 hours of use.
Double-clicking on PIQ sensor will let you know the actual battery level without using the app. Or just switch it on and then insert it on the PIQ Fuel. You will see the remaining power per cent displayed on the screen.
I am a keen amateur tennis player who tries to play at least twice a week in a combination with some perhaps overly competitive league match play. Being an electronic gadget junkie, its pretty safe to say I’ve tested almost everything when it comes to high-tech tennis gear.
The first time you use Babolat and PIQ you will need to go through a brief set-up process. Install and start the Babolat POP app, answer a few questions to create your profile and enter the SMS activation code. You may also need to allow time for a firmware update. The whole procedure takes perhaps 5 to 10 minutes.
Do not try to pair your sensor using the Bluetooth menu of your phone. This will not work. Instead, go to the Babolat PIQ app and access the pairing screen. When you do so, the app will scan your surroundings and find all PIQ sensors within range. This pairing step needs to be done one time only, unless you pair your PIQ with another smartphone.
Because this is a multi-sport device you need to activate it so that it tracks tennis. To do this, tap the sensor with the tennis activation card and wait for a few seconds. An animation will start on the PIQ screen while the sport is being activated.
Once the sensor is paired you can begin your session. Place PIQ Robot inside the wristband, turn it on, and play. There is no need to have your smartphone with you.
While you’re playing, the core unit intelligently analyzes your wrist movements and measures various types of data so that you can review and verify how well you are doing. To stop a session from recording, turn off your sensor, or just start the synchronization on your smartphone.
A novelty for a device of this kind is the real-time display which shows the speed of your last shot. This means you get instant feedback giving your playing experience a new dimension. It’s important to point out though, that that the sensor is not measuring the ball speed but the racket head speed.
While this is a nice touch, in reality its use is fairly limited during actual match play. This is because you don’t really have time to keep looking at the display and it may also distract you. Not to mention distracting your opponent who might be wondering why you keep starting with such interest at your wrist! On a very sunny day, it is also difficult to read as you are looking at the screen through the neoprene netting.
The good thing is, the screen is off by default. As long as you don’t press the button during the match it looks the same as any wristband. Although its match use is limited, I can see how it can be very useful, for example, if you are practicing your serves or doing training drills. Its a nice option to have in any case.
PIQ Robot stores all information during gameplay on its internal memory until you are ready to connect with the smartphone app. After syncing the data you can manually enter information such as where you played (the app uses GPS to select tennis courts around you), who you played against, the match result, court surface, etc. You can tag a session as a match, training or open session. Statistics are saved only after you qualify a session.
The stats though is where it starts to get really fun. What you will find is an overview of your past matches and training sessions, along with detailed statistics on how you played: stroke-breakdown, racket speed, spin-breakdown and much more.
An activity score is assigned for each session. This is based on the amount of shots and the average power of your shots. The activity score of each session will be added to determine your monthly global activity score, a quantitative value that determines your tennis monthly activity.
You are also assigned a PIQSCORE. This is a single metric that combines the speed of your shots, spin and style from the last 6 tennis sessions, and is something you can use to track your progress over time. A number to aim for is 10,000 points as this corresponds to a professional level. I found that I am more than halfway there. That being said, the device has no way of knowing whether your shots were in or out, so having a high PIQSCORE doesn’t mean you will automatically climb to the top of your club ladder.
Select a shot type such as your forehand shots and see how many flat, slice and topspin forehands you hit during your game. The app will also show your highest serve speed and best rally. Compare these results over multiple matches and get a better picture of your overall performance.
Outside of counting each stroke and then comparing the stats – its hard to say which one is the most accurate. So its best to take all this information with a grain of salt. But does this really matter? The goal of these sensors is to improve your game over time. As long as you are consistently using the same device, you are comparing like with like. Which means your trends over time will show whether you are improving or not.
Compared to the other tennis sensors I’ve tested over the years, I really enjoyed the intelligent feedback. The app provides actionable information on how to improve in areas where you may be lacking and identifies, what it calls, your “Winning Factors”.
For example, my last session told me “Your backhands were off the charts” and “Your serve is getting more consistent”. If you want to find out more, click on ‘Learn more” to access charts that show you a visual representation of how it arrived at these conclusions. The app also told me that the quality of my forehand decreased – something I would not have picked up purely by looking at the stats.
There is also a section called Skills. A representation of the variety of techniques a tennis player needs to own, you need to keep playing to improve your game and build up your tennis level. As soon as all your individual skills reach their maximum, you go to the next level and unlock a new skills color. In total, there are eight levels to strive for.
Last but not least, there is a social aspect. The app will allow you to challenge your friends, remotely and create a social network that lists top stats of all users. You can also compare your performances with professional players.
The data Babolat and PIQ gathers is both interesting and informative. As is the case with all such wearables, it has it’s limitations though.
One thing I often wondered when using tennis sensors was how to use the data to improve. For me, this is perhaps the most important difference between Babolat and PIQ and other tennis sensors. The system does the job for you. It sifts through the data and provides you with actionable information. Having played only a few sessions, I can only imagine the advice gets more useful over time.
The wearable is very easy to attach to the wrist and was not a hindrance. I personally have not had any issues with it linking up to my phone or the app and found it worked as advertised.
Babolat and PIQ Tennis Sensor
There is a battle going on right now for your tennis racket. This is definitely good news for aspiring tennis players and hobbyists. For me, Babolat and PIQ is useful enough as a training tool, to make it worth it. Now that I have access to this type of data about my game, it makes me want to use it all the time.
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