For a long time tennis ball machines were the preserve of large tennis clubs. Now there are options which are making such devices affordable for the masses. Slinger Bag vs Spinshot Plus 2 vs Lobster Grand V Elite Three vs Proton Tennis Ball machine? All of these are all popular options. In this article we look at their technical specs, features, prices and more.
Which one is right for you? Hopefully, this article will help.
- Why get a tennis ball machine
- Lessons vs ball machines
- Things to consider when buying a tennis ball machine
- Popular tennis ball machines: Slinger Bag vs Spinshot vs Lobster vs Proton
Why get a tennis ball machine?
Most people who are at least semi-serious about tennis will at some point consider renting a tennis ball machine or purchasing one. There are several different reasons why you might want to do this.
For starters, these types of devices will improve your game. Practice makes perfect and something that consistently and accurately flings balls in your direction until you can hit no more is the ideal opponent.
Let’s say your backhand needs work. A great way to improve your technique and confidence is simply to program a machine to send you balls to your backhand. Hit thousands of these and you are guaranteed to improve. Consistency is key.
You can do the same with volleys, forehands, overheads, slices and more. Put in some target practice, do some drills and hitting and these shots will feel like second nature. With proper setup, such devices can also improve your footwork.
Another reason you might want to purchase a tennis ball machine is limited access to hitting partners. Most people would rather play a match then put in practice session – let’s face it, playing for points is much more fun. So while you might have no trouble finding people to play matches with, finding a hitting partner who is at your level might be a bit more difficult.
Then there’s the exercise aspect. You have a ready and willing partner sitting in your basement or garage – you can always count on them. A partner that never get tired or grumpy. The benefits come in many forms. Perhaps you just want to shed some pounds or work on your stamina. Playing with a ball machine can improve your physical conditioning.
Lessons vs ball machines
Of course, you could always opt for tennis lessons. And that’s probably a good idea, particularly if you are just starting out. Tennis ball machines can help with fine tuning your technique, footwork and more but they are unlikely to fix the fundamentals of your game. For that you do need a human at the other end of the court – a tennis coach.
Getting proper fundamentals is easier when starting out than when you’ve been doing something repeatedly for years. Bad habits are difficult to correct later. You may have become proficient at using bad form. That might work with those at or below your level, but you will have difficulty progressing and playing against better tennis players.
One of my tennis partners decided to opt for tennis lessons for the first time after years of playing. His tennis game pretty much fell apart in the first few months of lessons. He couldn’t win a set against me. But in the mid-to-long run that investment paid off. His technique improved and he became an overall better player.
Lessons can be quite pricey. And the costs can add up quickly. Not everyone can afford this. So a tennis ball machine could act as a cost saver. But for optimal results, a combination of a tennis coach and hitting practice with a tennis ball machine is ideal. It will probably advance your game more than just focusing on one or the other.
Things to consider when buying a tennis ball machine
The first thing to consider when buying a tennis ball machine is the cost. Such devices range from $650 to a few thousand dollars. The more you pay, typically the specs and capabilities of the machine will be better. There are some very low cost options out there, but those are not likely to do much for your game.
It is best to look at it as an investment. Let’s say you pay $1,500 for a tennis ball machine. If you go to a court once a week with the gizmo for two years, it works out to just $2 per session. Opting to pay for a 1 hour session with a tennis ball machine at your local club is probably ten times that price. Considering a typical ball machine will likely last at least 4-5 years, it can act as a cost saver over the long run. But not if it is sitting in your garage!
As long as you are serious about improving your tennis game it is a worthwhile investment. If not and you are not likely to play often, then it probably doesn’t make a sensible purchase.
Some people think that tennis ball machines are only for beginners and mid-range players. There is some truth in that but even those who are very good can benefit from practicing their technique and strokes. That is why specs and capabilities of the machine are important. This includes factors such as speed, ball capacity, oscillation features, remote controls, warranty – the list goes on. The more advanced you are the more benefit you’ll derive from higher spec machines. Ease of use, on the other hand, might be more important for those just starting out.
Another thing that should be factored in is portability. Not all tennis machines are made equal and some are smaller, lighter and easier to transport than others. Keep that in mind.
Then there are power options. Tennis ball machines are typically battery operated. But you do have those that use A/C power. The first are typically more portable and easier to use as you don’t need a power source on the court. But you will need to remember to charge them after a few hours on the court.
How noisy is it? This might be something to think about as consideration to players on nearby courts is important. Luckily tech is progressing so the motors inside these machines are becoming quiter.
Popular tennis ball machines
We’ve picked out a few of our favourite tennis ball machines: the Slinger Bag vs Proton Tennis Ball Machine vs Spinshot Plus 2 vs Lobster Grand V Elite. These vary quite a bit in terms of price, design and functionality.
Each person has their own specific needs and the right choice for one might not suit another. So best to read all of this carefully and consider your specific situation, level of play and how often you are likely to use a tennis ball machine.
Design: Slinger Bag vs Spinshot vs Lobster vs Proton
Slinger Bag is unlike any other tennis ball machine on the market. It comes in the form of an oversized tennis bag. It is a novel and brilliant idea that was funded through two highly-successful crowdfunding campaigns. Since then the company has been going from strength to strength.
In our hands-on review we note that the whole thing feels very nicely made and of robust build quality. You can put things in its various pockets such as tennis racquets, water bottles, towels and more. There’s even a USB port for charging your smartphone.
Below the main storage pocket is where you can fit 72 tennis balls. Open the hopper and twice that amount will fit in. Below this is the feeder plate and mechanism that sucks the balls down into the shute and spits them out in your direction.
The brains of the unit are at the lower front end. This is also where the battery sits. With your purchase you do get a small remote and this can be used to switch the machine on and off. However, for customization you’ll need to use the control panel. This allows you to define the speed and feed rate. Next to that is a little lever which lets you define the trajectory (angle) of the balls.
Finally, there’s also an oscillator (optional purchase). It slips under the machine and plugs into the main battery. This moves the unit from left to right to give you a more challenging session. It makes sense to buy this with the Slinger Bag as it adds a different dimension to the workouts.
Battery life is about 3.5 hours on a single charge. This should be enough for at least two decent practice sessions.
Proton Tennis Ball Machine
Proton also has a tennis ball machine designed for portablity. However, unlike the Slinger Bag, this one looks more like the traditional thing.
Another device that has its origins in a crowdfunding campaign, the Proton Tennis Ball Machine is the lightest of the devices we cover in this article. Weighing just over 9kgs, it is probably the lighest fully featured ball machine on the market.
As far as dimensions, Proton is about half the size of a standard tennis ball machine. It measures only 38.1 x 43 x 22.9 cm. You could probably equate its size to a small carry-on suitcase.
The ball capacity of this one is around 100. The ball hopper collapses for easier storage and transport.
Control is done via the accompanying smartphone app. There is currently an iPhone version with a Beta Android app under development. The smartphone software allows you to specify the spin, speed, location and timing of shots. Or simply tap where you want the ball to go and let the app’s proprietary algorithms do the rest. In that sense, the Proton Tennis Ball Machine has more sophisticated controls than Slinger Bag.
You also have the option to customize everything via built-in controls on the machine itself. The digital input know lets you tweak the settings, and this is all displayed with highly visible LEDs.
The battery is good for around 1000 balls on a single charge. That’s about 5 hours. You can quickly swap it for a reserve battery allowing you more playing time between charges.
Spinshot Plus 2
Now we are moving into the territory of traditional tennis ball machines. These are bigger, more expensive and more functional than the portable kind.
One of these is the Spinshot Plus 2. This is a mid-range device that combines features from the original Spinshot Plus model with the advanced Player model.
Square in looks, its dimensions come in at 45.7 x 30.5 x 50.8 cm and weight at 18kgs. Despite the large size, you can lug the thing around with the built-in wheels. The ball capacity is around 120.
There are several ways to control Spinshot Plus 2. You can do this via the command panel on the side of the machine or download the smartphone app. This allows for full programming of drill settings. Another option is to purchase a remote control. The final option is to use an Apple Watch.
As far as power, you can rely on the battery for about 3 hours of playing time. Optionally, you can purchase a hybrid power and battery model. This lets you use an electricity outlet in addition to the battery.
Lobster Grand V Elite
The final machine on our list is the Lobster Grand V Elite. Another traditional looking machine, this one is quite different to the Spinshot Plus 2. In appearance, it reminds a little of a lawnmower.
At 20 kgs and measuring 73.7 x 53.3 x 39.4cm, this one is the largest and heaviest of the bunch. Luckily there’s a set of oversized wheels which make transport a breeze.
With a ball capacity of 150, there are plenty of functions on offer. The controls are built into the thing, but for ease of use you can purchase a feature-rich remote control. The remote is impressive, but it costs a hefty $300. The Lobster machine is definitely one for those with deep pockets.
A battery is good for between 4 and 8 hours of court time and you can purchase a quick swap reserve for $99. No electricity power option on this one.
Proton Tennis Ball Machine
Spinshot Plus 2
Lobster Grand V Elite
Yes – designed for portability.
Yes – designed for portability.
35.6 x 45.7 x 86.4 cm
38.1 x 43.x 22.9 cm
45.7 x 30.5 x 50.8 cm
73.7 x 53.3 x 39.4 cm
Max ball speed
2 to 7 seconds
2 to 10 seconds
2 to 9 seconds
Yes – free (on/off control)
Yes – free
Optional. You can control via smartphone app instead.
Up to 3.5 hours.
Up to 5 hours. Optional quick swap battery (costs $75).
Up to 3 hours.
4-8 hours. Quick swap battery $99.
Built into remote
1 year + 2 years (1 in the EU) when you register
$645 and up
$1,595 and up
$1,899 and up
$2,599 and up
Functionality: Slinger Bag vs Spinshot vs Lobster vs Proton
The four machines covered in this article have some similarities and differences when it comes to functionality. Apart from price, this will be most important to those considering a purchase.
The lowest spec of the lot is Slinger Bag. That one doesn’t have drills or anything like that. But you can control the speed of the balls (up to 73kph), angle of the balls and feed rate. As mentioned, there is also an oscillating bottom that you can purchase. If you’re getting the machine, we suggest you get this as well as it provides more realistic play.
All the balls have top spin so there is no way to define the spin of the ball. But this is not necessariliy a bad thing. On bounce the ball will speed up making it more difficult to hit. It forces you to learn to react quickly.
Proton has more in terms of functionality. It comes with sophisticated controls that in addition to all of the above allow you to control the spin of the balls. Plus the smartphone app makes customizing everything very easy. For a quick start simply choose between beginner, intermediate or advanced play options. Or select one of the built-in practice routines. This includes everything from footwork to stroke development and game situations.
Spinshot Plus 2 is not very different than Proton Tennis Ball machine in terms of functionality. Both allow for ball speeds up to around 110kmh and come with sophisticated smartphone controls for full programming of drill settings.
The final of the bunch is the most feature-rich one. The drills and programs can be customized to a whopping 18 shot locations. Tap into one of 12 pre-loaded court drills or customize your own by defining the shot location, ball speed, ball spin and the feed rate. Or opt for the fully random oscillation with random settings. That is as close to match play as you will get!
Price: Slinger Bag vs Spinshot vs Lobster vs Proton
Tennis ball machines are one of the most effective and fastest ways to improve your game. But most of these are heavy on your wallet.
With a more budget friendly price tag, Slinger Bag is designed to allow almost anyone to own a decent tennis ball launcher. It is the cheapest of all the machines we cover in this article starting at only $645. You are not going to find a less expensive tennis ball machine than that. The ones that are cheaper are more like toys than proper machines.
The Proton is about twice as expensive as the Slinger Bag. Those who don’t mind paying that much will appreciate the additional functionality and smaller size of the thing.
The traditional tennis ball machines are much more expensive. Spinshot Plus 2 starts at $1,899 and on top of that you can purchase an optional remote. This is probably the low-end price range of traditional tennis ball machines.
The most fully featured device in this article is the Lobster Grand V Elite. Its not surprising that it is much more expensive starting at $2,599. Throw in the remote control and you are approaching the $3,000 mark. This is a good option for clubs, or perhaps where a number of family members wish to regularly practice. Or perhaps one for those more ambitions about their tennis game.
The bottom line: Slinger Bag vs Spinshot vs Lobster vs Proton
We are fans of the Slinger Bag and don’t hide that fact. The device wins out in terms of looks and price. It is the first decent quality tennis ball machine that is available to the masses. For those starting out or intermediate players it is a nice option that won’t break the bank. Plus it looks great! (US purchase link; UK purchase link)
In terms of portability we would put Slinger Bag head-to-head with the Proton Tennis Ball Machine. That one is twice as expensive but it offers quite a bit more in terms of drills and smart controls. Plus it allows you to control the spin of the ball. Slinger Bag only sends balls with top spin. (hydrogensports.com – US only).
Very advanced players are likely to want to want a traditional tennis ball machine. Spinshot Plus 2 and Lobster Grand V Elite are two popular options. But they will be very heavy on your wallet. Particularly the Lobster. But for that you do get a professional tenis ball machine that offers endless options for practice and drills. (Spinshot Plus 2 – check price on Amazon; Lobster Grand V Elite – check price on Amazon).
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