Playmate Volley tennis ball machine: Extended Review

Discussion in 'Other Equipment' started by AndI, Jun 18, 2014.

  1. neverstopplaying

    neverstopplaying Professional

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    I was reading your posts in the other thread and I wouldn't be too concerned about the lack of internal oscillation. I have it now but never use the machine to hide the next shot.

    You may very well be right regarding differences in ball projection; my observations are based only on empirical evidence. Though I trust my observations and played both regularly for years, I never set up the machines side by side.
     
    #51
  2. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    I don't quite understand what you mean by you 'never use the machine to hide the next shot'. You have internal oscillation so you would never have an indication of where the shot is coming from anyway so you don't have a choice to hide or not to hide. What am I missing in your statement?
     
    #52
  3. neverstopplaying

    neverstopplaying Professional

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    Since all ball machines are launching the ball from the same spot during a drill, it is not like another player. If you want to practice proper foot work, you should always move to spot to cover to most court, regardless of the machine, split-step upon ball launch, and move into position.

    With the SP, or many other brands, since you can see the whole machine move in the direction of the next ball before launch, you can be lazy and move to where you see the machine pointing. But you can also move to the proper mid spot anyway. With hidden oscillation, you have no choice to move to the mid spot. It's no big deal either way.

    Though programming is useful, I often do very simple routines. I always try to work on footwork. I will often set up a one direction routine and place a cone that I have to go around after every shot. One hopper of forehands, one of backhands, then one mixed.

    Then I'll end with a programmable setup: 2-3 baseline balls, a short ball, and a put away volley. In my experience, this was the most interesting combo for programmable machines - and my style of play.

    Snowing again this morning. ARGH!
     
    #53
  4. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    Now I understand. Even where you are having the ball sent to the same spot you still move to the mid spot. With an externally oscillating machine even if you move to the mid-spot the fact is you have the advantage of knowing which way the machine is pointing so you know which way you are going to have to run from the mid-spot. With internal oscillation you have the disadvantage of not being able to anticpiate which way to run from the mid-spot and that is a benefit in improving your game.

    Btw, where are you putting the cone on the court for, say, the backhand?

    No snow forecast for Toronto in the next 2 weeks and 8C today/16C Thurs/10C Friday! If I had my ball machine I could already be using it.
     
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  5. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    I saw one other report of repeated circuit board failure on that model, so i asked Steve at SP about it as I am contemplating buying a new machine. He told me that they indeed had problems with that line of ball machines as it turned out, unbeknownst to them and contrary to what they specified, the manufacturer had used recycled components on the circuit board which caused premature failure. Unfortunately people who had to have their circuit boards replace out of warranty had to pay for them. I asked Steve why they charged since the boards were not to spec and substandard from the day they were installed on brand new machines and therefore failed through no fault of the purchaser. His answer? "But they were out of warranty".

    This is the way it should have been handled by a company that is the poster child for good customer service. apple did a recall on the screen and battery on the iPhone 5 for a certain range of serial numbers (which mine happened to be included in) due to those parts being substandard and failing. They specified that even out of warranty units would be repaired free of charge with shipping paid both way. No wonder apple is doing so well. Their customer service is fanastic. Yes, Silent Partner has great customer service and will even replace defective parts on out of warranty units for the cost of the part and no charge for labour (but you must pay shipping cost both ways which I think is fair if they are not going to charge labour on out of warranty units), but I do think they get a big fail for not replacing circuit boards for free that they later found out were substandard from day one. Would it really have put that big a dent in their financial situations to have done what was right?
     
    #55
  6. eaglesburg

    eaglesburg Professional

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    I was stuck between Spinfire Pro 2 and the Playmate Volley. The Volley does not have vertical oscillation. Also, the build quality of the SF is really good. Probably not as good, but good enough that it will last. So then I decided by features, where the SF won. The warranty is also wayyy better on the Spinfire. Longer and better quality. Don't even have to pay shipping either way! The first machine I received had a problem. They cross shipped it with another one. Terrific!
     
    #56
  7. tennissavvy

    tennissavvy Rookie

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    man completely agree on all counts & pretty much describe my decision making process.. SP pro2 wins hands down for transportation & storage as well
     
    #57
  8. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    Your profile does not specify where you live, but the warranty is the same length on both the Spinfire and the Playmate Volley in the US. In Canada where I live the warranty is 1 year on the Spinfire Pro 2 (owing to the local exclusive distributor's unilateral decision not to provide a 2-year one unless you pay an extra $99 to extend it to the 2 years) and you pay the shipping both ways unlike in the US. In Australia the Spinfire has a 3-year warranty.
     
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  9. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    Nor does the Volley have triple/all-court/3D oscillation as a result. I really want a machine has that so it's likely the Spinfire Pro 2 for me.
     
    #59
  10. V1_Classic

    V1_Classic Rookie

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    Yep, the Spinfire definitely appears to be a nice machine. I'm a Playmate Volley owner, had it for five years, teach with it, so it's literally on the court I'd say a minimum of 250 days out of the year. I've replaced 3 batteries, and one remote (left it at the park) - that's it.

    It's certainly light on bells/whistles, but you'd be surprised at the variety of drills you can do with basic features. That's not to say machines loaded with features are a waste, but that there are a number of ball machine owners who either don't use all the features, can't get them to work correctly or simply discovered they don't care for them. That's not speculation - I know quite few players in the local area with high profile machines.

    My recommendation is tailor your purchase to what you're trying to achieve. If you don't have a regular hitting partner or have a hard time finding people to play, then yes, a loaded machine makes sense. If you're simply looking to sharpen your strokes, maybe hone a few footwork sequences, then a basic machine is absolutely sufficient.

    I knew I'd be teaching with mine, so I wanted a machine with (1) internal oscillation, (2) a remote, (3) top & underspin. Finally, it needed to be built like a tank, so the Playmate was a no-brainer.

    Lots of good ball machines out there, but definitely think about what your needs/wants are before pulling the trigger on one.
     
    #60
  11. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    Thanks for the input. I don't have a regular partner as I mostly play during the day and most people cannot. I do agree that the playmate is simply an incredible workhorse but I am surprised that there are a variety of drills that you can do with the Volley as on my reading its features are quite limited. Maybe I am missing something. Would you care to enumerate the different drills you can do with it. Aside from that, it is quite heavy and for someone who is not going to keep it at a court locked up in a club house it is a bit of a pain to transport, no?
     
    #61
  12. V1_Classic

    V1_Classic Rookie

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    It's a pain to transport if you don't have a pickup, absolutely. Me, I load it on my truck, strap it in and I'm off. I leave it on my truck during the summer (garage), take the battery off for charging, then the next day I'm off again.

    As for the drills, you absolutely don't need "features" to drill shots you hit during a match. Not to go into a lot of detail (mostly because you seem set on a loaded machine, so it's a waste of my time), but one drill I use consist of having the machine feed short balls (random oscillation) to force the kids to move in and execute an approach shot. After the machine kicks out the ball, I shut it off with the remote. Now they're playing against me. Once they hit the approach, I return their ball, forcing them to hit a volley. Learning to volley off an approach shot involves hand-eye coordination, as well as learning to properly split step and organize your feet as you transition for the mid-court to the net.

    Another drill I use the machine for is overheads where once the machine kicks out a lob, I'm on the baseline, moving left or right in an effort to force them to use triple vision (seeing the ball, the court, the opponent) and hit to the open court. I set the brakes on the casters, prop the machine up at an angle with a 6" block, which allows me to simulate realistic defensive lobs or topspin lobs (again using random oscillation, forcing the kids to move into position to execute the overhead).

    But that's just two of many drills I do. It's not the features, it's knowing what situations you'll encounter during a match and figuring out a way to replicate that shot during practice.

    But as I said, I teach with my machine. Doesn't sound like a basic machine is what you're after.
     
    #62
  13. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    I think that with an instructor to augment their instruction the experience is entirely different. However, from my read of the description on the Playmate website it didn't seem to me that it could do short balls unless it's the elevation feature that enables that so I took a look at the manual. That really didn't explain it but one thing I think for sure. It does not appear to indicate one that the machine could throw short balls and long balls alternately, either random or otherwise, but could throw short(er) balls by changing the elevation. Whereever the ball is programmed to land, either short or long, it appears one can add random oscillation to throw the balls randomly left or right either wide or narrow or in between depending on where the knob is set. In addition to this there is the 2-line feature which throws alternately throw balls on either side of the court narrow, wide or somewhere in between again depending on where the knob is set.

    But, what I wanted to clarify is the machine cannot throw the ball narrow, wide or somewhere in between and alternate (either randomly or otherwise) both long and short balls at the same time (ie triple oscillation/all-court/3D play) right or can it? The manual does not appear to indicate this is possible.

    Even so, the Playmate Volley is the same price here in Canada and the US as the also internally oscillating Spinfire 2 but has fewer features and is a pain to transport. So, for the more casual user (unlike you who is an instructor and most likely using the machine quite a bit more) who doesn't have a pickup, it's really not much of an option. If it was as easy to transport as the Spinfire and a bit lower cost I would certainly consider it.
     
    #63
  14. V1_Classic

    V1_Classic Rookie

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    You are correct; it doesn't alternately throw short and long balls, however, I sometimes add in a few dead balls, along with some balls I've drilled holes in so that if we're doing groundstrokes they're forced to "read" each ball because it could be one that pulls them into the court 3 or 4 feet or pushes them back a few feet off the baseline.

    I only listed two drills, not all, and you don't have to be an instructor or have an instructor out there with you to get quite a bit out of basic machine. Sometimes having a second person is handy, but you can still do a number of drills solo.

    Having said that, if I were not using the machine to instruct with I might have gone with another brand myself. It's hard to say, because I love the build quality of the Playmate, the fact that you can detach the battery, and that in addition to having the features "I" needed, I could tilt that sucker back to simulate realistic lobs, which is something that couldn't be done by the other machines on the market at the time. Not sure if you can do that with the Spinfire, but then again others might not care about simulating realistic lobs.

    But as I said, just because a machine has a number of features doesn't mean it's the machine you need based on the goals you have. As nice as the Spinfire appears to be, I'm not sure I could drag that sucker out on the court 250+ times a year for five years and not have problems with it; personal machines typically aren't built for high volume usage.

    Spring for the Spinfire - you'll be happy with it. ;-)
     
    #64
  15. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    Being an engineer myself I too am impressed with the build quality of the Playmate and anecdotal stories of how long that unit lasts and what a workhorse it is. I used one in Florida on my last vacation at a club. The fact that clubs, which have high usage, choose the Playmate often is very telling. They of course have a higher budget and also are able to make revenue from renting the machine out so the cost may not be as much of an issue for them nor are they having to transport it to and from vehicles. Also I do agree that consumer machines like the Spinfire and Lobster are not built for 5 day/week x 52 week yearly use. However, Silent Partner, which is also a consumer machine, has been around for quite a while here in Canada and the reports are that it is quite robust and lasts for years. One forum contributor reported that he put over 100,000 balls through one over eight years with no issues whatsoever. Of course that's also anecdotal but I've heard few complaints about the machine's quality except for the now discontinued SP Pro which had a bad circuit board issue. Silent partner also does out of warranty repairs for the cost of parts alone and no labour. That's a sign that the machines are built to a reasonably high standard, for a consumer machine anyway. Spinfire is a relatively new machine so it does not have as long a history so no conclusion can be made about its longevity, but I have yet to read a review that complained about it's build quality (issues about the remote having an antenna aside).

    As for realistic lobs, the Spinfire has an elevation feature with quite a range, as does the Silent Partner. In addition, I see no reason why you cannot tilt the unit by putting a block underneath as you do with the Playmate.

    I do agree that people need to think about what features they want and purchase the machine that reflects that and also that often people are impressed by features when they don't need them. That was certainly me when I started researching machines last week. I was really impressed with the extra programmability of the Silent Partner Smart even at the feature expense of not having internal oscillation. I feel now that I'd rather have less features which really are enough in themselves for one to have a good and varied workout and I'm now heavily leaning towards the Spinfire Pro 2 even though it costs 20% more here.
     
    #65
  16. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    I've taken a really good look at the Playmate in the last few days and the drills in their manual and their videos. Indeed there is much more you can do with it than I had originally thought. Also, the removable battery is a great feature as you don't have to wheel the entire machine to an outlet. Just take off the battery pack and plug it in. However, I am still struggling through with the bulkiness of the unit and am not sure I can get it into my small car (a 20yo Toyota Corllla). The weight of it (46 lbs without the battery pack) is not as much an issue because you can put the battery pack on the unit after you have taken it out of your vehicle.

    Just for interest's sake before I make my final decision I am going to take a look at it at a Volley at a local dealer. I am not sure the price but he just sold a used one with 2-yr warranty for $2,850 CDN tax in so a new one would probably be over $3,000 CDN (Spinfire Pro 2 is $2,400 tax in and SP Smart is $2,000 tax in). That alone puts it out of the ballpark for me, but I still want to see the unit in the flesh (metal).
     
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  17. eaglesburg

    eaglesburg Professional

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    It probably has better build quality, but you can do more things with the Sinfire Pro 2. It's not a hassle to transport.
     
    #67
  18. neverstopplaying

    neverstopplaying Professional

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    Personally, I would always choose better-build over more gadgets.

    But if transport is not possible, then there is no option.
     
    #68
  19. eaglesburg

    eaglesburg Professional

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    It's not like the build on the Spinfire is bad...
     
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  20. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    They are the same weight without the Playmate Volley battery, but too bad the Playmate is so bulky (it's not pretty either but that's a minor issue). I have only read one negative review of the Spinfire Pro 2 and that was last night when I looked at the Amazon reviews for Playmate Volley and found it buried in there. This 'verified purchaser' of the Playmate stated at http://www.amazon.com/Playmate-Volley-Ball-Machine/product-reviews/B00399YSBG that:

    'My son and I use this [Playmate Volley] machine twice a week for technical training and cardio. We bought and returned a different highly-rated machine -- the Spinfire Pro 2, an engineering catastrophe they should call "The Jammer" -- before we found this American-made gem. Having taught tennis professionally for almost 30 years, I've used just about every ball machine on the market -- Prince, Wilson, Lobster -- but only recently tried the lesser-known Playmates. What a standout series. The Playmate Volley has everything you need for a casual workout or serious elite junior training. And it fits in the back of your car. I am passionate about this product because I am passionate about tennis and this machine has been an invaluable teaching tool.'

    Why in the world would someone say this about the Spinfire Pro 2? All of the reviews I have found so far are stellar, and of course since it's only been out for a few years we don't know the longevity of the unit, but then parts are replaceable, even by the user.

    Does this unit jam more than one would expect? Also, if it does is it appreciably more than the Lobster, Silent Partner, Playmate? Maybe this is just a disgruntled customer with a conflict of interest (but then Playmate doesn't need cheerleaders as it's reputation is long and stellar and its build quality outstanding, albeit the machines have much fewer features than the Spinfire Pro 2 and at a higher price).

    I'd love to hear from Spinfire Pro 2 owners on this.
     
    #70
  21. neverstopplaying

    neverstopplaying Professional

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    You're obviously putting a lot of thought into your purchase.

    You will surely find many happy users of any ball machine. Not that many people have them; even fewer have played extensively with more than one brand.

    Before I bought the Playmate, I had an SP Pro (yes older molder and yes plagued with a few problems). The reasons I went with the Playmate:

    No negative reviews anywhere;
    clubs use them - they're built like tanks;
    Volley model has fewer features, but IMO they are unnecessary;
    I spoke to several people involved in repairing machines - all of them said that nothing comes close in build quality to the Playmate.

    I spite of this, I was quite happy with my SP Pro for many years.
     
    #71
  22. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    Yes. $2-$3K+ is not an insignificant purchase not to mention I'll be spending as much time with the machine as I do with my friends so spending 10-15 hours to increse the chances I'll end up happy is a tiny investment compared to the return I will be getting.

    I appreciate your input and if it was easier to transport the Playmate and closer in price to the Spinfire Pro 2 I'd likely buy it. I am going to test attempting to put it in and take it out of my car before I make my final decision. I am not sure it would even fit in the back seat. I know for sure it won't in the trunk.
     
    #72
  23. TorontoTennis

    TorontoTennis Rookie

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    I should add that the fact that the re-sale value of the Playmate is so high even years later does ease the financial pain (but only years later!).
     
    #73
  24. Thi Tran

    Thi Tran New User

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    Thanks for the great review! I also own a playmate volley. Do you know if it would be possible to add an AC option? Some of the courts I play at have outlet. It would be nice to take advantage of that. Thanks!
     
    #74
  25. monomer

    monomer Rookie

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    I built a cheap (< $30) AC power supply for my Playmate Volley. It's not difficult as long as you are OK with some very basic electronics work. I used this power supply -

    12v 30a Dc Universal Regulated Switching Power Supply

    You also will have to buy the proper Molex Sabre 44441 connector and terminal to plug into the machine.
     
    #75

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