SAM SP4 Ball Machine - Review

Discussion in 'Other Equipment' started by RACQUETnROLL, Aug 28, 2006.



    Let me just start by saying I will try and do my best from sounding like I am pitching the Sam SP4 ball machine over other competitors. I originally considered the Lobster Elite 3, Tennis Tutor Plus Player, and the Silent Partner Pro (w/programmable oscillator) models but in the end, chose the SP4 because I felt it had everything I was looking for in a portable ball machine. To be honest, I was sold on the included 10 function remote control. I find it invaluable when instructing my daughter to be able to pause and change shot selection (speed, spin, elevation, feed rate, oscillation, etc.) from the other side of the court. I will say the remote is NOT pocket-sized and my max range seems to be around the opposite service line. In addition, I wish the SP4 would beep to confirm it has received the remote command, but instead it just flashes a green light. SAM Tennis must have figured the beep would be a constant annoyance with a ten function remote; especially if you are using step functions to increase or decrease a setting (i.e. spin or elevation). Though large, the remote does come with a belt clip which I tend attach to the net versus an actual belt. There is a really cool feature that Sam included with the remote and that is the Pause button. When pressed, it stops the wheels from spinning and leaves the machine in a standby mode. This is great for taking a quick break, coaching, picking up balls, and clearing balls at your feet. In short, it saves battery life and keeps me from having to take extra trips to manually turn the machine off and on. All in all, I am very happy with the machine’s remote capabilities and as I said earlier the remote was a big selling point. As far as machine performance goes, the SP4 is giving me quite a workout. I am a former college tennis player who loved to crank from the baseline but as I am getting older, I find myself playing more doubles than singles. Now that I have to cover the entire width of the court using random or programmed oscillation mode, I find myself panting a little harder. The first time I used the machine I made the mistake of turning the feed rate too fast with the ball speed on max using the random oscillation….. I just had to watch a couple of nice winners go by!! I even caught myself saying, “Nice Shot!” Top ball speed is definitely a challenge from the baseline. With a little topspin added, the shots are consistently deep and I fine myself not able to dictate the rally from 4 feet behind the baseline. It sure would be nice to move in and take the ball on the rise like Agassi. Hopefully that will come with practice!! Initially I would have liked to compare the SP4’s ball speed to the higher specs of the Silent Partner’s 95 MPH but after a couple of minutes on top speed with moderate feed rate, the SP4 is more than what I expected. The big surprise is how much this ball machine is helping me recapture my long lost net game. It is now great to have a partner (SP4) who can deliver clean hard shots while I am up at the net. Now I am able to get in a nice rhythm at the net which in turn has helped my footwork and racquet preparation. One drawback I wrestled with when considering the SP4 was the lack of vertical oscillation. Some of the other models like the Lobster Elite 3 and Tennis Tutor Plus Player offered varying depth control. I am a little curious how the vertical oscillation performs and how beneficial it could be during net and baseline drills. But as it stands now, I am clearly getting run on the court as it is! Another factor I over looked when choosing my ball machine was ball capacity. The 300 ball capacity has turned out to be a nice blessing. At first, I thought it would be over kill but after day one versus the SP4 I realized how often I would have been shagging balls if I chose a machine with half the SP4’s ball capacity. It’s amazing how fast you can hit a 100 or more balls. Needless to say, in this case, BIGGER IS BETTER! The one upgrade I did have to buy for my machine was the lob enhancer. It is easy to attach but does take about a minute to install with the use of 2 thumb screws, but the enhancement was well worth the additional $26 I paid. At 6’2” I figured I shouldn’t take any chances and so far hitting overheads has been right on par. I am yet to try the machine without the enhancement so I can’t offer a comparison, but I will be happy to test it out for anybody who inquires. The SP4 comes standard with a smart charger (which allows you to leave the charger plugged in without fear of damaging the battery) but does not appear to have fast charge capability. It takes about 8 hours for a full charge and the machine will long wear you out before you run the battery dry. For around $150 I saw I could buy an AC/DC converter to plug the SP4 into an outlet on my court. I don’t think it’s on my wish list just yet, but it is nice to know that I don’t have to send it back to the factory for this option. Last but not least is the question of portability. I didn’t really consider this feature because I live in a subdivision with 2 tennis courts, I drive a Honda Odyssey and I am 6’2” with a strong back. I will say this though, after reading and researching the other machines I fore mentioned, I believe the SP4 to be the least portable of the lot. Not that it is more bulky or heavy, it just seems to be overall…less portable. For instance, the Lobster Elite 3 has big wheels and both the Tennis Tutor and Silent Partner have nice handle designs. With the SP4 I would find it cumbersome to transport it over long distances. For one thing, the handle is not great on your back if you are over 6 foot and the wheels are small (but smooth and durable across the parking lot and court). The ball holder disconnects easily and sits on top of the SP4 but unfortunately doesn’t seem to stay on well when I drag the machine around by the handle. I figure I am probably overlooking something, but I did read a previous post about a similar issue. With that said, I’ll close my review but will be happy to follow up with any questions or advice anyone has to share.
  2. nickybol

    nickybol Semi-Pro

    Sep 15, 2005
    What a post! Could you edit the post and insert some white space?
  3. Interesting. I'm trying to decide between an sp-x model and the silent partner pro right now. Did you buy the sp-4 without trying any other models you mentioned then?


    My SAM SP-4 was purchased without trialing any of the other machines previously mentioned. In the past, I've used older pneumatic machines, so I am not a total newbie when it comes to using a ball machine. I really considered the SP Pro w/programmable oscillator. It definitely leads the lot when considering price per feature. I own a Silent Partner Aria stringing machine that has turned out to be a true work horse with nice craftsmanship. Not to mention, I feel Silent Partner’s Support has been exceptional, especially when it comes to immediate feedback. Just wished they would ship Fed Ex instead of UPS (but that’s another story). As far as I can tell, based on the SP Pro ball machine video, my SP-4 performs nearly identical with the possible exception of top ball speed! I am not sure how noisy the other machines are but I find the SP-4 to be really quiet. With the lob enhancer add-on, I would have to say the SP-4 wins the lob category. One other thing I didn’t mention is durability. I have already tagged the SP-4 with some hard overheads and ground strokes and it doesn’t budge. The ball holder and machine are made out of a very durable light-weight plastic material. It reminds me of the commercial where the gorilla is jumping on the samsonite luggage. With the exception of the Lobster Elite series, I didn’t feel the other two machines would hold up as well. In the end, I was able to get a new SP-4 for only $70 more than SP Pro w/programmable oscillator due to free shipping and a good sale price.
  5. dcottrill

    dcottrill Rookie

    Aug 28, 2006

    Like you, I was impressed by the features of the SP Pro (and the cool video), but the machine just doesn't look all that sturdy to me. Since I will be loading my machine in the car and dragging it across a parking lot every time I use it, it's got to be tough...and the SAM looks to be built like a tank. I was also impressed by the Lobster Elite series, but according to some of the reviews I've read, they still have a few bugs to work out.

    I will probably make my purchase next spring, and unless someone comes along with a totally new machine, my choices will be between one of the SAM models. With that in mind, allow me to ask...after using the machine for a while, do you still think you are getting $600 worth of utility from the remote control? (Approx. difference in price between the 1 and the 4.) I'm sure the 10 function remote control is fun to use, but I can think of many other things to do with $600.

    Please continue to post your impressions of the SAM as you use it over time.

    BTW...there is a SAM video too. It's at the Tennis Warehouse Australia site.
  6. mrw

    mrw Semi-Pro

    May 31, 2005
    Hey, that was a great review. I wish you the best w/ your new machine.

    I have heard that battery life is pretty short with the Prince 4 machine.Is the Sam version a carry over? How many hours are you getting between charges? Thanks, mrw


    As far as the $600 question, I would have to say I am slowly earning my money back. With the exception of the SP-1, both the model 2 & 3 perform and are constructed nearly identical to the SP-4. To most, the differences are relatively small but depending on your use, can be huge. In my case, I give lessons to small kids (including my daughter and soon my son!) so the two line drill feature is something I strongly considered. With the model SP-2 & 3 you have to manually adjust the sweep by turning a knob at the bottom of the machine. It is nice to be able to adjust the sweep width from the other side of the net using the remote (you truly can adjust everything using the remote). The Pause feature which is not a feed stop as seen on other models saves battery, time and even resumes what ever drill you were doing. So I guess my advice is this, if the machine is exclusively for personal use… go with the SP-2! You are functionally only giving up a remote and the 2 line drill feature, anything else could be considered trivial if not a modern convenience. In regards to the SP-1, I needed a machine that had an adjustabel sweep width when using the oscillator. Unfortunately, the SP-1's sweep width is fixed at the factory and I don't believe you can adjust it.


    I believe SAM has taken over the manufacturing end for Prince Ball machines. They actually sent me two manuals one Prince & one from Sam Tennis for the SP-4/Model #4. You can find their website at but I doubt you'll find any information at anymore. So far the battery is new and has been performing great, but I haven't been on the court for more than 3 hours so it's hard to give you a good answer. I will try and keep track of the usage time this weekend and see if I can let the battery go dead.
  9. dcottrill

    dcottrill Rookie

    Aug 28, 2006
    Thanks for giving us the benefit of your experience with the SAM. It is much appreciated.

    It sounds as if the SP-2 would work best for me. That said, I will be looking for any other posts you might make regarding the machine as you get more experience with it.

    Thanks again!
  10. whoster69

    whoster69 New User

    Oct 14, 2006
    Ukiah, California
    Thanks for the information! Very useful even if I did feel cross-eyed after reading it lol!

    Too bad SAM's website is so poorly put together. The pictures of the remote won't enlarge properly.
  11. JeffCyner

    JeffCyner New User

    Mar 27, 2007
    I received my SAM SP-4 in early April 2007 but was unable to use it as my separate order of Tretorn Micro X's went missing! Finally the balls arrived in early May 2007 and I have been using both for one month now. So here's my review of the SAM SP-4.

    1) It is constructed like a Sherman tank. I repeatedly hit it and balls bounce off without so much as a dint.

    2) I placed all 270 of my Tretorn Micro X's and the machine held them without spillage.

    3) The remote control is a good feature. Especially the "Feed OneShot" button. This easier allows me to align the machine without wasting balls shooting over net. Also the ability to pause the SAM SP-4 on other side of net is great.

    4) Battery life seems good. I used it for 4 continuous hours and no problem. I think this is the maximum before it starts to run down though. I was dead after this session.

    5) The machine is way easy to take apart and clean on the inside. All it takes is a 5/32" Allen Key and the four bolts come off (careful to not rip the attached cables but there is heaps of room) and the vacuum cleaner is applied to clean up all the mess created. Easy Peasy!

    6) When the wheels fall off I think it will be quite easy to replace them myself by taking the machine apart (as per above step) and removing them. Well that's my thinking anyway.

    1) Heavy. Though to be fair the machine seems to be lighter now after getting use to it a few times putting it in car and out of boot of car.

    2) Big! You need a good sized family car with matching boot to lug this around. No Miata's need apply.

    3) You need to get up to the tennis net for remote to work. Not that much of an issue though.

    I have never used any ball machine before in my life. I now regard the SAM SP-4 as my first born (please don't tell my girlfriend as I am in love with it). The ability to go play tennis without having to organise it around the time of another person is awesome. Buying a tennis machine was one of my better decisions in life. Choosing the SAM SP-4 made that decision even better.

    Tretorn Micro X. There is no way I will ever use any tennis ball for my ball machine other than these. They are simply superb. Of course harder than normal balls but these beauties are perfect for the SAM SP-4. I made 2 out of 2 excellent decisions.
  12. vinsingh

    vinsingh Guest

    I purchased the SAM P-4 in May and agree with almost everything you have said, except my remote works fine from the baseline. I too noticed that it got a little lighter after learning how to lift it. It is not a light machine, but the salesman I talked to said they use much thicker aluminum than Lobster and Silent Partner, makes sense.
  13. sorin

    sorin New User

    Aug 30, 2007
    SAM model4 vs Lobster 3 Comparison

    I finally bought a ball machine, but not without adventures. The buying adventure started in July and ended in September and included a purchase and return of a SAM4 machine and ended with the final purchase of a Lobster 3.
    The SAM4 had a problem with the ball feed motor. It would stop at random after feeding 5 to 40 balls and I had to restart it with the remote, no ball jam though. From one of the posts I read that they had problems with the electronic boards through time and it I guess it is still true. After a few frustrating days I called the Master Sports and, heart broken, I returned the machine.
    So, I turned to Lobster Sports and purchased a Lobster3 with remote and smart charger ($1900). This is one sweet machine... I have used for more than a month and it works great, no jams, no battery issues. It is compact, light weight, and quiet, the two-function remote works great from allover the court. There are also some improvements on the new models that people out there should know since they are not mentioned on Lobster's web site:
    (1) The handle folds-in and is very easy to use. It is also more sturdy tan before.
    (2) The transport wheels are redesigned with a solid shaft. They rub some against the housing but they do not fall off anymore. The wheels are still cheap plastic though.
    Things that I had to do:
    (1) Put a ground strap to eliminate static discharge. Basically a small chain that drags on the ground and is attached to the ground metal bracket inside the machine. I was getting zapped when I was touching the handle after a 1-2hours of use. I believe that the charge was building due to friction between the spinning wheels and balls and had nowhere to go.
    (2) Replaced the original transport wheels with some old ones I had that were a bit smaller in diameter so that they do not rub the housing. I still do not understand why Lobster does not get the right wheel size and fix this issue for all.
    Other observations:
    The spinning wheels are made of nylon reinforced with fiber glass and covered with a rubber layer. The rubber is about 1/4inch thick. They seems as durable as aluminum ones but lighter. The replacement cost is $54/wheel when the rubber wears off. I guess all wheels will need to be replaced at some point. They also have a V-shape profile that guides the ball, while the aluminum ones don't. The sweep/feed motors are smaller than the ones used by SAM but they are still heavy-duty. The housing is molded plastic and it has recessed handles. The remote is nice and small, but only two functions. The SAM had a full function remote but it was as big as an old VCR remote and you cannot run with it in your pocket. The vertical oscillation works by moving +/-5 deg around a nominal position that you set initially. If new balls are mixed with old balls then the depth of the shots is scrambled more. The horizontal two line function is working great. I also had some SAM Extreme pressureless balls that are very durable although they are bit heavy and too stiff. You can fit the moment of impact quite a bit.

    In conclusion I am very happy with the Lobster 3. I believe that the plastic-metal combination in the Lobster is what leads to about 5pounds less than the SAM and I think that it has the right combination of robustness, features and light weight needed for a ball machine. The SAM is built like tank, but it weighs like a tank (if you get the electronics to work). :-D
  14. henrikc

    henrikc New User

    Mar 22, 2010
    I can vouch for the Lobster Elite 1 as a great machine- reliable and throws balls pretty fast once you get the hang of tuning the settings.

    I also use Tretorn Micro X balls and they seem great. I've mainly played on carpet with the machine but I think that it's great fun to play with and offers lots of potential to improve your shots.

    The main consideration you should have with a machine is how much you're going to use it. If you buy the best machine in the world, but it's too big to put in your car, too heavy to get out of the car often, or too difficult to drag down the path onto the courts- you should think again.

    Additionally, if you think that you might buy the machine then be too embarrassed to use it- think on too. It's not an insignificant amount of cash to part with and you may feel uncomfortable using it.

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