The similarities between all models in the Lobster Elite line are many. The differences are few and subtle – but potentially important to some buyers. That makes deciding between the Lobster Elite 1, Lobster Elite 2, and the Lobster Elite 3 a tough choice.
What I Won’t Review Here.
To narrow the field immediately, there are a few Lobster Elite machines I won’t cover at all here. There are two low-end models – Elite Freedom and Elite Liberty. They’re decent tennis ball machines – and sell at attractive prices ($800 and $900) – but they’re a little limited in features and I’ll save them for another time.
On the other end of the scale live the Grand models. They’re awesome, with some very special features. The price ($1900-$2500) is somewhat high;
they’re likely to be of less interest to the average buyer. The features you get for that are impressive but it’s hard to say you need a Grand to get a top-notch practice workout.
What I Will Review Here.
That leaves the Lobster Elite 1, the Elite 2, and the Elite 3. These 3 Elite models have a lot in common, so much in fact that it can be hard to see what justifies the huge price difference.
The Elite 1 (as I write this) lists for just under $1,100 without options. The Elite 2 runs for $1350 and the Elite 3 sells for a hefty $1600. If you’re going to consider paying an extra $250 or (wow) $500 you want to make sure you get something for that.
First, the similarities so you have a basis for deciding whether the extras are worth the extra cash.
Size, Weight, & Overall Shape
The Lobster Elite machines all have the same basic shape: a big plastic egg with a bowl on top. The hopper is reversible to act as a cover and to save storage space in the car or garage.
They all measure 24″ x 16″ x 31″ (assembled) – 24″ x 16″ x 19″ (storage). But the weights vary slightly. The Elite 1 is just 42 lbs, the Elite 2 and Elite 3 weigh slightly more at 44 lbs.
All of them have the same 8-inch wheels. That’s a nice size and there’s never any trouble rolling the unit around. That effort is aided greatly by the sturdy handle. It can be folded for easier storage in the car or garage.
All the mid-range Elite models have the same 150 ball capacity. That’s a bit on the low side for those who want a professional-level workout. You don’t want to have to interrupt your rhythm to refill the hopper. But then, if you’re a pro or a truly dedicated expert, you probably have someone who can refill it for you.
Either way, at the fastest feeding interval – two seconds – you can empty the hopper in five minutes. Realistically, though, that’s faster than a pro can repeatedly return your ball from the baseline. If you can handle that kind of activity you probably do need a Lobster Grand. At a more likely speed, say five seconds, you’ll get over 12 minutes of workout per hopper.
That may not sound like a long time but if you are whacking volleys that fast for that long you’re going to want to take a rest for a few minutes anyway. Complete fatigue isn’t a good strategy for a healthy workout.
All three Elite models will fire any of those balls at up to 80 mph. For those with really well-developed skills, that can be a bit slow. The pros can easily fire a serve at you over 100 mph. The record is around 160 mph for men. But, again, that’s not a speed you expect on each volley.
Fortunately, for the mere mortals among us, the Elite can be slowed down to a mere 20 mph. That range allows for a variation among skill levels, and players of a variety of ages.
That makes the machine useful for a very wide audience. Dad, who works out like crazy every weekend, can take advantage of the higher speeds, while a 10-year-old daughter just starting to learn can use it, too at lower speeds.
“Oscillation” is the ability of your tennis ball machine to vary the play – left and right (horizontal oscillation), or up and down (vertical oscillation).
All the Elite models offer a variety here but I’ll save the detailed differences for the section below. Suffice to say here, you’ll get plenty of runs around from one side of the court to the next, from one corner to another.
All three models allow you to practice your overheads by providing you simulated up to 60-degree lobs. In short, you’ll have a chance to practice every kind of swing.
The other major factor in any tennis ball machine is the capacity to spin the ball. After all, most good players are going to give you grief not just because they can fire fast and far. They’ll apply topspin or underspin to surprise you and make the ball harder to return. The Elite models all offer this feature.
Remember also that, for all three Elite models, it can’t attain top speed (80 mph) with maximum spin. The more spin, the slower the launch speed.
Basic Design & Specs – Differences
In this crucial category, there are differences between the three Elite models.
The Elite 1 offers horizontal oscillation only – the ability to run you from corner to corner, but the pattern is pretty vanilla.
Combining both oscillation options it can run you anywhere and everywhere left, right, up and down on the court and with more variations in the pattern.
The Elite 3 takes it one step further. In addition to the triple oscillation found on the Elite 2, the Elite 3 also offers a two-line feature with variable depth and settings for narrow and wide forehand and backhand sweeping shots – a feature the company calls “2-line oscillation”.
This model with its two versatile pre-programmed options for narrow and wide forehand and backhand – in addition to triple oscillation – will put you through the paces to elevate your game.
Some of Lobster’s documentation states that you get the same battery life from the Elite 1 as you do with the Elite 2 and Elite 3 models. Experience suggests otherwise. Real-world use shows that the Elite 1 will tend to last only about two hours under heavy use. The Elite 2 will last four hours.
The ratings say you can get up to eight hours of play, which is theoretically possible. But that’s only feasible under very plain-vanilla usage, the sort you’ll set only as a real beginner. Once you develop your skillset to a certain point, as this tennis ball machine aids you in doing, you’ll quickly want to use some of the more advanced settings. They eat up battery more quickly.
One nice thing about this type of battery (lead-acid, rather than Li-ion) is that it’s consistent. That is, it will hold a charge well until you use the machine again. Up to a point. Like your car, any lead-acid battery will eventually lose charge if it sits long enough.
That heavy drain on the battery is one reason some of the optional accessories are practically a must for anyone who wants to use the Lobster for extended practice. If you only want a workout of a couple of hours, no worries. If you like longer sessions or want multiple individuals to use the machine on the same day, you’ll need one of these.
One option is simply to get a spare battery. They’re a lead-acid type, similar in design to the one in your car or a golf cart. It’s not unreasonable to expect to get about three years of use out of one but eventually, it will go. All rechargeable batteries ultimately require replacement.
If you get one in advance, you can swap one out for further play, though it’s not a quick change. You have to remove several screws and take off the battery straps. A more practical solution is to get the external battery pack, which costs about $180. It plugs right into the machine in seconds.
There’s also a 3-amp Fast Charger, but that will still take several hours to replenish your onboard battery from dead. The standard charger takes about 24 hours. The External AC Power Supply might be another alternative. If you don’t mind the cord, it will keep your Elite powered long after your muscle power has faded.
The Lobster Elite line encompasses five models, not counting the Grand units. The three covered here – The Lobster Elite 1, Elite 2, and Elite 3 – are technically mid-range models. However, in terms of features, they’re all excellent choices.
The Elite 1 is probably too elementary for a dedicated tennis buff. If you are skilled and want a hard workout, or are just motivated to develop, you’ll soon “outplay” this machine. The Elite 2 offers two additional oscillation options. It hits a nice mid-point balance between price and features.
The Elite 3 is best for those who want the most challenging workout or want a tennis ball machine that covers the whole family from the young novice to the old pro. In addition to the Elite 2’s triple oscillation, it offers two-line oscillation with variable depth while offering the same portability as the other two Lobster models.