There are so many tennis ball machines on the market it can be tough to know where to start looking. Why not start at the top? The Lobster Sports Elite 3 surely qualifies. That’s a bold claim and one easily mistaken for sales hype. But I think it’s justified in this case. Here’s why.
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The Lobster Sports Elite 3 is a portable tennis ball machine, but that doesn’t signal a low-grade model in this case. Battery operated, it doesn’t have the enormous capacity of some plug-in models, but its size – 24″ x 16″ x 31″ – allows for plenty, along with ease of use.
The hopper is reversible and the handle can be removed to make it easier for you to transport and fit the machine back in the trunk when you’re done. Also, the hopper can double as a cover for the base of the unit, a nice feature for protecting everything during transport.
It’s not all that heavy, either: 44 lbs. It can be removed from the car and rolled into place then loaded without a lot of effort. Portability is enhanced by this model’s 8-inch wheels.
Speaking of loading, it holds 150 balls. I don’t know about you, maybe you’re a pro in training, but that’s a decent amount for my practice workout. Even at a quick five seconds per “serve”, that’s over 12 minutes of continuous hits. The longest interval you can set is 10 seconds.
Granted, even that maximum isn’t an exhaustingly long time for a total practice session. But sports physiology suggests your muscles work best when they have a hard effort followed by a rest. Total fatigue doesn’t help optimize your skills.
By the way, you can watch the balls being fed, thanks to the visible capacity viewer. That lets you pace yourself better if you want to stretch things out between reloads.
The control panel at the back of the machine is structured, allowing straightforward and intuitive operation.
Several knobs allow you to control the feed frequency (J), ball speed (K), and ball spin (L), and there are switches to control power (A), elevation (B), oscillation (C/D), 2 line drill (E) and the remote control (F).
Also available on the control panel a jack for the basic charger (H), battery status indicator (M), and a feed led (I) indicating when the feed motor begins to turn. One nice little added feature is the 20-second starting delay. That’s enough time to get into position before the machine starts feeding you balls.
Triple & 2-Line Oscillation
The Elite 3 offers several useful mechanisms for those players who want to really up their game. Horizontal oscillation lets you work on your forehands and backhands. Vertical oscillation on the other hand lets you practice on short and deep shots.
Combining both oscillation options offers a more real-world simulation providing good practice in forehand, backhand, short and deep shots all in a random pattern. It will run you around the court. You get movement not only left and right but up and down the court, near the baseline then up to the net. That’s what a tennis ball machine is all about, after all.
The Elite 3 also offers something its cousins – the Elite 1 and Elite 2 – do not: a two-line setting with variable depth. This feature automatically shoots to 2 preset court positions (narrow and wide settings) allowing you to practice alternating forehand and backhand shots.
This model can also produce up to 60-degree lobs, about twice that of many competitors’ machines. Too many machines give you a great workout for your forehand and backhand but neglect this vital swing.
One could wish they offered a little more speed for the players, like me, who like to be challenged. The Elite 3 can make straight shots at 80 mph, which is fine. But as your skills develop you might want something that can fire at club pro speeds.
More problematic is the fact that the more spin you ask for, the slower things get. The maximum spin brings the speed down to about 60 mph. On the upside, the spin it can produce is tremendous. And, it can be set for string-breaking topspin or underspin.
The battery on the Elite 3 is, admittedly, one area that Lobster could improve. In theory, it provides 4-8 hour play. The wide variation is the result, not surprisingly, of the fact that different settings/styles of play, use a varying amount of battery power. It delivers about half that in practice – most of the time.
Quality control can be improved a little here, too. Some units’ batteries have been observed to fade pretty quickly. If you only have your machine a month and find that you’re only getting half the total you got when brand new, that’s not good.
The Elite charger that comes with the unit is the Basic model. It will get you back on the court the next day, but no quicker. It takes about 24-hours to recharge the battery fully when fully drained. If you plan to do multiple workouts on the same day, such as when used by multiple family members, you’ll need the (optional) Premium Fast Charger.
There is also an optional External Battery Pack, but at the high price (currently $179) it’s not likely to be in high demand. The External AC Power Supply might, though. It’s less expensive (currently $119) – and, if you don’t mind the cord, it will keep your Elite 3 powered long after your muscle power has faded. Great for those times when multiple players use the same tennis ball machine in one day.
The Elite 3 model works with the Lobster two-function remote control. It’s an option, though, so you don’t necessarily get it with the tennis ball machine itself. You can order it at the same time or later, as a separate item.
I wouldn’t use it much. I like going to the machine to make changes. It gives me a chance to analyze my game and a few seconds of rest between sessions.
But for those who want one, the Elite 3 remote lets you adjust two basic functions (sweep and feed) via a small hand unit. The one that works with the Grand line offers 20 functions and would be worthwhile. This one not so much and certainly not at this price – currently $169 at Amazon!
The Lobster Elite 3 is a high-end tennis ball machine in a portable package. It offers great oscillation options and will put you through the paces to develop your game.
However, for a unit, this expensive, Lobster Sports could have included some accessories like the Premium Fast Charger or at least the Remote Control unit. All the accessories are overpriced, in my view, and this would go some way to adding value to a good unit.