If it doesn't help you improve your tennis game, the Babolat Play Pure Drive racket will at least motivate you to play more. And that by itself is a good thing.
Thanks to a variety of sensors inside, the racket will analyze your game and spit out the information in a mobile app. You'll also be able to chart your progress toward various skill levels and, if you like, compare your performance in a Community section.
Technology became more important in tennis about nine years ago, when the Hawk-Eye system began to be used in some pro tournaments. Babolat is designed for both amateurs and and pros, but I wouldn't put too much stock in using the data it gathers to actually play better. It's great, for example, to know how hard you've hit a ball, but a powerful serve is useless if you can't return a serve in court.
The Babolat Play Pure Drive is available for $299, and the company's new model that will go on sale this spring for $349.
The Pure Drive is the first racket from the French company that integrates sensors to analyze your game and allows you to compete with other Pure Drive owners online. Even with the tech inside, the Pure Drive isn't abnormally bulky or heavy, with a head size of 645 square cm and a balance point of 320 mm. It weighs 300 grams, which should make for a consistent playing experience if you've never used a smart racket before.
The graphite Pure Drive looks like any other racket on the market, but look closely at the grip and you'll see the sensors that measure the various aspects of your game. At the end of the grip there's a small door with two buttons: one to turn the racket on and off and another to activate Bluetooth. A blinking LED in the grip shows notifications of the racket's status. For example, a blue light tells you that the racket is on, a purple light shows when Bluetooth is activated, and a blinking red light warns of a low battery.
Underneath the door there's a Micro-USB connector for charging the battery and transferring data to a PC or a Mac. Babolat claims that the battery life should last for as long as 6 hours of gameplay, which should be enough for practice and a couple of matches.
To its credit, Babolat has been able to accomplish something in the racket's design that no other competing product can match. Zepp Tennis, for example, requires you to add a small device to the end of a racket's grip, an unwieldy arrangement that places the sensors in a more inconvenient location.
Of course, an advantage of the Zepp Tennis sensor is that you can use it with any racket, while Babolat only offers three rackets with smart components: the Play Pure Drive, the Play AeroPro Drive and the Play Pure Drive Lite. So, if you're used to keeping a spare racket and still want to measure your play, you'll have to shell out some serious cash for two smart rackets. And that's keeping in mind that the racket is the most precious tool for a tennis player. Just like there are no two players alike, there is no one racket that fits all.
The brains and the app
Inside the grip, the Babolat Play Pure Drive has accelerometers, gyroscopes and piezoelectric sensors. The accelerometers determine the direction of the racket while the gyroscopes tracks its rotation to analyze the shot you're hitting. It provides that information to the app that you can install for free on an iOS or Android device, as well as on a PC or Mac.
Through the ball impact locator feature, the piezoelectric sensor analyzes the vibration of the racket to inform you of the racket's "sweet spot" (the best place on the racket head to impact the ball). And from there, other components such as the microprocessor translate and record the data and send it to the app. The racket connects to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth, and to your computer using the included USB charging cable.
In the Babolat app you'll find a breakdown of your shots by type, your total number of shots, and the time that you've used the racket. In addition, you can see your frequency (shots per minute), power and best rally, and get data on your power and spin.