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For the past few weeks I've been testing a new kind of football that can measure metrics like throw speed, distance, spin rate and spiral efficiency. It can even detect whether my buddy catches it or not.
The Wilson X Connected Football is like no other football you've seen before. This $200 smart football can connect with your smartphone and show throwing stats in real time. There are even a bunch of minigames you can play.
While it costs $100 more than Wilson's premium NFL ball (a normal football), the Connected Football could make playing catch with friends and family more exciting than ever, if you care about how you throw. It could also, perhaps, be a useful tool for young quarterbacks who want to improve their game.
What makes the the Connected Football special are the built-in accelerometers and Bluetooth sensors. These allow the ball to measure various throwing metrics and send the data to your smartphone. Aside from those sensors, though, this is an ordinary football, and it's the same weight and size as balls used in the NFL.
Unlike some other smart sports gear we've seen, this football never has to be charged. The sensors inside are in a constant sleep mode, and must be woken up each time before you use the ball. You do this by holding the ball vertically for 2 seconds and then turning it 180 degrees. This sleep default helps preserve battery life, which will last for more than 200,000 throws or up to 500 hours of connected usage.
Of course, when the battery finally does run out, you will be left with a normal, non-smart football. Footballs don't last forever, anyway.
The ball also comes with a wrist sleeve for your smartphone, which gives you quick and easy access to plays and stats midgame. It made me feel like a real quarterback, a little bit. Alas, it only comes in one size and doesn't fit bigger phones like the iPhone 6S Plus or Nexus 6P.
The Wilson X football app (Android, iOS) is where all the magic happens. It's what allows the ball to transform into a video game. Here you can view stats, and see how you match up to others on the global leaderboards. There's also an avatar that you can customize with your favorite NFL team (I chose the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets, naturally). The app is easy to use and I liked how it used colorful graphics for breaking down each stat.
There are five game modes to choose from: QB warm up, precision, elimination, game day and final drive. The warm-up and precision modes both measure throw velocity, distance, spin rate and spiral efficiency, but the precision mode will also calculate a WX rating, which is Wilson's version of ESPN's QBR score to measure total quarterback performance. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson posted a WX rating of 1,553.5 (out of 1,600) when testing the ball. I barely broke 500.
The elimination game can be played with up to eight friends. You can set it for a specific metric -- velocity, distance, spin rate, spiral efficiency -- or it can select one randomly. You then toss the ball to each other with player one (the guy with the phone and wrist sleeve) telling you your score and when to throw. You will be eliminated if you don't reach the goal set by the challenge. Last person standing wins. The elimination challenge was fun for me (the guy wearing the phone), but my buddies said it would have been better if they could also see the stats.
The game day and final drive modes are pretty self-explanatory. One simulates a full game, and the other throws you into the final drive down the field. Wilson's partnership with the NFL is what makes these two modes even more exciting. You can pick a real NFL team to compete against, and play out a rivalry.
Both modes have you pick a play, snap the ball (this is done by holding it still and then slapping it) and throw it to your buddy. You repeat this until you gain a first down or touchdown. Each team you play against has a different rating for offense and defense. You could be sacked if you hold onto the ball too long. The other team could also intercept the ball or virtually knock it down for an incomplete pass.
It can get confusing, though, because even if your friend catches it, it could still be an incomplete pass. It all depends on the defense you are playing against. For example, the Denver Broncos are known for a strong defense. If I throw the ball and my buddy drops it, there is a higher percentage it will be an interception than if I was playing against Tampa Bay.
Game day and final drive were interesting to test, but not nearly as fun as the elimination and precision modes. It was also annoying to have to constantly look down at my phone to check the countdown sack timer.
I had a blast using the Wilson X Connected Football. It's fun to compete against others and see stats in real time. My buddies also enjoyed the elimination challenge, although it's definitely more exciting for the person wearing the smartphone arm sleeve.
The $200 price tag can be hard to swallow, but this is a premium football and I think the added smarts make it worth the money. Overall, the football is a good buy for ordinary people who just want to see their stats and have some fun, and if you have the cash it could be heck of a show-off tailgating toy.
Wilson's smart basketball was designed to help improve your game, but the company has said the football is designed to be more of a game than an actual training tool. I still think young quarterbacks, however, could benefit from the stats measured by the ball. For younger kids, at least, it could be the next best thing to training camp.