:: Launch Monitors For Anyone & Everyone!
(Written By: GolfSpy Matt) One of the most exciting new product categories that emerged from the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show was “high tech swing trainers.” It's also one of the most requested products for us to review. These swing trainers have gotten more requests than the RocketBallz...ok that was a little bit of an embellishment but it's pretty damn close.
These little gadgets promised to be the "launch monitor" for the common man: small, easy to use, and highly affordable. The potential for what these can do for golfers and golf instruction is immense: imagine taking a lesson, having a pro tell you what you should be trying to accomplish, and then having an objective, measurable way to know whether or not you’re improving. Take that a step further: how much better would your next lesson be if your pro could know exactly what you’d been doing since he saw you?
We have been working on this review for a long time, but we wanted to make this as comprehensive, fair, and thorough as possible. All three devices that you see here have been tested against FlightScope. They have also been tested by Golfspy Dave, Golfspy Tim, and me so that you will know how each device might suit different types of players. So if you’re ready to cut through the hype and find out which of these devices is worthy of your hard earned cash, read on.
:: Features Offered (vs) How We Graded Them
One last word about this review: for this head-to-head review, we’ve had to break the mold from our normal review format. The biggest problem is that these devices all offer different features so it’s hard to make an apples-to-apples comparison.
What we’ve done instead is to create two charts for you to compare (features offered (vs) feature grades:
:: The first chart outlines the features that each product claims to have
:: The second chart shows how well we feel they deliver on each feature (grades A through F)
The overall grade is not an average, but rather a summary of the usefulness and value of the device.
PRODUCT #1 - Golf Sense
Here’s the bottom line with Golf Sense: the features are limited, but what they give you is good information. I’ve talked to the CEO of Golf Sense extensively, and their philosophy is (I’m paraphrasing), “We could give you a bunch of numbers, but they wouldn’t be as accurate as they should be. We will give the user only what we can accurately measure.” This makes a lot of sense to me, and I have a lot of respect for that philosophy.
Now, does that make this a great device? In its current state, probably not. The tempo and club head speed are good, and I can appreciate the value of those. The 3D image is good, but doesn’t currently include a “Bird’s Eye” view, so you can’t really see the horizontal club path – a KEY element, in my opinion.
They recently released a number of new features: swing plane comparison, wrist rotation speed, and hand and club speed graphs. All of these are great and work well, but I'm not sure how the average golfer would use them to improve. Even for me, the wrist rotation speed is meaningless because I have no context for what it means.
The hip turn feature is cool and unique, but the honest truth is that all of these devices are a bit of a pain to begin with (set it up, swing, go look at phone, repeat). When you add “put phone in pocket, take phone out of pocket” to that process it becomes really laborious.
The biggest thing that Golf Sense has going for it is that the sensor is attached to the glove which makes it very easy to use. I think that as the Golf Sense team continues to add features and improve the app, it might become a stronger contender. As it stands today, it gets a B-.
PRODUCT #2 - Swing Byte
Swing Byte…well…it bites. It promises the most but delivers the least on the promise. It all boils down to two fundamental problems:
1) Sensor and method of attachment: I can forgive the chunkiness of the Swing Byte sensor, and I can even overlook the fact that it’s clearly visible when the club is in a playing position. What I cannot accept is that the sensor moves significantly on virtually every swing. It forces you to re-align the device after every swing. Oh, and if you really want accurate numbers, you should re-calibrate it, too. So as if “swing-turn around-look at phone” wasn’t bad enough, now you can add “re-align sensor, re-calibrate sensor.” You might finish hitting that large bucket sometime next Tuesday. Also, it adds a weird rattling sensation to your impact.
2) The key numbers (swing path, face angle, and angle of attack) bear no resemblance to the numbers you will see on FlightScope or Trackman. As such, they are unrelated to any of the ball flight laws that you (hopefully) understand. Swing Byte’s company line is, “We measure things differently than they do, so our numbers aren’t the same, but at least they’re consistent.” I would argue that: A) the numbers are only consistent when I re-align and re-calibrate the device after every swing, and B) the fact that they’re not remotely close to the numbers I get from real, high end launch monitors is a major problem. Let me give you a sample of how far askew they are: my typical driver numbers on FlightScope are a horizontal swing plane of 3* right (3* inside-out, if you’d prefer) with an angle of attack of 1* or 2* (1-2* up). Swing Byte puts my path at 11* or more to the right with a -7* angle of attack (7* down). That’s a HUGE difference, and it doesn’t even address the face-to-path problems that come with it.
Now, Swing Byte makes the argument that they just measure differently, and one way of measuring isn’t inherently better than another. And philosophically, they’re right. However, in reality, FlightScope and Trackman are the gold standard around which ball flight laws have been created. Their numbers are the currency of the realm. If you’re going to create a device that talks their language - club path, angle of attack, etc - then you need to make your numbers match. Period.
I have some other complaints about it (as you might guess from the chart), but they rank far behind these two fundamental flaws.
In fairness, Swing Byte does a number of things well. Swing speed is generally good, if a touch high. The app is good looking, very deep, and customizable, though it’s not the easiest to use. The 3D image is satisfactory, but there’s too much freedom to move it around which can make it a hassle to use.
PRODUCT #3 - Swing Smart
You can see pretty clearly from the chart that the Swing Smart was far and away the best of the lot, so in lieu of rehashing that chart point by point, I’ll try to just hit the major highs and lows.
Speed & Ease of Use - By the time you’re finished swinging, your numbers are up. This sounds silly, but it’s not: Swing Smart is noticeably faster at loading the data than the other devices. The app is also the easiest to use.
3D Picture - Swing Smart has the best combination of freedom to view the picture from multiple angles and ease of use.
Best On-Club Sensor - The sensor doesn’t move while swinging, and it can be taken off of the adapter plate. This means you can have adapters on every club (they’re only $5 each) and just bounce the sensor from one club to the next. Also, it’s much smaller and more discretely placed than the Swing Byte.
Compare Swings – A brilliant feature that is executed wonderfully. You can see the differences between a swing that produced a good shot and a swing that produced a fugly one.
Training Mode – Another unique feature that lets you get swing data without hitting a ball, perfect for the backyard lawn destroyers. Some of the numbers get funny because it doesn’t know where impact is (something which is being improved), but the 3D image is still spot on.
“Angle of Attack” – What Swing Smart calls “Angle of Attack” is not angle of attack, but rather shaft lean at impact. This is still a useful number, and it’s very accurate, it’s just mislabeled. They know this and hopefully it will change.
Face Angle to Path – The face angle to path is accurate for what it is. It’s calculated relative to the horizontal swing plane, NOT the resultant or true path (meaning I can get a “Face to Path” reading of 2* open but hit draws). I think this might confuse people more than help them.
:: Golfspy Dave's Opinion:
One of the first comments, from both Dave and Tim, was that all of these devices might be of limited use without a good instructor. While it may be obvious, I think it's an important point to make: none of these devices will fix your game, they only offer data to help you, or an instructor, do so. If you don't know what to do with the data, having it doesn't really help you.
Dave felt that the Swing Smart hit the sweet spot between too many numbers (Swing Byte) and not enough (Golf Sense). He said that it was just the right amount of data, and it related to things he knew that he could work on and improve. Golf Sense's on-glove sensor was his favorite of the group because it was so convenient, but Dave didn't feel that the Golf Sense provided enough actionable information.
:: Golfspy Tim's Opinion:
Poor Tim had so many struggles with these devices that he told me, "I'm so frustrated that I would not let a close friend buy any of these." The strap on the Swing Byte broke, Golf Sense didn't hold a charge, and apparently he got a lemon unit from Swing Smart. Bad luck across the board.
The testing that he was able to accomplish led Tim to say that he liked the Golf Sense sensor the best (we all did), but he felt like the lack of numbers was a severe problem. Tim felt that he got some good things from the Swing Byte, but, by his own admission, he has limited experience with Flightscope or Trackman. He was not able to get much of a feel for Swing Smart due to the problem with the sensor, but he did say that the way that it attached to the shaft was an upgrade over the Swing Byte.
WHICH ONE SHOULD YOU BUY?
If I can draw on the shootout metaphor a bit to summarize the results: Swing Byte brought a pocket knife to this gun fight, Golf Sense brought a .22, but Swing Smart brought a .44 magnum (enjoy the vintage Clint. You know, before the whole "talking to empty chairs" thing).
If you’re going to buy a high tech swing trainer this year, it should be the Swing Smart: the data is the best, the app is easy to use, and it offers an unparalleled feature with the swing comparison.
I think that this product category has immense potential, and we will only see these devices improve in the coming years. And as these new devices roll out, you know you can always count on MyGolfSpy.com to let you know which ones are the s*** and which ones should just get flushed.
I honestly could have written another 2,000 words about these devices. If you have any questions about specific features, grades, or anything else, post them here and I will do my best to answer them.