Intro

By: Matt Saternus

Last year I said that the Swing Trainer Shootout was The #1 Most Requested Review, even more than Rocketballz, and that may have been a stretch.  This year, it is not a stretch to say that the Swing Trainer Buyer's Guide is the single most in-demand review that MyGolfSpy has done.  Since the PGA Show in January, not a week has gone by that I haven’t gotten a comment, email, forum post, or tweet asking when it would be done.  And now, it’s finally here.

The Line Up

Last year we tested Golf Sense, Swing Byte, and Swing Smart.  This year, the field has more than doubled:

:: Swing Byte - Empower Your Golf Game with Real-Time Swing Data
:: Golf Sense - Analyze Your Stats. Get Real-Time Feedback. Improve Your Game
:: Swing Smart - Swing It, See It, Fix It
:: SwingTIP - The Shape of Swings to Come
:: Noitom MySwing - Your Personal Digital Swing
:: SkyPro - See, Groove, Improve
:: 3Bays GSA PUTT - Ultra Light & Ultra Small

An Important Note

Something that I came to appreciate only as I spent more and more time with these devices is that comparing them is not apples to apples.  To steal T's line, it's more like apples to Cheetos.  While all of these devices are small, digitial, and cool, they are not the same.  They don't have the same features and don't have similar user experiences.  On one hand, I wish they did: testing would be roughly 434,857 times easier.  On the other hand, the wide variety is really good for the consumer: you can find the device that delivers the kind of experience you want.

Ultimately, it was decided that declaring a "winner" was important, so we did, but just like with our Most Wanted Driver Test or Most Wanted Mallet Test, it is not necessarily true that the winner will be the best device for you.  I strongly encourage you to take a careful look at the all the information and ask yourself what you're looking for in a swing trainer before making your purchase.

How We Tested

All of the devices were tested by up to five different MyGolfSpy writers.  In addition to this field testing, I tested each device against FlightScope to judge the accuracy of the data that was produced.

Similar to last year, we have produced two charts.  The first gives some broad information about features, price, and compatibility.  The second gives you letter grades in each of four categories, plus an overall score.  Below, you will see full explanations of each grade for each device.

One area that I intentionally ignored was Price/Value.  Price may be a determining factor for some people, but I came to the conclusion that it was best to judge each device purely on what it does and let the individual consumer decide what was the best bang for their buck.

*Note: The overall score is not an average, simply a reflection of the overall quality of the device.

 

Physical Device: As far as the on-shaft devices, Swing Smart is the best.  It attaches under the shaft, so it’s barely noticeable at address, it’s tiny and lightweight, and it doesn’t twist.  The only real negative about it applies to all of the on-club devices: you need to move the device (or at least the sensor) when you change clubs.

App: The Swing Smart app hasn’t really changed since last year.  The layout is very simple and shows all you need to know on one screen.  The 3D image is still good.  Customizing your clubs and changing clubs during a session are both very easy.  It’s still the fastest app in terms of how quickly it puts numbers on the screen.  My one complaint is that the device times out very fast: I had to put the phone down and swing quickly or else the screen would shut off.  There may be a way to adjust this, but I didn’t find it.

Data: One of the things I like best about Swing Smart is that it doesn’t overwhelm the user with numbers.  Instead, it provides four easy to understand, actionable data points that are consistent and good.  Face to Path was consistently within 2-3 degrees of FlightScope and swing speed was consistently 2-3 MPH below what FlightScope reported.  The one thing that keeps the Data grade from being an "A" is the lack of a "Club Path" number.

Instruction: The app includes videos of Peter Kostis explaining the different numbers and offering some tips on how to change them.  While it’s a little light, the presentation is good and the information is pretty solid.  Most importantly, it's integrated into the app for easy access.

What's Unique: Training Mode - use the device without hitting a ball

What's Great: The most accurate 3D image.  The best on-club sensor.

What's Not: The look of the app.  Lack of club path number.

Overall: Swing Smart is the most refined device in this category.  Where others have added new features, Swing Smart has opted for perfecting the motion capture that powers the whole thing.  Swing Smart still has virtues that set it apart, training mode and ease of use to name two, but its competitors have cut that list down.  While Swing Smart is still in the discussion for the best device in this segment, it is not the first and last word in that discussion like it was last year.

Matt's Take: Swing Smart is a better-looking app and a Club Path number away from being a clear winner.  Everything that it does, it does very well.  I just want it to do a little more.  Regardless, if I had to make a blind recommendation of which device to buy, this would be it.

 

Physical Device: Swing Byte 2 is a major step forward from the original Swing Byte.  It is more secure on the club, doesn’t twist as easily, and is easier to align.  The only major negative about the physical device is that the lights which indicate on/off and Bluetooth connectivity are nearly invisible in the sunlight.

App: Swing Byte’s new app is, hands down, the class of the field.  It is the most feature-rich and the easiest to use.  There is never a time in using the app that you have to think, “How do I make it do ____?”  The video integration makes sense and doesn’t feel like an add-on.  The “Compare Swings” feature is the best in the field.

Note: I evaluated the new iPad app which differs from the app available for iPhone and Android at the time of publication.  I was told the Android tablet update is coming next, followed by iPhone and Android phone.

Data: While Swing Byte is up front about the fact that their device is not a mini-FlightScope, their device has improved immeasurably in terms of producing numbers that correlate with radar data.  Angle of Attack will always be steep because it is measured at a different point in the swing, but it’s now consistently within a 6* of FlightScope (not the case last year).  Club head speed was consistently within 3 MPH.  The Club Path and Face Angle to Path numbers were consistent, but they did show a draw bias of 2-3 degrees.  All in all, the data was consistent and very useable.

Instruction: At this time, Swing Byte doesn’t offer instruction.

What's Unique: Truly integrated video.

What's Great: The best "Compare Swings" feature on the market.  Lots of numbers.

What's Not: Nearly-invisible on/off lights.  Updated app not available on all platforms yet.  Lots of numbers.

Overall: Swing Byte 2 and the new iPad app are a giant leap forward, right into the first tier of digital swing trainers.  Between the improvements that I have already seen and the improvements that are on the way (using video to create a target-line reference for the data, essentially making it like FlightScope), I think that Swing Byte is one of the devices that you should consider purchasing.

Matt's Take: If you read last year's Swing Trainer review, you know that this is a complete 180 for me: I hated the original Swing Byte, I love Swing Byte 2.0.  From what I've seen, Swing Byte has the most potential of any device.  If the target-line feature is well implemented, it could revolutionize this product segment.  Swing Byte already has the best sizzle (presentation); if they get the steak (data) to match this device could be the undisputed champ.

 

Physical Device: This device is a close second to Swing Smart among on-club sensors.  It's very small, attaches easily, and stays put.  Aligning it on top of the club is recommended, but not required, though the white and orange are still plenty visible under the shaft.  I do have two complaints about the sensor: 1) it has to be re-calibrated every time you switch clubs (the process takes about 10-15 seconds) and 2) the range of the device (how close it must be to your phone) is not very good.  One interesting note: SkyPro does not have an on/off switch; it senses when a Bluetooth device is in range and powers itself on. 

App: For ease of use, this app is as good as any in the field.  It's intuitive and works easily.  It also has the single best new feature in this category: Groove.  This practice mode lets the user choose one metric (tempo or backswing length, for example), choose their target value (3:1 tempo, backswing that stops at parallel), and then try to "groove" that over 10 swings.  The golfer can win gold, silver, or bronze depending on how well they do.  The basic swing mode is good and golfers can set the device to give "Alerts" when it detects certain swing flaws.  I think the Plane mode is borderline pointless, but it doesn't hurt anything.

Data: Similar to Golf Sense, SkyPro does not produce many FlightScope-comparable numbers.  Club head speed is fairly accurate (lack of club customization hurts it in this respect) and shaft lean at impact (correlated to dynamic loft) is consistently good.  The other numbers that it produces are very consistent over time and were consistent with things I know that I do in my swing.  

Instruction: There are two ways to look at SkyPro's Instruction: on one hand, there is no information about how to, for example, create more shaft lean at impact.  From that perspective, it has no Instruction.  The other view is that SkyPro, through all of its various checkpoints and recommended values, has a lot of Instruction (all of the recommended values can be edited, but I don't anticipate many users doing so).  I take the second view.  While I am skeptical about a device prescribing how to swing, the values that are given are fairly middle-of-the-road and the ranges are wide enough to accommodate differing styles (and, again, they can be changed).  While I think the addition of a little "How To" would be good, I think that what SkyPro does offer is very useful.

What's Unique: Groove mode.

What's Great: Groove mode.  Very good sensor.

What's Not: Changing clubs is time consuming.  Plane Mode.

Overall: SkyPro is going to be the device that the average golfer connects with most easily.  Most golfers want to be told how to swing and SkyPro does that.  SkyPro also makes practice fun with Groove mode.  It's not a perfect device, nor a complete one, but what it does, it does very well, and it makes practice more fun.

Matt's Take: SkyPro has the single best feature (Groove Mode) and some of the worst (Plane Mode, Pro Data screen).  If it included some of the FlightScope-type numbers that Swing Smart and Swing Byte have, it could be a clear favorite in this category.  As it is, it ends up being a niche product for guys who want to be told how to swing.  Yes, there are ways to customize the swing so that it's not "one size fits all," but the average golfer does not have the knowledge to do that well.  Much like Swing Byte, SkyPro has huge upside and I'm excited to see how they improve going forward.

 

Physical Device: Hands down, the group’s favorite sensor.  Attach it to your glove and go; don’t worry about alignment or moving the sensor from club to club.  The only possible gripe is from people who don’t wear a glove, but I think that’s a fairly small minority.

App: The Golf Sense app just got a little nip and tuck for 2013, but it was an important one: all of the swing data is now seen on the main screen.  Additionally, the basic functionality of Golf Sense has improved: the connection is extremely stable and it displays swing data almost immediately after contact.  The 3D image is good, though I think many people might like it to be larger.

Data: As was discussed last year, Golf Sense measures very  different things than other devices.  The only FlightScope-comparable number that you get from Golf Sense is club head speed (consistently good, though it trends about 2 MPH slower than FlightScope).  The other data that is produced is consistent from device to device and over time, but is otherwise unverifiable.  That is not to say that it’s not useful: the speed graphs (club and hand) are very useful as is the backswing-length measurement.  Ultimately, it’s up to the individual golfer to decide if Golf Sense’s data will help them more than the FlightScope-like data from other devices.

Instruction: Golf Sense has started to introduce instructional pieces via their website.  So far, what they have created has been of very high quality.  My main complaint is that it’s not accessible via the app, and it’s buried on the website.  My hope is that more content will be created soon and that it will be featured in a more prominent location on the site and in the app.

What's Unique: On-glove sensor.  "Hand Path" 3D image.  Hip rotation measurement.

What's Great: Fast readings.  Easy to use.

What's Not: Lack of club data (face angle, path, etc).

Overall: Golf Sense is the most unique device in the field both for its sensor and the information it produces.  I think that some golfers will absolutely love the information Golf Sense produces, others will find it lacking compared to Swing Smart, Swing Byte, etc.  My advice is to look carefully at what Golf Sense has to offer and decide if its data points are the ones that you want.

Matt's Take: If you're someone who is already deeply involved in the FlightScope/Trackman world of club numbers, Golf Sense probably isn't going to be your device of choice.  However, for your average golfer who doesn't know, need, or want 53 numbers on their screen, Golf Sense's common sense metrics are a great alternative.

 

Physical Device: SwingTIP is the worst physical device in the field.  The locking mechanism, though sturdy looking, is prone to popping open on thin shots (to be clear, the device doesn’t fly away, it just springs open).  Additionally, it is one of the largest, most visible sensors at address.  On the positive, the on/off light is easy to read and the mounting clip includes a bar to aid in alignment.

App: SwingTIP has one of the easiest apps to use.  The menu choices are pared down and simple, much like the data that’s given.  All of the information is presented on one screen, and the analysis of each swing is easily accessed.  The 3D image is good, though some people will take issue with the image of the golfer that is presented since SwingTIP has no way to know what your body is doing on a given swing.  The swing analysis is decent, though occasionally you do get contradictory comments.  On the negative side, SwingTIP is the slowest device in terms of reporting swing data.  Additionally, the video integration feels like an afterthought: it doesn’t work together with any other elements of the app.

Data: Instead of giving players numbers, SwingTIP tells golfers if their club face was open, closed, or square and if their path was inside-out or outside-in (it does give numbers for tempo and club head speed).  Unfortunately, even with these “dumbed down” measures, SwingTIP misses the mark.  Club head speed, though spot on at times, was off by as much as 7 MPH on some swings.  I think a lot of this is can be attributed to the fact that the club cannot be "customized" in the app (i.e. the user cannot tell the app the club's length, shaft material, etc).  Club path was similarly erratic.  Face angle was simply inaccurate much of the time as was the “sweet spot” indicator.

Instruction: SwingTIP has the largest library of in-app instruction: 40 tips ranging from takeaway to generating more power.  Each tip consists of text and a video.  Overall, it’s a mixed bag: some of the tips are really good, some are weak.  Some of the videos are quite good (the ones by Jeff Ritter tend to be strong), some are not.  A lot of the tips tend to be more explanations of the “Analysis” than instruction, but that may be just as useful for golfers trying to dig their way out of the swing jargon.

What's Unique: Simplified data.  Loads of instructional material.

What's Great: Instruction is well integrated.  Easy to use app.

What's Not: Poor physical device.  Erratic data.

Overall: I appreciate the different approach that SwingTIP takes, eschewing numbers in favor of easier to understand terminology, but I found the accuracy lacking.  The amount of instruction, and the way it’s integrated, is something other devices should look to emulate, but ultimately SwingTIP is a second tier device.

Matt's Take: If the data were better, I could see myself recommending SwingTIP to lots of golfers who don't want to be "bogged down" by all the numbers.  Unfortunately, at this time, the data is so inconsistent that I can't suggest purchasing it.

 

Physical Device: 3Bays has one of the more unique approaches to this category: they plug their sensor into the butt of the grip.  I’m not sure if it twists on full swings (I don’t hit many 100 yard putts), but for putting this method was great.  The indicator light is super bright and the button is nice and sturdy.  Bonus: the device comes with a dedicated charger so you don’t have to plug it into your computer to power it up.  The only negative is that you need to hold the club perfectly still for a second before each stroke, something that may disrupt the rhythm of some golfers.

App: This app leaves me torn: I really like the look, the layout, the numbers, and some of the features, but I don’t find it particularly easy to use.  I kept asking myself, “How do I do ___ again?”.  I'm sure that feeling would go away over time, but, after seeing how intuitive other apps are, it's a definite negative.  One of the best things in the app is the graph of each data point: in one graph you can see, for each stroke you made in a practice session, what your tempo was (or club face, speed, etc).  This gives you a window into your overall consistency and miss patterns, which is really important information.

Data: While I wasn’t able to confirm the numbers with a SAM Puttlab, the data that 3Bays produced was consistent with what I have seen from Puttlab in the past.  Additionally, the data was consistent from device to device and over time.  Like all of these devices, the reference point for everything is the club face, so alignment correctly is critical.

Instruction: None at this time.

What's Unique: Some of the best data presentation graphics.

What's Great: Good numbers and graphic presentation.

What's Not: Putting and full swing in separate devices.  Being forced to stay perfectly still before your shot.

Overall: The 3Bays GSA PUTT is a really strong device in many ways: the sensor is small and light, the data is good and presented well.  As such, it earns its B+, as high a grade as any device in the field.  The app could be more intuitive, but that's not a major issue.  For some, the need to keep the sensor still before your stroke could be a deal breaker.

Matt's Take: Ultimately, 3Bays is just a little out of step with the rest of the market.  To get putting and full swing training, a 3Bays customer would have to spend $400 on two devices.  Swing Smart and Swing Byte offer full swing and putting in one device for $250 and $150, respectively.  There's nothing significant the 3Bays does better to justify that price and convenience difference.

 

Physical Device: Despite looking like a high school science fair project, the mySwing device is fairly good.  The combination of rubber shaft band and Velcro, while a pain to put on, holds the device in place quite well.  It’s very light weight, but it is a little bulky looking on top of the shaft.

App: Again, not the best looking, but it does the job.  The main display screen is crowded, but it does have all the things you need to see.  One feature I particularly like is the bar graph in the session review that shows how frequently you created various numbers (example: Face Angle was open 2* 4 times, open 1* 5 times, square 2 times).  The 3D image is very average.

Data: mySwing produced a mixed bag of data.  Club path was 3-4 degrees off, consistently.  Swing speed jumped from being within 2-3MPH to being off as much as 6MPH for stretches.  Dynamic loft and face angle were typically within 3 degrees.  Ultimately, the numbers produced were good, but not the best.

Instruction: The mySwing app provides three pages of suggestions/instruction.  The first is a chart with mySwing numbers for average, Tour, and Long Drive golfers.  This is helpful, and I would suggest all apps provide this.  The third page shows a few different 3D golf swing images and diagnoses what’s good or bad about them.  Again, very helpful.  The top half of the second page suggests that golfers aim for a 3:1 tempo (Tour Tempo), which I agree with.  You may be asking, “Why did they get a D- for instruction if all of this is ok?”  The problem lies on the bottom half of the second page (and elsewhere in the mySwing packaging/website) where they have a chart with the “old” (read: WRONG) Ballflight Laws.  In 2013, this is totally unacceptable.

What's Unique: Nothing.

What's Great: Nothing.

What's Not: The look of the app and the sensor.

Overall: mySwing is a device that I think 99% of golfers would dismiss because of the website, packaging, and look of the device...and that would be a shame because it’s actually quite decent.  It’s not among the best, but it’s not as bad as appearances would indicate.  It’s firmly in the second tier.

Matt's Take: I don't dislike mySwing, but it doesn't do anything unique or uniquely well.  If it cost $99, I would say that it's not a bad alternative for someone who's really price conscious.  Unfortunately, it carries the same price tag as Swing Byte which makes it very hard to recommend.

 

Conclusion

If you were too lazy to read everything I just wrote, here's the short version: there is a clear line between the Haves and Have-Nots in this category.  SwingByte, Swing Smart, SkyPro, and Golf Sense are the former, SwingTIP, mySwing, and 3Bays GSA Putt are the latter (in fairness, 3Bays GSA Putt is a good device, but it does half of what Swing Byte and Swing Smart do without being half the price).

In deciding between Swing Smart, Swing Byte, SkyPro, andGolf Sense, it comes down to what the user wants.  Each device offers something very different from the others.  Instructors and people who love Flightscope-esque number will gravitate towards Swing Byte.  People who want some numbers, but not too many will like Swing Smart or Golf Sense.  Golfers looking for specific swing instruction will want Sky Pro.

Just as with buying clubs, I would strongly recommend a trip to your local golf store to demo these devices before you buy.  Pro tip: Bring your own phone/tablet with the apps installed in advance (they're all free).

If you have any questions about any of these devices, please post a comment below, and I will do my best to answer it.  I will also be encouraging all of the manufacturers to keep an eye on the comments section, so feel free to direct questions to them as well.