What’s the best way to improve your Pickleball game? Practice! What’s the best way to practice? Use a Pickleball practice machine! It’s amazing how well these ball machines can simulate game situations. The great thing is they never get tired of sending balls over the net for you to hit. I actually purchased a Pickleball machine a few months ago so I thought I would write about my experience using it. I’ll also compare it to others and tell you why I think it is the best Pickleball machine.
If you are in a hurry, here’s a summary of the features of the top two Pickleball machines currently on the market.
First here’s a little background. Before I make a major purchase, I want to make sure I’m going to use it. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a good Pickleball practice machine for $100 so I couldn’t test the waters. I did, however, do some research and found a number of home made machines. I’m not very mechanically inclined so I kept searching. I found a video of someone using a wiffle ball pitching machine for Pickleball practice. So, for $30 I could purchase one from Amazon and see if I liked the idea of practicing using a ball machine.
I actually bought two of the Franklin Sports baseball pitching machines so I could use the ball feeder from the second one and add it to the first. This allowed me to be able to load 12 balls at one time rather than 6. I found I really enjoyed practicing with the baseball machine so I started investigating Pickleball practice machines. The newest one to the market was the Lobster Pickleball Machine. I also considered some old favorites like the Pickleball Tutor and Simon Pickleball Machine. I ended up purchasing the Lobster which I think is the best Pickleball Machine so I’ll discuss it first.
I chose the Lobster over the Pickleball Tutor and Simon Ball Machine for two primary reasons. First, the lobster pickleball machine has a setting for spin while the other two do not. This means I can set it to have under spin, top spin or it can be flat. The spin dial is variable so you can set it to have a little bit of each type of spin or a great deal of it. I like to practice my third shot drop against the machine when it has a lot of top or under spin as this is a shot I need to improve on during game situations.
The second reason I chose the Lobster is because it has a setting for oscillation that comes as part of the base machine. In other words, the machine moves from side to side. This is useful if you have two players practicing at one time as it goes from one side of the court to the other. I also enjoy this feature when I practice by myself because it allows for a great workout. Note the Pickleball Tutor and Simon Pickleball machine do have an add on option to provide oscillation.
Here’s a quick video of the Lobster Pickleball machine in action. I was practicing in my garage due to inclement weather outside.
Pickleball Machine Weight and Transportation
Before I purchased the Lobster, I checked the weight which is 35 pounds. This compares to the Simon 2 at 32 pounds. The Pickleball Tutor is less at 22-29 pounds depending on the options you choose.
I’m only 5’5” and weigh in the 120s but I know I can pick up 35 pounds. When I received the Lobster Pickleball machine I quickly realized I would need to put it in the back seat of my sedan if I wanted it in an upright position. Note if you have an SUV, this shouldn’t be an issue because the handle folds. So, for the first week or so I put the Lobster in my back seat which was somewhat of a challenge. This was because my doors don’t open as wide as I would like so it was awkward to get the machine in.
The second week I tried putting the Lobster on its side and in my trunk. I found it to be much easier to maneuver and it was handy if I was going somewhere else before or after practice so other couldn’t see it in the back of my car. The only issue I have now with putting it in my car is that my arms aren’t quite long enough to pick the machine up from the bottom which is what you are supposed to do. The easiest way I can get the Lobster Pickleball machine into my trunk is to grab it from the bottom on one side and from the base of the handle on the other. Hopefully, this doesn’t cause issues with the handle in the future.
The Lobster came to market in 2018 and is made by a company which historically sold tennis ball machines. You may ask if you can use a tennis ball machine for Pickleballs. The answer is no as the Pickleball is a different size and weight than tennis balls so they are not compatible. Lobster Sports has been in business for over 40 years so they have a long history in the sporting goods industry. The lobster pickleball machine is made in the USA and when I bought mine from Amazon it shipped directly from Lobster Sports in 2 business days. The warranty is for 2 years for the best pickleball machine.
Other than the spin setting and oscillation coming as part of the base unit for the best pickleball machine, not much sets the three pickleball practice machines apart. So here is a run down on price and common features that apply to the Lobster, Tutor (pictured below), and Simon 2.
The Lobster and Tutor have a similar price range which you can see below. The Simon 2 retail list price is considerably more at $1199.
All three pickleball practice machines have variable speeds from 10 to 60 miles per hour. Most of the time I use mine in the 42-55 mile per hour range depending on what I am practicing. If it is third shot drops, I set the dial on the higher end. For practicing at the net it is usually at the lower end except when practicing blocks I increase the speed.
All three pickleball practice machines have a ball capacity of over 100. In my opinion, this is plenty. If you have a partner, they can pick up balls while you are hitting so the capacity isn’t an issue. When I practice by myself, the more balls I hit the longer it takes to pickup. So whether a ball machine holds 125 (Pickleball Tutor), 135 (Lobster) or 160 (Simon), it really doesn’t matter.
Time Between Balls
All three machines have an adjustment for the number of seconds between pitching balls. All are pretty similar at 1.5-2 seconds on the low end to 12 seconds with the lobster on the high end. The Pickleball Tutor and Simon Pickleball machine max out at 10 seconds. Honestly, the range on each should work for most situations. When I practice by myself, I usually set it at 8-10 seconds. I use the lower number at the net and the higher number when at the baseline. I could set it faster, but I like to have some time to move balls away from my feet if needed due to my knee problems.
All three machines have a height adjustment so they should be able to shoot balls just over the net to high lobs. I know the Lobster Pickleball machine does a really good job of consistently getting the balls just over the net so I can practice dinking. I have not used it for lobs yet so I cannot say how well it works.
Currently, all three ball machines have wheels which for me is a must have feature when taking the Lobster Pickleball machine from my car to the gym or courts. Apparently, older versions of the Pickleball Tutor did not have wheels but the machines built since 2018 do.
Batteries and Power
Pickleball machines feature a number of options in relationship to power.
I think the most important is the battery life. According to the manufacturers, the Simon 2 has the longest life of six hours. The Lobster and Tutor can last up to 4 hours. So far, I have not run out of battery power when using the Lobster. However, this is due to the fact I usually practice alone and only for an hour. In reality, I think 4 hours is plenty even if you have a group of 4 practicing or drilling. If you are concerned about battery life, all three machines have an external battery option.
Another power related aspect is whether the Pickleball machine can be plugged in for use. Both The Pickleball Tutor and Lobster Pickleball machine offer this option.
The Lobster offers a Fast Charger option but I have found the charger that comes with the base unit is plenty quick. It usually just takes few hours to fully charge.
Currently there are options for 3 different Pickleball machines. My pick for the best pickleball machine is the Lobster due to the ability to oscillate and put different spins on the ball. Based on price, my second pick would be the Tutor over the Simon 2.
If you decide to buy a Pickleball practice machine, remember to buy a bunch of balls. You can see my pick for the best pickleball balls or you can go with the bulk Jugs Pickleballs here. I purchased 4 dozen as I had about 60 other practice balls at home.