As pickleball continues to grow, we see manufacturers coming out with more advanced gear, with newly released paddles made using high tech materials and innovation resulting in the best paddles to hit the market to date. Other advances include the invention of new court equipment and training aids such as ball picker-uppers and pickleball ball machines.
While these ball throwing machines have been around in the tennis world and used other sports for decades (the first baseball pitching machine was made in 1897 using gunpowder!) pickleball is a much younger sport (invented in 1965) and we are still in the relatively early stages of the sport with lots of new equipment being launched specifically designed for pickleball.
Although pickleball balls are roughly the same size as tennis balls, the weight and diameter are different enough to render them incompatible with existing ball machines. Because pickleballs will not work with tennis ball throwers, equipment makers have had to either redesign their existing ball launchers or come up with a totally new machine.
In mid-2018, Playmate also just announced that they are launching a pickleball machine. They are offering demos at clubs but their website still does not show a retail price or way to actually purchase one on their site.
To research this topic, we looked everywhere and were surprised that we couldn’t find a clear comparison table of the features of these three machines anywhere – so we decided to make one ourselves especially for our readers.
If you are considering buying a pickleball machine, we are here to help you. We’ve organized the information in a format you can easily compare and also given several things to consider before buying. Scroll down to see detailed reviews of each machine. This is obviously a much bigger buying decision than say a paddle or a pickleball bag, so it makes total sense you’d want as many details as possible to find the best pickleball ball machine for your needs and budget.
Lobster Pickle Pickleball Machine
The Lobster “Pickle” is the most recently launched pickleball machine of the three machines currently being sold on the market.
Just looking at this machine, you can see that the company took the time to work out the features and design needed for a very practical ball throwing machine.
It looks like a very close cousin to their other battery-powered tennis ball machine line (Elite and Grand models).
While it is a few pounds heavier than it’s two closest competitors, the pickle is built on 8” wheels and has an ergonomic handle to roll the machine around the court.
This feature in itself is a clear distinguishing factor, making it the most portable machine of the ones currently available.
The Pickleball Tutor does not have wheels and while the Simon 2 does have wheels, the design is much bulkier than the Pickle and without the conveniently designed handle.
Portability: The ball hopper conveniently inverts back on the machine for storage and transportation. Easy transport is a major advantage over its competitors.
does not have wheels. As of 2018, new units of the Tutor do come with caster wheels and a carry handle
The Simon 2 does have wheels but the shape and size of the machine are quite a bit larger than the Lobster and scores lower marks in the convenience column.
- Weight: 35 lbs
- Wheels: Yes
Spin: The Pickle is capable of shooting balls at speeds anywhere from 10-60 MPH giving you the flexibility to train a wide range of shots. The slowest speeds help you perfect your dink shot and or soft lobs while the highest setting will blast shots at you that would get you a speeding ticket on many roads!
The top speed of 60 miles per hour edges out the competition (Simon: 40 MPH). As of 2018, the Tutor now also advertises speeds of 60 MPH. At some point we’d love to put these three to a side-by-side speed test with a radar gun but at this point are just going based off of advertised speeds. Realistically the 40 MPH that the Simon delivers seems like more than enough for most pickleball players.
As the sport of pickleball evolves, serves are getting harder and faster (as we saw at the recent 2018 Minto US Open), so having the ability to practice your return at speeds that are 10-20 MPH faster than the other pickleball ball launchers, which is definitely a plus for the Lobster brand machine.
The Lobster Pickle machine has a separate knob on the control panel to control the amount of spin ball. This default setting (with dial in a neutral/ vertical position) is for a flat delivery with no tangible ball spin. The dial has a +/- 4 setting to left/right to add varying degrees of desired topspin or backspin (marked underspin and topspin on the dial).
Again, this is definitely a winning feature in the “Pickle” since the other machines do not have a setting for spin. As with speed, spin is an increasingly important skill in pickleball, whether imparting spin on your shots or being able to handle returning shots coming at your with heavy spin.
For training drills to increase your skills for spin shots, this is a key feature that Lobster sports offers with their new machine. While it’s true that a good coach can drill you by putting spin on their shots, this machine definitely is a cool training tool for coaches and players.
It would be tough even for many of coaches to repeatedly deliver a high volume of practice shots in such rapid succession that are fast, well placed and with a consistent amount of topspin or backspin. This takes the guesswork out of your spin drills.
Of the models currently on the market, the Pickle is the only pickleball machine that has a spin feature and it can be easily adjusted for degree and type of spin.
Elevation: allows you to crank up the machine from the level 0 to a max of 50 degrees. This gives you the flexibility to practice hard drives and the return of serve from back at the baseline, high lob shots/smashes or soft dinks. The elevation is controlled manually.
Battery: The basic battery charger that comes with the machine takes between 12-24 hours to fully charge the battery. If you want a quicker charge, there are upgrades available from Lobster, the Fast Charger will reduce the time to 6-18 hours and the Premium Charge will shave that downtime to a quick 1-3 hours.
Ball Capacity: Advertised as holding 135 pickleballs. Readers have reported back that 135 is a stretch, 100 balls fit comfortably without falling out.
Price: At the time of writing this, for the features included, the slightly more affordable than the Tutor. *The Basic Tutor is actually the least expensive model but you’d need you factor in the cost of the oscillation add-on to get similar functionality between the two machines – this feature comes included on the Lobster Pickle.
- Max speed of all three machines (60 MPH). (As of 2018 the Tutor matches the speed of 60 MPH)
- Only machine with spin settings (backspin and topspin).
- Optional accessories (remote, external battery pack, fast charger).
- Weight: heaviest of the three machines.
- Plastic outer body and hopper.
- Shortest court playing time on battery.
Company Profile: The “Pickle” model just bounced on the scene in 2018. However, the company, Lobster Sports, has a 40-year history of making quality tennis ball machines. The company was founded in 1970 by Harry Giuditta who purchased a failing machine manufacturer and started the company off down a better path by recalling all the company’s machines!
These early beginnings show the integrity of the company and their 40+ history in the industry is a testament to their quality products.
The “Pickle” joins the Lobster Sports full line of ball machines, including their battery operated and larger electrical models for tennis. Some of which, like the Lobster Phenom line of machines, have ball capacity up to 250 and fully programmable training programs for tennis pros with a wide variety of shot locations and pre-programmed court drills. These larger machines are powered by an AC cord.
They also sell more portable battery operated ball machines including the new “Pickle” model that was specifically made for pickleball. Lobster Sports is located in North Hollywood, CA and their products are all made in the USA.
The Pickleball Tutor:
The is the most common pickleball throwing machine we see on the courts being used by coaches, clubs and in private lessons. There are loads of useful training videos and drills posted online by users which is also helpful when trying to get the most out of your investment.
First Impressions: Over the years, the Pickleball Tutor machine has become a common sight on the pickleball court with many coaches and serious players using this model. The shape itself is rather boxy looking. It’s not very ergonomic (compared to the Lobster Pickle) for carrying, it does not have any wheels or very comfortable handle.
Click to see the Pickleball Tutor machine on the Oncourt/Offcourt website (official distributor) for more details, photos and check the price.
Oncourt/Offcourt also just recently started offering the Pickleball Tutor on Amazon.
However, it is very portable as it’s the lightest of all the machines, folds down into a very portable rectangular shape (only 20″ on the longest side) and at 22 pounds, the basic model can be carried around by most players without a problem.
The features on the “Basic” model may be somewhat lacking since it does not come with the oscillation function that is included on the Lobster Pickle. On the other hand, the basic model is affordable for someone looking for a simple machine without bells and whistles.
However, for those that want extra features, there are plenty of add-ons to customize the machine to your liking, including oscillation, electronic elevation, external battery pack, and remote. There is also an AC model available.
Portability: The basic Tutor model (without any external battery pack or other accessories) is actually the lightest of the three machines at 22 pounds. The dimensions (12″x 18″x 20″) make it very portable.
Speed: While all three machines have a minimum speed of 10 mph speeds so they only difference is on the high end. The Tutor falls in the middle of the three with a max speed of 50 mph, that’s 10 mph faster than the Simon 2 but 10 mph slower than the Pickle. The main buying factor would be if you feel you really need that extra boost of speed.
Do you think you’ll be spending a lot of time practicing at max speed? If so, this is where the Pickle would be the top choice, although as mentioned earlier, 50 mph is plenty of speed for most pickleball players to practice even their hardest shots.
Spin: The Pickle is the only machine currently offering a dedicated spin feature.
Elevation: On the basic model of the Tutor, the elevation is controlled by manually turning a knob. There is an Electronic Elevation Add-on that you can buy (+$100). This automatic elevation feature is only available on the oscillating machines so you would need to purchase the oscillating version (not basic model and also select the electronic elevation add-on.
Battery: The standard battery offers 3-4 hours of playing time on the court. There is an optional External Battery Pack
that gives an extra 6 hours of play. This needs to be purchased separately. Also note that the external battery is not light, weighing in at 12 pounds so that’s something to consider if you are planning to transport the machine often.
There is also an AC model which of course makes battery life a moot point…as long as you are within cord reach of a power source.
Company Profile: The Pickleball Tutor is made by Sports Tutor Inc. They also make automatic throwing machines for tennis, softball, volleyball, baseball and soccer.
OnCourt OffCourt is the exclusive representative of the Pickleball Tutor in the U.S.
- Commonly used by coaches and clubs.
- Basic affordable model with custom add-on options.
- Weight: lightest of all three (29 vs 35 lbs).
- Longest Warranty (3 years).
- Smallest ball capacity (125 vs. 160).
- No spin setting.
- Remote must be fitted at the time of ordering the machine, no option as an add-on later.
The Simon 2 Pickleball Machine:
As per the Simon Pickleball Machine website, they claim to be the first (and best) pickleball machine on the market. The Simon was launched November of 2014 at the Pickleball Nationals in Buckeye AZ.
First impressions: The build quality of the Simon 2 is definitely heavy duty, made of heavy gauge steel and aluminum. Just looking at it, it shouts durability, its durable metal and dark green paint remind me of equipment you’d see in the military. Having said that, it is a rather bulky design when compared to something the more modern design of the Lobster Pickle.
The Simon 2 excels as a workhorse with the biggest capacity of the three machines (160 balls), longest battery life (6 hours). The machine is also pleasantly simple: an ON/OFF switch, Speed knob, Feed Knob (to adjust speed interval between 1.5-10 seconds), a charger input and reset button.
Portability: At 32 pounds, the Simon 2 falls right in the middle of the three machines. While it’s not as light and compact as the Tutor, it is actually a few pounds lighter than the Lobster model and it does have large wheels that make it easy to move around the court.
Speed: The Simon comes in last in the speed race, maxing out at 40 mph. However, that’s still quite a bit of speed to practice your returns. Also, the Simon seems to be more focused on the control and short game with two accessories included in with the machine: a lob “ramp” attachment (small metal chute) and another one designed for dinks. So while you do sacrifice some power with the Simon, it does give options for practicing your soft game. As we mentioned above, the speeds are all just advertised, we have not confirmed these with radar. Even at 40 MPH, that’s plenty of speed for even the most competitive players to practice at.
Spin: The Pickle is the only machine currently offering a spin feature.
Elevation: The newly designed Simon 2 comes with a more user-friendly elevation adjustment system that replaces the old peg system. The introduction of the adjustable ramp (replaced the 2 separate “dink” & “lob” ramps and is now one piece with 2 settings- 30 degrees for dinks & 44 degrees for lobs/high volleys). No need for the elevation pegs or propping it up. The adjustable ramp takes care of it and throws up perfect dinks & lobs.
We’ve left this info here just in case you are buying a used Simon you may find the old peg system:
Older Units: The Simon use to come with two metal pegs. If you want to increase the elevation, you have to manually lift the front end of the machine and insert the two pegs into holes on the bottom of the machine. The company also recommends using pickleballs to prop up the front of the machine as a workaround to having to mess around with the pegs. While it’s a way to jury-rig it to work, it’s not an ideal solution compared to the newer Simon machines or other brand machines that have electronic elevation (Tutor) or (Pickle).
Battery: As mentioned, the Simon takes the top spot when it comes to battery autonomy, outlasting the competitors by 2-3 hours.
Company Profile: The Simon 2 is an individually owned and operated company run by the founder of the machine. We’ve talked to players that have bought the machine and they’ve mentioned quality customer service and follow up is direct with the owner and inventor of the machine (Mike Schwartz) and the feedback he gets is stellar.
- Heavy duty construction: heavy gauge steel and aluminum.
- Largest ball capacity (160).
- On wheels for easy transport.
- A true wireless remote with 100′ range.
- The company is owned and operated by the inventor of the machine.
- Does have wheels.
- Although it has wheels and a grab handle, it lacks the ergonomic handle design of the Lobster Pickle
- Of the three machines, this has the slowest max speed (40 vs 60 MPH).
- No Spin setting.
- Higher Price
Buyers Guide: What to look for when buying a pickleball machine:
Ball Capacity: Ball capacity is one of the key features that players consider. The number of balls that can be held in the hopper has a direct impact on how efficient the machine will be to play with. Every time you have to stop doing drills to pick up balls.
Having a ball mower can speed this up, but still stopping practice to pick up balls and refill the machine will cut into your lesson or practice hour. The ball capacity on these three machines ranges from 120 (Tutor) to 160 (Simon 2) with the Lobster Pickle falling in the middle with a capacity for 135 pickleballs.
While there is a relatively large difference (40 balls) between these 3 machines, at a certain point I think there is a limit to how many balls you really need in the machine. 120 balls is still a lot of shots in a row!
Realistically at over 100 balls to me seem like plenty. At that point, you have balls all over the court and you’ll need to stop anyway for a variety of reasons:
- Too many balls around your feet is a tripping hazard and you’ll end up stopping to get them out of your way.
- At this point, you’ll probably want or need a breather and give your arm a short rest.
- Pickleball coaches may not really want to do over 100 shot drills. There needs to be a break for correction/instruction and stopping to collect the balls and refill hopper is a natural part of a lesson. 100+ shots give ample opportunity for a series of drills.
- The larger the ball capacity is, the larger the hopper would need to be (and therefore the overall size of the machine). It seems logical that all three machine makers design their models to hold roughly the same number of balls.
Shot Adjustable Arc: This feature is critical to modifying the shot selection you want to practice. Straight line drives for hard serve returns or long baseline drives and shorter arc for softer lobs and dink shots. Having a higher arc capability is also very useful for high lobs and practicing the overhead smash.
Speed: All three ball machines we’ve looked at on this list have a minimum speed of 10 MPH so on the low end for delivering soft lobs, dinks and drops they are all very comparable. It’s the max speed where the three machines set themselves apart with top speeds of 40, 50 and 60 miles per hour (Simon, Tutor, and Pickle in order of slowest to fastest).
While even the slowest speed of 40 MPH that the Simon 2 delivers is still a very decent speed to train your serve returns and baseline drives and a max velocity that many players would find adequate, the extra 10 or even 20 MPH of the Tutor or Pickle are a factor to consider especially depending on your competitive level.
A serious, competitive player or pickleball coach with advanced level players wanting to take their practice up a notch or two will appreciate the extra punch these machines offer.
Shot Intervals (Seconds): How many seconds between shots. Top speed intervals as low as 1.5 seconds up to 10-second pause between shots (may be useful for coaching and giving tips in between shots.
Oscillation Pattern: Currently, the machines offering this use a random horizontal pattern to keep shots unpredictable.
Spin: Currently the Lobster Pickle is the only machine offering this and has options for both backspin and topspin.
Elevation/Elevation Degrees: Ability to increase the height of the lob and dink shots. Max elevation would be for high lob returns and practicing overhead shots.
Charging time and Battery life/play time: When buying a battery-powered model, the charging time can be a major consideration since the added hours needed to charge could limit how much the machine can be used on the court daily (coaching, busy clubs) or the need to buy extra external battery packs.
AC/DC power: This can be a very useful option where you are within reach of a power source (extension cord) and are not limited to the amount of time the machine can be played continuously.
Play While Charging: Most machines do not have this option as the machine cannot be in use while the battery is charging.
Remote Control: A remote control, as you can imagine makes the machine much more convenient. If you are drilling with a coach or taking turns with a friend, they can pause the machine for you. However, if you are practice alone, standing on one side of the court with the machine on the other baseline a remote can be a major time saver.
Even if you are with other people, having a remote saves the hassle of having to go back to the machine to turn it off. This can make lessons much more efficient since the pickleball coach doesn’t have to be walking back and forth. It’s also a huge benefit to be able to stop the drill often, give a quick coaching tip or modify the drill (adjust a cone, target, etc) and then quickly resume the lesson.
Why not just hit all the balls in the hopper- and then refill it. Keep in mind that even the smallest capacity hopper of the machines holds a whopping 125 pickleballs. Realistically, very few if any players will hit that many balls in a row without experiencing fatigue or at least wanting to pause the machine briefly. If you don’t have a remote, the machine will continue to spit out balls while you walk back around the net and to the machine- so a pretty inefficient way to practice.
Price: $1,199.00 MSRP at time of writing:
Renting vs Buying a Pickleball Machine:
Current rental rates: While there is an ample supply of tennis ball machines for rent, pickleball machines are less common. There are even websites dedicated just to tennis ball machine rentals with prices as low as $25/day and even less per day if you rent by the week. My local tennis club rents machines for $10/hr if you just want a quick practice session.
However, just based on supply and demand, you’ll most likely pay more per day for a pickleball machine rental since there are fewer around and the demand for them continues to rise.
We’ve seen local pickleball clubs and sports equipment rental shops renting pickleball machines for about twice that: $49/day or about $90 for a weekend (pickup Thursday PM and return Monday AM).
Do you know how much they charge at your local pickleball club…or if they even have machines for rent? If so, please let us know in the comments!
At the current prices of new pickleball machines, by the time you rent a ball thrower 10 weekends (or 45-day rentals) to “get your money back”… if you used roughly one weekend a month by the end of about a year you would have paid the same in rentals. Something to consider when shopping. How often do you really see yourself using it?
Benefits of using a pickleball ball throwing machine.
Who can benefit from a pickleball machine:
Honestly, this took a ridiculous amount of time to research! However, I’m glad we did it since buying one of these machines is likely the biggest purchasing decision a pickleball player will make (apart from building a home court) and our site exists to give you the information you are looking for to make an informed decision when buying pickleball equipment.
We sifted through all the information we could find, contacted all three companies with follow-up questions, read each manual from cover to cover and watched all the youtube videos we could find to include as much info as possible.
This article was a long time coming, we’ve been putting it off- mostly because of the number of hours we’d need to put in researching it, but felt the site would not be complete without a section on pickleball ball throwing machines. The recent release of the newest pickleball machine (the Pickle by Lobster Sports) also got us thinking again we really needed to publish a detailed buying guide. So here we go!