Here is my review of the Amicus Advance sold by Butterfly.All hooked up.
So after owning a Newgy 540 for around 5 years I felt it was time for an upgrade. One major factor in my willingness to upgrade was the fact I did have a cheaper robot and I actually used it. I've used it more so in the last year as I've really tried to improve my game. I think these robots can end up much like an exercise machine: collecting dust in the corner. Back when I bought the Newgy it was about as advanced as could be reasonably purchased in the USA. Digital had not caught up with the few makers of the robots. Many of them were extremely expensive and gave rather questionable support as to parts and repair. Newgy does a great job with that and the few problems I had were resolved with some cheap parts or an email. The major improvements over the last few years for many robots are: programmability and multiple throw wheels. Being able to create a low or no spin ball was impossible for the old Newgy with it's single wheel to shoot the ball out. It also could not create a high speed ball with low spin, it's speed is tied to the spin - being linear, so a faster ball would have spin seemingly impossible for a human to generate. Other minor annoyances on the Newgy were the ball jamming from time to time, the questionable usefulness of the osculation feature and the fact it could not handle 40+ plastic balls - even the very round new ones (it would jam up).
So on to a new ball machine. There are multiple new options, like the very affordable IPong variants, cheaper dual throw wheel models from places like Paddle Palace, the newer digital Newgy models and of course the Butterfly Amicus line. The more traditional models are also available with new touch screens and the prices comparable (or more than) the Amicus line. I am not sure about the reliability or the ability for repair - my local club can't some models in service, obviously a small sample but useful for these types of decisions. The Amicus has three throw wheels - more than any other machine I researched. To me it appears to be the most flexible option out there when one factors in the programming options. With a simple change out of the control unit it can also be upgraded from the basic to the advance or pro. With a 10% off coupon and favorable pricing I ordered the middle tier model(Advance) from pingpongdepot.com and waited for arrival.
I waited about 20 days for the unit to arrive. I suspected this would happen because Butterfly's own site had it on back order (are they that popular?). I'm pretty sure it was a direct ship option from Butterfly. The packaging was simple but good quality. The unit itself wraps on pretty well with few additional parts to unpack. I'm not into un-boxing porn so I'll just skip on to the installation. I will note it does come with a nice carry bag and it wouldn't be too difficult to pack up and go to a friends house with it. The head also looks fairly stylish, very unique in design from other robots.
Disclaimer: I don't like reading instructions that much, especially when they are confusing to start with, as the case here.
After removing the plastic wrap I started getting ready to attach the machine to the table and I was pretty confused at first. It looked like the head and table attachment legs were backwards(or the netting was)! Time to consult the instruction manual. I must admit the manual is a pretty solid letdown. It's using a cheap plastic binder with some printed sheets of paper. Par for the course for a 7th grade history project, but not a $1700 retail product. Thankfully it did give me just enough information by pictures to show me to turn the head and the legs 180 degrees and then it made sense on how to attach to the table. It's actually a nice design that allows for transport but is not all that clear in any instructions. I'm half tempted to write my own install instructions after fumbling around like I did.
After attaching the robot to the table and getting the netting setup I was ready to hook up the control unit and give it a first test, or so I thought. The control unit comes with a metal attachment that fastens itself to a table - but when the control unit is mounted it kind of slouches and can bounce as you press the buttons. Newgy's control unit had none of these issues and did not stick out so far, a minor complaint but should be much better at this price range. I hooked up the 25 pin parallel port cable between the control unit and the head box. Then went to plug the power into the wall and ran into a snag: all I have is a funny looking plug at the end. Not USA standard plug for sure. Remember the direct ship option? Perhaps somewhere on the order the wrong version was shipped. After some dinner I had an idea - the power brick looks just like one off of a laptop and indeed my Lenovo power brick had the same connector. I had power! (and my laptop now does not). Update:
I found the USA adapter in the box when I was tearing the box down. Here is what you get for a plug - this is the USA edition plug. Weird.
Finally for the moment of truth, I loaded a bunch of balls into the basket and turned it on. The balls slowly started going into the machine, consuming them like a ping pong ball cookie-monster until I finally saw a ball sticking out and then it came out: limp as could be, just dribbling over on to the table. The throw wheels did not do anything! After consulting the instruction manual and the control unit I went to inspect the head itself and discovered the problem: there is another connector that plugs into the main cookie-monster box. Finally I had balls being shot out of it and installation was complete.Great place for this plug don't you think? Plus I love how it comes out so easily...
One thing I was not expecting was the space savings. I had put my Newgy robot on a chair inside of the net and had it shooting balls out from behind the table. The Amicus didn't need that much space, I recovered about 18 inches in my practice area. Pretty useful since I pretty much use half of my living room for my practice area.
Final note on installation: the cable ports do not have fasteners like you would see on newer HDMI or DVI cables, where you screw them into each other and I could imagine this being a problem as they could get disconnected. Then again perhaps it'll save my equipment as I have been known to trip over my old robot's cables - so cheap or smart design? I'm not sure but at worst case I can plug it back in if needed.
My first experience hitting some balls was more about seeing what the options did than anything else. First no spin balls - the feature I've really been craving after the Newgy only-spin experience. It sure did just that. I felt like I could hit a counter-hit ball properly because I did not have to adjust to the topspin being made which old robot did. Then I tried topspin and it really can make some topspin - it went off my paddle like someone just looped a backspin ball on me - impressive. Next was the backspin ball and I had to make some adjustments to get the ball over the net. Honestly I was not getting much backspin even at the highest setting (-6) (later in the night I was getting plenty of backspin at the -3 setting so perhaps it was a break-in period).
A note about noise. It has a light high-pitch noise when the motors are running which apparently has been improved in the latest revision. Thank goodness because it could be annoying. I would avoid older versions if it's much worse. The motor noise when throwing a ball is quite minimal compared to the Newgy. My wife can watch her Anime shows while I practice. Overall it's less noisy than the Newgy, even with the high pitch hum.
Next up was time to play around with the programming. I loaded up the first pre-programmed drill, two to the left and two to the right. I turned off pause and ducked for my life! The machine went right at my face with the balls. Shooting them into the wall behind me, knocking down pictures and cat figurines my wife used to collect. No damage but also no mercy! It appears that the motor that adjusts the height was either stuck or programmed oddly. I pressed some buttons and after further reading of the manual I think I over-rode that pre-programmed drill. Oops. From there I decided to program my own two left-two right version instead. I ended up with a nice controlled exercise that I plan to make my warm up drill. I went to save it and then loaded up another pre-programmed exercise. Armed with my hockey gear I started the robot. It dribbled out a low backspin ball to the middle of the table which bounced over just barely - a serve! Cute even. Right after that it shot me in the chest with a fast ball. No mercy! I'm guessing this is simulating a 3rd ball attack. It just needed to be adjusted down a little. I think the major value was seeing a setting which gave a serve low controlled serve. Awesome to see, like the robot has amazing touch.
A couple of notes on the control panel: it looks much better in person than it does on any picture I've seen, it feels like a quality piece to me, even if it's a little odd with the analog dials and LED lights. I think it could be designed better, with more instructions on the buttons itself to help understand what is going on. The left and right buttons make you think that changes the angle, but it's the dial buttons which determine that. I also could not get the AFC option to stop blinking. I'm not sure if it's even an option! Small things like this I think make it not a very good robot for a club setting. It's intimidating and confusing especially when you just want to hit some balls and other machines are much easier to just get started. The robot also lacks a power button. How crazy is that? No power button!? So I have to plug it in or unplug it - this yet again seems like a silly design choice given the price. Here is the Control Unit and how it attaches (poorly) to the table. Newgy has this one figured out.
For my second programmed exercise I started with a backspin ball to my backhand and then a no-spin ball to my forehand area. I learned this is a great spot for the 'rnd' function as it would then simulate a staple of my game: backhand loop which gets blocked and then I finish the point with the forehand. Very cool except for one problem: the block comes back too slowly after the first ball. Ideally I'd like for the exercise to work as follows:
1. backspin to backhand
2. No spin random once the returned ball passes the end line.
3. A few second pause before going back to 1.
With the Advance model it appears this is not possible. I know of no way to pause the machine between sequences. It looks like the Pro edition has an option to change the timing of the balls but I'm not sure if its features would allow for exactly what I want. As with the Newgy I will find a workaround. Right now my plan is to program two or three more balls after the main sequence of two and have them shoot into a bean bag. Those extra balls will be ignored by me and allow me to get reset for the next iteration. Not ideal but this will likely be the work-around when I am drilling on sequences like this.
I know I have nit-picked this robot to no end at this point, but the robot has all of the features I could want otherwise and it produces a crisp precise ball. It's different than my old robot in how it shoots the ball out but I quickly adjusted. It has all of the shots: Side spin, top spin, backspin, speed, height adjustment on the head and the angle of the height. It's able to serve and do six different balls in sequence. I'm still getting used to programming but I think I have a handle on it now. In the end it is a really nice robot that is precise yet has so much flexibility. It has flaws which I've tried to outline here but it is also a fantastic practice tool and even yes an exercise machine (no mercy!). I believe this robot will improve my game with regards to more sequenced play and hopefully will greatly help my footwork with programmed drills all while getting a little exercise out of it. I'm happy with my purchase and when you compare my old robot to the new one...well I'm feeling rather spoiled right now.
Flexibility in shot selection is impressive (3 wheel design)
Very compact and inventive design, stylish even
Programmable up to 6 balls in a sequence (and more on the pro) and memory to save the drills
Amazing touch and precision even on serve shots
Good solid feeling of quality on most parts
No ball jamming thus far
Overall fairly quiet
First time usage is a little difficult, learning curve
Installation is not very intuitive
No power button
Control panel bracket is a poor design
Programming is not very intuitive
Manual is quality, for a 7th grader
Does have an light high pitch hum from the motors
Is on the higher side of price
No way to pause between sequencesSome other pics - under and on the side of the ball collector3 Month update:
To start off - I'm using this robot quite a bit lately. I find it to do more or less just what I wanted - and now I want even more (keep reading).
No mechanical failures, but the cables have come loose a couple of times making me think the machine was broken. I have contacted support and we'll see how fast they respond, even if my issue was resolved by me remembering there is a plug right next to the ball grabber/hopper.
This machine can make me look amazingly stupid. I know my rating isn't that great - 1344 but it's shocking how well I can recreate issues I have against people and work on them. Ever hit a really nice forehand loop and then had a weak slow ball come back - and totally miss it? This machine can do that for you. Or how about the backhand flick where a fast block comes back - yep, more mistakes!
I'm using this robot a LOT and I'm starting to see some limitations on the programming side. Honestly most of my points for whatever reason begin at the backhand side - usually me looping a backspin ball. From there it becomes chaos. This machine can't really re-create that. I can program a backspin and then a top spin to a spot but not have 3 or 4 shots after the initial one. I feel that would make this machine even better - the ability to group shots. Group 1 could be the serve/opening and group 2 could be the block/light top spin and finally group 3 could be the higher ball ready for the kill. On the positive side I feel like the hardware is really just a new control unit away. It could do all of that! It just lacks the controls. I guess that's another reason I picked the Advance over the Pro. No difference except the control unit - which both might be outdated if they decide to make a better one.
Another little note which I seem to have not noticed at first: it does seem like every ball to either side has just a little side spin to it (always going away from you). I think perhaps a better design for the side to side could help fix this. I might try adding a little side spin on the control unit to see if it will cancel out the 'natural' side spin.
Lastly a new annoyance: the balls all getting around the ring of 'death' but not wanting to take the plunge. I guess I can't blame them, but I can blame the plastic which should have a little angled lip to avoid this.Who wants to go first?