Swift | Silent | Deadly

Dry Fire Tools: The MantisX

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I have written extensively about dry practice. I’m not even going to attempt to link to dry practice articles here because this blog is littered with them. I will, however, quickly extol the virtues of dry practice. It is very inexpensive, it is accessible in areas not optimized for live fire, it allows you to practice things your range doesn’t allow. As awesome as dry practice is, there are tools that can make it objectively better. Today I am going to talk about one of them: the MantisX.

Full Disclosure: I was provided a MantisX free of charge by MantisX. I receive no financial incentive from the sale of MantisX products.

The MantisX

I have seen the MantisX all over the place. A former military buddy – and one of my best friends to this day – came to visit us in November. He had a MantisX and let me play with it a bit. My friend Matt Robertson has a MantisX system and even has a MantisX group where users can share and compare data. Another military buddy and close friend was recently issued one by his unit. I knew I was at risk of missing out if I didn’t check this thing out. I reached out to MantisX and they shipped me a unit.

There isn’t a whole lot of hardware with the Mantis. My exemplar came in a small, zippered case. The case contained the MantisX unit, a barrel clamp adapter, a baggie containing some additional mounting hardware, a micro USB cable, and a Mantis sticker. Eager to get started…I got started.

After charging the unit (yes, it’s battery operated) I popped the MantisX onto a gun. It looks like a tiny laser module that you might install on your handgun – just a small, indistinctly-shaped, plastic object that unit mounts to a rail. Unfortunately that means I couldn’t run it on my daily carry 1911 – more on that in a minute. So, I worked with it on a Gen5 Glock 19 and my M&P9 2.0 Compact (if I switch to a striker gun for carry it’ll probably be the Smith).

After installing the unit I realized I needed an accompanying app on my smartphone. I’m not a big fan of installing applications but I quickly decided this was worth it. The app connects to the device via Bluetooth, so make sure your phone’s Bluetooth is enabled. Press the button on the MantisX and a green light should start blinking. Then go back to the app, which should ask if you’d like to connect. Press “connect,” let the unit and the app calibrate, and you’re good to go.

But What Does it Do?

I’m not going to lie – I put off testing this thing waaaay too long. I pulled it out of the box immediately, tinkered with it, and put it away. And forgot about it. And occasionally remembered and thought, “man, I really need to finish that review.” And then I really got into the functions of the thing and HOLY SHIT! The MantisX is a game-changer with one caveat (which, again, I’ll get to). I love this thing and it has made me a better shooter. But what does it do? Wrong question.

What does this thing not do? The capability of the MantisX is so expansive it is difficult to describe. At the simplest, it tracks the movement of your handgun as you perform a specified action. With my buddy’s unit all I did was dry fire a few shots at the wall. Once I got this one I began digging around and discovered the MantisX will track your draw stoke, reloads (in-battery, out-of-battery, and tactical), your “compressed surprise break,” recoil, strong- and weak-hand only, and much more. The MantisX has drills (like the “hostage” drill) and complete courses you can take to improve your overall shooting.

Not only does it work in dry practice, certain models of the MantisX – the X10 Elite – also record live fire and CO2-powered training systems like the CoolFire I reviewed a while back. To facilitate proper interpretation of movement the app allows you to choose your pistol, whether or not you are right- or left-handed, and the orientation of the unit on the gun. Being able to mount the unit forward, backward, and even upside down is fantastic for fitting the widest possible array of guns.

Using the MantisX

To use the unit put it on your gun, connect it, and choose a drill. Press the “START” icon; the unit will now record your movement as you present the gun out and press the trigger. So, for instance, you can do “Open Training.” Open training simply allows you to pull the trigger and review the results. The results are presented in several different formats, but the most useful chart is the trace of the gun’s movement. The blue line represents the movement post-presentation and the yellow line is the gun’s movement in the 200 milliseconds before the trigger breaks. The “X” is where the gun was when the shot broke, and red is the movement after the shot. This is really, really useful information.

You can replay this trace for each and every shot as a video, too. Sometimes the movement is much more dramatic than that “good” shot from the un-timed drill I am displaying above. Let’s take a look at a timed drill with a bit of pressure. Below is the “hostage” drill, which requires drawing, a score of 85 or better on the shot, and meeting a time constraint (beginner: 4 seconds, intermediate: 2.5 seconds, advanced: 1.7 seconds). You can see quite a bit more movement.

I’m sure I have barely scratched the surface of the MantisX’s recording and analytical capability. In addition to storing pure data about individual shots it can also track recoil and assess your recoil management. The X10 can analyze multiple targets and shooting on-the-move. The unit can also function as a simple shot timer.

My One Complaint

This is a super cool device. It will absolutely improve your shooting ability. It will transform your dry practice sessions into something completely different. But there is one problem: it mounts outside the gun. This creates a problem when trying to use the gun with a concealed carry holster, most of which don’t support accessories mounted under the dust cover.

This really made working on the draw stroke difficult. I did try using a light-bearing holster for the M&P. It sort of worked. I’ll put it this way: it gave me something to draw from but I certainly wouldn’t carry the gun that way. The holster is meant to index on and grasp the light, so with the smaller MantisX it didn’t have anything to hold onto. Some light-bearing holsters may work, but my guess is many won’t.

Mantis offers a fix for that: magazine baseplates. I fully intend to purchase a Wilson 47D baseplate for one of my 1911 magazines. The plate is more or less a normal plate, but has a short section of rail to which to attach the MantisX unit. This will make the gun’s grip quite a bit longer and may impact clearing my cover garment, but we’ll see. Baseplates are available for quite a few handguns but cost $25 to $27.50. Personally I think it would be cool if this device could fit inside the gun somehow (a barrel insert, perhaps?) but that would probably limit the tool’s universality.

I really like practicing the draw with this. I just wish it were easier to do. I don’t mean to overstate this issue; there’s still a lot you can do with the MantisX. I don’t mean to understate, either – not being able to holster was definitely a drag. Just consider it, and consider the purchase of a magazine baseplate with your unit if it from-the-holster is a major portion of your practice regimen (and if it’s not…it probably should be).

OK…One More Complaint

As I mentioned in passing earlier, I am really hesitant to install an application on my phone. Applications, no matter how well-written, pose some malware risk. Applications also all-too-often share information about your in the background. Sure, you consent to these when you install the application, but it can be hard to realize, even if you are reading that dense privacy policy.

Using a network monitor I found that the MantisX application attempts to connect to Facebook every time your open the application. In my opinion this is shabby behavior. Since this product is directly monetized and users have paid up-front, they should – in my opinion – have the choice of whether or not to share information with a third-party like Facebook.

Unfortunately I feel like I have to protect myself from this device. I don’t have a Facebook account and take pains to avoid sharing my personal information with Facebook. It sucks to have it happen in the background. Personally, I will probably relegate the MantisX application to an old iPod Touch with no internet connection. At a very minimum I recommend you run a VPN on your device, and a firewall like Lockdown can help block those Facebook connections, too.

Closing Thoughts

The MantisX is available in several models and in a range of price-points. The X2 starts at $99 but offers the most limited feature set. The X3 and X7 cost $169 and $199, respectively, and each offers an expanded feature set. The top-of-the-range MantisX is the X10 (the model tested here). It comes in at $249 and has the most possible features. I would encourage you to review the features on Mantis’ website – some, like shotgun analysis, may not be necessary for every user.

I am really impressed with the MantisX. It will absolutely improve your shooting. It will turn your dry practice sessions into guided lessons with instant, high-quality feedback. The MantisX system is an amazing analysis tool. The Facebook connectivity was frustrating, as was the inability to use a holster, but ultimately I believe this tool is still worth it.

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