One of my new toys this year has been an AMG Lab “Commander” shot timer. I put off buying a shot timer for a long time because I didn’t really see the value in it. I wasn’t doing holster draws, I didn’t care about my splits, etc. I guess if you don’t care about time, you don’t need a shot timer.
But then I got bit by the training and competition bug a year ago, and suddenly, time mattered a lot more. That meant I needed a shot timer. Since I love having the latest and greatest, I thought I would give the hottest new shot timer on the market a fair shake.
Before I launch into my review, I just want to note that I am not some sort of timer expert. I’ve seen a few in use and have the general gist of how they work, but I don’t have much experience on other timers.
The Commander sells for $158 straight from AMG Lab’s website, and comes with the silicone skin and belt loop. They used to have a belt clip holder, but I don’t know where that disappeared to. The price is slightly higher than some competitors, but not unreasonable. There’s about a two month lead time on orders; if you are in a hurry to get a shot timer, this is not the product for you.
When it arrived, the first thing I noticed about the Commander is how small it is compared to the Pocket Pro 2 you see a lot of people running around with. It is more on par with the CED 7000 in terms of size. It has substantial weight, but not enough to be a problem when running around with it on your neck or on your belt.
Controls consist of five buttons: on/off, “go”, scroll left, scroll right, and the menu button. The basic controls work intuitively, but if you want to configure your shot timer, you need to know a couple more things… which you won’t know, because no instructions are included in the box. I understand that for a new company, dealing with printing is probably not a lot of fun, but a quickstart card that at least explains how to access the configuration settings is a needed change. You can find the instructions on their website, which are relatively detailed.
The Commander runs on four AA batteries, which was a VERY wise decision given how easy they are to source. I am on the 18650 train like everyone else, but shot timers are so critical in competition that battery sourcing is a paramount concern, and there is nothing as common as AAs. I don’t know how long the batteries last (and no life is stated on the website), but my assumption is always going to be “not long enough, and dying at the worst possible time”.
Turning it on and off is simple: hold the power button for a couple seconds.
The UI is simple and intuitive. The main screen has the total time from the last shot, your time to the first shot from the buzzer, and the time of your last split. If you’re not actively listening for shots (hit any button on the front to stop listening), you can toggle through the numbers on the last string.
Hitting “M” brings you to the multi-string review screen. I will say that I don’t really love this interface; I wish it had the total time for a string as the first column, and THEN went shot by shot. You also can’t clear it without turning the timer off and on. I suspect this interface was designed more for individual practice more than score keeping, and it’s OK from that perspective.
If you want to use the timer and make some noise, just hit the “go” button.
Holding the “M” button is what gets you to the configuration menu, and the Commander’s best features: adjustable sensitivity, beep volume, and presets. (It also has the usual delay and par time controls, but these are pretty standard.)
The adjustable sensitivity is a game changer. On the lowest sensitivity, I was able to go to the indoors NRA HQ range and the outdoors AGC range and successfully use this timer to record my string times when shooting pistol while people nearby were shooting rifles. On the highest sensitivity, it picked up the hammer fall on my IWI Barak and the striker fall on my Glock 34. At the middle setting (with an echo delay of .15), it performed with distinction recording El-Prez rifle drills at the NRA HQ range during a recent class. It goes almost without saying how useful these capabilities are to an individual user who’s trying to improve through dry-fire and live-fire practice.
Unfortunately, SIRT pistol clicks won’t pick up at any sensitivity. This makes me pretty sad, because this would have been a killer app for this product. Maybe a future revision will try to take this into account.
The beep volume control is also pretty great. On the lowest setting, it’s quiet enough for me to use in the basement while my family is asleep upstairs. On the highest setting, it’s easily heard through ear protection at the range. The Commander has that “just right” tone that tells you it’s time to go fast and loud. I have heard some critique online that the beep isn’t loud enough; I will say that while it’s not the absolute loudest I’ve ever heard, zero people had problems hearing it and acting accordingly at the aforementioned class.
The five presets then allow you to leverage these capabilities so that you can have the timer set up for an indoors range, an outdoors range, competition, and dry-fire use. My only wish about the presets would be the ability to name them – I guess you could stick a label on to the back of the timer’s silicone skin with a list of which preset is which, but I do get nervous about accidentally selecting the “competition” preset instead of the “dry-fire” preset and waking my family up.
The final “big news” feature of the Commander is the Bluetooth support. The functionality currently seems to be limited to Practiscore, but given that Practiscore is the big dog of the competition score tracking community, that’s just fine. The integration is not 100% intuitive, so I would suggest reading the instructions found here. The design decision to use the Bluetooth Low Energy “push” protocol for doing score syncs was inspired; anyone can bring the AMG Lab shot timer to a match and use it with any suitably non-ancient scoring device without the hassles of pairing.
Once you’ve figured out how to use the integration, though, it’s another game changer. Times are recorded instantly to the scoring device with a press of the button (on the scoring device). No more reading off numbers or error prone manual recording. My understanding is that the shot-to-shot numbers even get passed up to Practiscore, but I haven’t played with that myself – I’ll need to browbeat a MD to use my shot timer at a match, I suppose.
I wish there were a dry-fire specific app with support for the Commander’s BLE. Practiscore has some very rudimentary capabilities in this realm, but integrating it with something like the Android Dry Fire Par Time Tracker app would take it to the next level. The developer of Practiscore has indicated he’s working on something in that direction, so I am cautiously optimistic that this situation will improve soon.
The downside to the Bluetooth integration is that there was also a design decision to not put in a backlit screen. I understand that when you’re using the Bluetooth integration – it’s totally superfluous – but if you’re not, you start missing it in lower light environments. Mind you, it would have to be pretty dim to not read the screen, but it’s a potential weak spot depending on what kind of range environment you shoot in.
I also am not thrilled with the decision to not have firmware upgrades – not because this product really needs them to fix bugs, but because I see so much potential for new features down the road. Even just providing a USB interface to change the preset names would have been very appreciated.
However, don’t let those complaints keep you from buying this shot timer; the decision to have some dry-fire oriented features adds a lot of value to end users, and you’re not losing much compared to some of the other timers on the market. In a few years, when after-market software and device support has matured more, I suspect the AMG Lab shot timer will become the default choice of the shooting community.