Do you regularly dry-fire? If you’re a gun owner, I’m hoping the answer is yes.
Do you effectively dry-fire? Well, that’s a much trickier question, and it has as much to do with how you’re planning to use your gun(s) as what you’re doing.
After meeting with the Mantis team at SHOT Show 2020 this year, they were kind enough to send me a gratis review copy of the Mantis X10 Elite. I say this up front so we have full disclosure! I have been dry-firing with it for a month almost every day across a variety of platforms, and I now have compiled enough information and experience that I think I can write a decent review of it.
I’ll give you the bottom-line up-front first: it is not a magic solution that bypasses putting in the work, and it (currently) has its limitations, especially for competitive shooters. It is, however, a phenomenal diagnostic tool. It will tell you the truth in ways that a par timer will not. It will show you bad habits in a way that a shot timer will not. If you are a serious shooter, especially a newer one who is getting more seriously into competition and defensive/tactical shooting, this device can provide you information that will make a difference in how you draw and fire. For more details, read on.
The Device and Setup:
The Mantis X10 Elite comes in a box containing quick start instructions and a pouch with the X10 Elite device, a very short micro-USB cable, a barrel clamp, and rubber pads for said barrel clamp.
The pouch is a well-designed, unexpected touch. It makes for a convenient way to store the X10 and its accessories, especially to and from the range and when you’re not dry-firing. It seems durable, but I haven’t torture tested it beyond it bouncing around with my eye pro and ear pro.
I was not a huge fan of using micro-USB, or the super-short cable. I understand why the cable is so short – it wouldn’t fit in the case otherwise. However, USB-C is the way of the future, and I had to go out and buy a longer USB-C to micro cable so that I could charge it conveniently from the wall (I have those outlets with two USB-C PD ports built in). On the plus side, the Mantis came charged, so I had enough time to have Amazon ship me an appropriate cable before this became a more pressing issue. Battery life never presented an issue during my review, but I was fastidious about charging it between uses.
To put the X10 on a gun, you’ve got to put it on a 1913 rail or something similar (think Glock rail). If you have a gun with this already available, that’s awesome. If not, there’s a barrel clamp with 1913 interface that will help you out on long guns, and even some fixed barrel rimfire guns (think Ruger MkIV). If you have a pistol without a rail, you are basically out of luck, as best as I can tell. The barrel clamp has rubber pads to help it stick to your barrel and not fly off yonder. I would suggest that you probably do not want to get your barrel red hot while using the barrel clamp.
The X10’s 1913 rail interface is quick detach, and very convenient to use. It is, however, somewhat tight on the sides. To get it on in-spec rails, you sort of need to give the X10 a good push to get it started on the rail, and then disengage the QD recoil lug to push the X10 the rest of the way until you hit a slot, at which point it locks in. I wouldn’t say it’s tricky to do, but it can be disorienting the first time. Absolute position on the rail didn’t seem to matter much. I think the decision to be a little tight as opposed to being a little loose was a good one.
Once you’ve got the X10 on your gun (you did make sure it was unloaded, right?), you start the app on your phone or tablet, press the button on the bottom of the X10 to turn it on, and then hit connect on your device. The X10 seems to use Bluetooth Low Energy, so there’s no permanent pairing. This was convenient because I used two different Android phones while testing the X10: a Google Pixel 4, and a ZTE Axon 7. Both of them worked fine. The only suggestion I would make when using the X10 across multiple devices with a single account is to do a manual sync at the start of your session, to make sure your guns and data are the same across devices. You can otherwise run into situations where things get temporarily out of sync, and you wind up with two different Glock 34s. I was able to resolve this by deleting one of them, but it was not optimal. I don’t want to make a big deal of this, because there’s clearly some level of auto-sync going on, but if you’re using two devices in the same time frame, it’s something to be aware of.
Speaking of multiple guns, I would strongly advise new users to set up the guns they’re planning to use with the X10 before using it, even though you don’t absolutely need to. This functionality is in the settings menu, which is also where you switch between rifle and pistol. When I discovered that the X10 supported tracking stats and drills on specific guns, I was delighted. Finally a way to see what guns I was better with, at least in terms of draws and trigger pulls!
I primarily tested the Mantis X10 Elite with my Sig P320 X5 Legion and my Polymer80 PF940v2 Glock-alike, but threw in a few other pistols like my IWI Barak once in a while. All rifle work was done with my “class rifle”, which is an SBR with the Daniel Defense M4V7S upper. I spent about a month working with the Mantis X10 Elite so that I could give it a fair, comprehensive review. Even with that caveat, I still didn’t get to exercise the rifle functionality as much as I wanted, and didn’t touch the shotgun or archery aspects. If I get to those, I’ll post a follow-on review of that functionality.
With everything set up, my primary testing methodology for the Mantis X10 Elite was pistol dry-fire. When the X10 came in the mail, I was still a bit bummed from a pistol class where I felt that my accuracy was not everything it could have been, and wanted to understand where in the shot process things were going wrong. I also knew that I was having issues with the speed of my first shot out of the holster, and wanted to diagnose what was going on with that. The X10’s marketing indicated to me that this was a key use case for the X10, so I decided to focus on that.
Starting a drill is easy – you select the drill, set the config (live/dry/co2 fire, right/left hand, forward/backwards X10 position), and then the device will walk you through the drill. Drills almost always end with pulling the trigger – the X10 is pretty good at picking up a striker releasing or a hammer falling.
(I will also say that, quite oddly, my father had a LOT of trouble with shot detection when I gave him the MantisX to try with my Sig P320 X5 Legion. I have no idea why, as I had found it extremely reliable for me on that platform. It could be as simple as where it was positioned on the rail, but I was unable to replicate the issue.)
I chose to start with draws, since this was a new feature exclusive to the X10. I had been told that pistols with the X10 fit into pretty much all standard light-bearing holsters. This is technically true, but not necessarily the whole story. I am on team TLR-1/2, and my light-bearing holsters are all TLR-1/2 holsters. My PF940v2 not-a-Glock with X10 did fit in the holster (made by Red Hill Tactical – it was quality!), but it was not exactly the most stable fit in the world. I found this did impact my ability to form a grip and draw quickly, and it showed in the drill scores.
However, I had an ace up my sleeve. There’s a gent on the P&S forums – Brandon Thorne – who makes 3D printed shells for the original Mantis X. And, nicely enough, he was willing to give me a prototype X10 TLR shell for T&E usage. This was a game changer for me. My draw times went down by about .2 seconds, and were essentially the same as what I was experiencing on a par timer. I’m not saying this is a must-buy, but realistically… it’s a must-buy. It is much cheaper than a Mantis-specific holster, and the print quality is top-notch. They are so good that I would strongly advise Mantis to give Brandon a call and figure out how they can license his design for injection molding. The majority of my holster-draw testing used the Brandon’s shell. Consider this a mini-review of it: BUY IT if you have a compatible Mantis. It’s not in production yet, but seems close!
Once that was sorted out, draws were a pleasant experience. And looking at the data was even better.
You can see every part of the draw process broken out. I know, now, that it takes me about ~.33 seconds from the beep to start my grip. I know that it takes about ~.22 seconds to form my grip and pull. I know that it takes ~.4 seconds from the pull to get on target. And that gives me the ability to start working on getting those on-target to shot times down from .35 seconds to .25 seconds, or faster. By getting that feedback on my draw, I was able to try small alterations to my draw stroke that brought me down from 1.25 to 1.15. They weren’t even big things, but getting that phase-specific data helped tremendously to narrow down where I needed to speed things up, and provided instant feedback on whether things I tried helped.
It is, in many ways, the feedback I expect instructors to give me… just without the instructors, and with a bit more investigation on my part.
In case you’re curious, the X10 also works fine with an AIWB draw. I used my PHLster Floodlight TLR, and it picked it up just fine. The places where my time was spent were a bit different, which made for some interesting comparisons.
Mantis has a variety of non-draw pistol drills. They cover the usual gamut of freestyle, primary hand only, secondary hand only, and reload drills. Some are timed, some are not. Almost all of these work very well, with very few false positives. However, I was not as impressed with the pistol reload drills, which frequently seemed to either not register what I was doing, or register it incorrectly. I get it – we’re talking about some very specific feedback that the X10 has to figure out, and reloads can be weird. But I did not necessarily have a lot of success. This is a shame, because the ones which DID register correctly were rather telling in terms of what was going on with my reloads. It is easy enough to delete drills that don’t register correctly, but I came away slightly disappointed.
The “MantisX Benchmark” is the headliner drill. Ten shots, untimed. Pull that trigger and keep on target as much as possible. If nothing else, I tried to get this one done every day. Usually, I was closer to 50 to 100 dry-fire shots total.
When reviewing the drills, you are able to see a trace of your muzzle movement, with trigger pull and post-trigger pull movement delineated. This is awesome for seeing how your grip sucks – and mine does. You can even see a movie of your each shot in a drill, which gives a pretty good idea of what went wrong.
The only thing I could think about when viewing those movies was “this thing would be phenomenal at introductory defensive shooting classes”. You see a person who can’t shoot well, you just slap an X10 on his gun, let him slow-fire a few rounds, and SHOW him what his muzzle is doing. Mantis told me they are adding “sub user” support, which should make that more viable.
One of the things I loved with the drills was comparative testing. I would run a few rounds of the benchmark with one gun, and then do it with another to see if it made a difference. In what I found to be an absolutely stunning development, my best benchmark time for quite a while was with… my prototype IWI Barak. That’s a gun I never shoot (can’t afford it breaking!), but it dry-fired better for me than guns I’ve literally shot thousands and thousands of rounds out of. If you were ever trying to test intuitive fit at a gun store between different pistols, an X10 Elite would be a very powerful tool for that, assuming the clerk let you dry-fire a bunch of them.
The Mantis app has a tutorial, followed by a “Basic Marksmanship” course that encourages you to get an ordered series of certain achievements – a score of 80+ on a Primary Hand drill, a pair of 95+ shots in a single drill, dry-fire for four consecutive days, and so on. I found the tutorial to be OK, but it had a tendency to put up pop-up windows in places I didn’t want them. The “Basic Marksmanship” course, on the other hand, was a lot of fun, and encouraged me to really aim for certain goals. That said, I did not find it extraordinarily difficult; I think the only achievement I didn’t get on the first try was the “two great shots in a single drill” achievement. At the end of Basic Marksmanship, Mantis will send you a patch for completion – pretty cool move on their part!
I did some live-fire testing on the range, too. All the drills I tried seemed to work as expected. One drill that becomes available to you in live-fire mode is the “RecoilMeter”, which is essentially a five round low-ready bill drill. I was endlessly fascinated with this, and it really broke down where my grip was failing me during the the drill (spoiler: WAY too much movement during the trigger pull).
I also gave the rifle drills a try with my multi-gun AR-15. When I examined the results as I was shooting, they also gave me some insight into my muzzle movement. Rifle problems are a little less easy to diagnose due to the number of points of contact involved, but the premise was good. I suspect the Mantis might be even more useful for precision rifle shooters, who need to minimize movement to the greatest degree possible.
The toughest part of using the Mantis X10 Elite with live-fire, though, was actually hearing the thing. On a busy indoor range, it was essentially impossible to hear the “go” sound for doing holster draws or any of the timed drills. This sounds much worse than it is; nearly all of the timed drills can be done perfectly effectively at home with dry-fire. But when you’re trying to confirm live fire times, this does get in the way. You could potentially bypass this with an audio cable or (low latency) Bluetooth into your earpro, but this may drive some ROs insane.
As I mentioned earlier, everything gets saved up to the cloud. Mantis has a sort of pseudo-social network where you can join various groups, follow people, and so on. I joined a few groups that seemed relevant, and participated in trying to meet their weekly goals – a certain number of shots, attaining a certain benchmark goal, and so on. Many of the groups seemed to be linked to existing forums. It would be nice if there was some sort of basic bulletin board function for communication.
There is a lot to love here. Unfortunately, there are limitations, as with everything in life.
First and foremost: there is currently no support for transition shooting. Transition speed is critically important in USPSA. You are going to have to do this with a par timer.
What this means, and you should have figured this out by now, is that X10 drills cannot be your only dry-fire mechanism as a competition shooter. Break the Anderson and Stoeger books back out – you still need to use them and do what they say. You MIGHT be able to get away with just the X10 as a defensive shooter, I suppose.
Mantis has told me that they’re trying to put in more support for the run-and-gun stuff. I’m looking forward to it, and it may resolve some of those limitations above. No release timeline was given to me, but they clearly regarded it as a priority (not to mention it’s mentioned on the website as an upcoming feature).
Philosophically, the X10 is built on a bullseye paradigm. I even found that my scores increased slightly when I used an actual bullseye (or dot torture circle) to aim at, instead of what I had… which was 1/3 scale USPSA targets.
I don’t mind bullseye targets. But if everything I’m shooting at in live fire at is a USPSA target, and on a timer, I wonder if being so bullseye focused is potentially an issue. Is a shot that hits an A-zone faster a bad shot, even if I had more movement than absolute zero? Is always training for minimal sight movement possible actually an advantage, or is it teaching me to be slow and perfect when I don’t need to be slow and perfect?
There are definitely times you need to slow it down and make those hits, especially one-handed. I just don’t think that time is all the time, and the X10 does not always do a good job of communicating what good enough really is. In theory, some math could be used to determine the muzzle angle that corresponds to a non-A-zone hit at various distances, but this would be a pretty big feature to code (and also would require you to always aim dead center in an A-zone, which is somewhat unrealistic).
Similarly, none of the pistol drills talk about distance. There is no way to distinguish a draw drill at 5 yds from one at 10yds or 25yds. But distance matters a lot when it comes to draw-to-first-shot times. This is an easily-resolved shortcoming, though, and only matters to real data wonks like myself.
I ran into some other miscellaneous things I didn’t like with the software and web interface, especially data exports and the user experience with deleting shots during drills. The Mantis team is constantly updating and fixing things, but if you want an absolutely perfect user experience, I’m not sure I think Mantis is there yet. However, I’d definitely say it is at least good enough.
I really like the X10 Elite. It has limitations, and the price is a bit more than a case of good 9mm ammo, but it provides you data you can’t get elsewhere, at least not to the same degree.
The X10 is an incomparable diagnostic tool for getting data about drawing, trigger pulls, and recoil management. These are things serious shooters do a lot. How much is that data worth to you? If you care about shooting performance, I’d argue it should be worth a lot. It will, in the long run, save you a lot of money on ammo and targets, since all of the data collection guesswork is gone.
If you were an instructor, it would be a no-brainer purchase, especially if you did private lessons. Even if you’re not, the Mantis keeps you honest, and anyone who dry-fires a bunch can tell you how easy it is to get dishonest with yourself. There is a certain irony in that beginning shooters – the crowd that could most benefit from an X10 – are the ones who are least likely to want to spend the money on something that’s not guns and ammo (I could only wish it was “guns, ammo, and training”).
The X10 is not going to replace your Steve Anderson or Ben Stoeger books if you’re shooting competitive pistol. You are going to need to put in the work – maybe even more of it. There are certain drills that the Mantis could probably aid you on, but it’s simply not a substitute. There’s 300 GMs in USPSA who probably have never touched a Mantis in their life, so I just can’t regard the device as a requirement. The value is in whether it can get you better faster.
Did I get better? Looking at the MantisX Benchmark score history, it does appear I got better from when I started a few weeks ago. I don’t want to over-rate that, because the truth is, you’ll get better at any drill you do for a few weeks. My draws also seemed to get faster, especially my AIWB draws. I’ve put in some shockingly good primary and support hand shooting scores, which I would definitely attribute to better grip control.
But the other thing I gained is knowledge. I know my grip and draw now. It is no longer a mystery to me what works and what does not. I can play with techniques and have data show me if it was an improvement almost immediately. I am realizing things about how I shoot that I never noticed before, and can track them over time. Is that worth $250? Yes, I think so.