With a typical cost of over $150, gimbals can be expensive but Zhiyun Smooth XS, recently sent out for review, is trying to change that. As a two-axis gimbal, it isn't the most stabilizing device around. And it isn't made of the most premium materials either. There are missing features as well. But this is, at $74.99, the Zhiyun Smooth XS doubles as a tripod and delivers app-related features by the armful too.
Zhiyun packed Smooth XS with just about every feature needed to get started with a professional-grade photo and video hardware for mobile cameras. All of that in a lightweight package that costs less than half of what the competition charges. And it's got buttery smooth motions to match. So let's take a closer look at what makes Zhiyun Smooth XS great. And where it's not so great
Zhiyun Smooth XS hardware is obviously not made to feel premium
Upon opening my review unit, it became immediately clear that Zhiyun wants its Smooth XS gimbal to be a high-value product. The company packs the device with quite a bit of extra hardware aside from the handheld unit. For instance, there's an extension handle that at once acts as a selfie stick and tripod. That screws onto the bottom of the gimbal, in the same slot a standard tripod can be mounted.
A charging cable is included as a pack-in too, but no wall adapter. As is a lanyard and a cloth carry bag. All of that goes a long way toward making this feel like a better deal. Especially since the gimbal itself is made out of plastics.
Now, that's not an expensive plastic either. It feels solid in-hand and doesn't creak or bend much. But it's also exceptionally lightweight and doesn't necessarily feel premium as a result. In fact, it almost feels like the device is going to fall over when a phone is mounted in tripod mode. Although the tripod is tipped with rubber feet to prevent slipping, the legs themselves are a honeycomb-patterned hollow design.
Similarly, the control stick and slider for zooming in or out feel somewhat more squishy than I'd liked to have seen. And the recording button and the "M" multi-purpose button, as well as the power button, feel squishy too.
The sliding vertical arm feels so stable and locks into place tightly with a "click." The power plug also clicks snugly into place. So the buttons and control stick feel out of place. They just don't feel as premium as those two elements do.
The phone holder, on the other hand, is well-designed. It's coated in a rubbery material to prevent damage to the phone and it holds the phone firmly in place.
The mechanisms for moving the phone along its two-axis — that's left and right rotating horizontally and in a circular motion — are smooth and clean without jitter under most circumstances. And it doesn't feel as though it would be easy to break those. Although the manual does warn about over twisting them.
Connectivity with Zhiyun Smooth XS is okay if you don't use multiple phones
Connectivity is another place the Smooth XS from Zhiyun immediately felt like a less expensive gimbal under review. Not only did the device have a difficult time finding the phone to connect to in-app. It had a hard time reconnecting and switching across multiple devices when I wanted to switch between phones.
In the first instance, the problem only arises on initial syncing. The app is used to look for the device and to connect to it. And once the connection is established it never wavers. And it also has no problem reconnecting later on to the same smartphone. But the initial connection, across every device I tested with this gimbal, took a long time. More than 5 minutes, all told.
Connecting to multiple smartphones for quick switching isn't a possibility either. In fact, it took the same amount of time for switching as an initial connection when it did connect. And Bluetooth on one device needs to be turned off entirely for it to connect to another. Otherwise, the Zhiyun Smooth XS will just keep reconnecting to the previous gadget.
As noted above, once connected, that connection does remain solid throughout use. The gimbal responds in well under a second to commands from the controls. And it will even auto-connect without opening the app, whenever the gimbal is turned on and the phone has its Bluetooth turned on. It's just not the easiest task when it comes to getting set up or switching between smartphones.
The app here is both a big plus and a serious caveat
We've already covered at least one shortcoming the Zhiyun Smooth XS exhibits under review, with regard to its required ZY Cami app. That's the fact that this gimbal will only work with that one app. But the app does, at the very least, not try to override the basic code underlying the camera. So, in most cases, the quality of shots should remain the same.
The biggest shortcoming of the app then is that it has a design that can be easy to misread and is filled with bloat. For instance, in light mode, the main text is grey and the icons are white with a glowing outline. In dark mode, they're the reverse. In either mode, it isn't an easy-to-read UI.
But there's also a lot of UI, to begin with, matching up with a ton of features. And the UI, more often than not, seems to default to being upside down on Android. At least in landscape mode. It didn't matter how I placed the phone in the gimbal either. It always reverted to being upside down.
Aside from that, and the fact that walking with this gimbal doesn't result in the best shots due to the two-axis-only approach, the features in the app are genuinely great.
For instance, Zhiyun includes a "Smart" mode that provides a guided way to create a montage of short clips for specific purposes. That mode even allows users to save multiple drafts. Once completed, the system compiles everything together into one clip. "Live" mode, conversely, is for streamers who need to put media out on the fly. Hyperlapse, Timelapse, and Pano modes, on the other hand, are self-explanatory.
Each feature works as would be expected. And every mode, including photo and video mode, has its own special features ranging from user-selected focus points to beautification and pro image adjustments.
So how does this gimbal really work, in the real world
The real question, when it comes to a review of Zhiyun Smooth XS though, is how it performs in real-world use. And on that front, this gimbal effectively performed as expected. Setting aside that I often needed to rotate images after-the-fact because it shot them upside down, this gimbal does actually work. And it works well, aside from only rotating in two directions.
Now, competing gimbals can and do offer three-axis rotation but at a much higher cost. So as long as users aren't expecting to get the same performance there, this gimbal should do just fine. As hinted already above, Zhiyun Smooth XS rotates in a circular motion around the phone holder. It also rotates in a panning motion. Both of those motions are controllable via the built-in control stick.
And, in both cases, the rotation is smooth and clean. So users can expect their videos and images to turn out just how they want them to. As long as they keep a steady hand in terms of tilt or motion in the up-and-down direction.
That goes for both in-hand and tripod captures too. While there are some features missing on the software side compared to competitors, this device is much more than a glorified selfie-stick.
Battery Life Zhiyun Smooth XS
One other drawback to this gimbal is that it requires its 1,000mAh battery to be charged up for use. But, on a positive note, the Zhiyun Smooth XS didn't seem to show any signs of slowing down or malfunctioning as the battery drained under review.
I was moderately concerned that would be a problem since the power is used to rotate and swivel the smartphone. And the smartphone is going to be almost as heavy as the overall gimbal too with a max phone weight of 235g to the gimbal's 250g.
The company claims, conversely that this gimbal has around a 4-hour operating time. And I found that to be mostly true, although it can last a bit longer than that with lighter use, such as locking it in place and then recording. Or a bit less if it's being rotated and swiveled the entire time.
Regardless, it takes around 3 hours to charge complete, filling up an array of four LED lights along the main body. The almost one-to-one ratio is almost certainly going to prove obnoxious for larger projects. But it should be plenty of time for recording or capturing short scenes and clips. Or for smaller projects.
Is Zhiyun Smooth XS really worth the cost?
As might be expected with a price under $75, Zhiyun Smooth XS is a less capable gimbal than some competitors. Especially compared to those at double the cost. For example, aD JI OM 4 gimbal. That's not just because it's a two-axis system compared to a three-axis one either.
The application is a pain when it comes to first-time use and exploring features just for starters. Although that does get much easier after a couple of sessions, Zhiyun Smooth XS also — at least for this reviewer — couldn't get the UI facing the right way up most of the time.
But that, and the other issues noted above, is something that could easily be fixed in a future update. Or are easy enough to work through. For example, it's easy enough to rotate media after-the-fact, so that it's right-side-up and that only happened in landscape orientation.
At the end of the day, gimbals aren't typically this inexpensive. At $74.99, Zhiyun is a good value that goes well beyond what a similarly-priced tripod would offer. And it offers additional features atop that, for those that already have a tripod can attach the gimbal to it. Coupled with stabilization in modern smartphone cameras, this device will result in much more stabilized shots as well.
Summarily, the Zhiyun Smooth XS is not going to be a great gimbal for professionals. No two-axis gimbal really can be. But it will be a great gimbal for aspiring beginners to start out with. Or for those who need something more portable and lightweight. At under $75, it's hard to argue this device isn't going to be worth every penny for those who are looking for just that.