Tired of having a case of the shaky videos? A smartphone gimbal will help stabilize your content and create smooth clips. Today we’re reviewing the Zhiyun Smooth 4, which might be the best smartphone stabilizer on the market. At the very least it’s one of the most popular, but does it live up to our expectations?
In the photography and videography world, DJI and Zhiyun are the biggest names. The former has more branding power, but it can also be pricey. Zhiyun is known for undercutting the competition’s price while offering a high-end experience. Let’s see if this is the case in this Zhiyun Smooth 4 review.
What you need to know about the Zhiyun Smooth 4
- Zhiyun Smooth 4 (SMA04): $99/£89/€99
The Zhiyun Smooth 4 comes in just short of $100 and is available in black. It’s known as a high-end smartphone stabilizer that only a couple of competitors can really get close to: the DJI Osmo Mobile 3 (OM3) and Osmo Mobile 4 (OM4). The OM3 costs as low as $99, while the OM4 goes for $149. This makes DJI’s third iteration the most direct competitor to the Smooth 4. The OM4 is in a whole other realm, especially given its unique magnetic mounting mechanism.
Zhiyun’s three-axis stabilizer has motors that can keep yaw, pitch, and roll movements in check. The device measures in at 123 x 105 x 328mm and weighs 547g (without a phone). It supports devices that weigh up to 210g. Its 2,000mAh battery is said to last 10 hours on a single charge. The unit features a port for charging your smartphone while in use. When you need to top off, this can be done via USB Type-C in about 3.5 hours.
The box also comes with a USB-C cable and a small tripod that screws to the standard 3/8 thread on the gimbal’s bottom. There’s also a foam case for storing and transporting.
Spoiler alert: there’s a lot to like about the Zhiyun Smooth 4 and the company’s whole line-up. Only a couple of brands have gone mainstream in the smartphone stabilizer market. Zhiyun is one of them. The Zhiyun Smooth 4 is proof the Chinese manufacturer has what it takes to go against giant DJI.
The Zhiyun Smooth 4 features one of the best build qualities we’ve seen in smartphone stabilizers. Its handle is made of plastic, but nothing feels loose or cheap. The arms in the smartphone holder are sturdy. The included tripod has longer legs, measuring at about four inches, which ensure increased stability. Most other stabilizer tripods we’ve tested have legs that measure half that length.
Spoiler alert: there's a lot to like about the Zhiyun Smooth 4.
I love the number of buttons and shortcuts on the Zhiyun Smooth 4. It’s rare to find a smartphone stabilizer with nearly as many buttons for quick access. In addition, a wheel doubles as four shortcut buttons for quick actions, and there’s an enormous wheel on the side that allows you to either focus or zoom manually. The trigger buttons in the back allow you to switch follow modes in a pinch. Some buttons feel less sturdy, but that has not affected performance yet. The wheels offer good resistance and circulate smoothly, too.
Battery life is also amazing at about 10 hours per charge, even if it is slightly less than the DJI gimbals. The device withstood a couple of hours of testing a day during our four-day testing window. It will easily live through a single-day video shoot.
Gone are the days when we had to deal with weights. The process has become much more user-friendly, as the balancing has been automated on this device.
In terms of stabilization, it did surprisingly well. The video was crazy smooth when recording while walking. Even when running, the shake was kept to a very respectable minimum. Not to mention you can take advantage of panorama, filters, and other cool features.
What’s not so good?
Nothing’s perfect, and the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is no exception. While I wish it had every single feature the competition offers, this is simply not something reasonable to expect.
A very important feature missing from the Zhiyun Smooth 4 is object tracking. The DJI OM3 and OM4, along with the lower-end Zhiyun gimbals like the Smooth X and Smooth XS, have this capability. Why does the higher-end model lack this? Also missing is the ability to control movement using a joystick or buttons, which is also available from Zhiyun’s own alternatives.
Having so many buttons makes the experience confusing and comes with a learning curve.
I’m not a huge fan of the companion mobile app either. However, the same applies to almost every other gimbal app out there. The Zhiyun Play app can be a bit confusing, and the connection to the gimbal isn’t automatic either. This means you have to manually connect the gimbal (and select which model you have) each time you want to use it.
Once you get past the connection process, the shooting UI is pretty thorough. That said, there’s a bit of a learning curve due to all the options and features. Also, understanding what each of the many buttons in the stabilizer does is yet another hurdle.
While this may not be an issue to most users, large smartphone owners should pay attention to the payload limit of 210g. Testing the gimbal with a Google Pixel 4a and a Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus resulted in no issues. However, I came across complications with the larger Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra (229g), which comes in over the payload limit. The Zhiyun Smooth 4 would work for a bit, but the motors would simply give up after a few minutes of use. This weight limit isn’t unreasonable, but just keep in mind reaching it isn’t as hard as one would think. Any significantly large smartphone like a Galaxy S21 Ultra and the iPhone 12 Pro Max weighs more than 210g.
Zhiyun Smooth 4 review: Should I buy it?
The Zhiyun Smooth 4 is an accomplished stabilizer with plenty of features to keep mobile creators happy. It has the highest build quality of any smartphone gimbal, and it comes with the best gimbal mini tripod. The selection of buttons and manual controls is also unmatched. It’s definitely worth the $99 and then some.
The Zhiyun Smooth 4 is an accomplished stabilizer with plenty of features to keep mobile creators happy.
The only issue is that it’s hard to beat a brand name like DJI. The DJI OM3 available for the same $99 price point. The OM3 also has active tracking, gesture control, and a more portable form factor. If you want to spend up, the OM4 also has a magnetic mounting mechanism that is very convenient.
The final decision on which to buy depends on what you value. If tracking, gestures, and portability are priorities, the DJI OM3 or OM4 may be a better bet. However, the Zhiyun Smooth 4 wins in every other category.