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Zhiyun Smooth XS smartphone gimbal review: You get what you pay for
Zhiyun Smooth XS
What we like
What we don't like
A cursory search through Amazon for smartphone gimbals will bring up over a hundred options. Among all those choices, Chinese company Zhiyun has carved out a niche for itself as the budget brand-of-choice. Unsurprisingly, its latest release — the Zhiyun Smooth XS — is priced to move.
However, as with most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for with smartphone gimbals. In our Zhiyun Smooth XS review, we’re going to tell you what features you’ll be missing out on — and what hoops you’ll need to jump through — if you decide to buy the Smooth XS.
Update, March 2021: This review has been updated with links to other alternative gimbals on the market.
Zhiyun Smooth XS review: The big picture
With the term “XS” in the title, it’s obvious that the size and weight of this gimbal is its primary selling point. In that respect, the Zhiyun Smooth XS exceeds all expectations. It is lightweight and downright tiny, especially when compared to more fully-featured gimbals, such as the just-released DJI OM 4.
While the all-plastic build of the Smooth XS doesn’t feel premium in any capacity, the hardware feels appropriate for this pricepoint. The area where the gimbal starts to lag behind the competition is the compulsory companion app, ZY Cami. Simply put, the app is a mess. It requires users to wade through a clunky UI and a mandatory registration system that might turn off some privacy-focused buyers.
Ultimately, there is one specific audience Zhiyun is looking to impress with the Smooth XS. If you fit that audience, you’ll love this. If you don’t, you’ll likely be frustrated more than anything else.
What’s in the box?
- Zhiyun Smooth XS smartphone gimbal
- Tripod stand
- Removable wrist strap
- USB-C to USB-A cable
- Soft carrying bag
- Quick-start guide
Zhiyun isn’t skimping out on the in-box contents with the Smooth XS. You’ll find a sturdy tripod stand with a standard mount. You’ll get a USB-C cable for charging (but no brick), as well as a soft carrying bag. Honestly, these are the things every smartphone gimbal should come with, but tons of manufacturers cut one or more of them out as a cost-savings measure.
It should be noted, though, that the USB-C cable is quite short — barely a foot in length. Thankfully, since it’s USB-C, the gimbal will charge quickly with any cables you already own.
Design and specs
- Unfolded: 267 x 69 x 56mm
- Folded: 188 x 61 x 56mm
- Max phone weight: ~235g
- 1,000mAh battery (USB-C charging)
- ~4 hours operating time
- ~3 hours to fully charge
- Bluetooth LE 5.0
As mentioned earlier, the size and weight of the Zhiyun Smooth XS is its primary selling point. Truth be told, this thing is very small and very light. I comfortably carried the gimbal and tripod stand in my jacket pocket while I was walking around the beach.
Of course, that lightness makes the gimbal feel far less premium than some of its more expensive competitors. This isn’t a detriment at all, but after reviewing the DJI OM 4 and the DJI Osmo Mobile 3, I immediately noticed how toy-like the Smooth XS is in comparison.
The grip of the gimbal is also very small. I don’t think I have huge hands, but using the gimbal on its own without the tripod stand attached was pretty tricky for me. Keeping the folded-up tripod stand attached gave me more room for my hands and made it easier to hold.
That, of course, brings us to the clear target audience for this gimbal: women. The fact that the gimbal comes in two colors — white and pink — and has such a small grip makes it obvious that Zhiyun is going after female influencers, content creators, and social media fiends. The features of the companion app only solidify this assumption (which I’ll get to in a minute).
Zhiyun Smooth XS review: Hardware
The Zhiyun Smooth XS is a two-axis gimbal. That means it rotates horizontally (pan) and clockwise/counterclockwise (roll). It does not tilt. You can manually tilt it, obviously, by mimicking the motion with your hands. However, that won’t give you the smoothness of a three-axis gimbal.
To compensate for the lack of that third axis, the Smooth XS offers a built-in extension rod. At the end of the rod is a manual tilting bracket that gives you a little leeway for controlling tilt. Essentially, the rod and the tilting bracket turn the Smooth XS into a selfie stick on steroids.
When you use the built-in extension rod, the Smooth XS becomes a selfie stick on steroids.
On the front of the controller, you’ll find a record button, a multifunction button, a control stick, and a zoom toggle. When using the ZY Cami app, the multifunction button can center the gimbal (one tap) or swap from portrait to landscape modes (two taps). Two taps of the record button will swap between the video and photo modes. There is no trigger on the back.
On the arm of the gimbal, you’ll find a power button and four LED lights. The lights let you know how much battery is left in the gimbal when it’s powered on.
Overall, the hardware of the Zhiyun Smooth XS is good. Not great, not bad…good. I feel, at this price point, this is the hardware I expected.
Software: The ZY Cami app
Unfortunately, the ZY Cami app is a hot mess. Normally, this wouldn’t be too big of a deal, as a lot of gimbals allow you to bypass the app and simply use your favorite camera app. However, that is not the case with the Zhiyun Smooth XS.
In brief, the gimbal is a brick if you don’t use the app. You can power it on, but it literally won’t function in any capacity if it isn’t actively linked to the ZY Cami app. To make matters worse, you need to register an account in the ZY Cami app, which requires handing over your email address, telephone number, or Facebook account. This will cause a lot of privacy-focused users to balk, no doubt.
Without an active connection to the ZY Cami app, the gimbal is bricked.
Once you do get everything set up, though, the app works OK. It offers the basic features one would expect from any smartphone gimbal, such as panorama photos, timelapse/motion lapse video, slow motion, etc. It also offers something called Smart Mode, which is very similar to DJI’s Story Mode. There’s an example of this in the next section.
The app’s two flagship features are glamour filters and a gesture system. The glamour filters are self-explanatory: they’re like Snapchat filters, essentially. The gesture system allows you to start recording by giving the two-finger peace sign or waving your hand.
Related: The best cameras for beginners
The gesture system is pretty cool as it also starts a face-tracking system when you use it. This allows you to walk and talk to the camera while it always stays focused on your face. In my experience, it worked pretty well, too. Once again, this will be a huge deal to influencers and content creators.
Meanwhile, there are pretty much no special features related to the rear camera. Since the physical controller doesn’t offer a way to quickly swap between your selfie camera and your rear camera, it’s clear Zhiyun expects you to be using the selfie camera the majority of the time.
Zhiyun Smooth XS review: Video examples
As the previous section makes clear, the Zhiyun Smooth XS is mostly focused on features related to the selfie camera. Since I’m not a vlogger, I had little interest in these features. The glamour filters, for example, don’t really appeal to a balding guy in his 30s.
Below, you’ll find video examples of the two features that matter most to me: general stabilization and Smart Mode.
Since the Zhiyun Smooth XS is missing tilt control, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that stabilization just isn’t as good as it would be on a three-axis gimbal. In the example below, you can see that there are plenty of shakes as I am walking on uneven terrain:
I would like to point out, though, that I didn’t really miss not being able to control tilt. Using the Smooth XS showed me that I don’t really control tilt all that often when I’m using a gimbal, so the fact that it’s missing didn’t bother me. However, the gimbal being able to control tilt is a big deal, as it allows for much more stable shots. You’ll need to decide for yourself how important this is for your style of shooting.
If you’ve used a DJI smartphone gimbal, you already know what Smart Mode is: it’s just Story Mode. The feature allows you to quickly create brief videos perfect for sharing to social media. You pick a template and then follow the shooting instructions for each shot. When you’re done, the ZY Cami app throws it all together and you can quickly share it.
Here’s an example:
Most of the available templates seem to have a very stereotypical “feminine” aesthetic, but they likely won’t appeal to many women either. There are a lot of Emoji and colorful cartoons with text like, “Happy Weekend!” and “Bonjour!” There are a handful of templates that don’t feature any text or images, but you’ll need to dig for them.
All in all, though, Smart Mode works just as well as DJI’s Story Mode. It’s a fun feature that anyone with an Instagram account will enjoy.
Value and alternatives
At $74.99, the Zhiyun Smooth XS is literally half the price of the DJI OM 4. That’s a steep discount, making this the perfect gimbal for first-time buyers or people who don’t need all the bells and whistles of a prosumer gimbal.
Additionally, the size of the gimbal and its built-in extension rod are probably its two best features. For $75, you’re getting a basic gimbal that travels well and can function as a high-powered selfie stick whenever you need it. That’s a hot bargain.
Of course, that 50% discount compared to the DJI OM 4 does necessitate losing out on lots of features. The lack of a three-axis stabilizer is a huge loss. The not-optional ZY Cami app is also filled with burdens that might make you wish you had spent the extra cash on a better product.
Overall, though, this gimbal is priced well for what you get. As long as you’re not expecting a DJI-level experience, you should be happy.
As for alternatives from other brands that aren’t DJI or Zhiyun, you can check out some of our other gimbal reviews below:
Zhiyun Smooth XS review: The verdict
It’s very clear that Zhiyun has a specific audience in mind with this product: female content creators. Whether that means being an Instagram influencer or a YouTube vlogger, this Zhiyun Smooth XS review shows that you should probably fit that profile to get the most out of this gimbal.
That being said, the device’s price and various features do make it an enticing prospect for everyone. For example, it could replace your selfie stick and your smartphone tripod while also giving you certain gimbal features, albeit in a limited capacity. If you travel a lot, this could be a great, lightweight tool for your gear bag.
However, if you need a “real” gimbal to shoot pro-quality video content, this isn’t for you. Stick with a DJI gimbal for that.