Review: Zhiyun Smooth-XS is a tiny gimbal that’s set to impress
The perfect gimbal for beginners.
Selfie sticks were a great idea a few years ago. Instead of close-up shots that saw you and all your friends cramped together, they allowed for much more natural poses where everybody had their own space.
But now, selfie sticks feel a little bit old-school. Being able to take simple pictures is great, but videos can end up looking shaky. What if you want to film a professional-looking video or you’ve had a great idea for a TikTok? A selfie stick just won’t do the trick, so you might need a gimble to get the best, most stable results.
Zhiyun is one of the biggest players in the market, and they’ve released everything from the camera-based Weebill-S, which we reviewed here, to the smartphone-compatible Smooth-XS, which we’re looking at today.
Small but mighty
The feather in the Smooth-XS’s cap is the two-axis stability, which will keep your phone steady and stable as you roll or pan it. There’s no pitch stability here, however, that’s usually restricted to the higher-end gimbals anyway, and the ability to extend and crane the neck makes up for this omission.
Straight from the box, the Smooth-XS feels really nice to hold in the hand. A plastic build runs the risk that it would feel too light, delicate, or breakable, but luckily this isn’t the case. It gets a tight, vice-like grip on your phone, too. I tried it both with and without the cover on my Samsung S20, and in both cases I had absolutely no worries that it’d unexpectedly slip out of the spring-loaded holster.
Everything feels solidly put-together, so the only real worry is if you have slippery fingers. The stick will probably survive, but your phone might come out worse for wear. It also includes a screw-in tripod, which is ideal for group or scenic shots and allows you to take full advantage of the tracking capabilities.
While it does feel well-built, it does seem as though it’s been built for smaller hands. That’s probably to be expected with an XS model name, but I have relatively small hands and still felt like I was contorting my thumb to find a usable position on the joystick. However, once you find the sweet spot, you’ll be panning and craning like a pro.
Getting used to the basics
Switching between all the different modes is nice and easy once you know what you’re doing. You can swap between photos and video with a double-tap of the record button, while the M button changes the function with anything from a single press to four quick taps in a row. Weirdly, a triple-tap of either button does nothing at all as far as I can see.
Charging is quick, and the remaining battery is easy to see thanks to 4 LED lights along the side, as well as an on-screen indicator when in use. One minor annoyance though – it comes with a USB-A to USB-C cable – this is fine to charge with, even if the supplied cable is a little short. It doesn’t seem to have any compatibility with USB-C to USB-C leads, though. Not a major bugbear, but it is slightly irritating if you’ve upgraded to fast charge plugs.
Give me ALL the features!
The box has a QR code that will take you to your app market’s page for Zhiyun’s proprietary software – ZY Cami. Once downloaded, you’ll find the typical photo and video modes, along with time-lapse, motion lapse, and panoramic photo options.
Connecting to the app is also a quick, painless process thanks to Bluetooth. Just switch on the gimbal, pop into the app, and select Shoot mode. The Smooth-XS should appear on the options, and from there you’re ready to go.
SMART mode is where the app shines. It allows you to make short videos, all with different themes, effects, or speech bubbles laid over them. It’s a fantastic way to avoid boring everyone around you with thousands of pictures you’ve taken on a weekend vacation, and it gives your Insta story a unique feel.
Glamour effects are another great idea you can take advantage of. A spin on Snapchat’s filters, it has several options to improve your selfies and group shots. Eaten a bit too much through lockdown (or the sequel, Lockdown 2: Lockdown Boogaloo)? Use the Slimming option to snap the pounds away. Feeling under the weather? Use Smoothing or Rosy to make yourself look half-way human again.
Zhiyun also managed to add gesture control to start videos or take pictures, but I never actually managed to get this working. I’m not sure if I didn’t get the gesture right, or I was too close or what, but I’m disappointed I never managed to activate it.
AILive adds integration with Kwai Livestream, Restream, and RTMP addresses. The two former options require another login, while RTMP just needs the correct address.
I’ve never even used half of this stuff
Luckily, tutorials make getting used to everything super-easy. There are plenty of in-app videos that show you how to do everything and how to make the different features stand out. Not sure how to shoot outdoors, or how to get the best from motion lapse? Just choose your training video and you’ll get a better understanding of it within a couple of minutes.
Another awesome feature is the fully-fledged editing suite. Any videos can be cut and processed to your heart’s content. You can overlay music, add subtitles or stickers. Filters can be added, speed and volume can be adjusted. I was honestly surprised at how much is packed into this side of things, and how easy it all is to use. It’s a fantastic addition to the Smooth-XS’ features.
Tracking is also incredibly intuitive. Just use one finger to drag a square around your target, and the clever software will automatically follow it. It doesn’t matter if the gimbal is being moved, or if the target is moving, the Smooth-XS will be sure to follow. Well, provided things aren’t moving too fast, of course. It doesn’t deal well with speed.
All this, and it manages to stay stable in almost all conditions. I’ve used it walking around while following my son’s tornado of destruction, and I’ve combined abilities, like the time-lapse and tracking options. Everything comes out smooth and watchable.
While there are tons of options to get to grips with, the app surprisingly never feels bloated, and it doesn’t feel like anything is there for the sake of it.
In theory, the app is a great idea that takes full advantage of the tech involved. In reality, the app is also where the Smooth-XS falls down. It can’t be used unless you register an account, which involves handing over your details. Using the streaming features also requires a further login to the service of your choice. It all just feels at odds with a world that’s becoming more and more concerned with privacy, and it may make you tap out before even getting started.
You also don’t get full functionality when using other apps. Although this is understandable, it’d be nice to be able to double-tap the record button when using your camera app to switch from photo to video. The ability to just tap a button, rather than doing everything on screen with something like TikTok would be fantastic too.
Is the Zhiyun Smooth XS worth buying?
If you’re looking to upload vlogs on YouTube or take quick videos for your Instagram feed, then it’s an outstanding budget option, and the video editing functionality is, quite frankly, mind-blowing. The lightweight and compact yet sturdy build means it’s fantastic for taking on the go, and you won’t need to worry about your arms tiring when holding it for too long.
Being able to use it with your normal camera app is a convenient option that’s perfect for quick snaps. For such a compact piece of tech, the Smooth-XS gimbal from Zhiyun is a fantastic choice with plenty to offer beginners and professionals alike.
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