REVIEW – If you take a lot of videos, a gimbal can be an amazing tool to smooth out panning motions resulting in something much more pleasant to watch (content not considered). Seems fitting then that Zhiyun’s new gimbal is called Smooth X. I was able to check out this little gem over the past couple weeks. Is it a good option for you? Let’s find out.
What is it?
The Smooth X is a foldable, smart-phone specific extendable 2-axis gimbal with bluetooth remote shutter and zoom controls.
What’s in the box?
- Smooth X gimbal
- Travel case
- Charging cable
- User guide and service cards
Bluetooth: BLE 5.0
Runtime: 3-4 hours
Indicators: 4-stage LED
Dimensions: 247g, 146 x 66 x 57mm, 267mm extendable reach
Mechanical Range: 300º pan, 250º roll
Controllable Angle: -120º to +145º pan -80º to 180º roll
Angle Deviation: Static ±0.01 to ±0.04, Motion ±0.1 (Standard) ±0.05 (Min)
Smartphone Limits: Weight of 75g – 260g, Width 50mm – 90mm
Design and features
The portability of the Smooth X was definitely key in the design intention. Its folded size is small enough to pocket easily.
The device mount is spring-loaded keeping your phone securely anchored.
All the controls needed to control the gimbal and recording functions are on the hand grip.
A 1/4-20 threaded mount lets you connect the gimbal to a plethora of camera stands or the included tripod.
The power button and 4-stage LED let you stay on top of your charge.
The USB-C power port makes charging and firmware updates easy, while the rubber traction section provides a flat spot should you need to set it down for a minute with your phone loaded.
Here’s what it looks like fully extended.
Everything you need to get started is included in the handy travel case. It’s tempting to just dive in and try to use, but this is one time where following the steps can save you some serious headache.
Step One: Connect the charging cable to the USB-C port on the side of the Smooth X and to your favorite USB power source.
Step Two: Download the ZY Cami app using the QR code in the guide or from your app store of choice
Step Three: Unfolding. Here’s the diagram from the instructions…
- Rotate the handle 180º counter clockwise so the controls are facing you
- Pull the handle out to expose the hinge and then tilt away to clear the phone cradle
- Holding the cradle arm, turn the entire handle counter clockwise 180º
- To fold up, reverse this process
Here are photos of the same steps…
Step Four: Phone positioning and power on
- The camera of your phone should always be on the left side of the gimbal. The easiest way to get this right is to confirm the device mount is in its locked position (rotated fully counter clockwise) and then place your smartphone into the mount with the back camera away from you and towards the handle
- Rotate your smartphone 90º clockwise and then adjust the phone’s position laterally so that it self-balances (this isn’t technically necessary, but a balanced position will decrease balance adjustments and increase battery life)
- Launch the ZY Cami app on your smartphone
- While holding the handle, press and hold the power button on the gimbal with your other hand(each of the 4 LEDs will light in sequence before powering on)
- Follow Bluetooth pairing prompts and connection info on the screen. The initial pairing has an extra step or two, but it auto pairs after that.
The coolest part of the Smooth X for me is its compact size. It easily fits in a pocket and the controls are positioned so that it won’t accidentally turn on. The trickiest part is definitely learning the unfolding and folding setup, which has just enough steps that it’s a good four or five times to start feeling automatic.
Using the gimbal also has a bit of a learning curve, but it’s a pretty quick study. If you haven’t used a gimbal before, here’s what you need to know. This is a 2-axis gimbal so it can control the left/right and horizon rotation. Up/down tilt is up to you either using your wrist or the hinge position on the extension.
The Smooth X responds to your hand motion if unlocked, or will keep your phone isolated if you have activated the axis locks. There are scenarios where any and all of these make sense so it’s best to play around to learn what does and doesn’t work for you.
Once set up and powered on, here are the main controls you’ll want to use.
- The shutter button has multiple functions
- 1x press takes a picture or starts/stops recording depending on your camera mode
- 2x press switches between photo and video modes
- 3x press switches between front and rear camera
- The joystick manually controls your phone orientation
- Left and right will turn your phone left or right
- Up and down rotate your phone clockwise or counter clockwise
- Both of those can be inverted in the app if you desire
- The M button has many functions and can be customized in the ZY Cami app, but here are the main ones…
- 1x press locks and unlocks the pan follow mode so rotating the handle will not turn your phone. Locked shows solid blue LED. Unlocked is single blink LED.
- 4x press enters roll and pan follow mode, 1x press exits back to pan follow mode. Roll and Pan shows a double blink LED.
- 2x press rotates between landscape and portrait modes quickly. This is useful, but note switching during a video will result in sideways video for the mode you’ve switched into.
- 3x press re-centers the stabilizer
- The zoom slider will remotely zoom in and out
The Smooth X gimbal will work without downloading the ZY Cami app, but you’ll be missing out on a bunch of features like zoom, camera mode switching, auto-panorama and my favorite, the tracking mode.
The tracking mode is activated in the ZY Cami app by toggling the gesture button ON. A “stop” hand gesture creates the focal point to track and also starts recording. If you’re using the selfie camera you can hold your hand in front of your face. If you’re filming someone else you can have them do it. The app will start recording and the gimbal will automatically track your subject keeping it in the center of the frame. This is perfect for vlogging and in conjunction with the tripod you’d be able to have it follow your hands on an assembly walk through as well. Here’s a quick video of the tracking function, including the end where you can see me forgetting I can stop from the handle and instead reaching for the phone.
The auto-panorama works like it sounds. Place the ZY Cami app in panorama mode and aim your phone at the center of the shot you want. When you click the shutter button, the camera rotates to the far left and starts a series of 8 photos with partial rotation between and then stitches them all together.
It’s pretty handy and a little easier than trying to keep the vertical alignment while using the stock Apple panorama mode.
There’s a lot of filters and other app features that I didn’t really dive into as the hardware is really what captivated me. Overall the build quality is great. The extension is handy when you need some reach or height to get over anything blocking your view.
The ergonomics of the handle and controls are pretty solid with the exception of the zoom slider which requires an awkward back and right reach. Feels like it might be slightly better for left handers.
It’s better if I switch my grip to hold lower, but phones are not cheap so I want to hold on securely and that feels a bit dicey. It’s also a very smooth slider switch and would benefit from some ridges for traction.
From a protection standpoint, your phone is pretty exposed. The Smooth X allows room for some slim cases, but bulkier ones will not work. You’ll also need to experiment a bit to find the balanced position for your phone that doesn’t result in the mount pressing buttons. Tip: the balance point isn’t always centered due to the camera and battery weights and placements.
The tripod stand is sturdy but the hinge on the gimbal only allows to tilt the screen down, not the rear facing camera, limiting its usefulness.
What I like
- Compact storage size
- Plenty of (customizable) camera controls
- Value – This is a heck of a product for $60
What I’d change
- Zoom control placement is awkward and slippery
- Would like the hinge to fold both directions for more flexibility when using the tripod
I’ve used a few selfie-poles and gimbals over the years. All of them have been kinda meh. The Zhiyun Smooth X is a stellar gimbal with a bonus extension feature. Between the device and the app there’s lots to uncover and at $60 it’s a fantastic deal that can get you started without the worry of it not keeping up with your needs.