Smartphone gimbals (a.k.a. stabilizers) aren't a new product category, but they've changed and improved quite a bit over the years. While there are always new features being added, that can make them cumbersome and get in the way of usability. Zhiyun is trying out a more simplified and compact design with the Smooth-X and Smooth-XS that's targeted at travelers and casual users. These aren't as flexible as most gimbals, but they're easier to use, cost less, and take less space.

Specs

Dimensions Smooth-X: 145 x 65 x 56 mm (Folded), 254 x 56.9 x 55.88 mm (regular)
Smooth-XS: 188 x 61 x 56 mm (Folded), 267 x 69 x 56 mm (regular)
Telescoping arm Smooth-X: 10" (254mm)
Smooth-XS: 10.2" (259mm)
Weight Smooth-X: 246g (8.68oz)
Smooth-XS: 249g (8.8oz)
Smartphone support 200g +/- 35g, 50mm - 90mm wide
Battery Up to 5.5 hours (4 hours is standard)
Charging Time 3 hours via USB-C
Rotation Smooth-X: Yaw (Pan): 300°, Roll: 285°
Smooth-XS: Yaw (Pan): 290°, Roll: 268°
Price Smooth-X: $59.99 (Gray or White)
Smooth-X Combo: $69.99 (Gray or White)
Smooth-XS: $74.99 (White, Pink, Yellow, or Navy Blue)

The Good

Portability Very small and light.
Telescoping arm It works just like a selfie stick, but better.
Simplicity Features are uncomplicated and easy to use, balancing is very simple.
Price Cheaper than most smartphone gimbals.

The Not So Good

2-axis stabilization Without tilt stabilization, you have to be more careful about framing.
Blinking LED There's one bright blue light that always blinks, and it should die.
Complicated design (Smooth-X) It's tedious to unfold, especially if you're in a hurry.

Hardware and what's in the box

The Smooth-X and XS are very similar on paper, but their designs are quite different, each with its own pros and cons. The X is the more portable and lower-cost of the two. It has been designed to fold down to an extremely compact 5.71" x 2.56" x 2.2", about the same footprint as the original Pixel XL and about 5x thicker. This is pocketable in anything except tight pants and easily fits into spots like a backpack's water bottle net.

However, this portability comes at the cost of simplicity. To start using the Smooth-X, you'll have to go through a few awkward unfolding steps. After a little practice, I can open it, mount a phone, and turn it on within about 15 seconds. This is still faster than balancing a 3-axis gimbal, but it's fiddly.

On the other hand, the Smooth-XS excels at speed and simplicity. There's no unfolding to be done, the handle simply slides down a rail and locks in place. I can usually have it ready in about 8 seconds, and it feels like less effort. The XS design isn't as compact as the X, but it's still smaller than most 3-axis gimbals.

Smooth-XS, Smooth-Q2, Smooth-X.

Last year I reviewed the Zhiyun Smooth-Q2, the smallest smartphone gimbal available at the time. By comparison, the Smooth-XS isn't much smaller, but its shape will fit more easily into large pockets and small bags. Again, the Smooth-X is even more compact, making it the most portable stabilizer available.

Both models feature a telescoping column in the handle that sets them apart from typical smartphone gimbals. It's just like a selfie stick and adds about 10 inches of reach, giving you enough distance to fit a few more people into a photo or to comfortably record yourself and your surroundings in a vlog. This also makes it more comfortable to hold a phone at face level: you can leave your arm down with just the elbow bent about 90 degrees rather than keeping your arm fully extended.

The longer reach also provides a few other options for cool shots. You can angle the camera down and raise your arm to get a view of the crowd while you're walking, or quickly invert the handle so it's near the ground to capture your feet as you walk. And of course, the extra reach can be used to get a camera into tight spots or over the side of a bridge.

Both models have nearly identical control panels with a thumbstick for panning and rolling, buttons for switching follow modes and triggering the shutter, and a rocker on the side for digital zoom. The shutter button and digital zoom rocker require the ZY Cami companion app.

There's a standard 1/4-20 screw mount at the bottom of the handle for attaching a mini-tripod or other accessories like a microphone or lights. You can also find four bright white LEDs on the side and an always-blinking blue LED just north of the thumbstick. I hate these. They're too bright in dark lighting conditions and should be taped over immediately.

The Smooth-X is available in white or dark gray and includes a Type-C charging cable. There is also a "Combo" pack available for an extra $10 that adds a zippered travel case and mini tripod. I like Zhiyun's mini tripods and find them pretty useful, so I recommend spending a little more for the full kit.

The Smooth-XS only comes in a full kit, including charging cable, mini tripod, wrist strap, and a soft felt drawstring pouch. Zhiyun's product page lists five colors, but only two seem to be available from stores at the time of this review. You can get white (with bright orange controls) and pink today, or keep an eye out for yellow, navy, and black (named "dark").

Stabilization and battery

The Smooth-X and XS are 2-axis gimbals and only correct the pan and roll orientations, but not the tilt. In other words, they can ease through left and right turns, and they will keep a phone level with the horizon, but there isn't a motor to move up or down. Zhiyun says most phones can already stabilize video well enough to account for any jerkiness, and in practice, that's true. You won't get that near-perfect look of a 3-axis gimbal, but I think most people will be happy with the results.

The real sacrifice to giving up tilt control is that you have to watch your framing more closely. I found that my arm would slowly drift downward after a few minutes and leave the camera angled a bit too high or low. It's far from a deal breaker, but something to be aware of.

The telescoping handle also plays a small role in getting steadier footage. When it's extended, you can get shots at a reasonable distance without fully extending your own arm, and that eliminates the exhaustion your shoulder would feel while holding up a normal gimbal for several minutes.

Zhiyun expects 4 hours of battery life from both models, but they can reach up to 5.5 hours if your phone is properly balanced. I haven't been very scientific about measuring time, but this sounds about right. 4 hours should be plenty to get through a full day since it will almost never be running continuously. Charging time is about 3 hours for both models.

Companion app

Zhiyun is splitting its consumer gimbals from the pro gear, and now products like the Smooth X and XS will use a new app called ZY Cami while the big rigs like the Crane 2S are staying with ZY Play. The new ZY Cami app is prettier and more polished, and it was designed for casual users. You'll be required to install and use it once to activate the Smooth-X and XS, but you're free to uninstall it after that. You may still want to keep it around because the zoom rocker and shutter button only work within this app — plus the advanced shooting modes are worth it.

It supports most of the smart features that are now common in gimbal apps, like subject tracking, gesture controls, and Story Mode (several guided shots that are turned into short videos and set to music). There are shooting modes for 180-degree panoramics, hyperlapse, timelapse, and motionlapse. Manual controls are available for frame rate, shutter speed, exposure, and so on. There are also Glamour Effects for smoothing skin and modifying facial features.

ZY Cami even includes a decent built-in video editor with some special effects, filters, and transitions, plus templates and subtitle support. It's not quite as powerful as Premiere Rush or PowerDirector, but it blows away Google Photos and any other simple sequencers.

If you're really looking to explore, the app also includes

Should you buy it?

Zhiyun Smooth-XS
8/10

The Smooth-X and Smooth-XS fit well into the space between selfie sticks and traditional gimbals. They make it easier to hold a smartphone at a reasonable distance for minutes at a time thanks to the telescoping handle, and there's less of a learning curve compared to standard gimbals. Travel vloggers, hikers, and mountain climbers will likely find this the perfect tool for the job.

Since they're only 2-axis gimbals, they're not a good option for aspiring filmmakers. It's not that they can't be used for some of the same moves, but you'll work harder and miss shots that would be much easy to get right with 3-axis gimbals.

As for which one to get, you'll want to judge portability versus convenience. The Smooth-X is so small it's almost hard not to pack it in a bag, but it's a little irritating to fold and unfold. Meanwhile, the XS is really quick to set up and use, and it comes in more colors, but it takes a bit more space.

Buy them if:

  • You want more stable footage.
  • A selfie stick isn't cutting it.
  • You're looking forward to traveling again.

Don't buy them if:

  • You're trying to get perfect footage for filmmaking and produced vlogs.

Where to buy?

Black Friday Special: There's currently a sale running on several Zhiyun gimbals, including the Smooth-X. Full store pages on Amazon and Zhiyun.