The Zhiyun Smooth XS is perfect if this sounds like you: you adore TikTok, YouTube and Instagram and you wish there was a small, compact gimbal-cum-selfie stick to help you produce slicker-looking novelty videos without you having to lug around a load of gear. If none of that applies to you then look away now because the Zhiyun Smooth XS seems aimed at this specific demographic of social media users.
Sure, it’s super lightweight and foldable for travel, and can perch on any tripod, but if you’re tempted to invest in this – one of the smallest smartphone gimbals on the market – then you need to know more about what it does and doesn’t do.
Compatibility: Smartphone between 50 to 90mm width
Battery life (approx): 5.5 hours (1,000mAh)
Dimensions: with center post extended: 260x57x56mm, folded: 188x61x56mm
Compact and lightweight gimbals with premium features don’t exist, and the Smooth XS doesn’t change that. It weighs just 249g and shrinks down to a mere 188mm long, but though it’s the smallest smartphone gimbal around, it’s not easily pocketable (despite what the maker claims).
At its most foldable its central column slides down behind its handle, though it’s easily extended once you’re out in the field. A clamp takes smartphones up to 90mm in width and 235g in weight. Once in position you can unfurl a telescopic selfie stick to increase its reach by 260mm. Either way, once you’ve downloaded the accompanying – and oddly compulsory – ZY Cami app, the Smooth XS offers 290° pan and 268° roll, but no tilt.
Its most obvious exterior feature is an ergonomic, though relatively small, handle. It sports a small orange joystick and some buttons all within the reach of a thumb. There’s a USB-C slot on the clamp’s slider to beef-up its internal 1,000mAh battery, which should give about 5.5 hours of use.
Also in the box is a small tripod, a hand strap, a USB-C cable for recharging, and a 130x235mm drawstring bag that, slightly confusingly, is softer on the outside than on the inside.
Performance and usability
The initial device activation process is unpleasant. The ZY Cami app turns out to be compulsory and needlessly intrusive; Zhiyun requires your email address, a long password and even your location to set-up an account… just to keep a smartphone stable? That’s ludicrous and off-putting, a bit like the app itself, which focuses on ‘glamour’ filters, emoji-strewn templates and selfie-centric video options.
However, it also features slo-mo, time-lapse, a panoramic photo mode, timed photo capture and tweaks to ISO, shutter speeds, resolution and frame rate. Being locked into one app – particularly one this novelty-obsessed – won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it does the job if all you want to do is create creative videos.
Once it has a smartphone in position and a Bluetooth 5.0 link is established, the Smooth XS comes to life. Its curved handle is just big enough, and while this gimbal has a slight, light and plasticky feel, it’s ergonomics are impressive. There’s an anti-slip pad under the thumb and even an indent on the reverse to rest an index finger. Below the joystick for manual movements is a mode button and a record button while on the side is a zoom trigger.
Power it on and it goes into the default pan/follow mode, which can be locked by a tap of the mode button. A double-tap toggles the Smooth XS between landscape and portrait mode, a triple-tap between video and photo mode. You can also flip it over for a low angle shot.
Of course, the Smooth XS’s two motors limits it to two-axis stabilisation – pan and roll (but not tilt) – though it does have two intriguing hands-free modes. One is reliant only on hardware; in the box is a small tripod, which offers three 117mm legs. It attaches to a 1/4-inch tripod thread on the bottom of the handle. The second is a ‘wave’ hand gesture that takes a photo or starts a video. It’s also possible to track a face within a frame, which is handy if you want to put the Smooth XS on its tripod and have it follow your ugly mug.
A more compact and ergonomic upgrade to the Zhiyun Smooth X, its outward appearance and key features point to the Smooth XS being solely a lifestyle product for vloggers and social media fanatics. It’s definitely that, but at its core the Smooth XS comes with plenty of useful and reliable features. Sure, it offers only pan and roll – no tilt – but it’s priced accordingly, while the built-in selfie stick comes in seriously useful while vlogging. The compact tripod and built-in thread also helps this product feel like it could have been an all-rounder for all kinds of smartphone users – if it wasn’t for that compulsory app.
A compact yet feature-packed gimbal, the Smooth XS is ideal as a ‘my-first-gimbal’ for vloggers after some travel-friendly smartphone stablization on the road, though most will be disappointed to be tethered to a compulsory app that’s hungry for your personal data and offers mostly novelty features in return. Zhiyun’s walled garden approach is a shame because the Smooth XS has the features to be considered a good value all-round gimbal for all kinds of smartphone users.