It’s been a while since I last had need of a smartphone gimbal. Ever since I switched to larger gimbals and DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, gimbals for smartphones weren’t high up on my list of priorities anymore.
Recently, however, I’ve found myself in possession of several, including the Hohem iSteady X 3-axis smartphone gimbal. So, in this review, we’re going to kick things off with that.
The Hohem iSteady X comes packaged with a mini tripod, a Type-C USB cable for charging, a wrist strap, a user manual and a small pouch to keep it in when you’re not using it. Like most smartphone gimbals today, it’s a folding gimbal and it’s made from plastic. Despite being plastic, though, the gimbal itself feels pretty solid. It is one of the smallest smartphone gimbals I’ve seen when folded, although a little longer than some others. I would suspect that it’ll slip into most pockets just fine, although it may poke out the top.
The build quality on the mini tripod, on the other hand, is not so great. The tripod does feel a little cheap and flimsy, although that seems to be standard for most tiny gimbal tripods these days to keep them lightweight. It does its job, though, and it’s small, so it’s also easy to slip into a pocket.
The Type-C cable is your standard 12″ plastic-coated cable. No fancy silicone coating here, which makes me potentially question its longevity. But you’re only using it for charging then it’s not taking too much stress and replacement Type-C USB cables are very inexpensive now if you do ever need to buy a new one.
One inclusion in the box that I do quite like is the wrist strap. It helps to minimise the risk of the gimbal slipping out your hands and crashing onto the floor below (taking your phone with it), and also lets you carry the gimbal while keeping your actual hand free when needed, too.
Unfolding the gimbal is easy and painless, simply requiring you to loosen a locking screw, fold out the arm with the head that holds your phone, and then twist the other axes loose.
But you can’t use it just yet.
Activation seems to have become the norm with all new gimbals these days (and not just smartphone gimbals). It’s done through the Hohem Pro smartphone app (iOS/Android) which accompanies the gimbal. Until you activate the gimbal, the motors won’t even fire up, so it’s a mandatory part of the process.
Whether that’s a good or a bad thing is a topic for another debate. But if you want to buy a new gimbal today, you can expect to have to activate it.
In order to activate, you make a user account within the Hohem Pro app, tell it to connect to your gimbal and it says “Hey, this gimbal isn’t activated, do you want me to do that for you?” (or words to that effect), which it then does. After activation, it gives you the option to download the latest firmware if a new one is available.
After activation, the gimbal springs into life and works as expected and the motors feel very smooth, stable and move confidently.
Using the Hohem iSteady X
Setting the gimbal up with my phone for the first time is where I ran into my first issue, although it’s not really an uncommon issue. I’m using the OnePlus 7 Pro, which is a fairly large phone (although, I suppose quite normal by today’s standards).
But it has its power button on the side right where the hook of the head grips your smartphone. This means that sometimes, it will accidentally press the power button and turn the phone off while you’re in the middle of doing something. It’s not the worst design I’ve seen, though.
As I said, this isn’t an uncommon issue and I faced the same issue with my ASUS ZenFone 5 and ASUS ZenFone 4. And this problem occurred whether or not my phone was in a case – although they’re usually in a case.
I would expect it’s less likely to hit the button when the phone isn’t in a case but does anybody really not use a case of some kind on their phone these days? Should we really be expected to have to remove our phones from their cases to use them accidental-button-pressing-issue-free with gimbals?
And speaking of cases, I’m using my phone inside a Ulanzi case which gives me the ability to attach 17mm threaded lenses or step up to 52-mm filters. When using my phone for video, I usually attach a variable ND filter so that I can bring the shutter speed down to something more manageable for shooting outdoors in bright conditions.
This is where I faced my next problem. There’s no way to add any kind of counterbalance to the head where the phone attaches. So, with a VND filter attached to my phone, it’s very heavy to one side, even when pushed as far as it’ll go into the gimbal mount. If you’re only going to be shooting vertical video, though, this isn’t much of a problem, as it will happily balance vertically even with the filter attached – just not horizontally.
Without the filter attached, it balances just fine, even with such a large phone. I can even keep my 17-52mm thread adapter attached so I don’t lose it.
But with no filter attached, and positioned to where I hope it doesn’t accidentally press the power button and turn my phone off, it mounts, balances, and works quite well.
It was a little tilted right out of the box after activating and powering it up, but tapping the power button five times sends it into auto-calibration mode. This takes around 40 seconds to complete, and you’ll see your phone bounce around a little, and switch between horizontal and vertical a couple of times, but when it was completed, everything was perfectly level.
Using the gimbal just as dumb pan/follow gimbal device worked well – but this isn’t much of a struggle for gimbals these days.
Zooming via the little slider on the side of the gimbal (which can also be switched to focus rather than zoom) worked well – although, with this phone, it is just digital zoom, so shoot 4K for best results.
You can easily switch between horizontal and vertical formats simply by pressing the power button once. Pressing it twice re-centres its position. The other button lets you quickly switch between video and photo modes or start and stop recording.
If you’re just using your standard camera app rather than the Hohem Pro app, the button on the left won’t switch between modes. Instead, it will either shoot a photo if whatever app you’re using is in photo mode or it will start/stop recording if it’s in video mode.
If you are using the Hohem Pro app, though, you get some pretty neat shooting modes.
The Hohem Pro App & Shooting Modes
In the Hohem Pro app, available for both iOS and Android, you get a few features that you don’t see with the standard camera apps that might be installed on your smartphone. Things like zoom and focus control using the slider on the side of the gimbal. You also get object and “Smart” facial tracking.
You get all of the usual shooting modes like pan & tilt follow, POV mode, sport mode and lock mode, but you also get access to a number of different shooting modes including Inception Mode, Dolly Zoom, a “Fantastic Rotation” mode, Panoramic video and Smart Motion Timelapse mode.
Inception mode isn’t quite as full-featured as we’ve seen in larger gimbals, but that’s to be expected on a folding smartphone gimbal. They’re not designed to spin a full 360° in all three axes, but they do have a pretty decent amount of rotation to let you shoot a short inception clip.
Dolly Zoom essentially allows you to keyframe the zoom so that it moves by itself during the shot while you move forward or backwards.
The “Fantastic Rotation” mode works a little like Inception mode, except that it randomly rotates the camera in one direction or the other, changing to the beat of some music. At least, that’s what it says. Personally, I haven’t really found it to have any correlation with any music that might be playing at all.
Panoramic mode turns your camera all the way to the left, then starts recording and rotates it around to point all the way to the right over about 10 seconds or so. Very handy if you just want to create a quick establishing shot pano of a cool location.
There are two different timelapse modes. One is just the straight regular “Timelapse” which shoots an image at whatever interval, and the other is the Smart Motion Timelapse, which allows you to combine this interval with a gimbal movement using a set of various options. Both of these modes just spit out a video file, not a series of individual stills.
The app also allows you to switch the slider on the side of the gimbal between zoom and autofocus modes – which you can also adjust manually using on-screen sliders within the app.
The different shooting modes all seem to work quite well, with the exception of the “Fantastic Rotation” for which I don’t really get the point. The Dolly Zoom is cool, but I don’t think it’s a feature that many will use regularly. Perhaps you’ll give it a try because you’ve never done it before, but then forget the feature’s even there.
But inception, panoramic, timelapse and motion timelapse modes are all fantastic and useful features for a small gimbal like this, as are the object and facial tracking.
The Hohem iSteady X claims to have an 8-hour battery life – which I haven’t tested to its duration, although I’ve not experienced any battery issues myself – and takes only 2 hours to charge. It weighs only 259g, slips fairly easily into most pockets and features the latest 3.0 version of Hohem’s iSteady algorithms.
This means that that the Hohem iSteady X has anti-shake to help keep your device more steady and moving smoothly and also offers auto-rotation. Auto-rotation lets the gimbal know when you’re holding it upside down for those extreme low angle shots without having to get yourself right down onto the ground. It’ll flip your phone over automatically in either horizontal or vertical mode, which can be very useful, especially if you like getting those low down shots on your travels.
All of the shooting modes should also work just fine when holding your gimbal upside down, too – which could potentially make for some interesting panoramic shots. But if you’re planning to shoot timelapse, holding it upset down might be tricky. Although, with it just being a standard 1/4-20″ socket, you could potentially mount it upside down from a ceiling mount or other type of overhead rig, too.
As with other gimbals of this type, the Hohem iSteady X also offers gesture control by giving the camera a high five or a 2-fingered V symbol in order to have it shoot a photo or start recording video (depending on which mode you’ve got the app set to).
If you’re a social media content creator who often generally shoots what’s in front of you rather than using the selfie-camera (although it can do that, too), especially if you do it in vertical mode, then this could be the ideal smartphone gimbal for you, as long as you don’t want to use filters or 3rd party lenses on your smartphone.
If you just want to pull your phone out of your pocket, stick it on a gimbal, and shoot a quick clip of what’s going on around you for your Instagram Story, TikTok or whatever, then the Hohem iSteady X is definitely a decent option.
If, on the other hand, you’re more of a vlogger and you’re using the selfie camera a lot, or you’re more of a serious “smartphone filmmaker” who wants to be able to use 3rd party lenses with your phone, then there may be better options out there.
Overall, though, the Hohem iSteady X is pretty good – especially for its price point of around $69. Is it the best smartphone gimbal out there? No, it’s not. But I don’t think there is any single best. Like most other things in the photography and video worlds, there is the best for your needs, but there is rarely an outright single best for everybody.
The Hohem iSteady X is available to buy now for $69 (there is currently a $14.00 instant discount coupon in the listing on Amazon bringing that down to $55) and is already shipping.