Gimbals have conventionally been associated with professional videography, and just a couple of years ago, the image of a gimbal in your head - and that's even if you knew what one looked like - would be that of a bulky-looking device with handles and a large, rotating holder for DSLRs and whatever other types of professional camera used to shoot Hollywood movies. But the massive improvement of smartphone cameras has led to the invention of mobile smartphone gimbals, and while the first couple of units made were expensive, considered premium, and used only by a couple of videographers - just like the first set of flagship smartphones with the best cameras, the market has adapted over the years, and there's now a plethora of budget smartphone gimbals - just like smartphones with good cameras have become cheaper - available in the market under $150, and a couple under $100. But not all of these are good enough to adequately serve the main purpose of gimbals, especially when you start going under $100 in price. Today, I'm reviewing one of the best budget smartphone gimbals available right now - the Hohem iSteadyX.
Hohem is a company that has established itself as a manufacturer of some of the best budget gimbals for smartphones, action cameras, and DSLRs, and after using the iSteadyX for a couple of weeks, I have to say they do know their stuff. The Hohem iSteadyX excels at the primary function of a gimbal - stabilizing your recording device (in this case, a smartphone) for shooting videos (and pictures, if you will). And on top of that, the companion app offers multiple shooting modes and tutorials to assist with your cinematography and help beginners get started very quickly.
In The Box
I like the fact that the package the iSteadyX gimbal comes in doesn't feel substandard or cheap, as many budget gadgets do. From the moment you open the package, you get that "cinematography" vibe - though not as much as you'd get with a DSLR gimbal, since this device is designed to be portable and it comes folded up in the box.
Other contents of the box include:
- Mini Tripod stand.
- USB-A to USB-C Charging Cable.
- Detachable Wrist Strap.
- Soft carrying bag.
- User Manual.
- 15-Month Warranty Card.
There's no hardshell case here, but you really shouldn't be expecting that at the price the iSteadyX sells at. And what's more; the box the gimbal comes in can actually be used as a hardshell case to safely carry the device and its accessories around, although it's not as pretty as the specially-made cases.
Design & Build Quality
Whether it's meant for use with smartphones, action cameras, or DSLRs, a gimbal should be built sturdy enough to comfortably support the camera placed in it, and the iSteadyX indeed has a sturdy design and build quality. According to its specifications, this gimbal can support smartphones with a weight of up to 280g, a thickness of up to 11mm, and a width of up to 90mm, which in theory is 99% of smartphones in use right now - in fact, even most of the biggest phones of all-time would still fit into this device. Bottom line: unless you're thinking of using this gimbal with a tablet-sized device (which means you're thinking of this whole gimbal and video stabilization thing the wrong way already), the Hohem iSteadyX's sturdy build is more than sufficient for whatever smartphone you have.
There's not much to say when it comes to visual design; you really shouldn't be concerned as much about the physical appearance of a design as much as its functionalities. That said, the iSteadyX comes in two color variants - black and white, and while I reviewed the black variant, you should go for the white variant if aesthetics and physical appearance matter a lot to you. The black variant is definitely not an eyesore, but it's not as eye-catching as the other one.
The device is made almost entirely out of plastic, and while a plastic build is characteristic of budget devices, even premium smartphone and DSLR gimbals are usually made of plastic, as it helps keep the weight of the device low. The iSteadyX doesn't feel cheap, though; as mentioned earlier, it has a sturdy build that keeps you confident about its durability while operating it, and a rubberized finish all over the plastic build gives you good grip and eases your handling of the device.
The handle sports an ergonomic design with most of the physical control buttons - namely a joystick and two buttons - housed at the front together with indicator lights for the battery and Bluetooth connectivity, with the only other control button being a zoom slider at the left side of the handle.
The joystick is perfectly-sized and easy to control, and the two buttons below the joystick on the front are easy to reach and press as needed, and my only gripe with the control mechanism has to be with the location of the zoom slider on the side, which could make it a bit hard to reach for users with small hands. It's not a big deal once you get used to it, but I feel that the slider could have been placed more ergonomically.
The Hohem iSteadyX is a 3-axis gimbal with motors for pan, tilt, and roll movements, and there's a knob along the arm for locking the phone holder in one of three positions. One design decision I think is thoughtful, is the placement of the roll motor; it's positioned such that it doesn't get into your picture or video frame when used with the wide-angle lens on a smartphone.
This is an issue I've seen crop up with a couple of other (even more expensive) smartphone gimbals, so it's refreshing to know this was considered when the iSteadyX was being designed.
Portability & Ease of Use
As mentioned above, the Hohem iSteadyX is a three-axis gimbal, and the presence of all three motors makes it very easy to use, even for a newbie to smartphone gimbals. The joystick and buttons - aided by explanatory icons beneath them - are intuitive to use, and you should be ready to start shooting stabilized footage with this gimbal after watching one or two short tutorial videos on the companion app. You would also be able to effortlessly commit the various button combinations and control schemes to memory, after using them a couple of times.
One important aspect of a smartphone gimbal, that I feel is usually overlooked by those that don't have much experience with this type of gadget, is its portability. You'll most likely be carrying a couple of other pieces of equipment along when planning to use a gimbal, so having one that is painless to move around won't hurt, at all. The iSteadyX folds up nicely right out of the box, and in its folded-up state, it can fit equally nicely in a trouser pocket or backpack side pocket. Or you could just squeeze it into its carrying bag and toss it into your backpack. Or toss it in anyways without the carrying bag. So many choices.🥳
The gimbal weighs just 259g, which is close to what most smartphones weigh these days. So, if your smartphone ain't weighing your pockets or backpacks down, this gimbal won't either. For specifics, the Hohem iSteadyX measures 179 by 79 by 39 mm when folded.
The bundled mini tripod is a very useful addition, but it can sometimes be insufficient for your use cases. The iSteadyX can also be screwed onto any other regular tripod, and it works well with the one I use to shoot YouTube videos.
To make the most out of the iSteadyX, you should pair it up with the Hohem Pro app from the company. You can't even escape downloading and using the app at least once, anyways, as you are required to activate the gimbal through the app when powering it on for the first time.
The activation process is not much of a hassle, the caveat being that you have to register an account with Hohem, using either your (or an 👻) email address or phone number. Once you get this over with, you can choose to keep using the app or delete it off your device. But I'd say don't do the latter, as the app comprises a host of features that make your cinematic life a whole lot easier with the iSteadyX gimbal. I'll expand on these in the next paragraph, but here's a hack I discovered: after activating the gimbal, you can uninstall and reinstall the app and keep using it without signing in to the account created earlier. If you ..coughs privacy coughs.. don't understand why you'd need to do what I just mentioned, then just don't worry about it. Read on. 🙃
Okay, so while I think the Hohem Pro app could do with a UI & UX overhaul, it works well enough for what it's intended for, and here's why you should use it in conjunction with the iSteadyX gimbal: in-app tutorial/quick-guide videos, firmware updates, and the in-app camera and its many useful features and settings.
In-app Tutorial/Quick-Guide Videos: the Hohem Pro app has these videos for about everything you would need to know about using the gimbal or the app. There's even a FAQ section in there too!
Firmware Updates: I've received one firmware update for the gimbal since I started using it, and these firmware updates can only be received and installed via the app. Since updating the firmware is bound to make the gimbal perform better, it makes sense to keep the app around for this.
The In-app Camera And Its Many Useful Features and Settings: At first, I was skeptical about using the camera embedded in the Hohem Pro app, but after a month of use, I'm now a believer. Here's a list of what you get here, in addition to regular camera features:
- Professional Camera Mode: ability to manually adjust parameters like Exposure, ISO, and White Balance.
- Object/Face Tracking.
- Gesture Control
- Filters for Video recording.
- Ability to adjust the focal length for videos, and with the gimbal.
- Moment video recording modes: Inception mode (180-270 degree footages), Fantastic Rotation (Freestyle rotating with music rhythm), Panoramic Video, Smart Motion Timelapse, Dolly Zoom, Dynamic (the app describes this as "Brisk rhythm"), and Lucky (the app says "lucky time". Oh well...).
- Gimbal Parameter Settings: the gimbal has four shooting modes, and these, as with other parameters for controlling the three motors, are easily controlled on the app.
My daily driver is an iPhone XS whose native camera app does not have a professional mode and the ability to adjust the focal length for and apply filters to videos, so the Hohem Pro app is definitely a welcome improvement.
Note, though, that I've experienced a couple of crashes on the app, both while trying to use some of these features above and even when just recording footage, so make sure to keep your eye out for updates to the app on your phone's app store. If you choose not to use the companion app, you'll still be able to change some of the gimbal's settings (mentioned below) and activate the shutter button in other camera apps with the buttons on the gimbal's handle.
The shooting modes available on the Hohem iSteadyX gimbal are: Pan&Tilt Follow, Pan Follow, All Lock, and POV (All follow). I'll let screenshots from the app do the explanations.
As the shots above show, you can also switch between these shooting modes by using a combination of the two buttons on the gimbal handle.
Video Footage Samples
Why You Should/Shouldn't Buy The Hohem iSteadyX
The Hohem iSteadyX has a lot going for it. After installing the companion app, activating the gimbal, and doing a quick skim of the user manual, even beginner vloggers can get up and running in no time with this device. While many of the Moment video recording modes on the app would be considered gimmicky by pros, they help less-experienced videographers record cinematic footage quickly. The device is well-built, and it's very portable. I've not had any issues with Bluetooth connectivity, its 2000mAh battery lasts for around 8 hours and charges fully in approximately 3 hours, and you get periodic firmware updates. That's a lot to like already, and this device costs just $69.
Why You Shouldn't Buy The Hohem iSteadyX? Dunno. The only reason I'd consider plausible enough would be that you need something more advanced and professional, in which case you really should be looking at options like the Freefly Movi or Zhiyun Smooth 4. The DJI OM 4, which is considered the top-of-the-line option for beginner smartphone gimbals like the iSteadyX, offers only a more refined app and slightly sturdier build over the Hohem iSteadyX, but at over double the price ($150). Unless you have money to splurge on equipment like a smartphone gimbal and are concerned more about brand name than actual functionalities, you should get the iSteadyX over the OM 4.
I had a couple of disjointed thoughts while thinking about what to write as a final verdict for the review, so (since I consider them all important) I'll just lay them all out as bullet points, and round off with pricing information for the gimbal.
- Gimbals are supposed to make your cinematography work-life easier, and the iSteadyX does that at such an affordable price point. It has everything you'd desire in a mobile gimbal.
- When buying, or as it is in this case, using a budget device (I was sent the iSteadyX for review), the end result is usually one (or in-between) of two conclusions - either I'm delighted with the gadget as it delivers a satisfying match of features and performance to price, or I'm disappointed as it either is not good enough for its price point, or it doesn't perform well enough for the type of device that it is. The Hohem iSteadyX falls in the former category.
- These days, smartphone gimbals have evolved to be more than just stabilization assists for your smartphone's camera - they've become the ideal videography and cinematography companion, helping to create cinema-esque videos in much less time and with much less effort than you would otherwise use.
- It looks like the company Hohem has taken a look at products from DJI which are regarded as the premium, and products from Zhiyun, one of the most popular makers of budget smartphone gimbals, and created a product, the iSteadyX, that fits the best of both worlds it realistically can at its price point, into one product.