While smartphone manufacturers seem intent on making smartphone gimbals redundant, there are a number of excellent products on the market, and the AOCHUAN Smart XR from PERGEAR offers stiff competition given its aggressive pricing.
When it comes to smartphone gimbals, DJI and Zhiyun are the two distinctly recognizable brands before you start digging into the more obscure names whose lack of market presence might prompt you to look past them. AOCHUAN and PERGEAR probably fall into this second category, and if you type AOCHUAN into Google, you’ll even find a website whose metadata says “Try something different from DJI or Zhiyun.” If this feels like too much of a gimbal gamble, keep in mind that the AOCHUAN Smart XR is around 25 percent cheaper than its DJI equivalent. Is it worth a punt?
The Smart XR 3 Axis Stabilizer arrives in a smart if simple box. Anyone who’s not used a gimbal before might struggle, as the instruction booklet was not of great use, as the text is tiny and the QR code linking me to online instructions was broken. If you've ever bought electronics from a distant, unknown manufacturer, you'll know that this does not bode well.
Fortunately, once these teething problems were overcome thanks to some online digging and a little bit of logic, the Smart XR took me by surprise. Most shortcomings are those of gimbals generally and not specific to the Smart XR.
The Smart XR comes folded and with its arms locked in place, each released with a gentle twist. The bottom of the handle folds out into a tripod, and though removable (revealing a quarter-inch thread), the length and position make a nice extension to the unit for anyone with large hands. This doesn’t sound like much, but this is a smart compromise, making the unit compact when needed while extending it with something that’s functional. The tripod adds a mere 1.45 oz (41 g) to the gimbal’s naked weight (battery loaded but no phone) of 15.1 oz (428 g). Keep in mind that smartphone gimbals can be heavier than you might expect.
And as with all smartphone gimbals, positioning your phone in exactly the right place is not a quick process, especially if you don’t have a flat surface to free up your hands and be sure your balance is as accurate as possible.
The rubberized finish on the handle is refined, and while the mode, power, and record buttons each have a little bit of plasticky play to them, they are functional and don’t take away from the solid, overall feel of the device. The joystick works well, and the focus wheel is nicely dampened. Only the zoom slider feels cheap and has a notable lag, but the digital zoom on a smartphone is something I’m happy to do without, especially if I’m using a gimbal.
Charging is via USB-C. Interestingly, the battery is removable, which means that you can carry a spare, or in the event that you use this gimbal so much that performance starts to drop, you can track down a replacement. Less than three hours of charging gives you around eight hours of use, assuming your phone is well balanced and not pushing the payload. A nice touch is that you can charge your phone from the gimbal’s extra micro USB port found on one side of the head.
The payload is 8.8 oz (250 g), which is more than enough for most phones but can make it tricky to use additional lenses and filters, and anyone with a phone bigger than 7.2 " (18.3 cm) — is "phablet" still a word? — shouldn't bother. With its Moment case, my iPhone 7 is 5.9 oz (168 g), and the Moment wide angle lens is 2.65 oz (75 g). Its combined weight of 8.55 oz (243 g) might be under the payload, but this weight is not distributed evenly, and though you can balance the Smart XR when loading up your phone, it may struggle. Balance has to be spot on, and offsetting the phone means that one end will hit the arm of the gimbal if you turn it too far.
Controls are all via the thumb, and nothing is out of reach for lefties, despite the position of the focus wheel on the side of the handle. When using the dedicated app, there are various button combinations to switch between modes — for example, a single tap of the power button swaps between landscape and portrait modes, while double-tapping the record button switches between video and photo, and double-tapping the Mode button swaps between the front and rear-facing cameras. All of these are nice touches and need some memorizing.
Clicking the joystick cycles through various modes — pan follows, follow, locked, and point-of-view. Holding the joystick down gives you what AOCHUAN seems to call “mad dog” mode, giving you boosted responses. All of this is reflected in the bright LCD just above that joystick, which when given a double-tap will recenter your phone.
Given the manual, I didn’t have great expectations for the app, and this is often an area that can differentiate the various brands. Fortunately, the AC Play (I have no idea why it is named thus) app is excellent; it’s stable, connects instantly via Bluetooth, is easy to use, and includes an almost imperceptible level of additional digital stabilization: the crop on the toggle-able “Anti-Shake mode” is marginal, and it gives an extra smoothness to your footage.
The level of customization is detailed. You can tweak follow speed and dead area, set different video resolution and frame rates, add grids, and there’s a dizzying list of filters (there are 37 black and white filters alone) from which to choose. Manual controls allow you to set exposure compensation, ISO, and white balance.
The right of the screen offers various shooting modes, and alongside video and photo, there are options for time-lapse (one click, five photos — make sure you’re not too close to your subject) and what AOCHUAN calls “Intelligent Shooting,” which, as far as I can tell, means the app will play an upsettingly jaunty song (every time) before offering to create Inception-style rotation.
Face tracking does well.
The only grumble I have with the app is that it doesn’t do well if your phone is short on space. There’s no warning, and when it tries to save a clip, it simply fails with no explanation.
The Smart XR performs well and is complemented by a surprisingly sophisticated and bug-free app. Most of the issues that I have with the Smart XR are related to smartphone gimbals more generally, such as your tendency to end up filming the arm when shooting in portrait mode (see the seven-minute mark in the video above).
As a vlogging tool, it’s not that practical and becoming less relevant as smartphone manufacturers continue to improve the baked-in stabilization. For me, vlogging needs to be quick and easy, and setting up with the gimbal while on the go is a chore. In addition, smartphone gimbals are quite heavy, and given their size and moving parts, don’t lend themselves well to being thrown in a bag, never mind squeezed into a pocket. The Smart XR would benefit from shipping with a hard case, but that would add even more bulk.
What I Liked
- Feels good in the hand
- Easy to use
- The app is (mostly) stable and well designed
- Stabilization is smooth, especially with Anti-Shake turned on in the app
What I Didn't Like
- Tricky to add filters or additional lenses
- Instruction manual is fairly useless
- Portrait shooting can end up filming the gimbal's arm
- Lacks a hard case
Vlogging aside, this is a very capable and affordable tool for anyone who wants to bring some smoothness to their smartphone footage, as well as offering some nice extra touches.
When I first received this gimbal, I think the price was around $89 but has since increased to $109. In that same period, the DJI equivalent dropped from around $180 to $149, all of which makes the AOCHUAN slightly less of a bargain than it once was. You'll find it on Amazon from a number of sellers and potentially under a few different brand names.
Full disclosure: I received this item as a gift from PERGEAR. PERGEAR did not get to read this review before it was published.