A category that is becoming rapidly redundant, thanks to smartphones leveling up their stabilisation game, gimbals (or is it…jimbals?) are a hard sell. But there are a couple of brands, DJI and Insta360 specifically, that are determined to add value. The Flow is the newest from Insta360 and it goes one-up on its competitor by being an all-inclusive design.
Insta360 Flow review
The best ever smartphone gimbal?
As far as foldable gimbals go, the Insta360 Flow is the most compact design out there and though it may seem similar to the DJI OM6, it integrates a tripod stand into its design, which is an additional attachment with the DJI. A built-in selfie extension arm, magnetic clasp and 3-axis stabilisation are all features that it shares with the DJI, but then again, the Insta360 Flow goes one further. A transparent housing on the main arm lets you peer into the electronics and chipsets or if you dig colour, Insta360 will sell you inserts that can be slid inside through an opening, allowing it to be personalised.
While the overall form factor remains similar to what we’ve seen on smartphone gimbals in the past, look closer and the Insta360 Flow really stands out. The ergonomics are all well thought of and with most buttons having multiple functions, you almost never need to take your hands off the gimbal to make changes to your camera settings. The smart wheel is touch sensitive and while it does appear to be fiddly at first, you soon get the hang of things and the mechanical, spring loaded outer ring makes it convenient and quick to switch lenses The Insta360 Flow also is the only gimbal to offer an instant start operation, at least if you’re an iPhone user. Just attach your iPhone and it instantly offers a prompt to open the Insta360 app and you’re on your way!
With a generous 2900mAh battery, it not only claims to last for 12 hours, but you can also use it as a power bank to charge your phone while recording. Regardless of what phone you partner it with, the Insta360 Flow seems to handle it well, even our iPhone 14 Pro Max with a leather case on and that’s about as big and heavy as it gets.
Perhaps the most loosely used term in tech these days, AI, makes an appearance here too! But fortunately, there is enough evidence to believe that it actually is helping to make life easier with the Insta360 Flow. Deep Tracking 3.0 for instance is a tracking feature that works on human subjects or pets and even objects. The tracking itself locks on the target like its life depended on it and eve identifies the subject if its hidden or obstructed briefly. What’s more, the tracking works with zoom lenses and even in slow-mo modes, although this will vary in efficacy from phone to phone.
It’s also intelligent enough to switch between landscape and portrait modes depending on what feature you’re using from within the native app, or when you exit the app and want to use a video chat app, for instance. Like other brands too, if you want to exploit the Insta360 Flow’s full potential, you will want to use the app that allows you for various shoot modes like Time Shift, Barrell Roll, Dolly zoom and even a 2.35:1 Widescreen mode. Leave the Insta360 Flow be on a tripod and it can also stitch together some really cool looking 360-degree shots, which they claim is a world first! The stitching is rather seamless and it can be exported out of the app into your photo gallery too, but then it becomes like a warped panorama shot.
Smartphone gimbals have come a long way from the days of balancing and calibrating. The Insta360 Flow doesn’t need any of it! Just ensure that the magnetic mount is roughly around your phone's centre and you’re good to go. It will throw up a warning if it’s way off-centre but I never had any issue with it. With an additional silicon grip provided in the box for larger hands, I used it just for a more secure handling of the gimbal in the sultry 36 degrees of Mumbai. There is an extension piece which then opens into the tripod stand. An 8.5in selfie stick is built-in too, but it does compromise some of the stability.
All the controls fall easily at hand and locking on a target for tracking is as easy as using the trigger button on the back. There’s gesture control support also and will automatically start and stop recording when you show it your open faced palm. The gesture controlled dial lets you toggle between auto, follow, pan-follow or FPV and it didn’t always work as quickly as I wanted it to.
Face tracking works supremely well and accurately, but you do have to ensure that the subject is moving at slow to medium speeds. Sudden movements do throw it off and you may have to re-lock. But in its defence, it even maintains tracking lock when the subject is momentarily lost behind another object or a wall…and locks again instantly. What is impressive is using AI, the Insta360 Flow can also keep track of an object when you turn it around or even upside down!
Using the different shoot modes, you can lock or unlock the different motors of the Flow and achieve the kind of footage you want, but like most compact gimbals, the tilt angle is limited and more often than not, the main arm tends to stick its neck into the frame. Another minor gripe was the flimsy nature of the tripod stems that tend to make the Flow sway in windy situations. Though, the stabilization of your phone will counter that effectively, the tripod isn’t as sturdy as an external cold shoe mount. There is a price to pay for convenience, after all!
The plethora of options and features don’t outshine the inherent superiority of the Insta360 Flow in terms of design and execution. Its fantastic face tracking is perfect for vlogging, gesture control works efficiently for remote pics and videos and the stabilisation it offers for everyday videos is exceptionally good too. All in a handy body that doesn’t need any additional attachments and that is what sets it apart from the competition. It’s not long before smartphones become even smarter with AI tricks and better action videos but until then, the Insta360 Flow is the best of the breed and worth its asking price.
The easiest to use and handle smartphone gimbal we have used thus far. And the AI claims are real!
|Compatible phone width:||2.5 - 3.3in|
|Compatible phone weight:||130 - 300gms|
|Charging time:||2 hours|
|Run time:||12 hours|