The Dobot Rigiet is a gimbal for holding your smartphone steady without the shakes and jars of handheld or selfie-stick videography. Note, this is not a paid product placement. This review is split in two parts, the “History & drama” of the product, and the “First Look” of it.
I first invested in this KickStarter project when it was called “LitleCane” (yes, with that spelling) in January or February this year, with delivery was due in March. It wasn’t going to get across the funding threshold with the KickStarter all-or-nothing policy. So, the makers cancelled the project on the 23rd February with a little over half of the funding goal achieved (USD$28,000 of $50,000). Many of the backers, myself included, said that it appeared to be an excellent product, and that it was a project worth pursuing. It was relaunched on 25th April as “Rigiet”, and I backed this one as well. Delivery was meant to be in June. This time, the threshold was set to a more modest $30,000, but with better marketing, it achieved a series of stretch goals, and amassed an amazing amount of over $673,000 in pledges; far eclipsing their previous attempt. Despite June, then July, then imminent delivery promises in late July, I got mine in late September. Between June and September there were howls of complaints from other backers saying that they hadn’t received their product yet, and accusing the makers of being scammers.
Having seen the Gnarbox project run 14 months over time, and the delay tactics and crowd-appeasing tactics used by the Gnarbox crew, I soon saw a more rudimentary form of these from the Rigiet makers. They confirmed delivery addresses when it seemed that they weren’t quite ready for delivery. They sent delivery tracking numbers at the end of July, even though delivery was not imminent. Also, there were vague and infrequent updates delivered to backers. Currently, the most recent update was on the 16th August. Some in the Comments community complained that Rigiet were delivering official communications on their FaceBook page, but not on the KickStarter page.
To me, it makes sense for them to not deliver updates on KickStarter. First of all, the creators are not native English speakers, and appear to struggle to clearly say what they mean. It’s a forgivable issue. I didn’t back the Rigiet because of the English skills of its creators. However, KickStarter memorialises these pages, and so after 30 minutes of posting an update, it’s locked in place, and cannot be altered. In contrast, the creators have more editorial control over their messages on FaceBook.
It also became known to the backer community that the Rigiet was being sold on Amazon Italy as “Dobot”. At first, it seemed to be speculation, but on closer inspection, it seemed to definitely be the Rigiet. This is a violation of KickStarter rules that forbid the sales of products before all backers had received theirs. When I finally got my Rigiet, the box had the brand as “Dobot”, and the product was “Rigiet” (or is it vice-versa?). Looking at the Amazon.it page today, it appears that Dobot now own up to the Rigiet, something that wasn’t clear before.
As of the 4th October 2017, there are backers who are still waiting to receive their Rigiets, waiting to get responses to emails, waiting for refunds, and waiting for replacements of faulty devices.
The video below is a summary of the First Look. The text below contains more information, however, the video also gives you some sense of the product itself.
The day I received mine I was laid up on the couch feeling quite ill. I opened the box, spent and hour trying to get it to work, but unsuccessfully. I really couldn’t think or focus. It’s a device not-for-dummies. I gave up, and went back to Netflix.
Two days later I tried again, this time, reading the instructions very closely. It took a few attempts, but I got it to work. There are three issues to know about.
Firstly, the batteries need a lot of charging; I mean about about 12 hours each (I don’t actually know how long it takes). I didn’t know this, so when I tried to use the Rigiet with them (partly charged), I thought they (Rigiet & batteries) were faulty. The supplied batteries are type “18650” 2600mAh, and are meant to be able to recharge your phone even while the Rigiet is in use. Because of the apparent problem, I ordered new batteries from Amazon, ones that have a 3500mAh capacity. However, after using the Rigiet for a few hours at the Nagoya Jazz Festival, then checking the battery life on the app afterwards, shockingly only 50% of the battery had been used. The screenshot below shows the Rigiet battery is currently at 100%. I then realised that I’d wasted USD$70 for four 18650 type replacement/spare batteries. In conclusion, charge the batteries for about 12 hours each, which is when the supplied charger light turns green (it eventually will).
Secondly, you must start it in the T-shaped configuration (seen in the photo and video above). That means, you must have the phone absolutely perfectly balanced so it doesn’t fall either to the left or right, which isn’t difficult to achieve, then hold it like shown above, hold the rec/power button and count to five, and you should feel the motors start working.
There are two main features you want to know about. One is the tracking feature (pictured above), and the other is the other stuff you want to also use. The tracking feature, when using the selfie-side camera on the iPhone, can be set to follow your face, and it does a reasonable job of doing it. You select the tracking button (bottom left of screen) and then draw onto the image a green rectangle what you want to track. I’ve found that for talking-head videos it is best for it to be on your mouth and nose, just so it frames your face well. Both the tracking and the bluetooth connection icons have a very small sensitive area, and so you will have to poke at them a few times until you’ve got them.
Actually, since I started drafting this blog post, I made a typhoon info video with my iPhone and the Rigiet, which you can see here: https://youtu.be/fXYS_f3getI. However, there are two issues with video recording as you’ll notice quickly on the video. Firstly, you need an external microphone, and if recording outside, it needs a muff (aka dead-cat, wind shield, fluffy-mic-cover-thing). You cannot rely on the internal mic of the iPhone. Here lies an issue, I haven’t tried yet, but I assume you can’t plug in a wired-lavalier mic, or any other mic, without upsetting the finely balanced gimbal. Consequently, you will want to use an external recorder with muff attached, especially if you’re outdoors. Also, do a clap in front of the camera and near the mic to make it easier to sync the external audio with your video.
The Rigiet has a tripod mount, but weirdly, on the side. Consequently, you’ll need a ball-head camera mount. Unfortunately, there is no place where you could attach an audio recorder or mic. There is a stand available for the Rigiet, but it wasn’t supplied, and Dobot didn’t seem interested in making it available.
To use the Rigiet, it takes practice. I suppose like a lot of things, it takes time to know how things work, and how to get the most out of them. The Rigiet works well in the T position, though it complains when you move the handle too far from this. In practice, it doesn’t transition to the inverted T or full-horizontal positions very well, not like advertised, and I don’t think it will re-orient a live recording. Or at least, I haven’t found the trick yet. Also, there is a way to turn the phone into the portrait position, which is very important for Instagramming, but it seems this is an unnatural position for the Rigiet. In the upright T position it feels composed, but in the portrait position you can feel the little motors working hard. Some features of the Rigiet app are not available in the portrait orientation.
It has a few other interesting features, though some will need that stand that wasn’t supplied. It can do panorama, though the camera must be pointed at the horizon, otherwise it just fails. It can do a time lapse, slo-mo, and you can even program the direction it will shoot for the timelapse. However, you will probably want a Gorillapod to hold the Rigiet in place.
The app is a little buggy, but not like Pokemon Go level of buggy. After doing two panorama shoots the app crashes and the gimbal falls limp, as you will see in the video. For some strange reason the date is shown in Chinese (see below). The bluetooth icon doesn’t look like the bluetooth icon, but a severed oval. The tracking and the bluetooth icons are difficult to activate, as the sensitive area is very small, and after trying to touch them a few times you eventually get them. Each time you try, you accidentally select a new focus area and get an exposure slider appear. The joystick controller was a little confusing. It always went suddenly in fast jerks in the opposite direction I intended. However, from practicing at home, and messing with the app, I’ve found I can set it to move slower and smoother, and with slower acceleration. Also, I’ve set in the Settings menu for the joystick to work in “reverse”, so it doesn’t go in the opposite direction anymore. However, the these are just annoyances.
There are some minor deal breakers, but not thing major. They related to the export, editing, and design of the physical product.
The videos made in Rigiet are kept within the app, and need to be manually exported to the Photos app on your phone. From there, I use the Send-to function to move the video onto my other devices like my computer.
On export, some videos have the Rigiet watermark on them, which is absolutely unacceptable. Strangely, I’ve exported some videos without the watermark. I have no idea what I did different for some videos to get the watermark, and not others. On that note, I now wish that Rigiet would let us insert our own watermarks instead.
Videos made in the app do not read in Windows Movie Maker. However, it can in VSDC. The first time it failed, but strangely they worked all the other times. It could just be a problem with VSDC. When I made the typhoon info video, I imported the Rigiet video with no problem. No, I didn’t try Adobe Premier.
The other deal breakers only need minor mention. As said before, the tripod mount is on the side, and require a right-angled attachment to a tripod. Sadly, Rigiet did not supply the native foot/stand/support that attaches to the bottom of the device. Secondly, there is no wrist strap. I juggle both my big and heavy dslr in one hand, and the Rigiet in the other. Since my phone is out of its protective casing, there is a real danger that the whole kit and caboodle can be dropped and damaged. It really needed a hand strap attachment.
At first, I thought it was disappointing to see that getting it started is finicky and fickle. However, I eventually realised that the problem was with me, I had to learn how to use it. You will need to side-mount a tripod for timelapse, slo-mo, and panoramic videography; it is disappointing that the native stand wasn’t supplied, nor easily available. I think the people who will get the most out of this will be YouTubers. It’s great for creating steady footage, and has some interesting creative features too. In some ways, I wish I had got the Zhiyun Smooth Q or DJI Osmo instead; I suppose the “grass is greener on the other side”. In anycase, this is much, much cheaper than getting a dslr equivalent of a gimbal, which is good, as it gives me the chance to see if I need to invest in a bigger one in the future or not.