Review: VR Box virtual reality headset

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In doing reviews, it’s out job to try out products to see if they are worth while, especially for their asking price. I like to think of them as fitting (more or less) into three strata, with each labelled respectively as the “Good”, the “Bad”, and the “Ugly”. I”ve dealt with products that slot into usually good or bad. This one slots into all three.


I’ve spent time with a virtual reality headset that’s dubbed the VR Box. Now I already own a Google Cardboard set, and it’s pretty nifty. The VR Box looked incredibly promising, as it’s made of a hard plastic, and is incredibly sturdy because of it. It also includes elastic head straps to hold it in place, on my head. The design is almost completely black, with a frame/shell made of the aforementioned plastic. Over the top of it (from the position it would be on, while wearing it) are sliders that adjust where the lenses would sit on the inside, and they allow the position of the lenses to be changed, to adjust the focus between the users eyes and the phone that is bracketed on the inside. I found this to be quite nice, and frankly a great feature to have.

VR4

The VR Box also comes with a soft padding around the periphery of the device, so my face rests against that, instead of hard plastic. This is another boon on the headset’s design. The phone, which is as necessary for this as it is for Google Cardboard, sits in a tray that slides into the plastic frame. This tray is built in such a way that it includes the use a sliding piece of plastic that keeps the phone snugly in place. It does this through using a spring, so users slide the piece, insert their phones, and the tray holds it snugly in place. Since buttons are frequently on or near the spot where pressure is applied to keep it in place, the unit is accompanied with foam bumpers that can be placed by the user, to both hold the phone in place, as well as prevent the volume and power buttons from being depressed by mistake. The outward facing side, with the logo, has a cover that slides off, so should someone be using an Augmented Reality program through their phone’s camera, this an option with this headset. All of this is good. Quite so, in fact. What I learned about this though, is that that there is more to a VR headset than it’s construction. And unfortunately, as sturdy and well designed as the headset is, the bad and ugly will outweigh the good, by a lot. Buyer beware with this one.


I had some problems with the straps. With they way the headset is designed, users have the option to replace the straps should they wear out, or want to use a different strap. Yet every time I tried to adjust them on on side, the elastic slipped off of it’s plastic “peg”, forcing me to have to figure out how it’s to go back on. At some point, this becomes very frustrating, since it delays the use of headset, and made me feel like I’d be better off just holding it with my hands. I also noticed that the stitching that holds the elastic strap around on itself to form and keep the loop wrapped around its place, is coming loose. I’ve only had it in my possession for about a week and half, and already one of the straps appears to be falling apart. This is the bad. On to the ugly.


The manual that comes with the headset comes with a QR code that, when scanned by a phone, directs the user to the website from which Android users can download the app that the headset requires. Now, my first reaction to this was “who uses QR codes any more?”. The fact that they had it hosted on a private website instead of Google Play required me to go find a QR reader, just to locate their site….which was almost entirely in Mandarin. With an educated guess, I tapped on the proper link to download the android apk file; for reasons I can only guess at, it wasn’t located on Google Play. I even searched for it there anyway, without luck. To make matters worse, the app wouldn’t run on my phone, again for reasons at which I can only blindly guess. I have no idea what the app was for. I suspect that it’s important though, as this unit isn’t compatible with Google Cardboard. Typically with Cardboard, there’s a code that the Cardboard app scans, and then the app knows things like which model of viewer is being used. Since the only code in the manual leads to a propriety website, I was unable to get the Cardboard app to recognize it. Also, many Cardboard rigs have a small button that allows users to interact with what they’re seeing. The VR Box has no such button, and thus makes it unable to work with many (most?) Cardboard apps. There are SOME apps that will work with it, such as YouTube’s 360 degree videos, or VR Horror House. But the problem in trying to use Cardboard apps is that as often as not, they’ll require the button in order to use it, that the VR Box is missing. So users seeking out Cardboard apps in Google Play aren’t automatically going to work, and users will need to read through descriptions in the hopes of confirming that the app doesn’t require the button, and even then may install some that do, only to find that they don’t work properly. In short, i was using apps that weren’t designed for this headset, in order to test it. So while this headset has a very sturdy build, there’s more to a VR headset than just it’s physical design, but software as well. In a last ditch effort to try and locate an functional app for the VR Box, I Googled around for one, I indeed found what I suspect is a current version of an app (of sorts) by this company, but like the site I was referred to, this app is entirely in Mandarin.
So, while the VR Box is a good idea on paper, in execution it’s very poor. The code in the manual requires a third party app to use, and directs users to a site in a foreign language, and delivers and app that doesn’t work, thus hamstringing the functionality of the headset. To anyone searching for a phone centric VR headset, avoid this like the plague. I anticipate one of the straps coming loose in the very near future, and finding apps to use with it requires an inordinate amount of extra effort. Buyer Beware.

 

Ryan is married with two kids, and loves heavy metal and super hot Buffalo wings

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