HTC Vive Flow headset appears a fly away, but makes VR wearable

Marketed at a price of 549 euros, the HTC Vive Flow virtual reality headset is not like the others. Very light (189 grams), it was designed to be carried everywhere, just like a smartphone. A question then arises: do we want to wear this thing?

The Oculus Quest 2 weighs 503 grams, but is nevertheless considered “light”. Suffice to say that when HTC offered us to test the Vive Flow, its virtual reality headset weighing only 189 grams, we were immediately intrigued. The promise is of course not the same between the two headsets, but the HTC Vive Flow is perhaps closer to the glasses of the future that all manufacturers promise us. We were therefore curious to see what the Taiwanese manufacturer was capable of from 2022. Keep in mind, however, that we are only at the beginning of the miniaturization of this technology.

Marketed at a price of 549 euros, the HTC Vive Flow is a funny device, not designed for video games, not autonomous and not fully immersive. The one that does not look like other VR headsets (evidenced by its original look, which some will call awful, others futuristic) is aimed at a new market, both made up of curious people and already convinced by virtual reality . Here is our opinion after several weeks with the Vive Flow on our desk.

Lightness at the sacrifice of comfort

Unsurprisingly, going from a 503 gram helmet to a 189 gram one is pleasant. Mainly in particular, the Vive Flow impresses with its ultraportability. You can hold it with two fingers, easily put it in a bag and install it on your head very easily. Unfortunately, it is on the head that we discover its first faults.

HTC Vive Flow face
The HTC Vive Flow looks like very big sunglasses, it has a significant mirror effect. // Source: Numerama

Where a Quest 2 is rather pleasant to wear (especially with the Elite strap, sold for 50 euros), the HTC Vive Flow is not at all. Without the foam protection designed to improve immersion in VR, it hurts your ears and nose. Really. With the foam protection, which is magnetic and which we are supposed to put on only when we want total VR immersion, it’s a little better, but the helmet remains a little free since it is not associated with the crane. As a result, with each sudden movement, the screens in front of the eyes move. So we get nauseated a little too easily.

HTC Vive Flow
Vive Flow lenses can be effective for either eye. You can also remove your foam visor if you don’t want to be immersed in VR. // Source: Numerama

To achieve the lightest VR headset on the market, HTC had to make many sacrifices. Its Vive Flow helmet is a beautiful necessary for real glasses, it is not very easy to put on the head. It’s quite a shame, since the viewing angle inside is far from bad. Maybe he should have a better tie around the ears? And foam in all cases at the level of the nose?

While we’re at it, note that we were not completely convinced by the settings of the view. Wheels allow it to be adapted to each eye, but despite our good vision, we never managed to see perfectly sharp with the HTC Vive Flow. It’s probably a question of proximity to the eyes, but it’s still problematic for a gadget that you’re supposed to wear for a long time. As it is, we just don’t want to keep it too long.

Smartphone addiction, good and bad idea

To reach 189 grams, HTC made two other sacrifices:

  • The headphones don’t have a built-in battery (well, a very small one, anti-power cut), which forces you to connect it to an outlet, an external battery or your smartphone via USB-C to make it work. Not all smartphones supply it with enough power, so power bank is the best option.
  • There are no controllers supplied with the smartphone, nor hand tracking. It is an application to be installed on your Android smartphone (not iPhone) which allows you to interact with the HTC interface in virtual reality. We then point the smartphone as if it were a controller.
The HTC Vive Flow is controlled by smartphone.
The HTC Vive Flow is controlled by smartphone, with a cable. // Source: Numerama

Is it binding on a daily basis? Yes and no.

  • Yes, because it requires leaving a cable hanging when using the Vive Flow, which is not very in line with the promise of ultraportability.
  • No because, ultimately, on a smartphone always sound on itself.

If pointing your Android device does not offer the same level of precision as a controller designed for (no trigger or possibility of catching virtual objects for example), it is more than enough to walk from one application to another one. It’s a pity that the sight reset is sometimes buggy, which can force the headset to be restarted for the smartphone position calibration to work correctly. We also appreciate the possibility of showing the screen of his smartphone in the helmet and piloting it in virtual reality, so as not to be disconnected from the world of virtual reality.

It’s clever, especially since it allows HTC to bring applications unavailable in VR, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney +, myCANAL or games, in its helmet.

Portable cinema, the real strength of HTC Vive Flow

Because yes, the HTC Vive Flow is an amazing viewing device. Not thanks to the applications available on its Vive Port store, but thanks to the replication of the screen of its Android smartphone. Any apps that you can’t find anywhere in VR (from Facebook either) can appear here, with exclusive features like local download. HTC has clearly designed its headset for you to use it on the go, on the train or in the car (on the passenger seat!!!!! watch out for you.), in order to watch a film without being bothered by the light through the Windows.

A cool function, which could still be a little more pleasant if the helmet understands better in the head and its screens were OLED technology and not LCD (the black backgrounds are currently very blue). Either way, it’s a really good idea. A kind of VR cinema for smartphones.

Vive Flow mirroring
This is, in a way, what the mirror mode of the HTC Vive Flow looks like. We would have taken a screenshot, but HTC blocks them in this mode… // Source: HTC

Only flaw, the quality of the speakers in the branches is very poor. It is better to connect headphones to your smartphone, since the headphones do not have a jack. It’s not as easy to put to sleep, which makes it feel unnecessarily hot on a desk.

No mixed reality and that’s a shame

Finally, we wanted to offer one (another) of our disappointments with the HTC Vive Flow: there is no mixed reality mode today. Unlike some of its rivals like the Lynx, the Vive Flow immerses you in a completely virtual reality, with fake images in front of your eyes. Given its ultraportable nature, we regret not seeing a replica of reality thanks to its cameras, which would have made it possible to keep it on the eye while walking around the house. By removing the foam, we also have access to a small piece of reality, but it is too small for us to walk on without hitting a wall.

We imagine that the second generation will take care of this aspect. Today, the many slowdowns and bugs that we have encountered can attest to this, the HTC Vive Flow is not powerful enough.

The verdict

Well, let’s face it, the HTC Vive Flow is not a good product. It’s not just the concept that’s failed, but its execution. If we find the idea of ​​having an ultra-simple to carry VR headset attractive, it is clear that HTC’s product has far too many flaws to suit anyone today. It is the first of its kind, arguably predating devices that do much better but, at present, is just a toy for virtual reality fans. At 550 euros, it is clearly better to invest in a Meta Quest 2 and in the Elite strap. There you will have really interesting experiences to discover.

Are there all the same things to save with this product? Yes, two. The idea of ​​making it a VR companion for smartphones is good, why should a VR headset have to be a computer on its own? Then, the possibility of seeing (a little) the real world on the sides is pleasant. With mixed reality, it would have been much more realized. We can’t wait to see Gen 2!

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