Last week, I was invited to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to try out HTC’s newest consumer headset: the Vive Flow. With a device focused on portability and comfort, find out my initial hands-on thoughts in our Rapid Preview.
As soon as I first put on the Vive Flow, I was immediately impressed by the effortless adjustment process. With previous VR devices I have used, both at home and in a public setting, there have been long processes of adjusting straps, syncing cameras and manoeuvring fiddly notches and sliders in order to achieve the best picture. In the case of the Vive Flow, all I simply had to do was place glasses on my head and adjust simple diopter dials in each eye. It’s clear to see why the setup is so seamless; the Vive Flow’s design resembles a pair of large mirrored spectacles. As someone who occasionally requires glasses, the action of pulling out the ‘stems’ and using my natural head structure and ears for support felt completely natural.
With a notably low weight of 181g, the weight distribution felt extremely comfortable and without strain. This comfort does however come with a cost. To keep weight low, HTC opted for a portable battery approach to power. Essentially, to use the glasses, an external power source must be used. My experiences with the Vive Flow all occurred in seated environments and so the power cable running over my shoulder to the portable charger was never noticed. Ultimately, I found that the sheer lightness of the device on my head outweighed the lack of in-built power but this sacrifice is worth mentioning.
Phone, Wallet, Keys, Flow.
In our briefing of the device, HTC informed us that the convenience of the Vive Flow was designed on the basic actions of leaving the house; the custom of checking your pockets for your wallet, bags and keys. With this principle in mind, HTC turned the everyday phone into a competent VR controller. This decision certainly makes a lot of sense, with the Flow designed for portability and with most modern phones now equipped with precise gyroscopes and accelerometers, it’s remarkable that this is the first time mobile devices have been used as the controller in the mainstream VR market
I found that the phone both paired and performed extremely smoothly. The lifestyle market demographic of the Vive Flow means that this headset isn’t and doesn’t need to be, made for games that require fast-reactions or pin-point accuracy but the combination of head-based directional input and mobile controls made me very optimistic for the future of Vive Flow’s convenient and casual experiences.
Already impressed with the comfort of the device, I was eager to experience what the Vive Flow offered in the way of software. It’s worth noting that all the software I experienced was still in the beta phase and subject to change. But, even at its current state, I was very impressed!
The first experience I tried was a meditative experience from ‘Tripp’. After a busy day in London, it was the perfect introduction to the Flow. Aside from the comfort, the first thing I noticed when hands-on with the device, was the fantastic speaker offering. With a soft guiding voice and the abstract sounds of chimes and twinkles, I was immediately immersed and engrossed in the ten-minute mindfulness experience. Impressively, even though I accessed this experience in a large gallery with the general hubbub of conversation around me, I felt completely disconnected from the real world. This immersion was further assisted by the 1.6k resolution panel for each eye and a smooth 75-hertz refresh rate. To keep the form factor compact, HTC uses some very clever technology involving half-mirrors to achieve the signature 3D depth provided by virtual reality.
In terms of gaming, HTC were upfront in saying that the Vive Flow hasn’t been made for high-power native experiences. They were clear in saying that existing products such as the ‘Vive Pro 2’and ‘Cosmos Elite’ provide significantly better graphics and precision for gaming. Instead, the Vive Flow provides access to much more relaxed and casual experiences. I enjoyed playing a basic cannon-firing game, looking for enemy ships with my head and firing the cannonballs with a tap on my phone. Ultimately, I had fun gaming on the Vive Flow even though the graphics were not breathtakingly advanced. My experience, from app launch to menu navigation, was seamless.
A key feature of the Flow is the ability to cast your phone’s output to the headset’s display via Miracast. With the wealth of content available on mobile devices from a variety of streaming services, the symbiosis with mobile proved successful in the same way that using the mobile as a controller did. Seamlessly, the phone’s home screen appeared on my screen and I navigated towards Disney+. My entertainment of choice was Marvel’s Loki and I enlarged the screen to be as big as possible. Again, with the fantastic audio offering, I enjoyed my private screening. Interestingly, this demo took place with aeroplane seats which demonstrated the portability and compactness of the Flow. With a quick addition to hand luggage, a cinema experience 30,000 feet in the air certainly sounds appealing.
Ultimately, my main takeaway from previewing the Vive Flow is convenience. The seamless mobile integration and the immersive in-built sound combine to create a product I would be very much interested in using for future media consumption. The remarkable lightness of the Flow makes it the most comfortable VR device I have used. Whilst there are sacrifices regarding the lack of an internal battery, HTC Vive’s convenience-focused approach to a ‘lifestyle headset’ has created a very interesting new take into consumer VR. The Vive Flow’s focus away from gaming is unique and may not be for everybody but I certainly think the Flow will appeal to a casual audience.
Thank you again to HTC for the preview invite. You can pre-order the Vive Flow Here for £499.99
You can find and read our reviews on OpenCritic.