Review: Apple Vision Pro Headset Falls Short in Polish and Purpose

Alter 17 years ago, Steve Jobs presented three products: an iPod, a mobile phone, and an internet browser at a San Francisco convention center.

“These are not three separate devices,” he stated. “This is one device, and we are naming it iPhone.”

At $500, the initial iPhone was quite expensive, but I was anxious to replace my mediocre Motorola flip phone and indulge. There were deficiencies, such as slow cellular internet speeds. However, the iPhone delivered on its assurances.

To over the past week, I’ve had a profoundly distinct experience with a cutting-edge first-generation product from Apple: the Vision Pro, a virtual reality headset resembling a pair of ski goggles. The $3,500 wearable computer, which was released Friday, employs cameras so you can observe the outside world while managing apps and videos.

Apple defines it as an advanced computer that integrates the physical and digital universes for individuals to work, watch movies, and play games.

Apple declined to supply an early review unit to The New York Times, so I purchased a Vision Pro on Friday. (It costs much more than $3,500 with the extras that many people will desire, including a $200 carrying case, $180 AirPods, and $100 prescription lens inserts for people who wear glasses.) after using the headset for roughly five days, I’m unconvinced that people will gain much value from it.

The device is not as polished as previous first-generation Apple products I’ve used. It’s not more suitable for working than a computer, and the games I’ve sampled thus far are not enjoyable, making it challenging to suggest. An essential feature – the capability to engage in video calls with a humanlike digital avatar that looks like the wearer – frightened children during a family FaceTime call.

The headset is incredibly effective at fulfilling one of its commitments: playing video, including high-definition movies and your own recordings in 3-D that allow you to immerse yourself in past memories, which is both eerie and impressive.

In the previous decade, companies like Meta, HTC, and Sony have labored strenuously to sell headsets to ordinary consumers because their products were tough to wear, their applications were limited, and they appeared uncool.

The Vision Pro boasts a superior user interface, improved picture quality, more apps, and higher computing power than other headsets. However, it is slightly bulkier than Meta’s less expensive Quest headsets and connects to an external battery pack that only lasts two hours.

The ski-goggle look of the Apple product is more appealing than the bulky plastic headset visors of the past. Nevertheless, the videos published by early adopters walking around outside with the headset – men I call Vision Bros – validate that people still look absurd wearing tech goggles, even when they are manufactured by Apple.

An Enhanced Interface

The Vision Pro exceeds other headsets by providing a straightforward and immersive 3-D interface that is easy for users to manage with their eyes and hands. I allowed four colleagues to wear the headset in the office and observed them all learn to use it in seconds.

That’s because it’s familiar to anyone who possesses an iPhone or a comparable smartphone. You’ll view a grid of app icons. Glancing at an app is equivalent to hovering over it with a mouse cursor; to click on it, you press your thumb and index finger together, making a quick pinch. The pinch gesture can also be utilized to move around and expand windows.

The Vision Pro includes a knob called the Digital Crown. Twisting it counterclockwise permits you to see the real world in the background while maintaining digital windows of your apps in the foreground. Twisting it clockwise hides the real world with an opaque background.

I favored seeing into the physical reality most of the time, but I still felt isolated. The headset cuts off part of your periphery, creating a binoculars-like effect. I confess that it was difficult at times to remember to walk my dogs because I didn’t see them or hear their whining, and in another session, I tripped over a stool. An Apple spokeswoman referred to the Vision Pro’s safety guidelines, which advise users to clear away obstacles.

When working with the headset, you can enclose yourself with multiple floating apps – your spreadsheet can be in the center, a notes app to your right, and a browser to your left, for example. It’s the 3-D version of juggling windows on a computer screen. As neat as that sounds, pinching floating screens doesn’t make working more efficient because you need to keep twisting your head to see them.

I could handle juggling a notes app, a browser, and the Microsoft Word app for no longer than 15 minutes before feeling nauseated.

The least enjoyable part of the Vision Pro is typing with its floating keyboard, which requires prodding one key at a time. I had planned to write this review with the headset before realizing I wouldn’t meet my deadline.

There’s an option to connect a physical keyboard, but at that point, I’d prefer to use a laptop that doesn’t add weight to my face.

The Vision Pro can also function with Mac computers, where you can mirror the screen into the headset as a virtual window that can be enlarged to appear as a large display. In my assessments, there was a consistent lag – each keystroke took a fraction of a second to register virtually, and the mouse cursor moved sluggishly. I also instinctively wanted to control the Mac with pinches, even though it’s not configured to work that way, which was frustrating.

Next, I tested the headset in the kitchen, loading a pizza recipe in the web browser while I gathered and measured ingredients. Moving around while gazing through the camera, I became nauseated again and had to remove the headset. The Vision Pro is most comfortable to use while seated. Apple advises people to take breaks to decrease motion sickness.

Video calling is now an indispensable part of office life, and here the Vision Pro is particularly inferior to a laptop with a camera. The headset uses its cameras to capture photos of your face that are stitched into a 3-D avatar called a Persona, which Apple has categorized as a “beta” feature since it is incomplete.

Personas are so embarrassing that people will be ashamed to use these in a work call. The Vision Pro generated an undignified portrait of me with no cheekbones and blurred ears. In a FaceTime call with my in-laws, they remarked that the blur evoked 1980s studio portrait vibes.

One of my nieces, a 3-year-old, turned around and walked away at the sight of virtual Uncle Brian. The other, a 7-year-old, hid behind her father, whispering in his ear, “He looks fake.”

Are We Amused?

Video is where the Vision Pro shines. When streaming movies through apps like Disney+ and Max, you can pinch the corner of a video and drag it to expand it into a jumbo high-resolution TV; some movies, like “Avengers: Endgame” and “Avatar 2,” can be viewed in 3-D. The image looks much brighter and clearer than the quality in Meta’s Quest products. Audio quality on the Apple headset is outstanding, but the speakers are loud, so you’ll need AirPods if you want to use them in public spaces.

The headset’s two-hour battery life is not long enough to last through most feature-length movies, but in my experience, this turned out to be moot because I couldn’t watch movies for more than 20 to 30 minutes before needing to rest my neck and eyes from the heavy headset.

(A heads up: The Netflix and YouTube apps are not available on the Vision Pro, but their websites work acceptably for streaming content.)

I prefer watching movies on my flat-screen TV because it can be shared, but there are scenarios where a headset would be useful as a personal television, like in a small apartment or on a plane, or on the couch when someone else is watching a TV show that you’d like to tune out from.

Videos shot on an iPhone 15 Pro camera or with the Vision Pro’s cameras can be viewed in 3-D on the headset, a feature called spatial videos. While watching a video of my dogs munching on snacks at home, I could reach out and pretend to pet them. The videos appeared grainy but were enthralling.

Not many games have been created for the headset yet. I tested some new Vision Pro games such as Blackbox, which entails moving around a 3-D environment to burst bubbles and solve puzzles. It looked nice, but after the novelty wore off, my interest waned. It’s challenging to recommend the Vision Pro for virtual-reality gaming when Meta’s $250 Quest 2 and $500 Quest 3 headsets have a richer library of games.

Bottom Line

The Vision Pro is the beginning of something – of what, exactly, I’m not sure.

However, the point of a product review is to assess the here and now. In its current state, the Vision Pro is a remarkable but imperfect first-generation product with issues and substantial trade-offs. Other than being a high-end personal TV, it lacks a purpose.

Most remarkable to me about the Vision Pro is, for such a pricey computer, how burdensome it is to share the headset with others. There’s a guest mode, but there’s no ability to create profiles for various family members to load their apps and videos.

So it’s a computer for people to use alone, arriving at a time when we are seeking to reconnect after years of masked solitude. That may be the Vision Pro’s biggest weakness.

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