The HTC Vive Flow headset makes it look like a fly, but makes VR portable

Marketed at a price of 549 euros, the HTC Vive Flow virtual reality headset is not like the others. Very light (189 grams), it is designed to be carried anywhere, 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 it to say that when HTC offered us to test the Vive Flow, its virtual reality headset weighing just 189 grams, we were immediately intrigued. The promise is obviously not the same between the two headsets, but 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. However, remember 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 strange device, not designed for video games, not autonomous and not completely immersive. The one that does not look like other VR headsets (this is evident from its original appearance, which some will call terrible, others futuristic) is aimed at a new market, both consisting of curious people and already convinced by virtual reality. Here’s our opinion after several weeks with the Vive Flow on our desk.

Lightness by sacrificing comfort

Not surprisingly, going from a 503 gram helmet to a 189 gram helmet is comfortable. Especially in the hand, the Vive Flow impresses with its ultra-portability. You can hold it with two fingers, easily put it in a bag and install it on your head very easily. Unfortunately, it is upside down that we discover its first flaw.

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

Where a Quest 2 is quite comfortable 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 enhance immersion in VR, it hurts your ears and nose. Really. With the foam protector, which is magnetic and you only need to put it on when you want total VR immersion, it’s a little better, but the helmet remains a little too loose since it’s not attached to the skull. As a result, with every sudden movement, the screens in front of the eyes move. So we get nauseous a little too easily.

HTC Vive Flow
Vive Flow’s lenses can be adjusted to each 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 a lot of sacrifices. Its Vive Flow headset may look like real glasses, but it’s not particularly easy to put on your head. It’s a shame, as the viewing angle inside is far from bad. Could it have been 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 weren’t entirely convinced by the settings for the view. Wheels allow it to be adjusted to each eye, but despite our good eyesight, we never managed to see perfectly clearly with the HTC Vive Flow. It’s probably a matter of proximity to the eyes, but it’s still problematic for a gadget that you have to wear for a long time. As it is, we just don’t want to keep it for 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, anti-discharge one), forcing you to plug it into a power 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.
  • No controllers come with the smartphone, nor hand tracking. It is an application to be installed on your Android smartphone (not iPhone) that allows you to interact with the HTC interface in virtual reality. We then point the smartphone as if it were a controller.
HTC Vive Flow is controlled by smartphone.
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 you to let a cable hang down when using the Vive Flow, which is not particularly in line with the promise of ultraportability.
  • No, because ultimately you always have your smartphone with you.

If pointing your Android device doesn’t offer the same level of precision as a controller was designed for (for example, no trigger or ability to capture virtual objects), going from one application to another is more than enough. It is a pity that the reset of the vision is sometimes buggy, which can force the headset to be restarted for the calibration of the position of the smartphone to work correctly. We also appreciate the possibility to show the screen of your smartphone in the helmet and control it in virtual reality, so as not to be disconnected from the virtual reality world.

It’s smart, especially since it allows HTC to bring programs that are not available 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 a great display device. Not thanks to the applications available in its Vive Port store, but thanks to the replication of the screen of its Android smartphone. All the apps that you can’t find anywhere in VR (even from Facebook) can appear here, with exclusive features like local download. HTC has clearly designed its headset so that you can use it on the go, on the train or in the car (in the passenger seat!!!!! watch out.), to watch a movie without being bothered by light coming through the windows.

A cool feature that could still be a little more pleasant if the helmet was better thought out and its screens were OLED technology and not LCD (the black background is currently very blue). Either way, it’s a really good idea. A kind of VR cinema for smartphones.

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

Only fault, the quality of the speakers in the branches is very poor. It is better to connect headphones to your smartphone as the headphones do not have a jack. It’s also not 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 address one (another) of our disappointments with the HTC Vive Flow: there is no mixed reality mode today. Unlike some of its rivals like Lynx, Vive Flow immerses you in a complete virtual reality with fake images in front of your eyes. Due to its ultra-portable nature, we regret not seeing a replica of the real thing thanks to the cameras, which would have made it possible to keep an eye on it 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 errors that we encountered can testify to this, HTC Vive Flow is not powerful enough.

The verdict

Well, let’s face it, the HTC Vive Flow is not a good product. It is not only the concept that has failed, but its execution. If we find the idea of ​​having an ultra-easy-to-wear VR headset appealing, it’s clear that HTC’s product has far too many flaws to suit anyone today. It’s the first of its kind, presumably predating devices that will do much better, but are currently 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 still things to save on this product? Yes, two. The idea of ​​making it a VR companion for smartphones is good, why would a VR headset necessarily be a computer alone? Then the opportunity to see (a little) the real world on the pages is pleasant. With mixed reality it would have been much more convincing. We can’t wait to see Gen 2!

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