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), designed to be taken anywhere, just like a smartphone. A question then arises: do we want to wear this thing?

The Oculus Quest 2 weighs 503 grams, yet is 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 of course not the same between the two headsets, but the HTC Vive Flow may be closer to the glasses of the future that all manufacturers promise us. We were therefore curious what the Taiwanese manufacturer was capable of from 2022. However, keep in mind 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 quite immersive. The one that does not look like other VR headsets (proved by its original appearance, which some will call terrible, others futuristic) is aimed at a new market, both made up of curious people and already convinced by virtual reality . Here’s our take after several weeks with the Vive Flow on our desk.

Lightness at the expense of comfort

Unsurprisingly, it’s nice to go from a 503 gram helmet to a 189 gram helmet. Especially in the hand, the Vive Flow impresses with its ultra-portability. You can hold it with two fingers, put it in a bag easily and install it on your head very easily. Unfortunately, we discover the first mistakes on the head.

HTC Vive Flow Face
The HTC Vive Flow looks like a very large pair of sunglasses, it has quite a mirror effect. // Source: Numerama

Where a Quest 2 is quite comfortable to wear (especially with the Elite strap, sold for $50), the HTC Vive Flow is not at all. Without the foam protection designed to enhance immersion in VR, it hurts your ears and nose. For real. With the foam guard, which is magnetic and you only have to put on if you want total VR immersion, it’s a little better, but the helmet stays a little too free as it’s not attached to the skull. As a result, the screens in front of the eyes move with every sudden movement. So we get nauseous a little too quickly.

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

To get to the lightest VR headset on the market, HTC has had to make a lot of sacrifices. The Vive Flow headset may look like real glasses, but it’s not that easy to put on your head. That’s a shame, since the viewing angle inside is far from bad. Could it have been better? And foam in all cases at the height of the nose?

While we’re at it, note that we weren’t entirely convinced by the view’s settings. Thanks to the wheels, it can be adapted to any eye, but despite our good vision, we never managed to see perfectly sharply 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 should 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-power outage), so you’ll need to plug them into a wall outlet, an external battery, or your smartphone via USB-C for it to work. Not all smartphones provide it with enough power, so power bank is the best option.
  • No controllers are included 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 aim the smartphone as if it were a controller.
The HTC Vive Flow is controlled by the 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, as it requires a cable hanging down when using the Vive Flow, which isn’t very much in line with its ultra-portability promise.
  • No, because in the end you always have your smartphone with you.

If targeting your Android device doesn’t offer the same level of precision as a controller designed (no trigger or ability to capture virtual objects, for example), walking from one application to another is more than enough. It’s a pity that the sight reset is buggy at times, requiring a reboot of the headset for the smartphone’s position calibration to work properly. We also appreciate the possibility to show the screen of his smartphone in the helmet and control it in virtual reality, so as not to be disconnected from the world of virtual reality.

It’s smart, especially since it allows HTC to bring applications that aren’t available in VR, such as Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, myCANAL, or games, into its helmet.

Portable cinema, the real power of HTC Vive Flow

Because yes, the HTC Vive Flow is a great viewing device. Not thanks to the applications available on the Vive Port store, but thanks to the replication of the screen of his Android smartphone. All the apps you can’t find anywhere in VR (including from Facebook) can appear here, with exclusive features like local download. HTC has clearly designed its headset in such a way that you can use it on the road, in the train or in the car (on the passenger seat!!!!!) through the windows.

A cool feature, which could be a little nicer if the helmet was better in mind and the screens were OLED technology and not LCD (the black backgrounds are very blue at the moment). Anyway, it’s a very good idea. A kind of VR cinema for smartphones.

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

Only downside, 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 is also not easy to fall asleep, which makes it feel unnecessarily warm on a desk.

No mixed reality and that’s a shame

Finally, we wanted to eliminate one (other) disappointment with the HTC Vive Flow: there’s no mixed reality mode today. Unlike some of its rivals like the Lynx, the Vive Flow immerses you in a fully virtual reality, with fake images before your eyes. Given its ultraportable nature, we regret not having seen a replica of reality thanks to the cameras, which would have made it possible to keep an eye on it as we walked around the house. Removing the foam also gives us access to a small slice of reality, but it’s too small to walk through without hitting a wall.

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

The verdict

Let’s face it, the HTC Vive Flow is not a good product. It is not only the concept that has failed, but also its execution. If we find the idea of ​​an ultra-easy-to-wear VR headset appealing, it’s clear that HTC’s product has far too many flaws to be suitable for everyone these days. It’s the first of its kind, presumably precedes devices that will do much better, but at the moment is just a toy for fans of virtual reality. For 550 euros it is clearly better to invest in a Meta Quest 2 and in the Elite band. There you will have really interesting experiences to discover.

Is there anything to save with this product? Yes, two. The idea of ​​turning it into a VR companion for smartphones is a good one, why should a VR headset necessarily be a computer in its own right? Then the opportunity to see (a little) the real world on the sides is pleasant. With mixed reality it would have been much more convincing. We can’t wait to see Gen 2!

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