Review: VR Sky all-in-one headset is unrealized potential

VR Sky All-In-One headset. (Image courtesy AliExpress.)

VR Sky All-In-One headset.

Disclosure: This headset was provided free by GeekBuying.

I like the idea of using all-in-one headsets for things like real estate and auto show rooms, trade shows or roller coaster rides. There’s no point of using an expensive headset or a high-end mobile phone if all you’re doing is showing is a 360-degree video or running a simple marketing app.

Unfortunately, the VR Sky headset is not — yet — that headset.

I received the headset a month ago and have spent a solid month trying to get it to work, and have failed repeatedly.

The basic idea of this headset is that it has a built-in screen, and a built-in Android operating system. You don’t need to plug it into a computer, or put a smartphone in it.

The VR Sky All-In-One headset has touchpad controls like the Gear VR. (Image courtesy AliExpress.)

The VR Sky All-In-One headset has touchpad controls like the Gear VR. (Image courtesy AliExpress.)

So say, for example, you are currently using a Samsung Gear VR and a Galaxy smartphone to do your virtual reality demos. You’re spending a few hundreds dollars on the phone, and another $100 on the headset.

Spending just $106 on the VR Sky sounds like a great deal. You can pre-load your apps or videos, and put a bunch of these headsets around for your customers to use.

It has a field of view of 100 degrees, which is better than the Gear VR, and weighs 15 ounces. The Gear VR weighs 12 ounces, but the smartphone adds another 5 ounces, so the VR Sky is actually a little better on both those counts.

And the VR Sky, like the Gear VR, has an immersive virtual interface where you can download and launch virtual reality applications. Plus, VR Sky can run all the Google Cardboard VR apps — of which there are more than a thousand.

VR Sky All-In-One headset bottom view. (Image courtesy AliExpress.)

VR Sky All-In-One headset bottom view. (Image courtesy AliExpress.)

It supports WiFi and Bluetooth, and has a slot for a micro TF card. There’s a plug for your headphones, and a USB connector for the power supply. The screen resolution is about 400 pixels per inch, which is a little lower than the Samsung Galaxy S6’s 577, but the same as the iPhone 6’s 401 pixels per inch.

So, on paper, this sounds like a great headset.

In practice, however, I found it almost impossible to use, because it actually has three types of interfaces, only one of which works.

The immersive interface

The first interface you see when you turn on the headset is a nice immersive screen, very similar to that of Gear VR. There’s a dot in space in front of you, and when you turn your head, the dot moves, letting you point to different in-world objects. There’s also a trackpad on the side of the headset and a back button, and a volume button.

This is a nice, easy-to-navigate interface, and it works reasonably well. It’s not perfect, but I’m not going to go into the details because the other interfaces are so horrible.

VR Sky's virtual interface. (Image courtesy GeekBuying.)

VR Sky’s virtual interface. (Image courtesy GeekBuying.)

The interface extends to some of the apps that came with the headset, such as the Pano app for downloading and watching 360-degree videos. The videos were very slow to download, and the app did not indicate how big the videos were, so you couldn’t tell ahead of time which would be longer or shorter.

The screen-hanging-in-space interface

The VR Sky headset is designed to play existing virtual reality apps. Unfortunately, most of the apps currently out there have some screens that are traditional full mobile screens, not the split screens you need for virtual reality.

For example, the Google Play app is all traditional, and you need it to download virtual reality apps.

VR Sky handles this really really badly. The app is shown as if it is hanging on a giant screen in front of your face. But there’s no dot to use as a pointer — after all, Google Play and other mobile apps are designed to work with a touch interface. Instead, you have to use the trackpad to move around the buttons on the screen. This is just awful. It took multiple tries — probably more than a couple of hours of effort altogether — to download just two apps.

When you need to type in text, a virtual keyboard pops up, which is extremely difficult to use. The Gear VR also has a difficult to use virtual keyboard, but it is far ahead of the VR Sky one. Plus, the Gear VR also allows for voice input, which helps make up for some of the keyboard problems.

There is a pre-installed YouTube app, but again this is the non-VR version of the application — the only one there is right now. In VR Sky, it is all but impossible to use. I have not actually been able to play any videos in it.

The VR apps interface

Finally, when you are able to launch a virtual reality app, and are able to get it switched to virtual reality mode, it only works some of the time. I was only able to get one app to work as intended. Others did not display correctly. For example, some would show the split-screen view, a giant screen hanging in front of view with the two side-by-side pictures on it. Others would show something somewhere halfway between a true virtual view and a screen split view, creating a headache-inducing out-of-focus double-vision effect.

There is a settings button on the left side of the headset, next to the power button, that offers the option of switching in and out of VR view. It did not help.

Performance

The one app I was able to download that worked, the Fibrum Roller Coaster, was jittery laggy. It was not a pleasant virtual reality experience. If you are using this to run apps, it will not make for a great marketing experience.

Watching videos was a little better. Ignoring the fact that everything was out of focus because of the whole not-fitting-over-glasses thing, I had to turn my head slowly to keep the display from lagging too much behind.

The operating system is  Nibiru, which is based on Android 4.4.2. The current Android platforms are typically Android 5 Lollipop or Android 6 Marshmallow, so the VR Sky is a bit behind. I would recommend putting off buying any VR headset until Android 7 Nougat is out, which will be in the few weeks, with much improved support for virtual reality.

Usability

The headset itself was easy to wear, with nice leather-like dotted padding, but it did not fit over my glasses, and there was no way to adjust the focus. So it was not at all pleasant to use. Plus, there was no ventilation, so that didn’t help with the comfort problems.

VR Sky's padding. (Image courtesy GearBest.)

VR Sky’s padding. (Image courtesy GearBest.)

Plus, most headsets that run virtual reality apps use a Google Cardboard QR Code to calibrate the apps. This headset has no QR Code and, even if it did — or if I made one from scratch — there would be no way to use it because this headset does not have a built-in camera.

Bottom line: Wait for the interface to improve until it is actually usable, or for the Google Daydream platform to come out.

Still interested in buying one? Get it for $110 from GeekBuying, $123 from GearBest$133 from AliExpress, or $180 from Amazon.

Watch GeekBuying’s unboxing and review below:

 

maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • Carlos Loff

    I find VR very interestig but it wont be here so soon in a global manner – Will only be a small segment – In Portugal – the day when even Grannies started playing Farmville in Facebook was the day when Facebook became Global — With VR I just do not see my Granmother using those Occulous so soon, not even my Mother and while that does not happen it is still hype to sell gadgets to few and not Global at all – Companies, as always, are savy and will promise the moon to eberyone because they know they can gather a few more bucks before it all melts away – Do not get me wrong, I like VR and Im glad it’s here but surely is still a momentary hype for a very testrict segment

    • Actually, it’s already here as a global manner. You might be thinking of the slow roll out and adoption of high-end platforms like the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive, and the Playstation VR, which have only recently hit the market — or are about to — and cost hundreds of dollars.

      But the big seller for VR is actually mobile-based VR used as a TV replacement. This is super popular throughout the emerging worlds. Last summer, AliBaba was already selling 300,000 headsets a month through its online e-commerce site in China. Earlier this year, just one of the hundred-plus Chinese VR headset manufacturers, Baofeng Mojing, said it had sold 1 million headsets the first quarter of this year, and expects to sell 10 million by the end of the year, both through online channels and through its 20,000 retail locations. (20,000!) And it’s not just China and elsewhere in Asia — David Kariuki, our freelancer in Africa, says you can pick up low cost, mobile-based headsets in retail shops around Nairobi.

      The reason? Mobile phones are great at playing videos, and watching videos with a VR headset is like having a private theater screen, for just a few dollars. That’s an excellent deal for anyone with a shortage of money, space, or privacy who already owns a smartphone — and that just about describes everyone in the emerging countries.

      In addition to watching virtual videos, another top driver for VR is virtual travel — and both videos and travel beat gaming in general user surveys about interest in VR. You add in adult content and casual games, which mobile-based VR is also good at, and now you’ve got a lot of reasons for folks to buy these headsets.

      With the new Daydream platform coming out this fall, mobile VR is about to take a big step forward. As prices continue to drop, and performance improves, the drivers for adoption of VR in emerging countries will just become stronger.

      I’m not counting out tethered VR altogether. Special purpose gaming-consoles will probably have a place for a long time. And PC-based headsets like the Oculus and the Vive will be popular — for a while — with folks interested in high-end gaming. Plus, Internet cafes throughout the world will now have a new reason for existence. With more and more people having access to the Internet at home, or through their smartphones, the audience for Internet cafes was shrinking. With VR, there’s a new reason for folks to come back to these cafes, and to gaming arcades. As mobile VR becomes ubiquitous, however, the market for tethered headsets will probably shrink dramatically.

      Of course, tethered VR might morph into room-based VR. Instead of wearing AR/VR glasses (or contact lenses?) we might have holodeck-style systems that surround us with computer generated environments in our living rooms or offices. I should write a column about that.

      • Carlos Loff

        Interesting answer, I may change my mind, let´s see where we are heading

      • I’ll back Maria up on this. Mobile VR is already here. Million+ Gear VR users Close to 10 million google cardboard. In China and India where many people may not have a computer/laptop many have smartphones and they have been using them to watch movies in a headset for the better part of a decade. VR is an easy sell and is already in great demand. The high end stuff like Vive and Rift is still out of most peoples reach but VR arcades will fill that void. The 100,000 internet cafes in China are all looking toward VR.

        No hype this time around, this is the real deal.

  • Alexandre Meloni

    There’s a new chinese headset that also has a touchpad control like the GearVR, called “Eye travel” vr.
    Needs a smartphone like most headsets, but it’s cheap, around 25 bucks on Aliexpress.
    I was wondering if you have any info on that model.

    • I see it:

      http://www.geekbuying.com/item/Eye-Travel-YY01-FOV120-Immersive-3D-VR-Headset-368885.html

      It reminds me a lot of the Pico VR:

      http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2016/05/review-pico-1-copies-worst-features-of-gear-vr/

      Here’s the main problem with the touch pads: you need software that recognizes them. In the case of Gear VR, they have a curated app store, and all the apps allowed on it must work with the Gear VR, including its back button, and its touch pad.

      Samsung can do that because they’ve sold more than a million Gear VR headsets, and are partners with Oculus and Facebook on this, so they have a lot of clout. Plus, developers get to charge more for their apps when they’re on the Gear VR.

      So you have to ask yourself, how is this “Eye Travel” company going to get developers on board with rewriting their apps to work with their specific touchpad? And, if they do manage to do that, given that they’re based in China, the odds are that the apps that do work with the touchpad will be in Chinese, as turned out to be the case with the Pico VR.

      My recommendation is to see which apps support this, and if any of those apps happen to be must-haves for you.

      Here’s a quote from a review on the Geekbuying page: “navigation buttons are not appropriately pre-mapped. There are no applications that can provide mapping headsets buttons. There is no customer support, Technical support, etc.. available for the headset. Replacement parts are hard to come by. And there is no pc sync to reprogram the control buttons.”

      Otherwise, save your money and wait for Daydream VR phones and headsets to come out. Daydream promises better performance, a better interface, and more immersion, and it’s baked into the heart of the latest Android version, Nougat. (So you’ll need to buy a new phone — I’m saving my pennies now.)