Since its launch, the Xiaomi Mi VR Play has been on sale from as little as RMB 1 (i.e 15 cents) in China, to around $16 or $20 if you want to get one internationally. So it's either cheap or so ludicrously cheap it's essentially free.
In China, Xiaomi is launching its own open Mi VR platform for apps, videos, games and experiences including Youku (a YouTube rival) and Cond√© Nast. But it's not being exclusive ‚Äď it is still working with Google and should launch a Daydream compatible headset and Mi phone before long.
Out here in 'the rest of the world', the Mi VR Play is a pretty decent Cardboard viewer to use with Cardboard apps, which is how we've been testing it. In China, things will look very different in terms of how this stacks up, since Google services aren't always available there.
Xiaomi Mi VR Play: Design and build
As with most mobile VR headsets ‚Äď or viewers, since the Xiaomi doesn't have any extra sensors like the ¬£80 Samsung Gear VR ‚Äď the aim is simply to better the experience of holding up some cardboard and lenses to your face.
In that sense, the Mi VR Play works. It's light and the lycra is a nice finish with various colours and styles to choose from, although international buyers may have to settle for the default black.
It's also very easy to slot in any 4.7-inch to 5.7-inch phone (including iPhones) to use as the headset's display/processor/VR library by simply unzipping the front and resting the device on the two pads.
Aside from the fact that, with no padding, the headset can really press into your forehead in an annoying way, there's one main flaw with the design. It lets in light from either side. Not from the bottom, as with a fair few headsets we've tried, but from the left and right of your vision, as it doesn't curve around, which means distracting reflections on the VR picture. The solution? Cover the gaps with your hands. Sigh.
There's also not much room in the headset so glasses wearers may have even more of a problem.
Xiaomi Mi VR Play: In use
The anti-reflective lenses in the Mi VR Play are fine, if nothing special, and the 75-degree field of view is disappointing compared to the 100 degrees or higher you can get from mid-range headsets.
The overall experience isn't too different from using Cardboard apps like Within and its Mr Robot short with similarly priced, or slightly more expensive, third-party viewers. For our money, we'd suggest spending a little more than $20 and going for something with a wider field of view and some face padding, like a Homido or Freefly for less than ¬£80.
Of course if you have a recent Samsung Galaxy, just go straight for the ¬£80 Gear VR if you're happy with the price. It's far superior with built-in motion sensors, better apps and extras like a focus dial and trackpad.
We tried the Xiaomi headset out with an iPhone 6 and Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and both fit surprisingly snugly in the front section. There are two gaps at the front ‚Äď one for the camera as Xiaomi's VR store for China will host some AR apps, and one to access your phone's headphone jack ‚Äď which can be a little fiddly.
- Super cheap
- Easy to use
- Works with lots of smartphones
- Not fully enclosed
- Not very comfortable
- Better FOVs elsewhere