The question of which mobile VR headset is right for you still totally depends on which smartphone you have, as the Gears and Daydreams reward the latest phones. Now Xiaomi owners have a headset especially for them.
The Mi VR - not to be confused with the cheaper Mi VR Play - works with a bunch of Xiaomi phones and a few others.
It's cheap-ish, offers slightly more tech than your average mobile VR headset, and though it's designed to be used with Xiaomi's Chinese Mi VR platform, you can be used outside of China. So is it any good, or are there better options available?
Xiaomi Mi VR: Design
The Mi VR looks and feels like a cross between the Sony PlayStation VR and the Samsung Gear VR. And that's a good thing. This is a proper mobile VR headset, not just a viewer. So like the Gear VR, it includes its own motion sensor, it doesn't simply rely on your phone's.
Also here, the phone connected to the device via USB Type-C, instead of resting in front of the lenses on the cheaper Mi VR Play. It is quick and easy to get phones in and out, though.
There's a PS VR-style headband which makes the process of putting it on quicker but we actually find this is slightly less useful than adjustable straps for getting the really snug fit VR demands. The headset itself is white plastic which looks fine and the foam padding is comfortable on the face and blocks out the world - in this respect it's preferable to the side flaps on the much more expensive PS VR.
Unlike Google's Daydream View (which has had its prices slashed recently) there's no light bleed either once you adjust the Mi VR properly. One small thing: that head strap does help to balance the weight and make everything feel light-ish for longer periods of use. But it does mean the whole thing is quite large compared to the Daydream and Gear headsets, making it slightly less portable.
Xiaomi Mi VR: In use
Once you've slotted in the phone, it acts as the VR display. So with the 5s we used, we were looking at a 428ppi 1920 x 1080 display. The Mi VR has an impressive 103 degree field of view, which is much larger than the 75 degrees you get with the bargain basement Mi VR Play. Xiaomi also promises 16ms low latency, another stellar spec. There's also a focus wheel on top of the headset, another plus, and we didn't experience any fogging of the lenses at all - an issue Samsung's headset suffers from.
Sounds good, right? It's got to be said that the Mi VR is a decent experience but it's one that doesn't quite match that comparison with the Gear VR. It's no doubt a combination of the phone display/processing and the headset's built-in motion sensor but the picture as you look around a VR experience isn't as smooth and crisp as you'd find on a Gear VR.
It is an improvement on Cardboard apps on a basic $10 viewer but even though Xiaomi boasts "anti-vertigo" tech, we did also experience a mild bout of VR nausea.
One nice extra, considering the price, is the bundled 9-axis controller - it's powered by two AAA batteries and it's super small and light. There are just two buttons, home and back, plus a clickable trackpad that can be used as a pointer in apps and games as well as the menu screens if you're in China. It's the same idea as the Daydream and Samsung equivalent accessories, but it remains to be seen how much support it'll get both for Mi VR and global apps/releases.
Xiaomi Mi VR: Apps
This headset launched as an accessory for Xiaomi's own Mi VR platform for China. If you're in that country, we assume the homescreen (above) launches when you slot your phone into the device, a la Gear VR. We downloaded the store as an outside-the-Play-Store install on the Xiaomi 5s in order to have a look around - there seems to be a pretty big selection of 360 videos and apps already. It's all in Chinese, though, so be careful not to stray into soft porn reality TV as we did.
Don't worry, you can also download regular VR apps like Jaunt, Within etc and use these with the headset. Just open what you want to watch on the phone then click the Chinese pop-up message to make sure it plays.
Of course, this means there's no slick experience of popping the headset on and having a browse, with the controller, of what's on offer, as it's all done via the phone. It's up to you whether that's worth the savings, but to be honest, unless you're streaming everything, it's best to download VR content on your phone first anyway.
Xiaomi Mi VR: Compatibility
This latest Xiaomi VR headset doesn't work with most smartphones, unlike the slide-it-in Xiaomi Mi VR Play. We haven't been able to track down a full list of compatible phones but here's what we know.
It only works with 5-inch to 5.7-inch phones with a USB Type-C port, so from Xiaomi's own range that means the Xiaomi 5, 5s, 5s Plus and Note 2. We tested the device with the 5s. As for other phones, you can't use this with iPhone but phones like the OnePlus 3, Google Pixel and the Samsung's new Galaxy A range will slot in.
Thanks to Gearbest for our Xiaomi Mi 5s review sample.
- Tech extras
- Decent experience
- Price varies
- Doesn’t match Gear VR
- Full Mi VR China only