FreeFly VR Headset£55.00
- - Extremely comfortable to wear with great padding
- - Wider FoV than the Google Cardboard and Homindo
- - Can handle phones with screens up to 6”
- - Nice design for fitting smartphone into device and for quickly accessing it
- - No button to select things or do anything
- - Cannot adjust IPD or focusing
- - Even people with 20×20 vision found the center of the screen to be slightly blurred
Product name: FreeFly VR Headset
Price: RRP $109 (£59). Available here for £55.00
Product website: https://www.freeflyvr.com/
Release date: January 28th 2015 (UK/Europe) and April 14th 2015 (US)
For quite a while there were only two choices for anyone interested in trying out VR headsets: they could spend an awful lot of money on an Occulus Rift, or they could try out Google Cardboard (GC). Since then a lot of cheap plastic headsets have appeared on the market (amazon’s flooded with them), all retailing at around $20-$30. But these weren’t much of a step up from GC in terms of viewing quality and comfort. However, 2015 has seen a lot of new companies popping up to offer affordable and accessible VR devices to the mainstream market. We’ve already reviewed one of these – the Homindo – and while it had a number of excellent features, most notably the ability to adjust the IPD (distance between the left and right lenses) and focusing (distance between the lenses and the screen) it also suffered from several fatal flaws: it was uncomfortable to wear and lacked any control buttons. In this article we’ll be reviewing the main rival to the Homindo – the FreeFly VR headset.
What’s so special about the FreeFly VR headset?
Like GC and the cheap plastic variants, the FreeFly headset works with your smartphone: you slot it in and the split lenses create a stereoscopic 3D version of what you’re viewing. However, the FreeFly claims to be different to its cheaper rivals for several reasons. The first is that it boasts an extremely wide field of vision (FoV). While GCs FoV is 90° and the Homindo’s is 100°, the FreeFly has a staggering 120° FoV. This is more than any other VR headset we’ve come across so far. For example, the Samsung Gear VR has a FoV of 96° and the famous Occulus Rift has a FoV of 110°. Another claimed benefit of the FreeFly is its comfort. In our review of the Homindo we criticized it for being extremely uncomfortable to wear: the pointy plastic pressed into the users’ face and was extremely painful. The FreeFly has a generous faux leather padding that allows users to wear it for long periods of time without it digging in and feeling uncomfortable.
Here’s a list of key features FreeFly claim their headset has:
- A 120° FoV: GC’s is 90° while Homindo’s is 100°. This should give the viewer a more immersive VR experience.
- A unique and secure closing mechanism for various phone sizes (4.7 – 6.1”);
- Lightweight design;
- 1-click quick open system;
- Anti-fog lens coating;
- Extra comfort with soft faux-leather padding around the face;
- Comes with a wireless GLIDE VR Bluetooth controller.
We’ll evaluate these features in turn, but before doing so let’s take a look at the headset itself.
In the box it arrived in you should get the following:
- FreeFly VR headset
- Anti-static lens cleaning cloth
- Instruction booklet
- Carry case
- Glide VR Bluetooth controller
What’s it like to use?
Just picking the headset up and inspecting it what really struck me is the quality of it. It really looks and feels like a top-end device rather than something being sold at around $100 (which is a lower-end price for VR headsets compared to the Occulus Rift, among others). The device designers, a UK based company called Proteus VR, have clearly thought a great about a lot of things when putting it all together. The padding is the most impressive we’ve come across: it’s dense and faux-leather lined, unlike the Homindo’s which was extremely uncomfortable cheap thin foam. It’s also very lightweight at just 295g, and with the two head straps we genuinely didn’t notice the weight whilst wearing it, though admittedly the padding significantly played a role here. Easily the snuggest and most comfortable VR headset we’ve encountered to date.
What’s also very impressive is the housing mechanism for your smartphone. GC has a cardboard flap with some Velcro that you really need to hold in place to ensure your phone doesn’t fall out. The Homindo had a large plastic clip which, while functional, was a tad tight and actually scratched my phone several times while removing it. The FreeFly is a significant step up from both of these: it has a door flap you click a button to open, and an impressive loading/securing mechanism for your phone: you place it on the open door flap and line it up with an orange line in both horizontal and vertical directions. There’s a free FreeFly app you can use to ensure the alignment is perfect, but we didn’t find it necessary. Once your phone’s aligned correctly you then squeeze some buttons on each side and four little rubber-tipped feet (two on each side) slide along to secure the phone in place. This means that if you pop open the door flap then the phone won’t fall onto the floor. The rubberized padding also meant that our phone’s didn’t get scratched either. And by pressing the two side buttons they release your phone, separately from the button to open the flap itself. Overall we were extremely impressed by this well thought out design.
However, despite it winning hands down in terms of comfort and ergonomics, the FreeFly VR headset has its shortcomings too.
Fixed IPD and focusing
Unlike the Homindo, there’s sadly no option to adjust the IPD or focusing. The IPD is fixed at 63mm. Admittedly no of our team testing it needed to adjust the IPD, but the lack of focusing was an issue, especially for the center of the screen (more on this below).
Center of screen not sharp
While this is undoubtedly the most comfortable VR headset I’ve worn to date, it is not the sharpest. This is the opposite situation with the Homindo, which offered the greatest image clarity whilst being painful to wear, for any length of time. A colleague with 20×20 vision who had no problems with GC at all was surprised to find that the center of the screen using the FreeFly headset was slightly blurred, while the peripheral imagery was sharp. My experience was that the center was blurred but that the periphery wasn’t sharp enough either.
It’s important to note that this issue isn’t unique to us as a quick google search revealed that others have experienced a similar problem. One attempted workaround is to create a custom QR code to calibrate the stereoscopic 3D effect (see this Reddit thread for more details). However, our experience trying out the custom QR code from the helpful Reddit user didn’t actually solve our problem: the centre was still soft-focused and using Google’s custom QR code generator didn’t help obviate the problem either. Needless to say, this was extremely disappointing.
Another problem is the lack of any kind of button. The GC has a magnetic slide button on the LHS of the device, so you can select something on the screen and do things like open Google Earth when using the Google Cardboard menu app, and then select to fly into space or choose which country to visit. And when watching 360° videos on Youtube in VR split screen mode you could select part of a video’s timeline and jump to it. But the FreeFly, just like the Homindo has no buttons at all. So you need to remove your phone from the headset and tap an icon to select something before putting it back into the headset again. One plus over the Homindo is that accessing your phone is far quicker and easier with the FreeFly: you simply need to press the top button to open the door flap where your smartphone is safely secured with the rubberized side legs (as mentioned earlier). You can then quickly tap icons and shut the door flap again. However, this is still far from ideal.
The FreeFly VR Headset actually comes with what it claims is a Bluetooth VR controller. However, we tried it on all the settings and it doesn’t actually work on VR apps: when using the Google Cardboard demo app we couldn’t select and open Google Earth, Virtual Tours, or jump to a different part of a 360° Youtube video. This means that the FreeFly VR experience is an entirely passive on: you can’t play games and you can’t select anything you see in a VR menu. And after a while repeatedly opening the headset door flap to tap icons becomes slightly annoying.
- Extremely comfortable to wear with great padding
- Wider FoV than the Google Cardboard and Homindo (120° compared to 90° and 100° respectively)
- Can handle phones with screens up to 6”
- Nice design for fitting smartphone into device and for quickly accessing it
- No button to select things or do anything
- Cannot adjust IPD or focusing
- Even people with 20×20 vision found the center of the screen to be slightly blurred
This is a very frustrating piece of tech. It’s without doubt the most comfortable VR headset we’ve tested to date. The phone holder is a work of art, as is the padding. And the 120° FoV is impressive, as well as its ability to handle larger phones up to 6”. However, its lack of focusing or IPD adjustment seriously diminished our VR experience, as well as its lack of a button. The Bluetooth controller that came with it didn’t work in VR apps either, so I’m baffled as to why they bother including it with their product. If the FreeFly VR Headset had IPD and focus adjustment then I’d strongly recommend it for anyone who wasn’t worried about playing VR games or doing anything interactive that required a button, as simply watching 3D films and 360° videos would be a treat wearing these. However, we also found the center of the screen to be slightly blurred, and even after spending a considerable length of time trying to create a custom QR code for our stereoscopic settings we didn’t manage to solve that problem, and we really did go through all setting variations, but to no avail. It’s of course possible that the focusing problem might not affect you, and if so then you’re one of the lucky few. But for everyone else we would advise caution: if you’re not bothered about the lack of controls and want a passive VR experience, and you have 20×20 vision, then it might be worth buying from somewhere with a generous returns policy so you can play around with it and return it if you experience focusing problems. For everyone else I would advise you to wait for something with IPD and focusing adjustment as well as a control button that actually works.