Homindo VR Headset
- - Adjustable IPD and focusing
- - Additional lens/eye pieces for users with myopia and hyperopia
- - Wider FoV than Google Cardboard (100° compared to 90°)
- - Extremely uncomfortable to wear
- - No button to select things or do anything
- - Only suitable for phones with 4” to 5” screens. Anything bigger gets cropped
Price: RRP $109 (£59) Available here for £48.97
Release date: February 18th 2015 (UK/Europe). April 2nd 2015 (US)
There was a short period of time when anyone interested in trying out VR had only two choices of headset – the Occulus Rift at the top end – or Google Cardboard at the bottom. It felt akin to wanting a pair of sneakers and being told you could either have a pair of Nike Air Jordan’s or flip-flops… or nothing at all. As most people couldn’t afford the Occulus Rift this made Google Cardboard (henceforth abbreviated to ‘GC’) the affordable choice, and at just $10 each it finally made VR accessible to everyone. However, while GC was a wonderful thing insofar as it brought VR to the masses and let everyone have a go, it also suffered from several shortcomings. The first was the quality of lenses – they were plastic and not great quality (what would you expect for $10?). The second was their fixed interpupillary distance (IPD). This meant that the distance between the center of the pupils of the two eyes can’t be changed. While you might not be familiar with the term IPD, you’ve all experienced it before whenever you’ve looked through a pair of binoculars: if the two eye pieces are too close together or too far apart then you won’t be able to see properly, and you might end up viewing an overlapping image or get headaches. As VR headsets create a stereoscopic (i.e. three-dimensional) image by splitting a screen and using clever optics, the IPD became just as important for VR headsets as when using binoculars: if you can’t adjust it then some people aren’t going to be able to enjoy their VR experience. An additional problem was the fact that not only was the IPD fixed, but so was the lens distance from the screen. This meant that people with vision problems (being either near-sighted or far-sighted) found their VR experience to be less sharp and focused than those lucky people blessed with 20×20 vision. And the final problem was ergonomics: pressing your face up against a piece of cardboard simply wasn’t very comfortable, and you had to hold the thing up to your face as there weren’t any straps. So, while GC offered affordable and accessible VR for the masses, it had a number of shortcomings that often ended up tarnishing peoples’ first experience of VR, and in some cases put them off it.
Since GC made waves in the VR headset market a number of cheap plastic versions have popped up, mostly from China. While these look pretty cool, they’re ultimately just GC with a few frills: they have a bit of cheap foam padding around the face, a more robust compartment to house your smartphone as well as head straps so you don’t need to hold the whole unit up to your face for the duration of your VR experience. Now, I’m not denying that these units (many of them retailing at around $25-30) aren’t a step up from GC, because they certainly are: they’re a bit more comfortable to wear due to padding, they’re not going to get accidentally crushed and deformed in your bag like their cardboard counterparts, and not having to hold them up to your face is a definite plus. However, beyond that they’re nothing to sing about because the actual VR experience itself hasn’t been improved upon – IPD and focusing is still fixed, and the quality of the lenses themselves weren’t any different.
Enter the Homindo VR headset. This looks very much like the other plastic versions of GC, but claims to be a lot more.
What’s so special about the Homindo VR headset?
Like GC and the cheap plastic variants, the Homindo 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 Homindo is different for two crucial reasons: you can change the distance between each eye piece and you can adjust the distance between each lens and the screen. In short, you can tweak the IPD and the focusing. This is a significant improvement over GC as it makes VR accessible to people with vision problems (e.g. myopia and hyperopia) as well as those with slightly different IPDs to the norm.
Here’s a list of key features Homindo claim their headset has:
- A greater field of version (FoV). GC’s is 90° while Homindo’s is 100°. This should give the viewer a more immersive VR experience.
- Better ergonomics: with foam padding around the headset that presses against the users’ face it should be more comfortable, and with a double strap (one around the side of the head and a second one over the top of the head) users’ should be able to wear the Homindo without holding it in place.
- It can be used by children (aged 6-8 years old), thus apparently making it a headset that can be used by all the family.
- In addition to being able to adjust the IDP and focusing (distance between lenses and the smartphone screen), it also comes with three different lenses to cater for people with myopia and hyperopia.
- It claims to be able to handle smartphones with screen sizes between 4” and 5.7”
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:
- Homido Headset
- Alternative lenses (three in total: one normal, one for myopia and another for hyperopia)
- Anti-static lens cleaning cloth
- Carry case
What’s it like to use?
The ability to adjust the IPD and lens distance from the screen made a big difference to me. None of the headsets I’ve tried thus far allow users to wear their prescription glasses at the same time, and while the Homindo’s no different in that respect, it did enable me to see the stereoscopic projection a lot clearer and sharper than with GC. In fact, this is the best VR experience I’ve had so far in terms of image clarity. Even if you don’t need prescription glasses for daily wear many people do need a modest adjustment for viewing things that close to your face. The Homindo headset solves this common problem in a simple and elegant way: there’s a cog wheel on the top of the headset to adjust IPD and two separate additional cogwheels on each side to further adjust each eye piece. And the addition of three different eye pieces that come with the headset that you can literally swap out makes it ideal for anyone with slightly different eye sight to the rest of the population. And for this reason the Homindo truly stands out, by a big margin!
However, in spite of this terrific improvement over its competition, the Homindo isn’t without serious flaws.
It’s not comfortable!
The first is that the foam padding around the headset is next to useless. It’s extremely thin and offers no real support as it immediately collapses down into virtually nothing when pressed against your face. Given that the plastic of the headset is quite pointy, this means that it digs into you! In spite of the praise I showered over this headset in the previous paragraph regarding its focusing features, I actually found it extremely uncomfortable to wear even for a very short period of time, and after a few minutes I had to take the damn thing off.
The smartphone holder
Another problem is the smartphone holder. It’s just a huge plastic clip that you slot the phone into. The benefit of this is that it can hold most phone sizes (more on this later) and allows access to plug in a pair of headphones. Some headsets completely contain your phone so you need to use Bluetooth headphones. This is a plus for the Homindo. However, the clip is actually rather stiff and I found that it scratched the back of my phone when I removed it. It wasn’t a deep scratch, but it was still a scratch. Needless to say, this was annoying.
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 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. I found this extremely tedious, and as the holder clip was so tight it also scraped my phone several times (as already mentioned). You can buy a bluetooth controller, but be warned that all the ones I’ve come across aren’t actually compatible with the GC apps! As a test I loaded the Google Cardboard demo app before slotting the phone into the headset. No Bluetooth controller was able to select anything on the VR screen. I couldn’t choose Google Earth, Virtual Tours, or jump to a different part of a 360° Youtube video. In short, at this point in time no bluetooth controller is compatible with VR apps. And this means that the Homindo 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 removing and reinserting your phone to tap icons becomes a truly tedious exercise.
Not suitable for smartphones larger than 5”
And there’s one final problem. Homindo claim that their headset is suitable for smartphones with screen sizes between 4” and 5.7”. This means almost all phones are compatible with it, ranging from the smaller iPhones to the Note 4 and iPhone 6. Now, this would be a terrific selling point if it were true. However, it’s extremely misleading because while it’s true that a phone up to 5.7” in size can fit in the clip slot, the problem is that not all of the screen can viewed through the headset. In fact, the Homindo headset can only work on screens up to 5” in size. And that means that anyone using, say, a Samsung Note 3 or an iPhone 6, is going to look through the VR headset to find a significantly cropped screen! We tested the headset using a Note 3 and experienced precisely that.
- Adjustable IPD and focusing
- Additional lens/eye pieces for users with myopia and hyperopia
- Wider FoV than GC (100° compared to 90°)
- Extremely uncomfortable to wear
- No button to select things or do anything
- Only suitable for phones with 4”-5” screens. Anything bigger gets cropped
If only the Homindo had better face padding and a magnet button of some kind. If it did then I would urge everyone to go out and get one. Sadly it doesn’t. So, if you’ve got a face made from stone and don’t mind plastic digging into your face, and if you just want to watch films on a VR headset without selecting things on a screen, and if your phone isn’t bigger than 5”, then perhaps you’ll enjoy using the Homindo. For everyone else I would urge you to move along and either save up to get an Occulus Rift, or better yet, simply go back to Google Cardboard and appreciate what good value for money it was.