Apple Vision Pro review: First-gen headset falls short

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Seventeen years ago, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, a revolutionary device that combined an iPod, a telephone, and an Internet browser in one. At $500, it was expensive, but its innovation justified the cost, despite some initial flaws.

Fast forward to today, and my experience with Apple’s new $3,500 Vision Pro headset has been less than stellar. This ski-goggle-style virtual reality headset aims to merge the physical and digital worlds. Apple bills it as a “space computer” designed for work, entertainment, and play.

Without an advance review unit from Apple, I purchased the Vision Pro myself. With essential add-ons like a $200 case, $180 AirPods, and $150 prescription lens inserts, the cost quickly adds up. After using it for five days, I’m still not sold on its value.

The Vision Pro feels less polished than Apple’s previous first-generation products. It doesn’t quite beat a traditional work computer, and the games available are mediocre. One unique feature, video calling via a digital avatar, even scared the kids during a family video call.

The headset excels at video playback, delivering high-definition movies and personal 3D recordings that make reliving past memories both eerie and fascinating. However, companies like Meta, HTC, and Sony have struggled to make headsets appealing to the masses, and the Vision Pro faces similar challenges.

While the Vision Pro offers a superior interface, better image quality, and more apps than its competitors, it is heavier and relies on an external battery that lasts only two hours. Its ski-goggle design is sleeker than previous headsets, but users still look self-conscious wearing it.

A better interface

The Vision Pro stands out for its intuitive 3D interface controlled by eye and hand movements. Colleagues quickly adapted, finding it similar to using an iPhone. App icons appear in a grid, and selecting one involves a simple pinch gesture.

The Digital Crown dial allows users to switch between viewing the real world and focusing on digital content. While this feature is useful, the headset still limits peripheral vision, causing me to forget about real-world activities and occasionally trip over obstacles.

Using the Vision Pro for productivity means surrounding yourself with multiple apps, but this setup isn’t any more efficient than a traditional computer. After about 15 minutes of juggling apps, I felt nauseous. Typing on the floating keyboard is tedious, and while you can connect a physical keyboard, that defeats the portability of the headset.

Vision Pro can mimic a Mac’s display, but it has noticeable lag, and the instinct to use pinch gestures for control can be frustrating.

In the kitchen, using the headset to follow a recipe made me feel nauseous due to the motion. Apple recommends taking breaks to prevent motion sickness, but the headset is most comfortable when used while sitting.

Video Calls & Entertainment

For video calls, the Vision Pro’s 3D avatar feature is awkward and unflattering. My avatar resembled a low-quality studio portrait, and my family found it off-putting. Even young children were upset by the virtual representation.

However, the Vision Pro shines when it comes to video playback. Streaming movies through apps like Disney+ and Max provides a superior viewing experience compared to Meta’s headphones. The Vision Pro’s speakers sound great, but battery life is insufficient for most feature films, and prolonged use causes neck and eye strain.

While the Vision Pro can be used as a personal TV in specific situations, like on an airplane or in a small apartment, I prefer my flat-screen TV for shared viewing experiences.

The headset supports spatial video, allowing users to view 3D recordings. Despite a bit of graininess, these videos are enjoyable, especially for reliving special moments.

Limited Gameplay and Final Thoughts

The Vision Pro’s game library is currently limited. While some new games like Blackbox offer novel experiences, they quickly lose their appeal. Meta’s Quest headset, with its extensive game libraries, remains a better choice for VR gaming.

Ultimately, the Vision Pro is an impressive but incomplete first-generation product with significant issues. Its high price tag and lack of a clear purpose beyond being a luxury personal TV make it hard to recommend. The inability to easily share the headphones with others highlights its isolationist design at a time when people are looking to reconnect.

Ultimately, while the Vision Pro shows potential, its current state leaves a lot to be desired.

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