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Carl Zeiss' VR headset works great if you've got the right phone

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Remember that affordable, manufacturer-agnostic VR headset Carl Zeiss unveiled a few months back? It's just about ready for launch. The company just announced that the VR One is officially available for order today, with units shipping to customers on Monday, December 8th. The company brought the $99 headset to Engadget's SF office recently to show us how the VR One is a viable alternative to folks who want the Gear VR experience, but don't necessarily want a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. It turns out that it's a great alternative - as long as you own a Samsung Galaxy S5 or an iPhone 6, instead.

This is a limitation we already knew about: the VR One uses custom trays to make it compatible with multiple smartphones, but at launch it only supports the two aforementioned models. It's both the VR One's greatest strength and weakness -- these custom trays provide an optimally aligned VR experience, but they severely limit which phones are compatible with the headset. The company is taking requests for new trays (and tells Engadget that the Galaxy S4 is getting quite a few votes), but it could be some time before your smartphone of choice is supported. This was a problem for me, because the very first thing I did when I picked up the VR One was try to slide in my OnePlus One. It "fit" in the headset's empty tray-slot, but rattled around and didn't really "work." Too bad.

That said, if your phone is supported, the VR One offers a very promising mobile virtual reality experience. Zeiss walked me through a small collection of demo apps launching with the device: a movie theater app, an augmented reality demo and a very simple space simulator. The latter two demos were little more than beta presentations, but the simulator movie theater almost felt like a polished app, complete with an easy, touchless interface. By looking at the theater's exits, I could call up a menu to change movies, control playback or exit the app. It was easy, and felt almost natural.

Unfortunately, there's still a little room for polish in the VR One software. Quitting the movie theater app, for instance, brings up a custom VR app launcher. In theory it's simple enough (just look at the app you want to launch), but its presentation is a little too large right now, placing the user's "face" a little too close to the interface it self. Despite this flaw, however, the VR One appears to be a well-built, comfortable and fairly lightweight headset. If you've got a compatible phone, it's not a bad choice. If not? Well, like I said -- you can always vote on the next tray.

In this article: Carl Zeiss, VR One
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