Our review of the Vodafone Smart platinum 7, the highest of Vodacom’s new high-end branded smartphones, wasn’t the end of it. There’s a virtual reality headset from Vodacom on the way, which is intended to be bundled with the R8,000 Smart platinum 7. The headset, called the Vodafone Smart VR, has been designed to work with Vodacom’s smartphone flagship, and we got to spend some time with it. This is what we’ve learned.
Like other basic VR headsets, such as Samsung’s Gear VR, the Vodafone Smart VR will make you look a little like Johnny Five from those old Short Circuit films if you pop it on without inserting a phone into it. It won’t make you quite as smart, though. The Vodafone Smart VR is a very basic unit, certainly a step up from an actual cardboard VR headset. The plastic frame isn’t flimsy at all and the centre area where the lenses live comes across as quite tough.
The headset arrives in its package with a headstrap, which must be attached prior to use, and the visor. The visor consists of a place to seat your handset, with a retention clip, and a cover that goes over said handset – which serves a practical and aesthetic purpose. If you phone pops out of the clips, it should be caught in the plastic covering before it makes a trip to the floor. Plus, it looks prettier this way.
In The Dark
If you’ve ever used Google Cardboard, then threading the head strap through this visor’s holes and tightening it on your face (there’s no give in the bands so manual adjustment is needed) will be an improved experience. The Vodafone Smart VR fits close to the face, while having enough interior space available for glasses-wearing users to retain their specs. Using the Vodafone Smart platinum as a screen is a definite plus, that QHD screen makes whichever VR you load up look great. Unless you’re buffering on a slow connection.
The close-fitting foam and the bright 1,440 x 2,560 screen combination shows off virtual reality to its best advantage, in fact. It shuts out most exterior light, deepening the immersive experience possible for users.
Google’s Cardboard app recognises the QR code Vodacom has provided, making setup simple. One thing we did note is that it gets the control placement wrong. The app will ask you to fiddle with the top right of the headset. The buttons (pictured above) actually reside on the underside, next to your nose. Be careful how you navigate menus in public is what we’re saying.
But… the thing is… you don’t need this. It’s an upgrade from any actual cardboard Google Cardboard headset but the build leaves something to be desired. The plastic casing and the lenses are fine enough but the foam padding that protects your face a) smells funny (thanks to whatever they treated the foam with) and b) will compress and be useless after extended use. Especially if it comes into contact with moisture. Stop sweating.
As part of a bundle it’s great to have, especially if you’ve never experienced any other form of VR in the past. But you’re not going to find yourself trying to track down the headset on its own. For starters, a whole lot of phones are excluded from use, because they’re either too small, too large or too thick. It’s hard to fault the Vodafone Smart VR for that, though, since the better-engineered Gear VR has exactly the same issues.
If you’re snagging the Vodafone Smart VR up as part of a bundled Vodacom deal with the Smart platinum 7 then by all means, go nuts experiencing virtual reality. We probably wouldn’t look to grab this item as a standalone, and not just because it’s quite specific about the handsets it’ll support. Samsung’s Gear VR has that same problem, after all. The build is the only thing that we take issue with, though it should last longer than your interest in the Android-based VR apps available. Unless you’re a 360-degree YouTube video junkie, that is.