Zeiss VR One is a perfect example of how to do VR wrong

There are a lot of people out there who hear the name Zeiss and immediately think quality optics, and with good reason. When Zeiss decided to make a Google Cardboard-esque VR headset where you shove whatever phone you want into a slot and enjoy, it seemed like a no brainer. Unfortunately, the Zeiss VR One is not the virtual reality superstar I was hoping it would be. In fact, it suffers from a serious design flaw that can only be fixed by released a new model.

Here's a quick look at the Zeiss VR One, and some suggestions on how to do better next time.

Zeiss VR One is designed to be a sturdier version of Google Cardboard. The hard plastic body is well designed, allowing plenty of room for glasses to fit in the viewing area with plenty of covered air vents to keep things from getting foggy in the middle of a VR session. The Zeiss lenses on the inside are fixed, but massive. It's a design that works well by taking full advantage of the display on the other side, which would be incredible if any of the 2560 x 1440 displays on modern smartphones fit in the body of this headset. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

Rather than an open face to insert your phone like the Mattel View-Master VR, Zeiss uses cartridges that slide in and out of the side of the headset to align the phone you are using. Zeiss sent me a cartridge for the Samsung Galaxy S5, and it didn't take me long to figure out why. The cartridge slot isn't any wider than a Galaxy S5, which means they can't really make cartridges for things like Galaxy Note 5 or Nexus 6P. Zeiss open sourced the cartridge design so the community could help out, so if you have a 3D Printer you can make your own cartridge for the Galaxy S6 or Xperia Z5 Premium.

Zeiss VR One

This cartridge slot raises another incredible pain point, which is cleaning the lenses. Dust happens, and in most cases a quick swipe with a microfiber cloth will remove dust and get you back into the VR zone. But since you can't easily open the Zeiss VR One, cleaning is incredibly difficult. Once dust gets on the other side of the lenses — and it will —the VR experience is negatively impacted, so all around it's a problem. If you have something to blow air across the lenses it's not as big a problem, but if you try to do that with your face you're going to wind up with dust and spit on the inside part of the lens, and you will not be enjoying VR today.

Finally, the price tag for this Google Cardboard clone is $129 once you include the cost of a cartridge. That's $30 more than Samsung's significantly more capable Gear VR headset and $100 more than most Google Cardboard headsets you'll find for sale. The VR One hardware feels nice, and the pair of Zeiss VR/AR apps in the Google Play Store are a clever way to get people used to this experience, but nothing about this justifies that price. Zeiss needs to drop the price, open up the body for larger phones and maintenance, and keep the amazing optics and ventilation system in the front. Until that happens, this is not the VR system you are looking for.

See more at Zeiss.com (opens in new tab)

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

  • Thanks Russell, I'll add this one to the list of ones not to buy. The VR Box shares the cartridge style phone holder, but is designed for larger phones. Fortunately you can pop the front covers off and clean the large lenses, and you can also leave the smaller section of the cover off for camera use. The biggest flaw on the VR Box is the field of view is way too big for a 5 inch screen, and you can see the entire phone including the ends, which ruins the experience. The phone is just too far from the lenses and you can't adjust the problem away.
  • Still no match for our Hololens yet #TeamMicrosoft #TeamWindows
  • Lol. I'll just run down to bestbuy and plop down three grand for one. Oh wait... I can't. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I don't see why VR headsets have anything to do with being inclusive to Android or even exclusive towards Windows devices. #TeamFrosty Nexus 6P
  • Yes, 2h battery life and 15 inch showing area is unbeatable. Oh wait....
  • Already forgot about it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Cheering for the WRONG set of people here, bub. Go back to neowin with that bullshit.
  • Is this company anything to do with Carl-Zeiss?
  • Yes, which is why expectations on the optics was high.However, there's more to a VR headset then just the lenses.
  • I have the Samsung GearVR and I also have the Homido HMD. The Homido holds any phone, and actually has better optics than the GearVR. The GearVR wins based on oculus integration, however. Posted via my Nokia 8210 from the inside of a Kitten.
  • Massive gob posted with nokia 3310
  • As an early adopter of the Zeiss VR one, these are valid points. But this was released over a year ago when Samsung offered a VR headmount for only the Note line (which was $200 at the time). The exclusion of the magnet was foolish of Carl Zeiss but easily remedied with a simple DIY. Also, using a can of compressed air to blow out the dust from the other side of lens isn't a big deal. To this day, thanks to the VR one and a DualShock 3, my S5 has been an awesome little piece of tech in providing compelling VR experiences. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I totally agree with this article -- the ease of inserting the phone is the single biggest usability issue with Google Cardboard headsets. My favorite headsets -- which both cost a fraction of the price of the Zeiss -- are the FiiT and the Baofeng Mojing 3. Both have outside covers that open easily, and a simple shelf to hold the phone. I don't have to take off my phone's protective cover to use it, and the phone is easy to get to if you're switching apps or loading up new videos. Plus, unlike with the Gear VR, the outside cover is on a hinge, so stays attached the headset. With the Gear VR cover, which detaches, there's always the risk that it gets lost in the couch, or the dog eats it, or you sit on it and break it. Saying that the headset was released a year ago is not an excuse. The Baofeng Mojing guys are already on their fourth iteration of their headset, as are the BoboVR folks.