Apple Vision Pro review: The first headset lacks polish and purpose

About 17 years ago, Steve Jobs took the stage at the San Francisco Convention Center and said he would introduce three products: the iPad, a phone and a web browser.

“These are not three separate devices,” he said. “It's a device, and we call it the iPhone.”

At $500, the first iPhone was relatively expensive, but I was eager to ditch my mediocre Motorola flip phone. There were drawbacks — including sluggish cellular Internet speeds. But the iPhone delivered on its promises.

Last week, I had a very different experience with Apple's new first-generation product: the Vision Pro, a virtual reality headset that resembles a pair of ski goggles. The $3,500 wearable computer, unveiled Friday, uses cameras so you can see the outside world while you juggle apps and videos.

Apple calls it a “spatial computer” that brings together the physical and digital worlds for people to work, watch movies and play games.

Apple declined to provide an initial review unit to The New York Times, so I bought the Vision Pro on Friday. (Many cost more than $3,500 with optional add-ons, including a $200 carrying case, $180 AirPods, and $100 prescription lens inserts for glasses wearers.) After about five days of using the headset, I'm not convinced people will get much value out of it.

The device feels more polished than previous first-generation Apple products I've used. Work isn't any better than PC, and the games I've tried so far haven't been fun, making it hard to recommend. One important feature — the ability to make video calls with a human-like digital avatar of the wearer — can be intimidating for kids during a family FaceTime call.

The headset excels at delivering on one of its promises: playing high-definition movies and video, including your own recordings in 3-D, immerses you in memories of the past, which is both whimsical and cool.

Over the past decade, companies like Meta, HTC, and Sony struggled to sell headsets to mainstream consumers because their products were uncomfortable to wear, their applications were limited, and they were cold.

Vision Pro has better user interface, better image quality, more apps and more computing power than other headsets. But it's a bit heavier than Meta's cheaper Quest headsets, and it plugs in externally Battery pack It lasts only two hours.

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Apple's product's ski-glass aesthetic is better than the bulky plastic headset visors of the past. But videos posted by early adopters Walking around Out with the headset — the men I call the Vision Brothers — make sure those wearing tech glasses still look ridiculous, even if they're designed by Apple.

The Vision Pro is miles ahead of other headsets I've tested, facilitating an immersive 3-D interface that users can control with their eyes and hands. I let four colleagues wear the headset in the office and watched as they all learned to use it in seconds.

Because anyone who owns an iPhone or similar smartphone knows this. You will see a grid of app icons. Viewing an application is equivalent to hovering over it with the mouse cursor; To click it, tap your thumb and index finger together and make a quick pinch. The pinch gesture can be used to move around and expand windows.

The Vision Pro has a knob called the Digital Crown. Turning it counter-clockwise lets you see the real world in the background, keeping your app's digital windows in the foreground. Turning it clockwise hides the real world with an opaque background.

I mostly wanted to see physical reality, but I still felt isolated. The headset cuts off part of your circumference, creating a binoculars-like effect. I admit that sometimes it's hard to remember walking my dogs because I don't see them or hear them whining, and in another session, I fell on a stool. An Apple spokesperson referred to the Vision Pro's security guidelines Instructs users to remove obstacles.

When using the headset for work, you can surround yourself with multiple floating apps — your spreadsheet can be in the center, the Notes app can be on your right, and the browser can be on your left. It's a 3-D version of window manipulation on a computer screen. As neat as it sounds, pinching floating screens doesn't make working very efficient because you have to keep turning your head to see them.

I can tolerate juggling the Notes app, the browser, and Microsoft Word for more than 15 minutes before I feel nauseous.

The least enjoyable part of the Vision Pro is typing with its floating keyboard, which requires punching one key at a time. I was planning on writing this review with the headset before I realized I wouldn't make my deadline.

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There is an option to attach a physical keyboard, but at that point I prefer to use a laptop that doesn't add weight to my face.

Vision Pro can also work with Mac computers, where you can mirror the screen on the headset as a virtual window that can be expanded like a large display. In my tests, there was a constant lag — each keystroke took almost a fraction of a second to register, and the mouse cursor moved sluggishly. I instinctively wanted to control the Mac with pinches, and even though it wasn't set up to work that way, it was frustrating.

Next I tried the headset in the kitchen, loaded a pizza recipe into a web browser, and grabbed and measured ingredients. As I moved around looking at the camera, I felt nauseous again and had to take off my headset. Vision Pro is very comfortable to use while sitting. Apple advises people to take breaks to reduce motion sickness.

Video calling is now an essential part of office life, and here the Vision Pro is much less than a laptop with a camera. The headset uses its cameras to take photos of your face, stitched into a 3-D avatar called Persona, which Apple has labeled a “beta” feature because it's not finished.

People are so intimidated that people shy away from using it on a job call. The Vision Pro produced an unflattering portrait of me, minus the cheekbones and fuzzy ears. On a FaceTime call with my in-laws, they said the blur gave off 1980s studio portrait vibes.

One of my nieces, a 3-year-old, went back to see virtual Uncle Brian. Another, a 7-year-old, hid behind his father and whispered in his ear, “He looks fake.”

Video is where the Vision Pro shines. When streaming movies through apps like Disney+ and Max, you can pinch a corner of a video and drag it to expand it to a jumbo high-definition TV; Some movies like “Avengers: Endgame” and “Avatar 2” can be seen in 3-D. The image is much brighter and clearer than the standard on Meta's Quest products. Audio quality is good on the Apple headset, but the speakers are loud, so if you want to use them in public, you'll need the AirPods.

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The headset's two-hour battery life isn't enough to last through most feature-length movies, but in my experience, it turned out to be a bummer as I couldn't watch movies for more than 20 to 30 minutes before needing to take a break. Neck and eyes from heavy headset.

(A caveat: Netflix and YouTube apps (Not available on Vision Pro, but their websites work fine for streaming content.)

I like watching movies on my flat-screen TV because it can be shared, but the headset is useful as a personal TV, a TV show you want to tune into in a small apartment or on an airplane or in bed while someone else watches.

Videos captured with the iPhone 15 Pro camera or Vision Pro's cameras can be viewed in 3-D on the headset, a feature called Spatial Videos. As I watched videos of my dogs eating snacks at home, I reached out and pretended to pet them. The videos looked cheesy but were delightful.

There aren't many games developed for the headset yet. I tried some of the newer Vision Pro games, like Blackbox, which involve popping bubbles around a 3-D environment and solving puzzles. It was great, but after the novelty wore off, my interest wore off. It's hard to recommend the Vision Pro for virtual-reality gaming when Meta's $250 Quest 2 and $500 Quest 3 headsets have a deeper library of games.

Vision Pro is the start of something – what, exactly, I don't know.

But the point of a product review is to evaluate the here and now. In its current state, the Vision Pro is an impressive but imperfect first-generation product, riddled with issues and major trade-offs. Other than being a fancy personal TV, it has no purpose.

What's most striking to me about the Vision Pro is how difficult it is to share the headset with others, for such an expensive computer. There's a guest mode, but the ability to create profiles for different family members to upload their own apps and videos to is missing.

So it's a computer for people to use alone, coming at a time when they're trying to reconnect after years of masked solitude. That's probably Vision Pro's biggest blind spot.

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