When OnePlus said it was giving away free VR headsets, the internet blew up and soon stock had vanished. Fortunately we were at the front of the queue and now we've had our Loop VR headset delivered.
It would be selfish not to share, so here it is, the launch vessel for the OnePlus 3, the Loop VR.
OnePlus Loop VR hardware design
Emblazoned across the side of the Loop VR is "powered by ANTVR", aping the wording on Samsung's Gear VR which reads "powered by OCULUS". In the case of the Loop, there's no "power" in the hardware: this is a passive headset.
In that sense, the Loop VR is similar to existing VR headsets that have been developed for use within the Google Cardboard system, such as Homido. But in this case it offers a plastic body that's fairly substantial, combined with a rubber flange and foam pad to make a seal against your face.
It's substantial and attractively designed for something that's free and we like the solidity of the main plastic body: it will certainly last longer than something made from cardboard. The Loop VR measures 189 x 103 x 133mm and it weighs about 366g, and that's without the phone.
There's a three-point strap that offers some adjustment to hold the headset to your face, so it has an immediate advantage over many of the Cardboard viewers that need you to hold them in place, although this isn't the most comfortable of headsets and we found it pressed on the bridge of the nose, and there's no padding there.
This is perhaps made worse by the weight: as it's pretty heavy, especially once you've added a phone to the front, gravity pulls it down your face onto the top of your nose. You could tighten the straps, especially the top strap to try and pull it up, but in reality the problem is a lack of support in the lower sections where it presses against your cheeks. Still, it was free, so you can't complain too much.
As is the convention, there are two magnifying eyepieces within the headset and these offer some adjustment, to accommodate the distance between your eyes. These have to be clicked back and forth from the inside, but it's easy enough to make these minor adjustments.
You'll notice there's been no mention of any buttons or controls: there aren't any, so this isn't a fully compliant Google Cardboard headset.
OnePlus Loop VR smartphone requirements
The phone slips into the front and is held in place via friction with a couple of rubber bubbles on the outside pushing the phone against the rubber-foam front. That's a fairly conventional setup for these types of headsets and in our tests, phones are held in place securely enough, so they don't slide around when you move your head about.
The official specs say that the Loop VR supports iOS and Android and that it is designed for devices with a display around 5 to 6 inches. We tested it mainly with the Nexus 6, a device that we've used for a number of VR applications because of its large high-resolution display. Of course, all the sensors of the phone provide the movement in the VR universe and the speakers provide the sound, although headphones are recommended.
The Nexus 6 works well (aside from being rather heavy) and the display fits into the Loop VR's field of view well. If you happen to have an Xperia Z5 Premium you'll find this is also great, because it offers even greater resolutions for those applications, like YouTube 360 video, that supports it.
We also tested it with the Xperia X. Although the phone's smaller size and slimmer body are held in place securely enough, because it's only 5 inches, it doesn't fill the field of view so well. This means you can see some of the phone and the edges of the display, where the bigger devices give a better, more immersive, experience.
Additionally, the full HD display is ok for VR, but only ok: the higher the pixel density, the better your content can look, especially when you consider that it's being magnified by those lenses. Still, the long and short of it is that most mainstream phones will be fine and some will be better than others.
OnePlus Loop VR: Controls and content
Normally when looking at a VR headset, content is king and control is what makes the difference. In the Google Cardboard universe, the addition of a capacitive button made a big difference, as it allowed you to select and navigate, finding your way out of virtual lobbies more dynamically than just the hover-to-select method.
Some headsets, like Gear VR, give you even more controls, but that's a deeper integrated headset designed to work with Samsung's phones. The Loop VR gives you nothing, so in that sense, it's a slight step back. For content to be effective, it's going to need easy navigation, or you might have to be sliding the phone out to tap the display every time you want to do something. Currently there's a mixture of navigation options presented by VR apps.
This might all change in the future however. With Daydream presenting a new future for Google VR - and thereby smartphone-based VR - the lack of controls might be side-stepped with the introduction of a controller, something that Daydream has in its specifications. That's some way off for now, but could change the VR landscape later in 2016.
There's no content per se, although you can use any of the current VR or 3D apps on Google Play and it works with YouTube 360 video. You'll quickly find that Android prompts you to set it up via the QR code scanner method that Cardboard offers - but there's no QR code, so you can't.
The Loop VR was pitched as a giveaway to help you watch the OnePlus 3 VR launch event. There's a Loop VR app, but this is currently just a 2D countdown timer. This is likely to become a VR lounge to launch and showcase the OnePlus 3 on launch day, but currently doesn't offer any other functions. We're sure it will blossom into a slick app to use with the Loop VR when the time comes.
OnePlus Loop VR: Conclusions
With everything free there's always a caveat and that is that you can't complain too much. Is this the best headset out there? No, it isn't. It's not the most comfortable, it is heavy and it lacks Google Cardboard compatibility, so as it stands, it's not as functional as it could be.
That said, it supports plenty of phone sizes and does so securely, it offers a modicum of adjustment for different sized heads and it looks good. The Loop VR isn't a silver bullet that will mean you don't need to look at other VR headsets for a longer-term solution, but it's a lot more attractive than a piece of cardboard.
Roll on 14 June for the launch of the OnePlus 3!