What a difference a week makes, huh? Last week I was feeling FOMO, but had come to terms with not being on the Vision Pro train with other people I knew. I dealt with that by buying a Meta Quest 3 and seeing what the best of the rest of consumer VR headsets was all about. It turns out, it’s technically quite impressive, but there are severe limitations that made it less practical to use for things like watching movies than I expected. I’ll write more about this in a later post, but the gist is that I adore the Quest 3 for PC gaming, but everything else wasn’t that exciting to me.
But here we are I’ve got a new headset on my head! One that I said I couldn’t afford just a week ago, for that matter. Well, it turns out when you have very generous readers like you fine folks, you have a closet full of tech that you can sell on eBay for a few thousand dollars, and you have a YouTube channel that turns this into a business expense, you can make some questionable decisions.
Long story short, I have a ton of eBay B.S. to deal with over the coming week, but I think it will be worth the hassle.
Wednesday morning I noticed that 7 of the 8 closest Apple Stores to me had the baseline Vision Pro in stock for pickup, and I took the plunge.
What pushed me over the edge
There’s been a ton of Vision Pro content online for the past few weeks, and a few things were particularly useful in me understanding this product and how it might fit into my life.
First was The Verge’s review, which is not universally glowing by any means, but did do the best job by far in the first wave of reviews at letting me understand what this product actually did.
Next was this episode of the Waveform podcast where Marques Brownlee talks about the nitty gritty details, including the limitations, of the product for 100 minutes. The questions and his explanations were perfect.
An unexpected contender was Jeff Cannata’s impressions on his DLC video game podcast. Jeff is a long-time VR optimist, and he said the Vision Pro made him appreciate the value and quality you get from the Quest 3 even more, but that the highs of using the Vision Pro were so remarkably high that it blew him away.
Finally, I’ll call out my friend and iPad/VR enthusiast Tim Chaten who is also a VR optimist and honestly kinda peer-pressured me into this. How dare you, Tim!
The pickup experience was super simple. I was helped right away and was told that they were going to double check everything in the box was perfect for my specific order, so I had to wait a few minutes with the guy manning the online order pickup table. He asked if I had done the 30 minute demo yet and when I said no, he offered to walk me through the device setup and do a quick training before I left the store. I politely declined and he didn’t push the issue.
I waited maybe 5-10 minutes for them to bring out the box, which is as huge as it looks in YouTube videos. I chatted with the guy while we waited (poor man’s Apple journalism), and didn’t get much info, but it was a good chat. He did confirm that they had special bags made for the Vision Pro’s box since none of their normal ones fit it nicely (at all?). When I mentioned that I was surprised to see them in store when they’re so backordered online, he said this is how it always goes and that if you can’t order online for launch day, you’re very likely to be able to get a new product in store if you just check your local store’s inventory each morning for a few days after launch.
I was in the store for less than 15 minutes and was incredibly self-conscious my whole walk to the car.
Oh, on my way out an employee told me I was grinning from ear to ear and he hoped I enjoyed it. Apparently I wasn’t tempering my emotions as much as I usually do.
I’m nowhere near ready to do any sort of review, but let’s get some quick thoughts out there.
Opening on a bummer, but it was the first thing that really stood out to me, the video pass-through is not as good as I expected it to be. It’s better than the Quest 3 for sure, but not much better. It’s very much like looking at the world through the Camera app on an older iPhone before any image processing has happened. I’m thinking back to WWDC hands-on impressions with people saying they could look at their phone and use it just fine and I don’t know what they experienced because while I can technically make out my phone and watch, it’s a struggle. Right out of the gate, this is the thing I want to see improve the most in the next iteration of this product.
The field of view is smaller than I expected. The Quest 3 has a wider and taller FOV and I don’t really notice the edges when using that headset, but it’s very clear where they are every moment I’m in the Vision Pro. You do kinda get used to it after a while, much like you get used to the bezels on whatever phone you use day to day, but the difference is quite stark.
Finally on the Quest 3 comparisons, I did kinda spoil myself by getting used to a completely wireless headset right before going to the wired Vision Pro. I actually had an embarrassing moment when I took the headset out of the box and tried to power it on for a good minute or so before remembering that I needed to plug it into the external battery. It’s not a big deal, and it’s certainly fewer wires than many VR headsets of the past, but it will be a good day when we can get this without the external battery.
That said, it is kinda nice to have an Apple computer with a user-replaceable battery for once. It’s been ages and it’s good to know that if the battery life starts to dip on this thing, I can get a new battery to bring it back to fighting form. It’s also good for preservation, as 20 years from now these current battery packs will be toast for the most part, but options will exist to continue using these headsets for historical reasons.
Now let’s jump into the stunners in the mix.
Eye-tracking is phenomenal! I expected it to take a little time to get used to how it wanted me to look at things, but I’m shocked how well it just knows where I’m looking and feels very natural. On the other hand, it does make me realize how often I’m not looking directly at the thing on screen I’m interacting with. I find myself having to remember to linger a bit on what I want to activate longer than I would on a Mac, iPhone, or iPad.
Build quality of the device from top to bottom is world class. Numerous companies can make great smartphone hardware these days, but you can’t tell me there’s another consumer electronics company who could make this product in 2024. So many elements are thoughtfully considered and everything from the goggles to the fabric band are executed remarkably well.
The speakers on this thing really work better than I expected. In John Gruber’s review, he said…
I find they sound far better than any headphones I’ve ever worn.
…and I thought “there’s no way that’s actually true,” when I read it, but having used them a bit I can see why someone would feel that way. I still think the AirPods Max sound better, but they’re neck and neck. For what it’s worth, I was also shocked at how good the speakers on the Meta Quest 3 were, and to my famously untrained ears, the Vision Pro and Quest 3 speakers sound very similar, which is to say excellent.
Working from a Mac is one of the big things I’m expecting to do with this thing, so I was really curious to see how that worked. I’d say I’m both happy and unhappy with parts of this experience. In the plus side, this is much better than the Quest 3’s screen mirroring option. Everything is crisp enough to read, although after a decade of people telling me a 4K monitor wasn’t actually good enough to get a proper Mac experience, it is a little funny to have this lower fidelity experience be greeted with open arms. It’s very good for what it is, but my 14” MacBook Pro’s screen is way sharper in reality than the digital display is in the Vision Pro (and it does 120Hz vs just 60Hz in the headset).
Another major win for the Mac experience in the Vision Pro is its ability to let me work on my Mac with a large display in any of the built in environments. Oh and those environments are so much nicer than the spaces you can use in the Quest 3.
Finally, using Mac apps is the one place it’s obvious how much less color depth there is in these displays than I’m used to on my Mac and iPhone. I tried editing some photos using the Vision Pro as my display and photos just looked a bit different than they should.
I haven’t watched a full movie yet, but I did 20 minutes of Dune in the Apple TV app. I chose to watch the 3D version which looked very good and I liked the ability to choose my screen size or simulate where in a theater I was sitting. Much like the Mac display, I could absolutely tell that the perceived resolution of the image was not as high as when I watch on my 65” 4K TV. But it was still quite good and I’ll do my weekend movie watching in this to form more of an opinion.
I know these are all pretty surface-level impressions, but it’s so much to take in I don’t know where else to start. What I do know for sure is that this is a really exciting time as we enter the visionOS era. it could go great and this becomes the next big thing, or it could fizzle out and be a niche platform. We’ll see how it goes, and I’m looking forward to how this thing fits (or doesn’t) into my life.
Sometimes writing about tech all the time turns into a negative game where there are (legitimate) reasons to be upset about almost everything, so it’s great to see I still get giddy when something genuinely new comes along and rephrases Apple’s favorite question: what is a computer?