Microsoft announced at its late October hardware event that it would work with partners on making VR an essential feature of its operating system, and now Alcatel becomes the first to embrace it.
Basically, the Alcatel IDOL 4S is supposed to provide you the experience that others already had, including here Samsung buyers who have their own headsets for VR. But for Windows 10 Mobile, this is clearly an important step forward, albeit it remains to be seen how many manufacturers will actually invest in VR on Windows.
The first glance
At first, the VR headset that Alcatel includes in the $470 IDOL 4S package features a premium look, and it’s clear that the company spent a considerable amount of time to avoid making it look cheap.
The headset feels very comfortable to wear, and it’s not causing any discomfort, as we experienced with others, including here Samsung’s Gear VR. It all takes just a few adjustments, and you’re ready to use it.
Alcatel IDOL 4S VR Headset
Everything’s pretty easy to set up and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be figure out how you’re supposed to use the VR capabilities of the IDOL 4S. Simply slip in the phone into the headset, adjust the straps, put the headset on, and you’re done.
Microsoft and Alcatel worked together on improving the headset, and you can easily tell that because the typical low-end feeling that you’d normally expect from a Chinese manufacturer does not exist.
On the other hand, the VR experience itself is based on content developed by Alcatel, which is available in its own store, and the company promises to continue adding more in the coming months. Unfortunately, nothing new has been added since the launch of the phone and until December.
The VR world
Sadly for Alcatel and Microsoft, the key to a great VR experience is content, and on the Alcatel IDOL 4S, options are pretty limited.
You have just two different categories to choose from, namely games and media, each with only a few items. There’s also an app called Tube 360 that provides 360-degree videos from YouTube, but during our test, this didn’t work.
While watching photos and videos is nothing special, you’d expect gaming to provide a more unique experience. As compared to other headsets, playing games with the Alcatel IDOL 4S and its headset requires you to tilt the head and move around. The built-in zombie shooting game has the gun configured to fire automatically, so the only thing you have to do is to move the head and aim at enemies.
The video quality is not great either and after the lack of content, this is the most important problem that manufacturers of Windows phones supporting VR headsets must have in mind.
The IDOL 4S itself comes with a great display, but the resolution difference between this version and its Android sibling becomes even more obvious in VR mode (although they both feature a 5.5-inch AMOLED screen, the Android version has a resolution of 1440x2560 pixels, while the Windows flavor has 1080x1920 pixels).
There’s also another setback that we hope is just a bug and not implemented to be a feature: you can’t plug in headphones while playing games because and the sound is still directed through the phone’s speakers. Some people might find this cool, but we’d actually want to be able to switch to headphones for a “more complete” VR experience.
Navigating and controls in VR mode are pretty straightforward, and everything is very intuitive, while performance is pretty good. The few apps and games available load fast enough and the phone, although it gets hot, cools down pretty quickly.
The bottom line
Alcatel wanted to be the first to offer a VR headset on a Windows phone, and you can easily tell that. Not necessarily from the build quality, because this is great, but due to the lack of content.
In the VR world, content is absolutely mandatory in order to give users the possibility of experiencing what VR actually means. Without photos, videos, 360-degree content, games, and other types of content it’s nearly impossible to say if a VR headset is good or not and it all gets boring after only a couple of minutes.
In the case of Alcatel, not only that options were limited with the built-in content, but there was basically nothing download-worthy from the store, despite Alcatel’s promises to continue updating it every once in a while.
Unfortunately, the lack of content is what’s dragging this VR push down, and Microsoft and its partners really have try harder to make more titles available.
For the moment, VR headsets on Windows phones are only worth a try, but it’s hard to believe that without substantial software updates anyone would use them on the long term.