It's taken some time to get here, but 2016 just may be the year that virtual reality finally hits its stride. It feels so long ago that the Oculus Rift first hit Kickstarter, sparking endeavor and imagination from consumers, companies, and developers. If you're completely new to virtual reality, the ultra-affordable Homido Mini glasses provide an extremely convenient – but significantly compromised – sneak peek.

Design & experience

When it comes to enjoying virtual/augmented reality anywhere, it's hard to top the convenience factor of the Homido Mini VR glasses. Most virtual reality headsets are styled like goggles that strap over and around your head. The Homido Mini is far less involving with its pocket-sized design, unfolding and clipping to smartphone screens for use. Simply hold the smartphone up to your face, and you can experience 3D, head-tracked content just by looking through the glasses.

The small pair of magnifying lenses is mounted within a thick, durable plastic frame. Simple hinges and a toothed gear system allow the lenses to fold in/out smoothly, holding their position securely until you push them back. Or if you bump them hard enough. But rest assured that the Homido Mini can withstand some rough handling in pockets and survive even the frequent drop. The worst that could happen in all probability would be a scratch on the lens. Even so, that would be more of an irritation than anything else.

Vertically bisecting the Homido Mini's lenses is the main body, which incorporates a semi-flexible clip that goes over the edge of a smartphone for viewing. The part that touches the screen is lined with rubber to maintain hold/friction, so long as there is sufficient thickness. The Homido Mini stays put on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 all by itself, however a naked Samsung Galaxy S6 proved to be too thin. In cases like that, a smartphone case may need to be added for the Homido Mini to grip without assistance. The clip opening is wide enough to accommodate many slim cases, although this can lead to the Homido Mini not resting perfectly flush against the screen (though this doesn't seem to affect the VR experience in any way).

Unlike most other virtual reality headsets that are hands-free via adjustable elastic bands, the Homido Mini has the huge disadvantage of requiring you to hold it up to your face. The most comfortable position for us involved using index fingers to bracket the ends of the smartphone, with thumbs supporting the bottom edge, as curled middle fingers steady the back. But if a device isn't thick enough for the Homido Mini to hold on its own, pinching the top and bottom with index finger and thumb works well to keep it from moving. All in all, it feels like using an old- or new-school View-Master – with a similar field of view to boot.

What's fun about the Homido Mini is that – apart from its 4-6-inch smartphone size requirement – it's device agnostic. Headsets like the Samsung Gear VR are designed to work only with the latest from Samsung, which can be a bummer if you own something else. And because of the simple folding design, the Homido Mini offers some advantages over the competition. Since there is no enclosure, you don't have to worry so much about the lenses fogging up. It's also simple to set up, with nothing to adjust or connect to, and you're free to interact with the screen with your fingers. And like all the big PC- and console-based VR headsets, the Homido Mini also lets you keep your glasses on.

But for all the benefits, the Homido Mini has its own set of drawbacks. While the lack of an enclosure keeps lens fog at bay, it also has an enormous negative effect on your sense of immersion. Light sources need to be taken into consideration, as not only can glare and reflections be a pretty big deal, but they will highlight every single imperfection on your device screen or protector – far more than with enclosed goggle headsets.

Simply put, it's difficult to fully-immerse yourself with the Homido Mini, as peripheral vision tends to be distracted by movement and objects. Your eyes can see not only the black circle edge around the lenses, but also everything else beyond the glasses.

The only physical discomfort involved with the Homido Mini is using it for extended periods of time, since you have to hold/prop it up with your arms. Maybe this could be a fair trade for someone who doesn't like the straps of a traditional VR headset (the Homido Mini doesn't even have to touch your face if you don't want it to), but we find the best headsets today to be, on the whole, quite comfortable.

Needing to hold the Homido also means gamepad-based VR isn't an option. Combine that with the peripheral distractions and you have a niche accessory that's only going to be good for short-burst, watch a video here, check out a 360-degree photo there types of introductions. These limitations make it hard to recommend for anything more in-depth than that.

The Homido Mini is also only going to be as good as the connected hardware (smaller-screen smartphones have narrower fields of view and lower resolution phones will have a "screen door effect" where you see pixels as you move your head around). A quick trip to the App Store, Google Play, or even YouTube will come up with dozens of results when searching for virtual reality content – but still not a great selection.

The verdict

For US$15, you can't get any better bargain for pocketable virtual reality (for whatever that's worth). The Homido Mini VR glasses deliver as promised: no frills, but still fairly fun. This is something that you can carry anywhere to enjoy virtual/augmented reality photos, videos, apps, and games at a moment's notice. And you're not likely to draw strange looks while out in public, at least compared to wearing a full-on VR headset (not that anyone is really expecting you to use those in public anytime soon). Despite the Homido Mini's strong points, though, it still has significant limitations when compared to full virtual reality systems.

Not all Google Play and App Store mobile VR content will work with the Homido Mini. Out of the dozens of compatible games, apps, and videos we tested, a good number of them were ill-focused and offered no recourse. These same titles/sources worked perfectly fine with goggle-styled VR headsets, either right away or after a small adjustment. And depending on how picky you are about quality and detail, much of what is available in the Play Store (usually Google Cardboard content) can be considered mediocre at best. Compared to the the PC- and console-based VR games we're looking forward to in 2016, this type of mobile content (games-wise) look like a bunch of Duplo blocks.

But if mobile virtual reality can be treated as an introduction to the big boys – PC and console VR – then the Homido Mini is like an introduction to the introduction. It gives you a glimpse of where things are right now, providing a few things to appreciate in addition to hints of the more to come. And while better hardware and software surely make for more immersive and interactive virtual reality experiences, the Homido Mini lets you enjoy quick trips without the hassle of strapping on all the gear.

Product page: Homido Mini

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