Alcatel is the first phone maker to really get behind VR on Windows 10 Mobile. But what is it actually like?
Mobile VR is definitely best on Android, that much isn't really up for debate. But we're probably not at a point yet where VR is affecting the buying decision when picking up a new phone. Windows 10 Mobile is far from the most popular phone platform, but you can still have some kind of VR experience on it.
The most appealing push has come from Alcatel and the Idol 4S. Like the Android version of the same phone, it comes with a free VR headset in the box.
There are no changes to the makeup of the headset over the Android equivalent, and that's a good thing. This is a great mobile VR headset. It's well made, very comfortable to wear and handles light bleed very well. The magnetic buttons on the headset also work with this Windows 10 version of the phone, which is a huge plus.
Compared to the Android Idol 4S, the Windows 10 version has a more powerful processor in the Snapdragon 820 and a lower resolution screen at 1080p. The second of these is of direct consequence to how much you'll enjoy VR, because there are less pixels. And less pixels is bad. But it's not too bad, and because the lenses are high quality and the screen is vivid, things look pretty good as far as a 1080p display goes.
What you also get with the Snapdragon 820 is a processor that doesn't turn the back of the phone into an inferno, even when using it in VR for a while.
Going into the VR world is pretty seamless. Alcatel has brought its VR launcher over from Android, too, and it launches automatically on docking the phone into the headset tray. It allows you to access the pre-loaded applications, but sadly doesn't seem to recognize any you might add yourself from the Store. A mild inconvenience, but still presents a disconnect.
Alcatel pre-loads a couple of apps for viewing 360-degree photos and videos, as well as a way to just view your regular 2D photos in a slideshow while using VR. You also get a couple of pre-loaded games, including a basic but somewhat fun zombie shooter and a third-party app for watching 360-degree video on YouTube called Video 360.
Tube 360 is worth a special shoutout, because it's an extremely well-done application for VR, regardless of platform.
You can either browse through the curated categories to find something awesome to watch or search using voice. Or, if you also use Tubecast by the same developer, you can browse using a more regular YouTube interface then at the tap of a button be taken into Video 360. You notice the lower resolution of the display more when viewing this type of content, but the execution is faultless.
You can also sideload and view your own 360-degree content with the built-in apps, as I've tried with a video starring our very own Russell Holly. It's no more difficult than dropping the videos into a specific folder on the phone and then opening up the relevant app.
All the built in stuff on the Idol 4S is great, but what about beyond this? It is possible to download most of, but not all of these apps to another Windows 10 phone. The Idol's 360-degree content viewing apps are from Alcatel and built into the phone, but Video 360 and the games from Fibrum are available for anyone to download and use from the Windows Store.
That means folks with a phone like the Lumia 950 can pick up a generic VR headset and use these apps on their phone. The issue is there just isn't enough and the experience varies compared to the Idol 4S.
There is a selection of games and a few content viewers, such as Plain VR, and while most are decent enough in their own right, there's not enough to constitute a long-lasting VR experience. If you look in the Google Play Store for VR apps and then go to the Windows Store, the difference is startling.
That's essentially where the conclusion is drawn. Alcatel has done a terrific job with the Idol 4S and its headset, especially including it for free. Hopefully it'll go beyond just a T-Mobile U.S. exclusive so more folks can try it out.
But it's only as good as the content there is to enjoy VR, and that's where Windows 10 is sorely lacking. On mobile, at least, there's nothing to suggest it'll get any better any time soon either, it needs developers making apps and games for it. Without that, there's not much of a future.