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Microsoft HoloLens 2 Hands-On: A Mixed-Reality Headset Even I Can Love

BARCELONA — I confess that I don’t understand the appeal of virtual or augmented reality headgear. Most headsets on the market are oversized and uncomfortable to wear for any length of time. My hair and makeup are guaranteed to be a mess after I take them off, (Seriously, did no one think about this while designing them?) And being in a virtual world really isn’t all that entertaining or useful to me.

But then I tried on Microsoft’s HoloLens 2, a mixed-reality headset that layers holograms on top of the real world to assist people who need to do important work with their hands. This is a product clearly not intended for me, which might be why I like it so much more than any other headset I’ve tried.

First, some background: Microsoft took the wraps off its long-rumored HoloLens 2 at Mobile World Congress this week. The $3,500 headset has a wider field-of-view than the first-gen version, and also tracks both eyes and hands (more on that in a minute). It’s also three times more comfortable than the first-gen version, or so Microsoft claims.

The Design

HoloLens 2 is definitely comfortable, with a soft band that slips on the head like a hat and a glass visor that can be flipped up when you’re not using it. A redesigned carbon-fiber front piece distributes the weight of the device evenly on your head. HoloLens 2 is as lightweight as Microsoft says it is. It felt like wearing a golf visor. Better yet, when I took the glasses off my head, my hair and makeup weren’t mussed at all. A million points to Microsoft for nailing the comfort of this device.

The Experience

I don’t have a job that lends itself to wearing a device like HoloLens — the very thought of browsing web pages or typing up an article in a virtual world makes me want to shrivel up and die — but the use cases Microsoft described at its MWC launch event were compelling. Holographic overlays that can help heating and air-conditioning techs install new systems, or guide surgeons through procedures, or prevent construction crews from needlessly digging up city streets — that’s what HoloLens excels at.

But I was wondering how Microsoft would demo the headset to me, a person who doesn’t need to do any of those things.

We started by calibrating HoloLens. I slipped the strap over my head and adjusted the fit with a clickwheel on the back of the headset. I then followed dots around the screen with my eyes to personalize the view. The whole process took about a minute.

Then as I wandered around the room, holograms that had been anchored to specific points in space started to appear. A vision of windmill-covered terrain and bordered by a sea of water appeared before me, and as I moved closer I could see that it was sort of like a terrarium. Markings around the edges of what appeared to be glass indicated where I could grab the box with my hand and move it. That’s a big improvement over HoloLens 1, which relied on small pinching maneuvers to interact with objects. Now you can use both hands to lift, move and press holograms just as you would in real life.

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The wider field-of-view made the augmented layer look more natural, as if it objects were casually strewn across my line of sight. HoloLens 1’s range was akin to staring through goggles.

But my favorite part of the demo was the hummingbird, a blur of purple and blue that flitted about and would land on my hand if my palm was outstretched. Sparkling virtual gems appeared around the bird, which Microsoft used to show off the headset’s eye-tracking capabilities. If I started at a gem and said, “Pop!”, the shimmering object would burst. An information card with details about the hummingbird appeared to my left, and as I glanced over to read it, the text began scrolling as I reached the end of a paragraph.

I have to admit it: This felt like the future.

Outlook

I’m not sure if Microsoft has a plan for bringing HoloLens into the home after it has become such a natural fit for the workplace. I’m not even sure Microsoft needs to — after all, there are easier, cheaper ways to enjoy augmented reality if you just want to play games or see furniture placement.

But my time with HoloLens 2 reminded me that, in a sea of smartphones and laptops that all start to blur together into one space gray mass, a piece of technology can make you shake your head in disbelief and say, “Wow.”

Credits: Tom's Guide