If you follow my blog since some months ago, for sure you know that I love the Aryzon headset. That’s why I have been very happy to be able to test its version number 2 that has come out some weeks ago and I’m even happier to be able to tell you my first impressions.
If you have just started to follow me, you may ask yourself “what the hell is Aryzon?“. Well, Aryzon is the cardboard of augmented reality. Some cool guys from the Netherlands noticed that in the virtual reality market there are premium headsets (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, etc…) for VR enthusiasts and then there is the Cardboard that lets people dip a toe into VR waters for little money; in the augmented reality market, instead, there are premium headsets (e.g. HoloLens) but there is no equivalent of the cardboard. That is, there is not a very cheap AR headset that lets people understand what is true AR just spending few bucks. Yes, there are ARCore and ARKit that let you experience AR just by using your smartphone, but this is still screen-through AR, so you still need to see the augmentations by keeping your phone in front of your head with your hand and looking through the screen: that’s not a good form factor for AR. That’s why Aryzon’s founders had the genius idea of creating the cardboard of augmented reality: a cheap headset made of cardboard that you can assemble to experience entry-level AR. You put your phone inside this cardboard and thanks to some optical magic through mirrors and semi-transparent plastic, you can really try AR. It is not screen-through AR, because you actually see the augmentations through a semi-transparent panel… and you also have your hands free! Amazing, isn’t it?
Well, it is. I tried version 1 some months ago and was amazed by the concept, but I also noticed various annoying shortcomings. I reviewed it as “amazing idea, but it is still too rough”. So, how is the version 2? Is it better? Is it worse? Well, I’m going to tell you.
The Aryzon v2 offers a better experience since the very first beginning, that is from its box. Aryzon v1 had a box completely white and grey, that was elegant but also a bit too serious. The new headset has instead a very colored azure and white box, that makes you dream about AR since the first moment you take it in your hands. The content inside is more elegant and better packaged too. Even if the packaging is completely useless for the AR experience, as a customer I want to be delighted since the first moment: the box is the first impression I have about a device. And Aryzon made this impression far better in this evolution, so +1 for team Aryzon!
During the unboxing, I also noticed that there were few pieces to assemble: the headset looked like a unique block of cardboard and there were not all those little velcro pieces, mirrors and other stuff that I found some months ago. I immediately understood that they made this to simplify the assembly process, that was a bit tricky in the v1. When I assembled the device, I noticed that they have made a huge effort to make the whole assembly process easier by:
- Offering an already half-assembled headset;
- Developing a companion app providing a great step-by-step guidance during all the assembly process. The app features videos with 3D animations that make immediately clear what are the steps you have to make to have your cheap AR headset ready to be used.
I found the assembly incredibly easy. I had the idea of offering a how-to video to help you in this process, but I noticed that this time with the new headset and new app everything was so easy that a video by me would have just been superfluous. And the app is great because it doesn’t only guide you in the assembly process, but in all the experience from the unboxing to the Aryzon-compatible games download. It reminded me a bit the Oculus Go app because exactly as the Go’s companion app, Aryzon’s companion app guides you in everything and even if you are not a super-top-AR expert, you’re surely able to assemble and play with the headset just by following its instructions.
After having assembled my brand new AR headset, I noticed that its form factor was surely improved wrt the previous version. In particular, the top innovations are:
- There is a face cushion that makes the cardboard headset feel more comfortable on the face;
- The head strap finally works and the headset can stay on your head without you having to keep it firm with your hands;
- The phone sits better inside its slot.
Finally, we have hands-free cheap augmented reality! Wow! I have to say that the comfort is still not ideal (it still feels too rough on my face) and wearing the device on my face for long periods of time still doesn’t appear as a viable option. But it is a nice beginning.
After having appreciated these improvements, I decided to try the Aryzon v2. I noticed that after the assembly, the app advised me to perform the “calibration”. This is a procedure that is necessary to make the AR “holograms” appear in the right position in the real world. It is performed just by moving the AR marker forward and backward until the real version and the virtual version become coincident. It just needs 15 seconds of your time. This was present even in version 1, but it was made in a different way that offered worse results.
After that, I decided to try some cool AR games. In this v2 version, the minigames have been moved to a separate app and are not included in the companion app anymore. So, I downloaded them and tried them, to see if the experience was better than with v1. Playing these minigames, I noticed improvements in:
- Visual quality;
- Tracking quality;
- Tracking stability.
That is, in everything. The headset appears more usable: it lost the tracking fewer times, the apps were more reactive and the augmentations moved less than with regard to the experience I had some months ago.
Anyway, there are still various drawbacks:
- There are still too few Aryzon compatible apps and the few ones on the marketplace are really too rough, so if you just want to buy a headset to play a bit, this is not the right choice for you;
- Since the phone has to render for both eyes plus perform the augmented reality tracking, the apps still appear too slow and not enough reactive (at least with the S6 with which I tried it… with newer phones things should be better);
- Vuforia augmentations still move a lot. If I look at the marker and then make my head to wobble, I still see everything moving. AR is cool when the augmentations are exactly firm in one place and don’t move at all (like in HoloLens), if they move, the magic is broken and the experience becomes less usable.
So, what is my final opinion on Aryzon?
I think that the headset has reached a very good form factor. It still needs some tweaking on improving the comfort (I know, it is difficult with cardboard) and in making the phone stay exactly in the middle position so that you have a perfectly stereoscopic vision, but we are at a good point.
The tracking, instead, needs serious improvements, because the augmentations still move too much and this makes the apps not that usable. AR using a marker is also a big problem because you have always to look at the marker to see augmentations and it is easy to turn your head and make everything to disappear. Aryzon also supports ARCore and ARKit so that you can avoid using the marker, but I haven’t been able to try that version (I have to change my phone), that I think that should be far better in everything.
The app ecosystem is almost inexistent: I found few games that are really too simple, plus a 3D model visualizer that can be good in certain contexts. And then there is my Valentine’s day e-card, of course… but you can use it only one day a year.
In the end, it is a nice entry point for augmented reality. Few features for little money, just to understand what AR is.
My final question is always the same: should you buy it?
- If you’re an average consumer, not at all: this headset is too rough and has too few apps, so you can’t find it useful;
- If you can afford more professional devices like HoloLens, Magic Leap or Dreamglass, no, because you have access to devices offering true AR and you don’t need this cheap emulation;
- If you want to start developing for glass AR and you have few money, than yes, it can be very interesting to make experiments. Aryzon has a well-made Unity SDK with which you can start developing AR apps from day 1;
- If you want to understand what glass AR is by spending the least money possible, then absolutely yes, it is the right choice for you;
- If you work in the marketing sector of some company, then yes, buy one and experiment with it: it could be cool and original to offer branded Aryzon AR cardboards to your customers. There are very few companies doing that at the moment (like National Geographic), so it could blow the mind of your users!
- If you want to support cool Dutch engineers, then yes!
If you are in the “yes” group, then have a look at the Aryzon website. You can get one for only $30… and there is also a summer sale now with a -25% discount. What are you waiting for? Ah yes, you have first to subscribe to my newsletter and then you can go buying one… 😉
(Header image by Aryzon)
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