If virtual reality ever goes mainstream then it has the potential to become the biggest technological breakthrough of the decade.

The idea of inhabiting digital worlds is almost as old as science fiction itself, from Star Trek’s holodeck through to Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One, and now a headset will bring us closer to those sci-fi visions than ever before.

I was lucky enough to get hands-on with the XRSpace Manova and here’s how I got on.

Now, I love VR but if I’m being honest, it’s always been a bit of a faff for me to really enjoy the experience. Some headsets have required you to have a lounge big enough to swing an elephant in nevermind a cat, while others needed a full rig or cables attached to you and a super-fast PC. When faced with that, it’s all a bit…off-putting.

VR unleashed

A virtual reality view of a train station exterior
The virtual world has to be seen to be believed

In fact, ditching cables and computers is one of the main selling points of the XRSpace. All you have to do is pop on the comfy headset, whizz through a quick setup on the companion app and you’re good to go.

The headset has no need for a computer, with an integrated Snapdragon 845 chip running the show. XRSpace also claims this will be the world’s first 5G mobile VR headset, so you can take it with you without being tied to the house. There are also no external sensors, with inside-out tracking technology able to detect your head and hand movements, ensuring you don’t have to suffer clunky VR controllers. Yet, here is where the cracks start to show.

The hand tracking seems to lag a second or two behind your movements, coupling this with a typical user’s inexperience with lining movements up with the hand tracking technology doesn’t make it the most comfortable experience or give a good first impression. But the concept is there and I’ve been told it will improve over time.

Design

A majestic mountain panorama in virtual reality
Take in the spectacular views at Magic Lohas

The headset weighs 470g, which is notably less than the Oculus Quest (571g) and the Focus (695g). So you still feel it but it’s not enough to put you off.

The headset looks sharp – akin to a pair of ski goggles. For now, the XRSpace Manova comes in two colours, orange and white, but I’m sure this colour palette will expand over time. Its head strap is easy to adjust so that you get a fit that’s right for you.

As this was on loan and needed to be used afterwards, sadly no drop or durability tests were done on the XRSpace Manova but I can confirm the whole device felt very sturdy.

XRSpace also comes with an impressive graphics display resolution of 2880 x 1440 which isn’t quite 4K, but with a 90Hz refresh-rate 1440p gaming is definitely superior to 1080p/60Hz that most console users are used to.

Building a new world

A virtual reality beachfront gathering
Take a chilled out trip to a virtual beach

The virtual world itself is where the XRSpace Manova shines the brightest and has to be seen to be believed.

Seeing a gap in the market, the XRSpace Manova headset isn’t focused on gaming or commercial use but rather as a ‘VR social platform’ where friends and family can hang out in a virtual space similar to Linden Lab’s ‘Second Life’.

You can create avatars with realistic features which means they actually look like you as opposed to similar to you. The avatars can emote in fun ways from handshakes and dabbing to break dancing. Users will also be able to seamlessly watch movies or live sporting events with friends and family within the shared virtual space.

There are also portals to take users to activities such as dancing in a virtual nightclub, concerts on the beach, virtual yoga in Magic Lohas, where you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking high res 360 views, as well as the opportunity to view content from partners like Vogue.

As we’re still in the grip of lockdown restrictions which is keeping us all at home, XRSpace Manova has the potential to move beyond the confines of social distancing and help us feel closer to one another.

The world itself is stunning and offers a wide variety of environments to explore. However, it’s currently under-populated which leaves it feeling a little deserted and making it difficult to interact with friends or even meet new ones. But again I’ve been told it will improve over time, as the device is rolled out globally and partnered with mobile phone carriers.

The XRSpace Manova does have a few games too with the most notable one being Angry Birds VR. However, the lack of controllers and the use of hand movements do restrict ports somewhat.

Verdict

It’s a well built and enjoyable bit of kit.

The XRSpace Manova firmly targets a group of consumers who want the best VR experience without the need to have cables, sensors and a PC running it with beastly specs. Sitting in the top end in terms of price for a VR headset, it’s currently €499 (£439), this might be hard to achieve without the help from phone carriers pushing 5G.

People in a virtual reality environment watching a movie
Movie night might never be the same again

Having said that, the XRSpace Manova absolutely nails what I want from a VR device and that’s making me feel part of the experience not a viewer of an experience. It is probably the closest to a fully immersive digital world we’ll ever get with today’s technology. Nevertheless, it’s a giant leap to go from VR gaming to a VR social platform and I do worry if people would spend enough time on it.

Maybe they will? We spend a lot of time glued to other social apps so why not this one? It’s an exciting starting point and you can definitely see where this tech is headed, I’m just not sure we’re ready.

The XRSpace Manova headset is available now.