It's confession time. Through a couple of sources, I managed to get an early look at the HoloLens 2. But I was sworn to secrecy, and I take my tech oaths seriously (shame on you, leakers).
But now that it's out in the wild, we can finally talk about how the HoloLens 2 looks compared to its predecessor, and the competition.
- Don't Miss: Microsoft Unveils the HoloLens 2
Let's just start by giving Microsoft credit for doing something so simple and right that many others miss: Make it black, stupid. Yes, colorful hardware is creative, but everyone wants the black laptop, the black sports car, and now, the black augmented reality headset.
The original HoloLens was charming, but the confluence of colors (Lego-style grays and orange) gave it the faint whiff of a toy. That's not the case with the HoloLens 2. This thing looks like it means business. (And yes, it's not technically pure "black," I'm sure there's some near-black name for this color, but it's still cool, whatever color we call it.) I was really hoping the next HoloLens would get the same kind of attention to style as the Surface, and it looks like we have a winner (at least for enterprise users, don't expect to see this at your local hipster cafe).
Although I haven't had a chance to handle it myself, my sources tell me that the HoloLens 2 is lighter than the first, and it shows in its construction. Although you can still see some of the design DNA left over from the first HoloLens, the HoloLens 2 looks like someone on the team decided it was time to truly own the enterprise AR space and give it a small, sexy death machine profile that no longer makes wearing a HoloLens scream "Hey, look at me, I'm a super geek, guess what I have on my head?!"
No. This design will make others want to see what you're seeing in front of the lenses rather than ask questions about the headset itself.
Many have commented on the decision to move some of the device's weight and several components, including the battery, to the back of the HoloLens 2. I have mixed feelings about this. Although I'm sure it helps with overall balance, because of my experience with other head-worn devices in VR (yes, I'm talking about the Vive wireless adapter) that put a lot of power on your noggin, I'm slightly wary of this kind of design.
Of course, we haven't heard of any horror stories involving power sources near the delicate parts of your head (yet), but it's something to think about.
The other interesting thing about the new back profile on the HoloLens 2 is the slightly updated dial-to-tighten system. This was by far my least favorite aspect of the first HoloLens. Putting the device on, and then dialing it in to tighten felt vaguely like strapping myself into some sort of Kubrickian torture machine. It wasn't fun.
That's why, when I saw a couple of early leaked photos that indicated the new device might use more of an Oculus Rift head strap approach, I was excited. It's far more comfortable. Alas, what Microsoft showed us on Sunday is just a dial, and no head strap, so we can only hope that the improved balance and lighter weight makes it a more comfortable fit.
At this point in the head-worn AR game, spatial audio is a must. If you don't have it, you're automatically behind the times. Microsoft's HoloLens team isn't new to spatial audio, but it's still great to see the slick embedded speaker grill design for the HoloLens 2 spatial audio array, even if I haven't had a chance to sample the highs and lows personally just yet.
Speaking of "spatial," we should mention that this will likely be the device most frequently compared to the Magic Leap One in the coming months and years. The real contest is in the technical specs and the overall interactive experience, but just on looks alone, I think it's fair to say that Microsoft built a device designed to dominate the enterprise business. It just looks right for enterprise. Next to the HoloLens 2, the Magic Leap One now looks a lot more like a consumer gaming device — fun, interestingly designed, but not as bare bones practical as the HoloLens 2.
Finally, another early note I snagged on the device was that the visor would be able to be flipped up, so you could easily take a breather from AR during extended periods of use. And on the company's website for the HoloLens 2, Microsoft states, "Keep your glasses on — the headset slides right over them. When it's time to switch tasks, flip the visor up to step out of mixed reality."
Great. But, for some reason, there aren't many examples of this function available online or during the presentation I attended here in Barcelona, Spain. It's a great feature, so, assuming it works as advertised, Microsoft should show it off more.
We'll have more eye candy shots of the HoloLens 2 later this week, but we knew you needed something to keep you happy in the meantime, so look close and enjoy the new player in the AR space.