When it comes to the mobile VR experience, Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR reign supreme in the land. Quite simply, you can experience virtual reality in almost any location, just because they’re mobile and can easily accompany you wherever. As an alternative solution, the Pico Neo is a new mobile VR system that forgoes the smartphone entirely – relying simply on its own hardware and ecosystem.

Right off the bat, we couldn’t help but to draw comparisons to the Samsung Gear VR. Replacing the white is a distinctive orange color that goes around the unit, while the front just features a glossy black cover. For the most part, it’s just as comfortable and without too much weightiness to it, which is held together by the strap that goes over and around our head. What makes it unique, though, is the fact that the Pico Neo is attached to a gamepad.

Pico Neo hands on 6

That gamepad reminds us a lot of the SNES controller, due to its similarities with its layout. Our biggest gripe with it, however, is that it lacks analog sticks for precise movement in certain games. The first demo we tried out was a space shooter, which felt kind of odd maneuvering our spaceship with the d-pad – as opposed to the more natural way of playing with analog sticks. Fortunately enough, the game ran smoothly thanks to the Pico Neo being powered by the latest piece of silicon from Qualcomm; the Snapdragon 820 chip.

Looking through the displays, dual 3.81-inch AMOLEDs with a resolution of 1200 x 1080 pixels for each, we don’t notice much of a difference in terms of what phones with Quad-HD screens deliver when paired with a VR headset. To us, there’s no dramatic difference in the quality or detail. While the software is based on Android 6.0 Marshmallow, it leverages its own separate ecosystem for purchasing apps. Therefore, it means you’ll need to purchase games all over again – even if you’ve already purchased them through the Google Play Store.

Pico Neo hands on 4

Attached with a price tag of roughly $525 when it launches later this summer, that’s far from being a compelling argument to choose it over other mobile VR solutions. True, you still need to factor in the price of a smartphone when siding with the Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR, but the fact that it relies on its own ecosystem makes it less desirable given that you’re locked into using this system exclusively for those games you download.

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