[MWC 2019] Hands on with the Microsoft HoloLens 2

On Sunday, Microsoft finally unveiled the Snapdragon-powered HoloLens 2, which is lighter and more comfortable than the original. While the headset has an ARM chipset, it doesn't support cellular networks, and the main point of it is to improve the battery endurance. It wasn't possible to try out the HoloLens 2 at the event, but it was available on the show floor, so we got to take a look.

I never got to try the original HoloLens, but looking at the second generation, you can see right away that it looks a little smaller and less complicated than the first one. Putting it on is pretty simple, you just lower it onto your head and turn the handle on the back of the headset until it's a snug fit. And it is pretty snug - wearing it was comfortable and I didn't feel any kind of strain at all.

I got to try two demos for the HoloLens 2, one for the Dynamics 365 Guides app and one that's used by Pearson, an educational company which has an app to help health students diagnose patients.

The Dynamics 365 Guides app is pretty cool - as the name suggests, it's there to guide workers through technical processes that they may not be familiar with. It makes it easier to train new workers because you no longer need to have another person giving you instructions on how to do things.

The way it works was surprisingly easy. The guide itself is controlled by your eyes thanks to the new eye-tracking feature, and you just look at the arrows to go on to the next step. Then, as you move on to each step, the instructions are laid out perfectly on top of the real world, pointing you exactly at where you need to work. It can even give you a view of the inside of the objects you're looking at to help you understand everything better.

At one point during the demo, I was actually a little disoriented by all the information being displayed on top of the real-life object and I ended up having to lift the visor, which is another thing that's been added with the HoloLens 2. Dynamics 365 also enables these experiences to be improved over time, because you can keep track of how long learners take to do each step, and that gives companies some information about where the instructions may need to be improved.

The Pearson demo isn't quite as interactive, but essentially you get to see a virtual patient on a hospital bed, and the HoloLens 2 is there to help you diagnose their condition. You can use it to bring up medical history from the patient's family, see what areas are affected by the symptoms, and more. What's cool about it is that it demonstrates the Spatial Anchors feature Microsoft announced alongside the new HoloLens, with my demo guide using an iPad to see the same holograms I was seeing.

Now, Microsoft also touted a much wider field of view for the HoloLens 2, but my experience left me with mixed feelings. Horizontally, the field of view looks great and I never really felt like something was missing from my line of sight. However, during both demos, I noticed that towards the bottom of the display, the image suddenly gets cut off, in a way that doesn't feel natural. The headsets are calibrated each time before entering the demo, so it seems that this is the intended behavior, but it felt a little disruptive to me.

With this being my first experience with an AR headset, I can't really draw a comparison to the previous HoloLens or other headsets, but the potential here is pretty awesome. The Guides app walked me through the process almost perfectly, and the possibilities it enables for training workers is great. Of course, if you're looking forward to consumer experiences, it doesn't look like that's the plan for now, but with the headset costing $3,500. that may be for the better.

Neowin is at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona taking place between Feb 25-28 to bring you coverage direct from the show floor, click here for our other articles at the event.

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