Hands-on review: Samsung Gear VR
Despite all the hype in the 90’s, VR never took off. Available technologies back then simply couldn't deliver an affordable and usable VR experience. Meanwhile, in 2016, Samsung are looking to ride the looming VR wave with their ultra-affordable Gear VR headset.
Affordability aside, the Gear VR offers pretty compelling advantages over other VR options. Its biggest lead over its competitors lies in the sheer number of apps available for it. Then there's its bang for buck value. Google's Cardboard VR may be more affordable, but the Gear VR delivers a far better VR experience.
Getting Set Up
The first order of the day involved attaching the bundled head straps to the Gear VR so it would stay attached to my noggin. Thanks to Velcro fasteners, the entire process was a fiddle-free undertaking.
The Gear VR needs a Samsung S6/S7 Galaxy, Edge or Edge Plus to work. Getting my phone configured required I remove the Gear's front cover and docked my phone with its Micro USB plug.
Doing this saw my phone issue a voice prompt to unplug my phone from the Gear VR. It then downloaded all the Oculus apps I needed to get started. This took about 5 minutes using my home Wi-Fi connection.
The Gear VR might look like a plastic cradle for smartphones, but the folks at Sammy have added heaps of smarts. Most other VR headsets rely on smartphones for motion detection. The Gear VR has its own motion sensors built-in. This tends to be far more accurate. Google's cardboard VR sometimes has a brain fart figuring out which direction I'm moving in. The Gear VR translated my head movements smoothly with no problems whatsoever. As head movement is the default means of navigating VR menus, getting this right is pretty important.
There’s other clever stuff built in too. If you remove the VR headset from your head, it’ll power off your phones screen. There’s also a trackpad, back button, micro USB port (for charging) and volume controls.
The Gear VR is also comfy to wear. Samsung stripped out unnecessary weight and the Gear VR doesn’t feel too front heavy. The latest Gear VR is 18% lighter than its predecessors.
The Gear VR has a focus adjustment dial and is large enough to accommodate glasses. That said, I wear reading glasses but some tweaking with the focus dial meant they were not needed. An increase in the Gear VRs size has also resulted in some light leakage. It tends to depend on which direction light is shining in relation to the Gear VR.
There are soft felt pads around the edge of the Gear to fit against your face, which play a big role in the Gear VRs wearability. They're also washable. If you tend to get a bit sweaty whilst gaming, this makes a ton of sense.
Display-wise, the gear VR is reliant on your phone and while the QHD display of my Samsung 6 Edge+ is a real peeper pleaser; its limitations are magnified by the Gear VRs lenses. This gives everything a screen door effect. It is all but unnoticeable if you’re in the middle of some VR fun.
The Gear VR interface is both simple and intuitive. Looking a whole lot like it was put together by a windows 8 designer, a flat icon representing the app you’ve most recently used is literally in front of you. To its left and right hand sides are the Library and the Oculus Store. The store has a pile of other VR apps while the library contains downloaded apps. Navigating is as simple as looking at whatever app you want to execute to guide a cursor cross-hair over it. Tapping middle of the direction pad on the headset allows you to fire up the app the cross hair is focused on.
Several apps stood out. I found myself spending huge amounts of time playing Gunjack, an arcade- space shooter. It is simple, fun, and shows off VR really well. The other app I kept coming back to again and again was Googles VR edition of Street View. Visiting places I’d travelled to (or want to travel to) first person style in an immersive 360 degree mode is heaps of fun.
Perhaps my favourite app of all however is Oculus video. Using it you can choose from a selection of curated 360 degree videos (or you can watch videos stored on your phone). Coolest of all is being able to watch videos in an empty virtual cinema. When paired with noise cancelling headphones, the Gear VR comes into its own on long haul flights; making even the most cramped economy class seats feel roomy (you will however attract sideways looks from the cabin crew).
If you’re the owner of a Samsung S6/S7 Galaxy, Edge or Edge Plus, the Gear VR is definitely worth checking out. A decent selection of apps plus a reasonable sticker price combine to make it ideal for anyone wanting to test the VR waters.