Samsung Gear VR Review

Introduction


Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
How does one of the most popular people on the planet walk through a hall filled with thousands of journalists without getting noticed? This might seem unthinkable, yet this is exactly what happened at the world’s largest mobile tech forum, MWC 2016.

The reason is virtual reality, and in particular, the Samsung Gear VR, a $100 headset that works with Samsung phones and redefines the meaning of 'immersive' in the context of a mobile gadget.

And yes, the image of all the journalists sitting quietly and obediently watching a Samsung promo, while Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg walks by unnoticed is definitely Orwellian. But there is another reason everyone was willing to put their virtual headsets on right away: it was because the experience was different and exciting.

The Gear VR was first launched alongside the Galaxy Note 4 way back in late 2014, but the initial versions were clearly labeled “Innovator Edition”, made for the early adopters and only compatible with a single phone. These days, the Gear VR is lighter and smaller, and Samsung is giving it away for free with the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, so we thought that now is the right time to go back to it and review it properly. Let’s see what it’s all about.

*Gear VR is only compatible with the following Samsung phones:
Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge, Note 5, Note 4, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+

Design, weight and fit


If you have seen the Samsung Gear VR with its fairly large white plastic body, you won’t be surprised to hear that it reminds of ski goggles strapped to your face. Still, Samsung has worked on reducing the weight throughout the generations and the current Gear VR feels fairly lightweight and comfortable. You have a couple of elastic velcro straps on the side and one on the top. We lost the top one and still felt plenty comfortable wearing the Gear VR with just the side straps on.

With large soft foam padding, the Gear VR never feels like it’s pressing too hard to your face or nose bridge, and is actually comfortable to wear. On a personal note, as someone who wears glasses, I wasn’t able to comfortably use it with the glasses on, but there is some adjustment to the focus and it compensates for my otherwise not so great vision, so I did not find this to be a big disadvantage. Still, if your vision is in bad shape and you can’t go outside without glasses on, the Gear VR might not be the most comfortable option, so we recommend that you first try it in a store before buying.

Just like earlier versions, the Gear VR is not a standalone gadget: you need to dock your Samsung _phone_ in the microUSB plug up front. The headset will automatically detect when your _phone_ is connected and switch it to the VR mode, which shows a split screen view of virtual reality content. At the same time, the Gear VR itself is not just a box (like Google Cardboard): it has an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a proximity sensor that are there to reduce screen latency and provide a better experience.

If you are wondering how do different sized phones such as the S7 Edge and S7 fit in one and the same headset, the answer is simple: there is a small A/B switch that allows you to move the docking a bit to adjust for your smartphone size.

 

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Samsung Gear VR Review

Introduction


Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
Samsung Gear VR Review
How does one of the most popular people on the planet walk through a hall filled with thousands of journalists without getting noticed? This might seem unthinkable, yet this is exactly what happened at the world’s largest mobile tech forum, MWC 2016.

The reason is virtual reality, and in particular, the Samsung Gear VR, a $100 headset that works with Samsung phones and redefines the meaning of 'immersive' in the context of a mobile gadget.

And yes, the image of all the journalists sitting quietly and obediently watching a Samsung promo, while Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg walks by unnoticed is definitely Orwellian. But there is another reason everyone was willing to put their virtual headsets on right away: it was because the experience was different and exciting.

The Gear VR was first launched alongside the Galaxy Note 4 way back in late 2014, but the initial versions were clearly labeled “Innovator Edition”, made for the early adopters and only compatible with a single phone. These days, the Gear VR is lighter and smaller, and Samsung is giving it away for free with the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, so we thought that now is the right time to go back to it and review it properly. Let’s see what it’s all about.

*Gear VR is only compatible with the following Samsung phones:
Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge, Note 5, Note 4, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+

Design, weight and fit


If you have seen the Samsung Gear VR with its fairly large white plastic body, you won’t be surprised to hear that it reminds of ski goggles strapped to your face. Still, Samsung has worked on reducing the weight throughout the generations and the current Gear VR feels fairly lightweight and comfortable. You have a couple of elastic velcro straps on the side and one on the top. We lost the top one and still felt plenty comfortable wearing the Gear VR with just the side straps on.

With large soft foam padding, the Gear VR never feels like it’s pressing too hard to your face or nose bridge, and is actually comfortable to wear. On a personal note, as someone who wears glasses, I wasn’t able to comfortably use it with the glasses on, but there is some adjustment to the focus and it compensates for my otherwise not so great vision, so I did not find this to be a big disadvantage. Still, if your vision is in bad shape and you can’t go outside without glasses on, the Gear VR might not be the most comfortable option, so we recommend that you first try it in a store before buying.

Just like earlier versions, the Gear VR is not a standalone gadget: you need to dock your Samsung phone in the microUSB plug up front. The headset will automatically detect when your phone is connected and switch it to the VR mode, which shows a split screen view of virtual reality content. At the same time, the Gear VR itself is not just a box (like Google Cardboard): it has an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a proximity sensor that are there to reduce screen latency and provide a better experience.

If you are wondering how do different sized phones such as the S7 Edge and S7 fit in one and the same headset, the answer is simple: there is a small A/B switch that allows you to move the docking a bit to adjust for your smartphone size.



Interface and content


Samsung Gear VR Review
Switching over to the interface, all navigation on the Gear VR is done by looking in different directions and tapping and swiping on a little touchpad on the right side of the device. You get used to the position almost immediately: the touchpad itself has a central nub and is contoured, so despite not being able to see where you touch, it’s easy to feel your way with the touchpad. There is also a back button above it that you’d use quite often, and that wraps up the controls on the Gear VR.

You can also use a Bluetooth gamepad that would be super useful with some games, but you have to buy that gamepad separately, as it’s not included in the box.

Initial setup


Samsung Gear VR Review
As far as setup is concerned, you simply dock the phone, make sure it fits well in its brackets and won’t fall off, and you’re done. Put on the Gear VR and after a second or two, you will see the main menu.

At first, though, you would need to download the Gear VR control center app with various other applications from the Samsung Galaxy App store, and for us, that was a long and tedious process, as download speeds were depressingly slow. Set aside a couple of hours for those downloads to finish, and only then you can start properly enjoying the virtual reality world.

Experiences


Once you’ve dealt with all the technicalities, it’s finally time to fully immerse yourself in the brave new world of virtual reality.

Unlike cheaper VR headsets, the Gear VR completely covers your face and isolates the outer world successfully, so that you feel fully immersed in the virtual reality world. This is key to a good VR experience and the Gear VR gets it right.

The first thing you notice about the quality of the image, however, is that it still appears very pixelized, despite the fact that you have a phone with a whopping 1440 x 2560 pixel Quad HD resolution. Once you stick it that close to your face, and look at it through the lens of the VR, you can still easily discern individual pixels – everything looks far too pixelized for our spoiled modern tastes. It’s not bad per se, just not as great as we’d hoped for.

So what about the actual content: what can you watch on the Gear VR? First, let’s start with images. There is a huge collection of 360 images from all over the globe that you can check out and it’s an awesome experience. You can even go to Google Maps Street View and explore the world in 360 degrees from the headset. The good thing about the images is that they load quickly and are quite plentiful.

What you’ve most likely come for in the virtual reality world, however, is videos and games. First, the good news: the experience with virtual reality games and videos is absolutely stunning. When a movie is directed with virtual reality in mind, it really feels immersive and very engaging. We watched the Assassin’s Creed trailer in awe and everyone who we showed it to was equally amazed. The reactions were really quite wild and yes, you’d better be seated while watching videos on the Gear VR.


However, there is also bad news: there is depressingly little virtual reality content on the Gear VR. By little, we mean that there are literally two 3D trailers for movies to watch. You can get a few more via downloads, but getting new content on the Gear VR was particularly painful: you have to have the phone in the Gear VR the whole time while downloading and download speeds were terribly slow. Given the large size of 360 videos and games, even a short video took nearly an hour to download and we gave up on the idea of downloading more content soon after. It’s just too slow.

The selection of games at the moment is scarce and the titles are fairly basic. Yes, you get the immersive and engaging experience and it’s highly recommended that you play games with a game controller (a separate purchase), but don’t expect any high-profile games for the Gear VR just yet.

Battery life


Samsung Gear VR Review
Finally, you might be wondering whether using your phone with the Gear VR results in any extraordinary situations with battery life. The answer is a quite distinct: Yes, it does! We tested with the Samsung Galaxy S6, which was heating up a lot and after using the Gear VR for around half an hour, we got a message that the handset has overheated and needs to rest awhile.

Battery life was also taking a hit as the phone is put to quite the stressful load dealing with virtual reality. We didn’t measure exact screen on time, while using the Gear VR, but it’s really eating up your battery really fast.

Price and conclusion


So all in all, is the Samsung Gear VR worth the $100 asking price?

It depends. The Gear VR feels like something for casual users, for family and kids, for showcase, but not so much for prolonged, dedicated use. It simply lacks the content for that and the pixelized image quality is also a factor.

Samsung Gear VR Review
Still, at $100, it’s hard to fault it for all of that. It will be an amazing first encounter with virtual reality for those who haven’t tried it. It will wow. At the same time, we feel that it will quickly get boring.

Samsung is giving away the Gear VR for free with the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge in select markets, and if you can get it this way, it’s absolutely a great toy that you’d occasionally pick up and enjoy. We don’t see it being used on a daily basis in this form, though.

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