Samsung Gear VR review
July 23, 2016
If the Samsung Gear VR was selling for double its $80 price, we'd probably still be recommending it as one of the coolest purchases you can make right now.
Sure, you might be waiting for Oculus, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR but this is different. This takes seconds to set up and, most importantly, there are games and short films and TV shows for it that you can watch and play right now.
The Gear VR is a tricky device to test because it has zero competition. There are faults and I'll detail those but please just add '...but it's really fun' after pretty much every moan and niggle.
If you have a Samsung phone and you're up for getting a taste of what's to come next year, then the Gear VR is a no brainer.
Let's assume you haven't tried VR before. Or if you have, it was two minutes in a Samsung store or putting a DIY Cardboard 'headset' up to your face.
Samsung's Gear VR is actually wearable in the sense that you strap it around your head and - in theory - your eyes are completely enclosed. Thanks to an accelerometer and gyroscope, it knows how you are tilting or moving your head so your view of the VR world changes as you roll or turn your head up, down, side to side or swivel around entirely. You control the UI and apps by using your gaze, tapping and swiping on the touchpad or connecting a Bluetooth controller. Playing on a swivel chair or standing up often means a better overall experience.
Powered by Oculus on a Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ or Galaxy Note 5, with not one but two app stores, you can transport yourself to 3D, CG animated worlds and 180 or 360 degree live action scenes. And it's not all games. Some VR creations are meant to be experienced simply by looking around a scene.
It's immersive, sure, and that's the buzzword but you won't just be immersed by the images and audio, you'll feel like you're really there. If you find yourself at the edge of a rock in ustwo's Gear VR gameLand's End, you'll get a bit of vertigo, it's that powerful. In short, it's magic.
Samsung Gear VR: Apps and games
The Gear VR is the only high profile VR headset that is actually on sale yet. But if you compare the selection of apps, games and experiences on offer to what you'd get if you bought a Google Cardboard viewer, Samsung and Oculus now comfortably win. The omissions for now are Google's own efforts including YouTube and Street View.
The Oculus and Milk VR selections are still small compared to say the iPhone's App Store. Don't get me wrong, and depending on how open you are to new genres, you might still run out of things to try out over the holidays. But it's big enough to give you real choice. There are now full games with replay value and more stuff is being added all the time. Seriously, we've been finding a couple of decent Gear VR titles popping up daily now in the December rush.
The quality of apps and games made for Gear VR is higher than Cardboard too and the boundaries are being pushed in terms of social interactions with Oculus' own Social Alpha, with controls in the CG animated Rosebud and with interactive storytelling in the True Detective-esque series GONE. And yes, there's a browser for VR too, which is currently in beta.
As the quality has gone up, so have the prices with plenty of $7.99, $9.99 and even $14.99 games now (it's all in dollars) available to download as well as free demos and experiences. Most of them are worth the money, but check out our pick of Gear VR apps, games and experiences so far first.
Samsung Gear VR: Picture and audio quality
I could rip apart the picture quality of the Gear VR compared to say, theOculus Rift or the HTC Vive. And it is hard to see the amazing games and TV shows that are being created for Gear VR up close and low res, wishing that I had more pixels in front of my eyes.
The S6 Edge has a 5.1-inch, 1440 x 2560 AMOLED display which works as 577ppi and the Note 5 is bigger but slightly less sharp with a 5.7-inch, 2560 x 1440 (515ppi) display. They are both vivid with good contrast and guarantee a picture quality that, by contrast, varies a lot when using Cardboard with any old phone. The 96(ish) degree field of view is decent too - the phone's display is split in half for each eye then magnified by the lenses.
Back when I was a smartphone reviewer in another life, I would have written emphatically that we don't need any more pixels in smartphone screens. I've changed my mind. Forgetting the battery problem for now, let's do it for the sake of mobile VR, following Sony's lead with the 4K Xperia Z5. It makes me impatient for 2016 but at the same time, the overall package you get with the Samsung is a great trade-off. For now.
One point that might panic you picture wise is that the Gear VR does tend to fog up a little, depending on the temperature of the room. So you might see cloudy white circles on the lenses - these do go away as you settle in but it's interesting that Samsung removed the fans from the Innovator Edition - probably best as they didn't solve the problem.
It's an obvious one but I recommend using headphones with any Gear VR experience. Not just the ones which prompt you to, which is simple enough as your phone's headphone jack will be accessible. It's not just about feeling more immerse though, it also means you can get extra depth from spatial sound on Samsung's own apps and Milk VR experiences that take advantage of the tech. Then again, there is the fun factor of using your Samsung phone's speaker when making an idiot of yourself in front of friends.