I recently purchased the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition for S6 from Samsung directly. This is a virtual reality headset powered by Oculus. After 3 solid days of testing, I can give an accurate rundown of this device.
I should preface this review by stating that I only paid $99 for it through a deal on Slickdeals. The regular price of the Gear VR is $199.It should be noted that the Samsung Gear VR I purchased isn’t intended for the average consumer. As a matter of fact, Samsung has you click 3 boxes acknowledging that you are buying an unfinished product that might not work as intended from time to time before you can proceed to checkout. They also stated that returns weren’t accepted. I kept this in mind when I was playing with the headset.
Build Quality and Comfort
The Gear VR is made of out premium plastic with two glass lenses, a touch pad on the right side with a back button and volume rockers. The goggles have a comfortable foam padding that keeps the device from pressing against your nose and face. The foam also serves to keep the light out and provide an immersive experience. The back strap and head strap are removable and can be adjusted to be worn comfortably. Both straps have a leatherette padding that gives a premium feel. Also this Gear VR has a micro USB slot that allows your phone to charge as you’re using it. I wear glasses and I was able to wear them while having my face in the Gear VR. I used this device for about 20-30 minutes each sitting and didn’t notice any fatigue in my neck or shoulders. I did notice that my eyes would dry out after a bit if I didn’t have my glasses on. I’m sure I could sit through a full movie before I would get uncomfortable.
First time use:
Using the Gear VR is really simple; you just put your phone in and the Oculus software automatically starts to install. You’ll need to create an Oculus account and add a credit card to use the services. Once the setup is completed, you’ll be guided through a quick tutorial to using your device. The start menu allows you to start up frequently used apps, go to the store, and view your library of apps as well. The start menu is hosted in a full 360 degree lobby that gives you an immersive experience.
The issue with new technology is that applications are hard to come by. It’s a chicken and the egg scenario – for a device to sell, you need apps. To get more developers to write apps, you need people using your device. Samsung has partnered with Oculus to get a decent amount of applications on their device, however, most of them are glorified tech demos. Here’s a rundown of a couple of the ones that stood out:
Oculus Cinema (Free):
Oculus Cinema is a video view application. On any other device, the app would be a basic video player, but with Oculus the video player puts you in an empty theater and you can watch movies on the big screen. You can choose different locations such as a home theater, ant village (you’re a tiny ant and watching the movie on the phone), Large theater, the moon, and the void which is just a large screen on a black background.
Jurassic World (Free):
Jurassic World is a two minute tech demo that you can show your friends. You’re sitting on a log watching a Brontosaurus wake up and eat leaves. The coolest part is that it’s in 3D and I actually caught myself looking away when it came up to my face. There’s nothing more about it, but it’s cool to show your friends.
Oculus 360 Photos (Free):
Oculus 360 photos is probably the best non-gaming application for the Gear VR. There are about 50-60 photos that you can view in the 360 degree environment. The photos of action events tend to fall short since the image breaks in certain parts, but the 3D generated art is stunning. Photos are of various locations like on top of the Eiffel Tower to a farm witnessing a UFO abduction.
Any new technology that comes out needs to serve at least some purpose that sets it apart from any other gadget that you have in the house. The games that are available on the Gear VR are not some easy port of Angry Birds; they are well thought out and utilize the features of the device. Games vary from free to 10 dollars and have a variety of mechanics that range from basic puzzle solving to immersive 3D adventures like Legend of Zelda. There are plenty of games on the shop, but since I pay for my own titles to review, I was limited temporarily to free titles and demos:
Esper ($4.99) – A basic puzzle solving game in the same vain as portal – you’re a voiceless test subject who has ESP and you need to learn how to control it. I liked this game because when you use the touch pad on the right side of the Gear VR, it’s like you’re actually using ESP. The game is really basic, but utilizes the Gear VR to create a fun game.
Proton Pulse ($2.99) – A 3D Brick breaker where you control a glass paddle and hit a ball back to break bricks. Nothing too special about this game, but for the price, it’s a nice proof of concept game, but you can get dizzy as you use your head to move the paddle back and forth.
Temple Run VR (Free) – this is one of the only titles I actually recognize by name alone. Temple Run VR is the exact same concept as the Android and iOS versions, except its first person and the environment is 360 degrees. This is one of the better games that I have played because it gives you a real feel for what the Gear VR is capable of. You get a sense of speed as the game moves forward and you can also look behind you to see the monsters chasing behind you. Of course you need to be facing forward to avoid any of the obstacles.
What I don’t like:
I don’t like that the device has a habit of overheating too easily. This didn’t happen with movies or viewing basic applications, but when viewing 3D intensive games, the device would clonk out within minutes of launch stating that the device was too hot.
Also the lack of system selling apps really prevents me from recommending the Samsung Gear VR. Especially at $199. I got mine for a heck of a deal and I love it – and paying $100 less than the going rate kept me from asking too much out of my new bleeding edge gadget. Not to mention, this only works on 2 phones – the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge. There’s another model that fits only the Note 4 and there’s rumors that they’ll be releasing another Gear VR for the Note 5 and S6 Edge +.
Since the display is limited to the Galaxy S6 Edge, you’re still going to see some of what users like to call SDE – the Screen Door Effect. Basically since your face is so close to the display, you’re still seeing individual pixels despite the massive PPI of 577. This doesn’t come up too often, but you’ll need computer rendered video moving at 60FPS for it not to be noticeable. Live action video takes a mega hit because most video is 1080p and when halved, it becomes 540p which is really noticeable when it’s right in your face.
Some games require a Bluetooth controller which the Gear VR is VERY picky with. My Moga Pocket wasn’t able to be recognized by the system so I’ll have to spend 30 dollars for one that is.
What I like:
It’s a VR headset. The sky is the limit to what this thing can do once I start to crack it open and play with custom applications only meant for people with PCs and Oculus units. Out of the box it’s kind of lame – but if you’re a tinkerer and like to color outside the lines, this is a perfect starter unit for those who don’t have the beefy PC to run Oculus at home. Plus it’s portable; I’m getting married in 3 weeks and I plan on taking this on the plane to our honeymoon. Big screen movies on the plane!
Overall the Samsung Gear VR is off to a wonderful start, but it’s not there yet. It will probably be another year or so before it’s ready for consumer hands. And even then, what applications will be done with it? Will it fall flat like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy? I hope not because I really want Virtual Reality to work – I hope that the people behind Oculus will come up with some killer applications that will make more and more people want a VR headset for their own. Like what iPad did for tablets.