Samsung has been working with the biggest name in VR for over two years to bring a bit of the virtual world to its smartphone, and with the Samsung Gear VR, the experience is finally ready for consumers. Anyone who’s followed the development of this and related smartphone VR accessories knows that there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in this space right now, and that could make choosing where to spend your money a little harder.
To help with that, we’ve put together a short list of what you need to know about the Samsung Gear VR before you consider or dismiss its existence as a physical accessory to take you into the virtual world.
This is very different from Google Cardboard
You will often hear people who have never used the Gear VR, or those who have only used it for a moment or two, refer to the Samsung Gear VR as an expensive version of Google Cardboard. While this is true, there are some similarities (namely the part where you put your phone in a little box and look at the lenses from the other side to see beautiful pictures and videos), there is a pretty significant difference in the hardware.
For starters, there’s a microUSB mount in the Gear VR holder that offers some hardware assistance for the Gear VR when you’re looking through those lenses. The additional sensors make head tracking noticeably smoother, which in turn reduces that motion-based disorientation many experience when experiencing virtual reality for the first time on a smartphone. You’ll also find a touchpad on the side of the Gear VR, which offers significantly more control options for navigating not only the Oculus-provided interface, but a significant number of the included apps. For example, games like Gunjack require CCP to do more than just a one-button interface, making it difficult to port to Cardboard. There’s also a back button and a fine focus wheel for proper typing.
Basically, anyone who tells you that Gear VR is an expensive Google Cardboard is wrong and should feel bad.
People with prescription glasses can finally enjoy virtual reality on their smartphone
Most people with prescription glasses look at the VR headset and just shrug their shoulders because almost none of them play glasses. Samsung’s original design for the Gear VR tried to make this a little easier by using a focus ring and you rotate it until what you’re looking at is in focus. It’s not much different from how Oculus handles Rift dev kits, but it’s rare for those of us who wear glasses.
This new Gear VR is fully compatible with glasses, applying pressure around the forehead to create enough room for your glasses to sit comfortably when using a VR headset. You still run the risk of occasionally opening your eyelids from the goggles, which means you have to start the process of putting this headset back on after cleaning your goggles, but it actually works and is comfortable enough to use for a while, which is a big deal for a lot of people .
You’ll need a newer Samsung phone to use the Gear VR
Google Cardboard aficionados will find a rather fatal flaw with Gear VR — it only works with a handful of new Samsung phones. Specifically, the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Note 5, and Galaxy S6 Edge+ are the only phones that work with the new Gear VR. The additional head-tracking hardware, Oculus-provided software, and the physical case for holding the phone and locking it in the microUSB port only work with those four phones, so don’t even try to put anything else in there.
Even worse, if you’re using the original Gear VR Innovator Edition on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4, you’ll find that not everything available on the new Gear VR is available on the original. Games like Land’s End have announced efforts to support the Note 4 at a later stage, but until that happens, some games aren’t available to install on an older version of Gear VR, and this will likely get worse over time. There’s a good reason, especially with regards to the heat and performance issues the Note 4 had with the Gear VR Innovator Edition, but considering these early adopters spent twice as much as new Gear VR owners to get into action on time he’s a little sorry.
Everything in Gear VR happens in the Oculus Store
Unlike other Samsung accessories where you install the Samsung app and use Samsung features and all your content is curated by Samsung, the Gear VR is pretty much an Oculus show. Every app is installed and managed through the Oculus Store, the payment system is managed by Oculus, and when you put a headset on the virtual environment you’re drawing, it’s a huge advertisement for Oculus, right down to the huge logo that flies right behind you. It’s big, beautiful, and run by Oculus.
While curating the content you consume might not be too difficult for you, it’s worth noting that Oculus is clearly a little different from Samsung when it comes to the video you showcase in the Oculus Video app and how Content is ranked in general. in the Oculus store is pretty non-standard. VR is a brand new medium, but a simple «13+» warning isn’t enough for everyone. If you are planning to share this VR experience with your kids, you should keep that in mind before you hand over your equipment and leave.