Samsung Gear VR (2016) Review

by Reads (1,462)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Design
      • 8
      • Features
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Durability
      • 8
      • Utility
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.60
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Improved lightweight design
    • Cordless and easy to use
    • Diverse array of content
  • Cons

    • Gamepad greatly improves the experience
    • Walled Garden
    • No killer app

With the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 now in stores, the mobile giant has decided to release a rehashed version of its virtual reality headset, the Samsung Gear VR. Not all the much has changed, though. Of course the headset is outfitted with a USB Type-C port to accommodate Samsung’s newest flagship, but the peripheral also ships with a micro USB dongle, making it compatible with a wide swath of Samsung’s Galaxy lineup; including the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, S7, S7 Edge, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge Plus, and Note 5.

But the new Gear VR isn’t a pure carbon copy. The company has issued some quality of life design changes and Oculus’ ecosystem has only become more robust since we last looked at the application.

Is the new Samsung Gear VR worth taking the plunge into virtual reality? Read the full review to find out.

Build and Design

Samsung Gear VR front 1At first glance it appears not all that much has changed with the new Gear VR. It still looks the part of a virtual reality headset, and by that, we mean headset closely resembles a pair of bulky ski goggles, as noted in our review of the original Samsung Gear VR. The general design is the same with a plastic finish, cushioned lining, and black Velcro straps in the rear. However, the headset is sporting a cleaner looking black plastic finish  that leaves the mobile VR headset looking a lot more like its PC counterparts (the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift).

The two pairs of black Velcro adjustable straps make it easy to quickly adjust the headrest to fit comfortably. The gray inner foam lining is a bit thicker than in the previous model offering the Samsung Gear VR a comfortable and cushioned feel.

On the top of the device is a focus adjustment wheel. While on the left-hand side sits a home and back buttons, a square control touchpad, and independent volume controls. Finally on the bottom left side of the headset there is a USB Type-C port. The headset also ships with a small dongle that transforms the USB Type-C port into a micro USB port.

Samsung Gear VR side viewThe home button is a new addition and makes navigating the Oculus application a bit easier, especially without a gamepad. The touchpad has also been redesigned. Gone is the compressed controller touchpad design in favor of a plain indented touchpad with a braised dot in the center. It’s a small change, but it’s much easier to get a feel for where you are on the pad now than with the older model. Again making the Samsung Gear VR far more user-friendly.

The Samsung Gear VR houses a proximity sensor along with two glass eyepieces on the interior of the headset. The field of view has been increased to a full 110 degrees from the original 96 degrees, allowing for the even larger field of vision.

The front of the device houses a removable protective plastic plate, that takes the place of the smartphone while the headset is not in use. The right hinge slides out locking at a 45-degree angle allowing the protective cover or phone to removed. Pushing the right hinge in causes it to snap back into position holding the Galaxy smartphone place. The left hinge also rotates a full 45 degrees to make it easy to fasten your smartphone to the attached connector. Of course, the most notable feature of the rehashed Gear VR is the ability to remove the micro USB connector and swap in a USB Type-C plug. Both dongles ship with the new Gear VR and are easily interchanged via the guiding rails of the left hinge. Simply unlock the dongle and quickly slides off the hinge. Attaching the phone proves just as easy as the dongle as the phone quickly locks into place.

Performance

Regardless of which Galaxy model you’re using the smartphone locks securely into place once attached. Just like with the last version of the headset, the Gear VR does a fantastic job of creating an immersive environment. The black lining along the sides and top of your field of vision is minimal, and the headset blocks out all surrounding light. NBR tested the headset directly under powerful overhead lighting without any issue.

However, the real reason that consumers would want to purchase the Gear VR over Google’s cheaper cardboard alternative is the additional sensors. Unfortunately, Samsung hasn’t upgraded any of the tech that we saw from the previous version, but I guess they went with the mantra: if it’s not broken why fix it? The sensors are fairly smooth with head tracking making it easy to navigate a full 360 degrees with relatively smooth tracking. The tracking doesn’t quite match the impressive technical marvels of the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, but it’s good enough that it’s never going to take you out of the moment while moving around. Though to be fair both of those headsets require powerful gaming PCs that costs thousands of dollars, while the Gear VR connects wireless to your everyday handset. All things considering it performs quite well.

Oculus Gear VR and Content

Samsung Gear VR UIPerhaps our favorite aspect of the Gear VR is the plug and play nature of it. The first time attaching your smartphone you’ll be asked to quickly setup the Oculus Gear VR application. The whole process takes a total of five minutes including the useful intro tutorial that teaches you how to navigate the application’s UI and use a connected gamepad. After that, you’re ready to go.

The Gear VR does operate as a walled garden though (at least sort of), which means all of the applications, games, and content you view will filtered through the Oculus ecosystem. Recently Google Cardboard applications were made available on the Gear VR, though it does require a bit of a workaround. Additionally, there is a Gear VR app that will allow you to browse the web in virtual reality. Still, most of the content that you view will come from Oculus’ ecosystem.

Anyone who has talked about a walled garden ecosystem will tell you that’s a double edged sword.  On the one hand, there’s quality assurance and ease. Everything is getting filtered through Oculus so you can be sure that it’ll work and everything is easy to find. However, that also means that content is somewhat restricted. While there is a great deal of content for you to explore via the Oculus store, it pales in comparison to the millions and millions of applications available on the Google Play store.

Samsung Gear VR CirqueThat being said there’s still a great deal of content available. The main draws are going to be games and video applications, but there’s also neat additions like  panoramic vistas and 3D artwork. There’s loads of video content, including apps such as Milk VR, Oculus Video, Netflix, and Twitch. But our favorite has to be the tailored videos such as the Samsung 360 video content, which are shot with the medium in mind.

Games can run anywhere from as low as $1.99 up to $15 and more. Most of the games tend to run at $4 and above, though, making them a bit more premium than the traditional games you’ll find on the Google Play store. Whatever your gaming tastes you’ll find them in the store, including role playing games, endless runners, rail shooters, action titles, simulations, and more. For the more mechanically demanding games such as shooters and action titles, you’ll likely want a gamepad, but most titles are playable without one.

Truthfully while there are more titles on the store than the last time we looked at the Gear VR, the content really haven’t progressed all that much. They’re fun little immersive experiences, but the Gear VR still hasn’t found it must have app. There’s plenty to enjoy here, but we can’t really point to a single must try app.

Conclusion

The refreshed Samsung Gear VR only offers a few incremental changes, but they’re all positive ones. The design changes are brilliant, the extra padding, the addition of the home button, and the improved touchpad all make the Samsung Gear VR easier to use. The ability to quickly switch between USB Type-C and micro USB means not only is the device future proofed for newer Samsung Flagships, but it will work with all of your old devices as well. The ability the use Google Cardboard apps on Samsung Gear VR, though a bit troublesome to access, is a huge boon. Oculus’ ecosystem offers even more great content.

However, for all of its improvements, the Samsung Gear VR still feels like a novelty item. It’s a fun novelty item with tons of interactive immersive apps, but there’s not much I could truly see myself returning to time and time again.

The Samsung Gear VR is still a great buy for those looking to get into the VR without the pricey investments needed for higher tech alternatives like the HTC Vive. Additionally, the Gear VR is a welcomed companion to the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7. However, to those that already own the old version of the Gear VR. There’s not enough here to warrant an upgrade.

Pros:

  • Samsung Gear VR front 2Improved lightweight design
  • Cordless and easy to use
  • Diverse array of content

Cons:

  • Gamepad greatly improves the experience
  • Walled Garden
  • No killer app


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