- Immersive and novel VR experience
- Plenty of great content to try
- Light and comfortable headset
- Limited to recent Samsung smartphones
- VR tech still needs to mature
- Games can be pricey
Virtual reality has been the near future of personal computing for more than 25 years, always just on the cusp of breaking out. While the initial excitement of the 1990s gave way to the mobile computing revolution 2000s, VR seems once again poised to grab its place in the mainstream, this time riding its strength with gaming.
Oculus literally “Kickstarted” its resurgence with a hugely successful crowd-funding effort in 2013, followed by a $2 billion Facebook acquisition and subsequent VR efforts from Sony, Microsoft, and HTC, to name a few.
Still, almost three years since the Oculus Kickstarter campaign, VR remains just out of reach for all but early adopters and enthusiasts with deep pockets thanks to long development cycles and high prices. In late 2015, Oculus looks to change that by partnering with Samsung for the Gear VR, a $99 Samsung smartphone accessory that could potentially mark a milestone in consumer VR.
With a Gear VR in hand, the team at NotebookReview takes a fresh look at the technology to judge whether the hype is warranted, and if the headset is worth your hard-earned money.
Build & Design
There is no doubt the Samsung Gear VR is a virtual-reality headset at first glance. It looks the part, like an oversized set of ski goggles, complete with two elastic and adjustable head straps that wrap both around the back of the head and over the top. The main portion is white, with a large touchpad on the wearer’s right side that features a center divot in a vertical and horizontal groove. A small back button sits just above it, and a volume rocker rests in front, located on the black smartphone housing. A large focus dial sits centered on the top, while the bottom houses a microUSB input.
The smartphone housing also has a male microUSB dongle for connecting the phone, right on a hinge, along with an adjustable clamp for securing a smartphone. A removable black covering snaps into the Gear VR front.
Within the Gear VR are the glass eye pieces, while foam cushioning lines the back.
The Gear VR weighs about .7 pounds without a smartphone docked. With a phone, the weight tops 1 pound. Samsung claims this Gear VR is 19% lighter than the previous incarnations.
Physically, the Gear VR is about as comfortable as a device with this design can be, and the adjustable straps do the job of securing the VR viewer well, never digging into the skin or behind the ears. The foam cushioning is also plentiful and serves users well. However, it might seal the Gear VR up too well. The lenses often fog up a few seconds after putting the Gear VR on, though things do clear a few minutes later.
The black front covering is unnecessary in use, and in fact blocks the “camera passthrough” mode. It’s good to have close by, however, as it protects the glass eye pieces when the Gear VR is not in use.
Samsung smartphones dock securely and easily, and removing them is not a hassle. Samsung wisely left an opening for a phone’s 3.5mm headphone jack, and a decent set of wired headphones go a long way to creating the immersive VR effect. We did find that the opening wasn’t big enough for some headphone jacks, particularly those with a 90-degree pin design. In testing the Gear VR, the phone always remained stable, even with frequent and jittery head whipping. The large trackpad, buttons, and focus wheel are easy to identify by touch. This is the kind of device you can just pick up and use.