SAMSUNG GEAR – VR HEADSET REVIEW
|Software platform:||Samsung Gear VR powered by Oculus|
|Controller:||Onboard touchpad, Bluetooth controllers|
SAMSUNG GEAR – headset with mission
Samsung was one of the early movers on VR, launching the Samsung Gear VR headset, co-developed with Oculus, and designed to support a smartphone. There have been a few versions of Gear VR, supporting a number of different smartphone models from Samsung. Gear VR is available for $53,92 at Amazon, and there’s an optional controller too, which you can get.
New Samsung Gear VR SM-R324 is coming this year, it has different front cover to hold Galaxy S8, and comes with a single hand controller. You’ll need to make sure it’s going to fit your chosen Samsung smartphone, however, although the latest model, which was launched with the ill-fated Galaxy Note 7, comes with an adapter so former Samsung phones are compatible too. Gear VR opens the door to mobile devices, but you’ll need to supply the Samsung smartphone.
How does Samsung Gear works?
It’s designed to work with Samsung’s top flight phones:
S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge +
S7 and S7 Edge
All of them have one thing in common: AMOLED displays with 2560 x 1440 resolution. So this gives a significantly better stereoscopic view than many of the other VR headsets. Images and text are crisper and there is far less of the blurring at the fringes of the field of view than you typically get.
Another key difference between the Samsung Gear VR and the other essentially passive headsets is that the Samsung has its own on-board circuitry in the form of an accelerometer, gyroscope and proximity sensors to supplement those of the enclosed smartphone. These help to improve the immersive feeling by reducing latency and increasing the overall responsiveness of the headset.
The downside is that pushing all those pixels around a VR environment really tears through your phone’s battery life. But if you have a compatible Samsung phone and want to give VR a try, this is perfect for you.
NEW! Samsung Gear: headset for the Galaxy S8
Samsung, as expected, is present at MWC 2017 even though it’s not launching the Galaxy S8 there, however, at the company’s keynote presentation it did indeed launch a new generation Gear VR headset. As per the rumour mill, the new Gear VR features a standalone controller.
This dedicated controller replaces the somewhat fiddly touch-sensitive control panel the older Gear VR incorporated directly into the side of the headset. The new handheld iteration features a touchpad as well as button input, a “rocker” type key, and a “trigger”; Samsung says it lets the user “point, drag and drop, tilt, shoot, among other actions, while the Trigger allows for enhanced gaming experiences.” It uses a pair of AAA batteries and incorporates a wrist-strap similar to the Nintendo Wii.
Amongst the tech crammed into the latest headset is a set of 42mm lenses designed for a 101-degree field-of-view (FOV) purpose-built with advanced distortion correction to reduce the motion sickness some VR users can experience. In order to keep backwards compatibility, Samsung has engineered the headset with both MicroUSB and the new Type-C USB support. It is apparently compatible with the Galaxy S6 and above.
Samsung is working on a new version of its Gear VR headset hardware which will take a leaf out of the Google Daydream View’s book by having a dedicated controller. The original Gear VR operated via a small touchpad control mounted on the side of the headset. But it’s thought that the addition of a hand-held controller will allow a better gaming experience, as well as making user interaction with menus easier.
Headset will land inside 2017, possibly in March. Earlier rumours says that the Galaxy S8‘s 4K display was designed with VR use in mind, likely as part of a pairing with this new Gear VR.
Samsung Gear VR SM-R324 is coming, it’s same as SM-R323 for S7 (53,92$ at Amazon.com), but gets different front cover to hold Galaxy S8 and a single hand controller. It’s understandable that Samsung will want to keep the design similar, likely for backwards compatibility reasons, as well as returning user familiarity. It’s not clear how much backwards compatibility there will be. The new Gear VR have been designed with Google’s Daydream project specifications in mind, and this may eliminate the use of older hardware.
The controller appears to incorporate an analogue control stick and a set of buttons, similar to a console controller. This is according to renders of the device and it appears that the controller may attach to the headset just like the Daydream View. What’s not clear is whether, like the Daydream View, the controller will incorporate motion sensors and control as well as direct input via physical keys; Google’s solution allows somewhat Nintendo Wii-like input in the virtual environment, which is also something seen on the HTC Vive.
NEW! Samsung Galaxy S8 Release Date: When does it come out?
The company plans to unveil its next-generation flagship smartphones, Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, at a special press conference in New York City on March 29th. And April 21 may be the the release date. It will cost around $850. Samsung Galaxy S8 is almost upon us.
Samsung Gear: Phone hardware
To use the Gear VR you’ll need to have a Galaxy S7, S7 edge, S6, S6 edge, edge+, or a Note 5 to hand. Which, at around $600 and up, isn’t a budget entry point. If you’re already using such a device then of course the Consumer Edition’s 53,92$ (buy it on Amazon.com) price point makes it a bit of a bargain. And it’s definitely better looking and more fully-featured than something like Google Cardboard (the literally cardboard viewer designed for a variety of phones).
Gear VR is matched to Samsung’s most premium phones. Why? The answer is simple: they’ve got the highest available resolutions the manufacturer offers, to give a better visual experience, and are matched with powerful processors to maintain high frame-rates and graphical fidelity. A lesser phone just wouldn’t cut it.
Samsung Gear: Design
Side by side, Gear VR looks almost identical to last year’s headset. But there are some noticeable differences. The most important of which in our book is the fact that there’s more room inside the headset and some new vents on the side. The new Gear VR eschews the white of Samsung’s previous headsets for a near-black midnight blue finish. Besides the color change and the expected iterative adjustments to work with the latest Galaxy phones the latest Gear VR looks and feels very similar to previous models.
In new Samsung Gear VR that is yet to come touch-sensitive control panel is replaced with a standalone controller. It will keep the similar design. But it will have new hardware which will take a leaf out of the Google Daydream View’s book by having a dedicated controller. The original Gear VR operated via a small touchpad control mounted on the side of the headset. But addition of a hand-held controller will allow a better gaming experience and make user interaction with menus easier.
It’s now an all-black plastic affair and there’s a Oculus Home button next to ‘Back’ above the trackpad. If you’ve been using the old model it was only one button you could press. The right side of the headset holds a touchpad that’s larger and flatter than the previous one, We’d recommend grabbing a Bluetooth gamepad to use with the headset.
The fascia seems designed to only be put in place when there’s no phone slotted into the headset. There’s also a thin strip of plastic in between the two lenses on the side of your phone display. The straps are pretty much easy to adjust and the focus wheel remains on top. New Gear VR is slightly heavier than the first and bigger, particularly wider in front to accommodate Samsung’s larger Galaxy phones. Neither of these are noticeable enough to be a mark on the Gear’s score though.
What’s perhaps most interesting about Gear VR is that it doesn’t depend on tethered wires to a computer (the only wire you might need to worry about is a 3.5mm headphones cable, but that’s no worry if you’re using Bluetooth instead). Oculus, Vive and PS VR all depend on a tether, which can inhibit the experience. As the Consumer Edition of the Gear VR headset is cheaper than the earlier models you’ll miss out on a few things, but not all of it is a negative.
The top of the headset holds a mechanical focus wheel. The underside has a pass-through charging port for your connected phone. The port is now USB-C rather than micro USB. No cable is included. But you do get a micro USB-to-USB-C adapter so you can use your older charging cables. A USB-C cable that terminates in a standard USB port would have been more convenient, since the adapter is very small and can get easily lost, but it’s helpful if you don’t already have a USB-C cable.
Two sturdy fabric bands attach to the Gear VR with hook-and-loop fasteners to keep the headset connected securely to your face. The horizontal headband is fairly wide, and pulls through loops on either side of the headset. The thinner vertical headband has a plastic hook that clicks into place on top. Once adjusted, the Gear VR felt comfortable on your head.
Samsung Gear: Sensational or sickening?
Gear VR feels like Oculus Rift. It’s an undoubtedly impressive, immersive, hold-onto-your-hat experience, giving you the freedom to look all around a responsive, low latency 360-degree virtual world, whether a game or visual experience. It’s not the walk-around experience of HTC Vive (the only system to go all-in with full body interaction).
Some people will get on fine with the Gear VR experience. Others will feel claustrophobic and/or nauseated, just like with Oculus Rift. But that’s all relative to personal experience, some people will feel absolutely fine and dandy with the Gear VR on. In part it’s going to depend on the type of experience you’re going through.
Samsung Gear: Technical Capabilities
In terms of sheer resolution, the Gear VR technically has the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift beat. It uses Galaxy smartphones with 2,560-by-1,440 screens compared with the Rift and Vive’s 2,100-by-1,200 panels. That doesn’t tell the whole story, though. The Gear VR has to adjust to work with multiple Galaxy smartphones. And those phones aren’t built with VR as the primary use case. The Rift and Vive’s displays are dedicated to VR, with 90Hz refresh rates that can offer smoother, more immersive motion compared with the 60Hz Android tops out at.
The Rift and Vive also have much more processing power behind them thanks to the gaming PCs required to run them, and they feature far more accurate motion tracking thanks to external sensors the Gear VR lacks. The Gear VR’s graphics are compelling and look very smooth. Its internal motion sensors on the installed smartphones are generally accurate. But the Rift and Vive simply offer much smoother, more advanced visuals and far greater motion-tracking precision than the Gear VR because of the complicated, bulky, and expensive hardware they require.
Samsung Gear: VR experience
The actual visual experience of using a Gear VR will depend on which smartphone you use. With Samsung, of course, nudging you towards the big and sharp Note 7 screen. But there are some improvements to the actual headset no matter which phone you’ve got. Samsung has widened the viewing angle to 101 degrees and darkened the color tint to reduce glare and reflections.
The new field of view is a welcome addition. It puts the Gear VR on a par with the Vive and Rift for this spec at least. But while this and the tint help with the immersion, it’s not a real step up. And frankly, it doesn’t need to be. This isn’t a perfect picture, this is mobile VR and with these small upgrades Samsung still has the best mobile VR headset around.
Samsung Gear: Games & content
A key driver for any virtual reality setup is what’s available to play, see and do. As the Samsung system utilises adapted Oculus VR on an Android operating system, that paints a potentially strong picture for the future, as lots of people have access to Android devices.
The first time you fire-up the system there’s a walkthrough, which serves well to educate. Upon each load, and a proximity sensor knows when the Gear VR is positioned to the face, you’ll be presented with a home screen, comprising Store (Oculus and Samsung) and Library options. Amid the latest downloads, there are also shortcuts to Oculus Cinema and Oculus 360 Videos/Photos. It’s easy to grasp what’s what, and it’s not all just gaming.
One downside is that there’s no controller included. And some high-quality gaming apps may require the use of an Android game controller. If you want to play games and even use some of the Oculus software for experiences then you’ll need a decent controller paired via Bluetooth. You can buy controller separately, or wait until new version of Gear VR comes out.
At launch the Gear VR had just a handful of games. But that has changed. Below are a bunch of the more prolific examples.
This is the game-changing title for the Gear VR. A beautiful gameworld, reminiscent of Momument Valley, the floaty, ethereal experience of Land’s End is truly captivating.
Simple controls and puzzles lead the game mechanic. Here you match dot sequences on screen before flying through the gameworld to progress. It’s never entirely clear who/what you are, nor why such puzzles exist. But that almost assists in setting the tone and keeping the mood of this game. If it wasn’t in VR, Land’s End would have the same impact.
Adventure Time: Magic Man’s Head Games
Fan of quirky platform games? This one is for you. You’ll want a controller to navigate around, using the Gear VR as a camera-like mechanic to line-up, say, grapple-hooks or target baddies.
Just because the game is from Cartoon Network doesn’t mean this is only one for the kids. The characters and dialogue are funny and engaging, delivering a different kind of VR experience to the usual first-person experience.
If you like to be scared, Deadhalls, the first-person dungeon crawler, is here to help you soil yourself.
This game really plays on light and dark, with the enshrouded 360-degree experience really making you feel like you’re walking through creepy dungeons. Sound, too, is a key part in making this a genuinely scary game.
We couldn’t talk about VR without there being a first-person space shooter. At launch there was Anshar Wars, but Gunjack steps things up a notch in our book.
There’s perhaps nothing unusual about this game, but it delivers all the action you could want: shooting, shooting and more shooting. Power up, attack, defend. You’ll be spinning your head around like a crazy owl to try and keep up with the on-screen action.
This video-meets-game is an ingenious storytelling innovation that really shows what VR can do. From Skybound, the studio behind of The Walking Dead game, there is a brilliantly tense and horrific feel to this title. Plus it’s free, which makes it a must have.
Check out how immediately mesmerising this fun and free game is.
Set inside a human body, you play as a machine vessel aiming to bring your human host back to health. While the machine’s attempts at humor aren’t quite on a par with a game like Portal, it’s still entertaining.
To play you use head movements to control your speeding vessel. It has an impressive moving backdrop that may distract you to the point of crashing into dangers.
Samsung Gear: Oculus Video / Milk VR
Ok, so these aren’t games. These are two services.
Oculus Video is a virtual cinema experience. You can watch trailers, movies, and even your own capture. But it all takes place in a virtual cinema, which we don’t really understand. Because you could go to an actual cinema or, you know, watch one on TV. It might make more sense if the virtual environment was the surface of an alien planet rather than a mock-up of a cinema, to really pull on VR’s strengths. But no, it’s just a virtual cinema.
Samsung Milk VR is a bit like the 360-degree “YouTube” for Gear VR. But it’s available only US, so customers in Blighty won’t have access to the service just yet. There’s potential for this service to blow-up in popularity with the increase in 360-degree recording devices.
Samsung Gear: Price
Compared to the hundreds of dollars we’ll be expected to pay for high-end virtual reality headsets, 53,92$ is a bargain. We don’t have anything bad to say about the price. Yes, it’s more expensive than the 15$ Google Cardboard, but it is a nicer headset. You can buy Samsung Gear at Amazon.com for only 53,92$.
Don’t buy this if you don’t have a Samsung phone, or expect to be sharing the headset with family or friends who have other phones. If you’re unsure about the whole virtual reality thing, you might want to hold off until the technology improves. Or you can get a 15$ Google Cardboard set first to see whether you like it.
Samsung Gear: Current challenges
Samsung, as expected, was present at MWC 2017 even though it’s not launching the Galaxy S8 there, however, company launched a new generation Gear VR headset. The new Gear VR features a standalone controller. And it’s compatible with Samsung Galaxy S6 and above. Headset will land inside 2017, possibly in March.
Gear VR, like virtual reality as a whole, won’t be for everyone. You’ll need a top-end Samsung phone. While some users might feel nauseous during use (as you may in any VR experience), nor will you get the higher frame-rates of the pricier top-end devices, such as Oculus Rift proper. Gear VR is a stepping-stone to Oculus. His mission is to show off VR’s potential and to get people interested.
And what the Consumer Edition really gets right is the price. If you’re one of the many who already owns the necessary Samsung phone then for 53,92$ (at Amazon.com) the experience of playing through Land’s End makes it worth buying one alone.
The new Samsung Gear VR is a functional, accessible, and affordable way to play with VR. If you have a compatible Galaxy phone. Anyone with even a passing interest in VR should seriously consider giving it a shot. With Gear VR you’ll find a compelling experience virtual reality without spending the much higher prices and heavy PC hardware requirements of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.
Need to know
Screen compatibility:Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Note5, S6 edge+, S6, S6 edge