Samsung Gear VR (Virtual Reality) Review

What we think

Marketed as an affordable way to jump into Virtual Reality (VR), the Samsung Gear VR is a solid performer, being considerably more comfortable than Google Cardboard.

While it’s not as impressive as its PC and console-based competitors, if you have a Samsung smartphone it is well worth considering, especially as it’s available at a great price.

    Pros

  • Affordable
  • Light and comfortable
  • Great head tracking
  • Simple setup

    Cons

  • Drains phone battery
  • Not all phones compatible
  • Resolution depends on phone
  • Trackpad not great

    Rating

  • Performance:4 out of 5 stars
  • Features:3.5 out of 5 stars
  • Design: 4 out of 5 stars
  • Value:4.5 out of 5 stars
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Design

The Samsung Gear VR is very sleek and simple, combining white and black to create a product that looks more expensive than it is.

It’s very easy to set up, as you simply dock your phone into the front, with a spring-loaded clasp locking it in place, and then simply cover the front up with the removable black panel, which helps to block out external light. The app renders a pair of images side-by-side on your phone screen, and you end up essentially just seeing it as one normal image.

The device measures 201.9 x 116.4 x 92.6mm, with a 96-degree field of view, and weighs just 318g – although of course this will increase when you put your phone in it – and has good, secure head straps around the sides and top of your head. In addition to the foam cushioning in place, this makes the Gear VR comfortable to wear, which is an underrated aspect with VR.

Your hands are then completely free, as there is no need to hold the headset in place. However, you will often need to use your right hand, to control the device using the touchpad on the right-hand side of the Gear VR, which has a select button in its centre.

Personally I’m not a huge fan of the trackpad, as it can be annoying to locate when you are wearing the headset. On too many occasions, when attempting to swipe right, I accidentally tapped the button, or swiped in the wrong place.

Still, the trackpad and return button (located on the right, above the trackpad) put it ahead of cheaper alternatives such as the Google Cardboard, because you can leave the headset on the entire time you are navigating around from app to app. If it’s too quiet or loud, simply use the volume rocker to adjust it suitably, which again is incredibly helpful, and it also possible for you to insert your headphones for a more immersive experience.

The Gear VR contains an accelerometer, gyroscope, geomagnetic sensor and proximity sensor, to make it work. It also has a very useful focal adjustment dial, allowing you to move the lenses closer or further away from your face, helping you find the sharpest image (similar to binoculars).

This feature is especially helpful for people wearing glasses while using the VR. I expected it to be uncomfortable wearing my glasses while using it, but it turned out to be completely fine. Given the choice I would rather have my contact lenses in, but those people who wear glasses need not worry.

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Function

All in all, the Samsung Gear VR works very well, but there are a few little issues which prevent it being perfect.

Mainly, the trackpad. Although it’s quite a nice feature to have on the side of the headset, I’ve found that it doesn’t always respond correctly to my touch. When playing Temple Run, when I swiped right it quite often failed to register the swipe, resulting in my character dying. The stakes are incredibly high here, and Samsung hasn’t quite managed to deliver. While the trackpad is a good idea, I would prefer physical buttons (rather than swipes), to control the Gear VR, so that you don’t make any accidental swipes or selections.

However, you could purchase a Bluetooth controller, if you would rather. I would also recommend using a decent swivel chair when using the Gear VR, which both adds to the experience and helps minimise the risk of you bumping into things or knocking glasses over.

Sometimes, if the headset was a bit loose, the lenses would steam up a little. This was therefore pretty annoying, as the only thing you can really do in such a situation is remove them and wait a little bit, or wipe them with a microfiber cloth.

Additionally, your phone battery gets pretty drained. I also found my phone to be very hot when I stopped and took it back out of the headset, which is slightly concerning. Therefore, I would recommend not keeping the headset on for too long at a time.

That being said, those are pretty much the only issues I’ve had so far. Its head tracking is excellent, with no lag or problems with sensitivity. There haven’t been any bugs yet, no apps have crashed, and everything has been powered just fine.

It’s an incredibly straightforward device to use, simply clipping your phone into its position and putting the headset on to start it up, but remember to ensure your phone is unlocked when you clip it in or it won’t work.

You will start off on the menu screen, from where you can access your apps and the Oculus store. When using the Gear VR, simply look at what you want and tap the select button in the middle of the trackpad to click on what you want.

Apps

The Samsung Gear VR uses the Oculus app store. While there isn’t an enormous amount of apps to choose from just yet, there is still a decent amount to keep you occupied, and more apps will undoubtedly be added over time. There is a nice range of games, such as Temple Run VR and my favourite so far, Sky Fighter: Training Day, although I did find the trackpad to be a bit temperamental during Temple Run.




Horror-based apps are also proving popular with VR, and Sisters is strongly recommended. I like to think I have a relaxed attitude to horror films generally, but I won’t deny I ended up yelling out in shock with this app, it was that immersive.

Thanks to Samsung, I have now been inside North Korea and Syria. Sort of. Thanks to a (very short) documentary filmed using special 360 degree cameras, the Jaunt VR app made me feel like I was having a quick guided tour through two of the most inaccessible countries in the world. The quality wasn’t perfect but it was still a thoroughly enjoyable experience, especially as I love to travel.

Being big on sports, I also really liked LeBron James – Striving for Greatness, a brief look into the life of one of the greatest basketballers of all time, as he shot hoops all around me and gave an insight into his lifestyle. A pitch side view of FC Barcelona vs. Manchester United was also a great experience.

I found a music-based app, GrooVR, to be surprisingly fun. I could log into my Spotify or SoundCloud account, pick songs from my playlists, and then simply sit back and look at the musical effects in the virtual world I was placed in.

The most interesting app I came across was undoubtedly Samsung BeFearless – Heights. I’d read about the potential going forward for Virtual Reality to be used as a way to treat mental health conditions such as paranoia, and this app claimed to be able to help people get over a fear of heights.

Unfortunately, I take to heights like a duck to water, so I therefore had to enlist the help of my friend instead. He suffers from vertigo if he even jumps off the ground, it seems. He followed the app quickly and easily, as it is very simple to use. He managed to watch a few of the demonstrations, where the app had filmed views from a variety of heights, before it became too much for him and he quit.

Potentially, if he went back repeatedly he would get over his fear of heights, as he got more and more used to it, but for now at least he’ll have to continue with his vertigo. Still, a highly interesting concept and undoubtedly more apps within this area will surely follow.

At the time of writing, all apps mentioned above are free to download from the Oculus app store. The main annoyance that I have had so far with regards to apps is that they take up a considerable amount of memory space. Therefore, you may find you need to delete some apps off your smartphone, or only download a few VR apps at a time.

Competition

Because VR is still fairly new, there aren’t many rivals just yet for the Samsung Gear VR to contend with. It definitely beats Google Cardboard in my opinion, primarily due to the fact it is so much more comfortable, and the quality is significantly better due to it being powered by Oculus.

However, perhaps unsurprisingly it is not in the same league as the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. These rivals admittedly cost a very sizeable amount (think £500 and above, as well as the need for very powerful computers which many people won’t have already), but with that they do bring real quality, and don’t rely on your smartphone.

With the HTC Vive, you can actually move around with controllers in your hands, with your real-time movements translated into the app you are using. While the Oculus Rift isn’t capable of this (yet, at least), they both have much greater resolutions than the Samsung Gear VR, and are able to give users a better all-round VR experience.

The PlayStation VR is due for release on 13 October of this year, and will be somewhere inbetween the Samsung Gear VR and those two high-end devices. PSVR will run with the PS4, meaning it is a step up from the Gear VR in terms of quality and such, but it is expected to cost around £300.

If you have the money to spend, the HTC Vive is highly recommended, but it really does cost a lot in total. If you have a PS4, I would recommend waiting for the PSVR to be released if you don’t mind spending the extra money, as it will provide a more complete experience than the Samsung Gear VR, but for now at least the Gear VR is the best affordable option.

What phones are compatible?

Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to make use of the Samsung Gear VR headset, as it is only compatible with a few Samsung smartphones. Anyone with any of the following phones will be able to use the headset: S7, S7 Edge, S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge + and the Note5.

The phone that you use will of course have an effect on the quality of your VR experience. With my Galaxy S7, I am able to get a pixel density of 577 ppi, but those with a Note5 will have to make do with 518 ppi instead.

A further note regarding phones – before putting your phone in, ensure that the screen is clear from dirt and smudges, as this will reduce the image quality when using the headset.

Price

At the time of writing, the Samsung Gear VR is available for £70 on Amazon, although prices do range from seller to seller, so you may manage to find it for slightly less.

I think this is an excellent price for what you are getting. The Gear VR provides a much greater experience than Google Cardboard, which costs around £20, but the Gear VR doesn’t cost all that much more than it.

It’s also considerably less than the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, so if you are desperate to join the world of VR without spending a fortune, this is the best option for you, provided you own a compatible smartphone of course.

Conclusion

I’ve really enjoyed using the Samsung Gear VR and I definitely prefer it to Google Cardboard. It’s so much more comfortable to wear, and not needing to hold it in place with your hands is really useful as it helps it feel more realistic.

While there isn’t an enormous range of apps available there is still plenty to keep you occupied, and more will be developed over time. I was rather annoyed at the amount of apps that weren’t free, though, or ones which required you to buy lots of in-app unlocks, as it can easily lead to costs rising considerably.

That said, this is an affordable way to enter the outstandingly cool world of Virtual Reality, and if you have a compatible smartphone I really think it’s worth going for. At a price of around £70 it’s not breaking the bank and represents very good value for money, especially as all of your family and friends can enjoy it too.

The high-end alternatives are incredibly costly, and Samsung are taking advantage of this with the excellent Gear VR, being sold at an affordable price.

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