After years of prototypes and last year’s first stab, the Samsung and Oculus partnership has produced the first-ever consumer-ready version of the Gear VR headset. It is smaller, lighter, and at $99, quite a bit cheaper, than previous versions. The Samsung Gear VR offers a totally new incredible experience of movies that can be watched and games that can be played while you are immersed in the 360 degree atmosphere.
The Gear VR is not a standalone headset. Instead, it is actually a viewer that you use with your smartphone. It does have several hardware components like an accelerometer, gyroscope, and proximity-based sensors, as well as optical lenses. These augment the performance of the smart phone and help to prevent latency.
To use the Gear VR, you must first open the case and insert your Samsung phone. It hooks up by the microUSB connection. The Gear VR currently works with only the newest six Samsung phones: the Note5, S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, S7, and S7 edge.
The Gear VR itself is a large, white plastic visor. The front of the unit is 7.9 inches wide and 3.45 inches high. Although lighter than last year’s unit, at 9.9 ounces, the headset still feels a bit heavy on the head. Wearing the headset you both look and feel like you are wearing a giant set of ski googles or over-sized military night-vision googles. You strap the Gear VR on with the attached elastic and Velcro strips. One large band goes around the back of your head, behind your ears, and the other goes over the top of your head. Both are adjustable for different sized heads. Soft foam padding around the eyes and nose area make for a fairly comfortable fit. The Gear VR also fits comfortably over most glasses. It has a focus wheel at the top, so you can also adjust the focus to match your eyesight.
The Gear VR is charged by attaching the charger to the charging port on the bottom of the unit. You must also follow the instructions to install the Gear VR software, but this is done fairly easily. When you attach your phone to the Gear for the first time, the installation starts automatically.
Once the unit is charged up and the software installed, you are ready for your first virtual reality experience. Put on the Gear headset and you will see a screen of colorful tiles. To make a selection, you move your head to move the cursor onto your selection. The Gear VR has a touchpad on the right ear piece that is embossed for ease of use. It has a back button and volume adjustments, as well as a center point to confirm selections. The area surrounding that center point is a touchpad that you can swipe across to move around the screen. It can be a bit difficult to get used to, but it is pretty intuitive.
The 360 degree virtual reality experience is quite amazing and immersive. It’s best to use the Gear VR sitting in a swivel chair that allows you to turn around 360 degrees, so you can easily take it all in. This will also help to stabilize your body so you don’t get nauseous when traveling in outer space.
Don’t expect a perfect picture. Depending on the app you are viewing and your own eyesight, what you see can be slightly blurry and/or grainy. While what you see is amazing, the picture is often far from perfect.
More content is coming online all the time. You can browse the Oculus Play Store right on the screen of your Gear VR. You can play games, explore outer space, and travel virtually around the world. Even the content that loads automatically with the Gear is worthwhile. For example, Cirque du Soleil’s demo is quite interesting and the Oculus 360 Photo app uses Getty Images to show off some of the best panoramic images available. Much of the Gear VR content which you can find at the Oculus Play store is free. However, you can also find content with prices attached. These generally run from $0.99 to $9.99 USD.
If you are a sports fan, you will not want to miss NextVR, one of the best apps that shows off the potential of the Gear VR. This is a free app that live streams events in 180 degrees. You can get a front row seat at everything from NASCAR races to the US Open to the US Presidential debates. You even get to choose your perspective and look at replays and close ups. You may also want to get Samsung’s free VR browser which lets you browse through VR content on the web including that found on YouTube.
Both Netflix and Hulu have recently made their content available on the Gear VR so there is plenty to watch. However, Samsung advises that the viewing is best done in small increments. Using this device for too long can give you headaches or depending on your constitution, an upset stomach. It is also not advised for use in children under 13.
To improve your experience, you can connect a headset or a Bluetooth headset to the mobile device when using the Gear VR. I highly recommend Bluetooth as depending on your phone, some headphone audio jacks may not fit properly in your mobile device while mounted to the Gear VR.
If a phone call comes in while you are using the Gear VR you will see a phone icon, you can move the pointer on top of that icon to see who is calling, but you cannot answer the call without separating the phone from the Gear.
This is no doubt, the first stab at virtual reality for the masses. The applications for this technology are so widespread, that it is sure to catch on. The Gear VR is well-built and fairly inexpensive and is, right now, one of the best way to test the VR waters.