Samsung Gear VR Review

Introduction


How does one of the most popular people on the planet walk through a hall filled with thousands of journalists without getting noticed? This might seem unthinkable, yet this is exactly what happened at the world’s largest mobile tech forum, MWC 2016.

The reason is virtual reality, and in particular, the Samsung Gear VR, a $100 headset that works with Samsung phones and redefines the meaning of 'immersive' in the context of a mobile gadget.

And yes, the image of all the journalists sitting quietly and obediently watching a Samsung promo, while Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg walks by unnoticed is definitely Orwellian. But there is another reason everyone was willing to put their virtual headsets on right away: it was because the experience was different and exciting.

The Gear VR was first launched alongside the Galaxy Note 4 way back in late 2014, but the initial versions were clearly labeled “Innovator Edition”, made for the early adopters and only compatible with a single phone. These days, the Gear VR is lighter and smaller, and Samsung is giving it away for free with the new Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge, so we thought that now is the right time to go back to it and review it properly. Let’s see what it’s all about.

*Gear VR is only compatible with the following Samsung phones:
Samsung Galaxy S7 / S7 Edge, Note 5, Note 4, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+

Design, weight and fit


If you have seen the Samsung Gear VR with its fairly large white plastic body, you won’t be surprised to hear that it reminds of ski goggles strapped to your face. Still, Samsung has worked on reducing the weight throughout the generations and the current Gear VR feels fairly lightweight and comfortable. You have a couple of elastic velcro straps on the side and one on the top. We lost the top one and still felt plenty comfortable wearing the Gear VR with just the side straps on.

With large soft foam padding, the Gear VR never feels like it’s pressing too hard to your face or nose bridge, and is actually comfortable to wear. On a personal note, as someone who wears glasses, I wasn’t able to comfortably use it with the glasses on, but there is some adjustment to the focus and it compensates for my otherwise not so great vision, so I did not find this to be a big disadvantage. Still, if your vision is in bad shape and you can’t go outside without glasses on, the Gear VR might not be the most comfortable option, so we recommend that you first try it in a store before buying.

Just like earlier versions, the Gear VR is not a standalone gadget: you need to dock your Samsung phone in the microUSB plug up front. The headset will automatically detect when your phone is connected and switch it to the VR mode, which shows a split screen view of virtual reality content. At the same time, the Gear VR itself is not just a box (like Google Cardboard): it has an accelerometer, a gyroscope and a proximity sensor that are there to reduce screen latency and provide a better experience.

If you are wondering how do different sized phones such as the S7 Edge and S7 fit in one and the same headset, the answer is simple: there is a small A/B switch that allows you to move the docking a bit to adjust for your smartphone size.



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46 Comments

1. Zack_2014

Posts: 677; Member since: Mar 25, 2014

PIxelated :( We need 8K on a phone.

3. xondk

Posts: 1904; Member since: Mar 25, 2014

Pixelation is not really an issue to me, actually resolution is fine, and last I checked with a sgs6 or better phone and 2560x1440 screen is actually something that is marginally better in resolution/screen door effect then rift, not sure about vive, 4k resolution should be fine really, but driving that is heavy.

40. xperian

Posts: 418; Member since: Apr 10, 2014

It's not better resolution than rift in reality since it has pentile matrix.

41. xperian

Posts: 418; Member since: Apr 10, 2014

We don't need higher resolutions on phones, 1440 is already overkill and virtual reality is just a gimmick. 1080 gives you better performance and battery life without sacrifices in visual quality.

42. xondk

Posts: 1904; Member since: Mar 25, 2014

Well true, though we all know 4k displays will come around anyway, at least now there will be an actual advantage to them, though I don't know about their refresh rate. That also said on pentile, I think that one is tricky to compare I mean it makes aliasing quite easier to handle or at least that is my experience. But yeah, might not be enough of an advantage when it comes to VR, and amoled still has that black issue.

44. chebner

Posts: 249; Member since: Oct 17, 2011

No, what you need is an 8k VR device. Phones don't need to be more than 1920x1080. Why suffer terrible battery life on a phone because you want high res for VR?

2. Damo.

Posts: 10; Member since: Feb 22, 2016

I noticed the same, it's a cool tech per se but it's far too pixelated and hurt my eyes after around 15-20 minutes because I'm not used to this pixelated stuff - I would definitely buy the next gen I guess.

5. tyrionTheWise unregistered

The next-gen gear VR won't fix the pixelation. A 4k phone probably will, which is a bad idea. Instead, VR headset should have the screen built in.

7. Damo.

Posts: 10; Member since: Feb 22, 2016

Thx for the clarification - so what would you recommend Samsung?

10. tyrionTheWise unregistered

For a proper VR experience, oculus or vive will be better. For cheap. get the cardboard.

11. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

Why not run at 1080p at normal use and 4K at VR? Similar to Sony's implementation on the Z5 Premium, except with VR.

14. tyrionTheWise unregistered

The screen will still be 4k and will drain battery like a 4k screen. Rendering 1080p at 4k will only save power on processor. And how do you render 4k content? Even rendering QHD is a major strain. See how he talks the S6 overheated.

19. NoToFanboys

Posts: 3231; Member since: Oct 03, 2015

Leave that to the distant future.

25. Macready

Posts: 1817; Member since: Dec 08, 2014

No, this is not true. Power usage is largely dependent on the rendered resolution and screen size, for a given screen technology, not so much the native screen resolution. That's because for DPI's up to around 800 for AMOLED, the fill factor is pretty constant. You'll find that a recent 720P AMOLED screen, draws similar amounts of power to a 1440P one of the same size, when the latter is set to 720P, despite a factor 4 difference in the amount of pixels. Samsung has had the 4K screens ready for a while, but the 2 main reasons holding them back are cost and GPU power (which directly affects the battery life too of course).

35. MrElectrifyer

Posts: 3960; Member since: Oct 21, 2014

Thanks for the information, have any sources to back you claims?

38. Chris.P

Posts: 567; Member since: Jun 27, 2013

I got to try 4K VR at MWC with the Z5 Premium and the Zeiss VR One. It's better than Gear VR + a 2K Samsung phone, but still -very- far from what we're used to nowadays. In any case, resolution is just part of the problem. Having to constantly fiddle with focus, along with that dizzying effect when looking around, add to an uncomfortable experience, at least with what I've tried so far (haven't tried Vive/Oculus). I also experienced that still mysterious VR sickness, which felt a bit like what you feel when trying to read a book when riding shotgun. In other words, not nice.

39. tyrionTheWise unregistered

The main issue is the frame rate and response time. LCDs like z5 premium have extremely poor response times leading to the issue. That's why oculus and vive look so much better than gear VR or Zeiss VR, despite using only 1080p screen. They use a 90 Hz OLED panel and have the power to back it up.

4. gaming64

Posts: 234; Member since: Mar 22, 2016

The only purpose I see in VR is experiencing 3D rollercoaster ride simulators and watch 360 degree porn.

12. Ruturaj

Posts: 1484; Member since: Oct 16, 2014

180 degree's are good as well.

30. bur60

Posts: 981; Member since: Jul 07, 2014

I preordered the S7 with gear vr for the latter.

6. GreenMan

Posts: 2697; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

Any word on the amount of radiation? This thing seems like it generates a ton...!!!

8. gaming64

Posts: 234; Member since: Mar 22, 2016

You seem to worry too much about radiation when you're already getting radiation just from having your eyes 6 inches away from the screen.

13. aahmed215

Posts: 169; Member since: Jun 18, 2012

You put your phone in your pocket for hours and put it against your head when on a call. So I wouldn't be worrying about additional radiation.

9. wando77

Posts: 1168; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

Watching movies in the cinema mode is amazing. It's worth a hundred dollars just for that

15. donrox

Posts: 201; Member since: Jul 18, 2014

PA you did a review with a "Battery Life" section to tell us "We didn’t measure exact screen on time, while using the Gear VR, but it’s really eating up your battery really fast".

16. thegeneral7010

Posts: 437; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

Does the new s7 gear VR works also with note 4????

17. devoTECH

Posts: 11; Member since: Mar 11, 2016

Samsung released its first VR with the Note 4. This 3rd edition VR model works with the S6 and every Samsung flagship since.

21. thegeneral7010

Posts: 437; Member since: Dec 10, 2014

U sure about that???

24. true1984

Posts: 864; Member since: May 23, 2012

it says it on samsung's website

37. devoTECH

Posts: 11; Member since: Mar 11, 2016

Definitely. Here's it's model number: 60-3358-05-XP.

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