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Five things you need to know about the Samsung Gear VR

Samsung has been working with the biggest name in virtual reality for over two years to bring a little bit of the virtual world to your smartphone, and with the Samsung Gear VR that experience is finally consumer-ready. Anyone who has been following the development of this and related VR accessories for smartphones knows there are a lot of exciting things happening right now in this space, and that can make choosing which one to spend money on a little complicated.

To help with this, we've assembled a quick list of things you need to know about the Samsung Gear VR before you either consider or dismiss its existence as a physical accessory to transport you to the virtual world.

This is very different from Google Cardboard

Gear VR and Cardboard

You will frequently hear folks who have never used a Gear VR, or those who have only used it for a moment or two, call the Samsung Gear VR an expensive version of Google Cardboard. While it's true there are some similarities (namely the part where you put your phone in the little box and look through the lenses on the other side to see pretty pictures and video) there's quite a bit of actual hardware difference.

For starters, there's a microUSB dock in the Gear VR mount that offers some hardware assistance to the Gear VR when you're looking through those lenses. Additional sensors make head tracking noticeably smoother, which in turn decreases that motion-based disorientation so many feel when trying out smartphone-based VR for the first time. You'll also find a touchpad on the side of the Gear VR that offers a significantly greater number of control options for navigating not only the Oculus-provided interface, but also a significant number of the included apps. Games like CCP's Gunjack, for example, requires more than a single button interface and that is going to make porting it to Cardboard more than a little difficult. There's also a back button and a fine focus wheel to dial things in just right.

Basically, anyone who tells you the Gear VR is an expensive Google Cardboard is wrong and should feel bad.

People with prescription glasses can finally enjoy smartphone-based VR

Gear VR with glasses

Most folks with prescription glasses will look at a VR headset and just sort of shrug, because almost none of them plays nice with spectacles. Samsung's original design for the Gear VR tried to make this a little easier to deal with through the use of the focus ring, and you turned it until what you were looking at came into focus. This isn't terribly different from the way Oculus does things with the Rift developer kits, but it's rarely enough for those of us with glasses.

This new Gear VR is totally glasses-friendly, applying pressure around your forehead to create enough space for you glasses to comfortably sit while using the VR headset. You still run the risk of occasionally smudging your eyelids against the glasses, which means you have to start the process of putting this headset on all over again after cleaning your glasses again, but everything actually works and is comfortable enough to use for a while, and that's a big deal for a lot of people.

You'll need a newer Samsung phone to use Gear VR

Samsung Gear VR

Google Cardboard fans are going to find a fairly fatal flaw with the Gear VR — it only works with a handful of newer Samsung phones. Specifically, the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, Note 5, and Galaxy S6 edge+ are the only phones that work with the new Gear VR. The added hardware for head tracking, the Oculus-provided software, and the physical casing to hold the phone and lock it into the microUSB port only work with those four phones, so don't even try to put something else in there.

To make matters somewhat worse, if you're using the original Gear VR Innovator Edition on the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, you'll find that not everything available on the new Gear VR is available on the original. Games like Land's End have announced efforts to support the Note 4 at a later date, but until that happens several games aren't available to be installed on the older version of the Gear VR and that's likely going to get worse with time. There's good reason, especially with the heat and performance issues the Note 4 has with the Gear VR Innovator Edition, but considering those early adopters spent twice what new Gear VR owners did to get in on the action early it's got to sting a little.

Everything in Gear VR happens in the Oculus Store

Gear VR Oculus

Unlike your other Samsung accessories, where you install a Samsung app and you use Samsung features and all of your content is curated by Samsung, the Gear VR is very much an Oculus-run show. Every app is installed and managed through the Oculus Store, the payment system is managed by Oculus, and when you put the headset on the virtual environment being drawn is basically a huge advertisement for Oculus, right down to the massive logo floating behind you on the right. It's big, it's beautiful, and it's all managed by Oculus.

While the curator of the content your consuming may not be a huge deal to you, it's worth noting that Oculus is clearly doing things a little differently from Samsung when it comes to videos you're shown in the Oculus Video app, and in general how content is rated in the Oculus Store is fairly nonstandard. VR is an all new environment, but a blanked "13+" warning on everything isn't going to be enough for everyone. If you plan on sharing this VR experience with your kids, you'll want to keep that in mind before handing the hardware off and walking away.

There's a large, high-quality selection of games available already

Gear VR Games

One of the big things Samsung and Oculus have going for them thanks to the more than two years of public development on this platform is the list of content available at launch. The Gear VR has a huge selection of video apps, including Netflix, for users to consume and share. You can get VR video just about everywhere nowadays though, what makes the Gear VR really stand out is the impressive selection of games available already.

Oculus tapped the creator of the highly anticipated Rift game EVE: Valkyrie for Gunjack on the Gear VR, which currently sits atop a list including cryptic puzzle game Land's End by UsTwo games, the folks behind Monument Valley. This same list includes an Adventure Time hack and slash, a seriously dark zombie shooter, several racing games, and an amazing VR arcade experience featuring hits like Galaga and several Sonic the Hedgehog titles.

You aren't likely to run out of things to do in the Oculus Store anytime soon, and there are many more games headed to the Gear VR next year.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

23 Comments
  • Price WIN
    Content WIN
    think that the Oculus is one of the most exciting developments this year. The only experience I have had issue with was a game called Temple Run :-/ other than that, it seams as though there is something new to check out each time I look in the Oculus store. Now if only it was in stock for more people to get a hold of! Posted via the Android Central App
  • I received mine today and haven't even taken it out of the box yet, but I'm pretty excited. What is the samsung game controller you have in the final pic? And are there other (I'm guessing less expensive) controllers I can use with the system?
  • I've been using a moga pro and it works great.
  • Let's be honest, Samsung "could have" made the micro USB work with the Note 4 and upgraded the software to "make it work" if they wanted, but they wanted suckers to buy up the remaining stock of the Innovator Edition and at the same time push sales of the new devices (smart).. The Innovator Edition buyers are basically screwed with a device that won't be supported with newer content that's finally coming.. This brings device support to a new low.. I'll admit I was excited and wanted this but not with having to buy a new device to replace one that's less than a year old.. I'll wait for something better. At least with a video game system I get 4 years'ish of use out of it... Too bad LG effed up on their watch... I could have been free of Samsung lol...
  • Do you need to buy the controller to play games? Feels like playing games by the TouchPad would be cumbersome.. Posted via the Android Central App
  • You can do a lot with the VR'S side pad. I'm looking forward to other controller support. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I got mine yesterday and find it doesn't give me nausea like cardboard does. However, after about a half hour the weight puts enough stress on my forehead and face that I have to put it down.
  • You got one yesterday? Where did you get it from? I preordered mine and it's been on backorder since 11/20.
  • At&t store here in Missouri has then in stock.
  • I got it on Amazon.
  • I'm glad they made it glasses friendly. I got rid of my innovator edition because it was a pain to wear with glasses for any real length of time. Might consider picking up a Note 5 and giving it another try.
  • Does the Gear VR work with Cardboard and it's apps?
  • Yes it works with all the cardboard apps Posted via the Android Central App
  • Great...glad...thought this may have been another Tizen situation like Android Wear... :)
  • ??? Just wondered how cardboard apps or any other vr app would work because when I connect my phone it only shows the oculus dash? Please help!!
  • Download Package Disabler to turn off the Gear VR service and then Cardboard should work.
  • I think my wife is getting me the first one to work with my Note 4. Are they still worth getting? Sounds like they are abandoning the older gen stuff.
  • Unlike the regular Oculus PC version, the Gear VR is light and portable, the PC not so much. PC version is over 1k plus need computer. The Gear VR is $99.00 and only needs a phone to power it, average cost $650-$900. So far it is fantastic and has tons of 3rd party support.
  • will it work with the S7 with a lifeproof case?
  • yes it works with the s7 and s7 edge, its FAB!!!
  • I heard I need a contract with a phone provider to use this GEAR VR and Samsung phone! Really?? Do I need a contract with a phone provider to use this? Or can I use simply with WiFi? posted May 13 2016 ..
  • Will my Samsung 4 tablet work with my Samsung gear vr?
  • There is a 6th thing to know.
    If you do not want to use the Gear VR and you own a Samsung SMART phone, Samsung will force you to install it. If you try to refuse, the install app will interrupt any other app running every couple of minutes. This results in constant interruptions and a fast drain of the battery. Search for Gear VR on the web and you will see this has been an ongoing issue for more than a year and Samsung is doing nothing. I finally gave in and installed the software in order to get my phone back. All I got was access to their online store where I can buy their VR apps. I paid $600 for the phone only to have it hijacked by Samsung and turned into their personal kiosk.
    This feels so dishonest.