Samsung and Oculus have worked closely together since late in 2014 on a way to offer a compelling VR experience using little more than a phone. The Gear VR uses Samsung's superior display tech and a unique but locked down software experience from Oculus, and since that initial launch there have been four revisions to the hardware. The most recent revision, released alongside the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8+, takes the Gear VR experience to new heights by offering a special motion controller for new depths in interactivity.
Like its predecessors, this latest version of the Gear VR is designed to be worn for hours, and can even charge your phone from while it is docked in the headset so extended gaming or movie sessions don't negatively impact your battery for the rest of the day. Perhaps most important, it's comfortable enough that you'd actually want to wear it for those extended periods of time.
Why should I care about VR?
Virtual Reality is a new way to explore a lot of amazing things you'd otherwise never get to see in person, by making you feel like you are in an entirely different place. You can stand in the middle of Stonehenge, or sit at the top of the Empire State Building, and everything you see is a massive spherical image of that place. You can even invite other people to experience these things with you, and talk to a virtual version of them as though you are standing right next to each other.
It's also incredible for entertainment. You can watch the next episode of The Handmaid's Tale with a friend living on the other side of the world, blast zombies away with futuristic rifles, or pilot the fastest spacecraft in the galaxy. These experiences don't live on a flat screen in front of you, it's happening all around you when you're wearing a VR headset.
You don't need to be sitting still or standing in place to enjoy VR either. There are amusement parks all around the world using VR headsets to turn roller coasters into amazing new experiences just by switching out the sights and sounds of the theme park with something immersive and new. This form of immersion even had medical uses, from assisting in physical therapy sessions to distracting from pain.
It may seem strange to see VR be called new, especially if you remember back when massive heavy headsets and bulking computers-filled malls with things that made a lot of people nauseous after a few minutes. What we're talking about here isn't anywhere near the same thing, even though it does have the same name. It's new, it's fun, and if you've not tried a new Gear VR it's time to give one a shot.
How the Gear VR stands out
Basically, this headset is a complete thought. It's designed to keep light out while offering ventilation to keep the lenses from fogging up after extended use, and can be quickly adjusted for a variety of different eye comfort levels. You can wear the headset with glasses or without, and the headset itself offers additional tracking hardware to guarantee a smooth experience even when quickly turning in an app of game. It's also very sturdy, so there's no need to worry if you pack it away in luggage or a backpack that gets knocked around a bit.
- 101˚ FOV
- 62mm IPD (fixed)
- 10mm Eye Relief
- USB-C, OTG
- Proximity (Headset only)
- Magnetometer (Controller only)
There's an important detail in that specs sheet which helps explain why this headset stands out in the crowd. The Samsung Gear VR is more than plastic and glass, it has extra sensors baked in to help the phone process motion tracking. This additional information means things like turning your head quickly in a Gear VR feels more natural, which can make a big difference for people easily unsettled by the almost out of body feeling so frequently associated with virtual reality.
While there are other VR experiences that use a phone to deliver other-worldly visuals and exciting games, Samsung has ensure there is no competition for the Gear VR if you've already purchased a phone. If you are already happy with your phone and would like to explore VR, the decision has largely been made for you thanks to exclusivity agreements.
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The good news is a lot of the most popular experiences in VR are made by companies happy to make sure every VR users has the same experience. The bad news is if you enjoy your Gear VR experiences but want a phone made by another manufacturer in the future, you will be leaving things like game saves and friends lists behind. This isn't a huge deal if you're only using your Gear VR occasionally, but once you find something unique that hooks you into diving into VR daily it's clear you'll likely be sticking with Samsung for a while.
Embracing the Gear VR Controller
While the Gear VR has many games which support or require the addition of a Bluetooth gamepad, many games rely on the touch pad mounted on the side of the headset for input. That works well for quick apps and games, but if you want someone to do something in VR for an extended period of time you can't expect them to keep their hand mounted on the side of the headset.
Enter the Gear VR Controller.
This small Bluetooth wand lets you do everything you would normally do on the side of the headset, but in the palm of your hand. It's not only significantly more comfortable, but it also adds buttons for developers to add features to. Where everything in the past was "swipe up to jump" you can now have a button for things like this, which is way more fun.
Samsung and Oculus very much see this Controller as the future.
The Gear VR Controller does way more. When you look down at your hand while wearing the Gear VR, you can actually see the controller. As you move it around in your hand, those movements are seen in the Gear VR. The Controller has something called Three Degrees of Freedom (3Dof) which means you can move it around and those movements will be added to VR. For VR games, this means a pistol you can actually point and shoot. For education or browsing, this means a laser pointer in your hand for precise pointing and even typing.
You get a Gear VR Controller with the latest Gear VR, but if you already own a Gear VR it's super easy to add the Controller to your existing experience since you can buy it separately. Samsung and Oculus very much see this Controller as the future, and have worked with over 40 developers to quickly build unique new experiences which rely heavily on this unique new controller.
Gaming in your Gear VR
Yep, you can play a lot of incredible games on the Gear VR. In fact, there are more great games on the Gear VR than any other mobile VR platform. You can play epic puzzle games, shooters, racing, even tabletop fantasy card games. There's a lot to love about the options you have available, and new experiences are hitting the Oculus Store daily.
Best of all, the Oculus store makes it easy to see which games are the most intense right in the description. You can set your comfort level, or you can push your own limits to see what you can handle. It's entirely up to you, which makes it a ton of fun.
What about overheating?
Virtual Reality is incredibly demanding on these tiny pocket computers we're so fond of. These experiences require more from the processor, graphics, and display than just about anything else you can do with your phone. As a result, a lot of early Gear VR experiences were limited to a few minutes to keep the phone from staying warmer than usual for too long. Samsung has worked hard to address this over the last few generations, with the Galaxy S8 representing the most significant change in performance.
In many ways, mobile processors have caught up to the expectations set by virtual reality experiences. With a Galaxy S8 in a Gear VR, you can play for multiple hours without ever seeing a heat warning. This is a big deal when compared to the first generation Samsung and Oculus first created, and overcoming this hurdle means VR developers can push the envelope ever further and create more intense and realistic experiences to delight the senses.
Where to go for even more information
We've only scratched the surface of what is possible with your Gear VR, and how to make sure you're getting the most out of these hardware. And really, that's what makes the Gear VR so uniquely deserving of being called the best mobile VR headset you can buy right now. The sheer volume of amazing things you can do is exciting, and seriously grows every day.
If you're on the fence about a Gear VR, or you have one now and want to know more about having a great time with this experience, here are some great resources for you to check out.
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