Gear VR review

Gear VRWhile we’ll go into a lot more detail below, you’re probably keen to get a quick view on what to expect from the Samsung Gear VR virtual reality headset. In general, it’s a step down from the bigger boys like the Oculus Rift or PlayStation VR, but on the bright side it’s cheaper, just as well designed and comes packed with a lot of content to access from day one. If you’ve already got a compatible Samsung smart phone then this is a nice and easy entry into the new-tech world of virtual reality.

How the Samsung Gear VR works

While the Gear VR is a similar device to it’s bigger cousin the Rift, it has a couple of significant differences to be aware of. The first of these is the fact that it only works when you clip a compatible Samsung smartphone (the current list includes the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S7 and its equivalent Edge incarnation) into the front of it, which then acts as a part of the screen and processing power that fires the Gear VR.

When combined, the virtual reality headset comes to life with a super AMOLED display to create the depth needed to give you a smooth and immersive VR experience. This is added to by a 96 degree wide angle field of view, which may not be as big as the Oculus Rift, but gives you enough eyeball swivel room to feel a part of the action. It delivers highly precise head tracking capabilities with low latency, so you feel like you’re in control of everything. Look up and it has synchronised motion with you in pretty much every application that it has on the books.

All of this works fairly well to put you at the heart of the experience and while it’s not quite enough to blow your tiny mind, it’s got a good amount of wow factor for the relatively inexpensive price tag. It gives you a very personal view point with everything from movies to virtual reality games to roam around in, so instead of having a flat screen TV to look at from afar, you can be right in the thick of the action.

Gear VR gaming review

If we’re being completely and brutally honest, we’d have to say that there are few, if any, Gear VR games that have got us excited. There’s essentially a novelty value to it all that is as much a general issue for all virtual reality gaming as it is for the Samsung and Oculus collaboration. Yes there are games to play and a few of them are a good laugh, but there are no killer, must-have games as of yet.

A part of the problem is that VR gaming is so early days that it doesn’t really know what to do with itself half of the time, but more importantly, it doesn’t know what good looks like. This won’t be the case for long though, because in time there will be a breakout success that will help to point the way for future success, so the question is whether or not you want to be in on the action on the ground floor or if you’re happy to wait for the software to get up to speed.

For now though, you’ve got a choice between visually impressive and high-octane futuristic shooters like Anshar Wars or Gunjack, puzzlers like Esper and Darknet or sport sims like Action Bowling. There will also be a number of standard 2D gaming options to go for with the Oculus Arcade leading the way, giving you everything from Pac Man, Sonic The Hedgehog and Echo The Dolphin to play within the headset. However, we’d be more interested if developers were creating virtual reality reboots for each of these instead. Echo The Dolphin has got a lot of potential when it comes to VR gaming, so hopefully the guys at Sega will be on it in the not too distant future.

Gear VR games and apps

Where Gear VR games start to tilt the dial a little is in the burgeoning horror and thriller adventures that are beginning to take shape. These are a bit rudimentary at the moment, but the fear factor of Dreadhalls and Dead Secret are big hints at the potential the genre has on the device. Imagine the mobile gaming equivalent of Alien: Isolation on the Gear VR and you can see where the fun is going to land.

Where the Samsung headset struggles against other virtual reality devices is on the processing power front, but then with the difference on price between the Gear VR and the higher processing power of the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR it’s tough to complain too much. Yes the graphics will never be as good, but they’re not a million miles short at the moment and as ever it’ll always come down to gameplay.

This is a sticking point for games across all virtual reality headsets as they’re still getting to grips with the unique gaming experience of VR. The most important for us is around the controls and on this score we’d have to say that a combination of head movement and controller action is the best for experience at the moment. For the Gear VR there’s the super slick, Bluetooth connected smartphone GamePad, which will help to open up more opportunities for great games to come on board with the technology. If a big name first person shooter lands in the not too distant future then we can see our opinion of Gear VR gaming changing rather quickly.

However, we can also envisage a world in which hand motion tracking would take virtual reality to the next level, so we’re keeping out fingers crossed for the next generation of VR headsets. Imagine a system that delivers FPS action that fires when you hold your hands out in front of you and pull an imaginary trigger! Sadly, the tech isn’t there just yet, but it’s coming and the Gear VR looks like a credible contender in the evolution towards a truely great virtual reality gaming experience.

Gear VR TV and movie experience review

As with gaming, the movie world is still very much in its infancy when it comes to VR headsets. The scope at the moment is mostly limited to watching films and TV shows within an in-view screen that simply plays the content in front of you in a simulated environment. For Oculus Video, this is a cinema screen with you taking the front seat, and in the recently added Netflix App it’s a cabin home with a massive screen TV set in front of you.

Netflix is the best in terms of content at the moment, providing all of the benefits of the huge catalogue line-up to watch on the Gear VR. Oculus Video allow you to buy a selection of HD movies, but without the ability to rent movies and with the limited number of films available, it doesn’t provide all that many options to begin with. However, movie rentals will be coming to Oculus Video in the not too distant future, spurred on by the imminent mushroom cloud that the release of the Oculus Rift is bound to throw up, and this will inevitably inspire a much increased catalogue of movies to watch.

Netflix and Oculus Video are both fine if what you’re looking for is a solo experience, but obviously it’s not something you can enjoy with friends, family or the new love of your life. This isn’t too much of a big deal on the face of things, because it’s sort of the nature of the beast, but it is one of the reasons that 3D TV has struggled to become the established flat screen TV format, bowing out to the clarity and simplicity of 4K TV. If it was a big sticking point for the television market, then it could be the same again here.

The good news for virtual reality headsets like the Gear VR is that it will have its own unique viewing proposition in time as 360 degree movies start to become more prevalent. At the moment they’re pretty much non-existent in terms of big budget releases, but with the recent arrival of first person shooter adventure movie, Hardcore Henry, to the big screen it’s only a matter of time before the 360 degree cinema experience begins to explode.

For the time being though, there are a number of simple videos recorded on 360 cameras that you can watch on your Gear VR headset to give you a glimpse of what could be the future of cinema. Check out our cool 360 videos to get a taste of what the potential of being completely immersed in a film could feel like.

Other content and apps

In addition to games, TV, movies and video, the Gear VR also gives you access to a number of unique experience content and apps. Google Street View, for example, really comes to life on the virtual reality headset, allowing you to go pretty much anywhere in the world from the comfort of your new head box.

If you’re feeling brave, you can also take the virtual world experience to the next level with the likes of Altspace VR, which connects you to other Gear VR users and let’s you chat with them and share experiences. This ranges from watching videos together, surfing the Internet and playing air hockey and we’ll be very surprised if it doesn’t go on to tap into the Internet dating scene in the not too distant future. An alternative to this is Oculus Social Beta, which allows you to choose an avatar, chat and watch Vimeo videos together, but it’s a bit surreal with its floating head approach to personification.

Samsung Internet also provides you with a direct line to the web with its web browser that has been specifically designed for the VR headset. We can see websites developing 360 degree equivalents in time, but at the moment this is just a straight 2D portal into the web, which you can navigate with the headset keypad and voice commands.

As VR headsets become more popular, there will be a rush for more apps to be developed and for updates to existing apps, so it really feels like an exciting time to get into the virtual reality gadget revolution. The Gear VR comes with a good number of fun apps out of the box and it’s going to be fun seeing what new software innovation arrives over the next year or so.

Design review

Gear VR headset

Overall, the Gear VR is very well designed, both in terms of the headset itself and the interface within it. It’s pretty light at just 318g without a Galaxy smartphone attached, and it fits well, without much in the way of discomfort. In fact, it’s so light that it can feel a little budget at times and in all fairness it doesn’t have the same level of production value as its bigger cousin, the Oculus Rift.

It’s pretty stylish though with its glossy black and white finish and futuristic design and when you combine it with the foam padding and comfortable head strap, what you get is a good mix of style and function. The control pad is easy access and ergonomic, although you can get arm ache if you use it for a prolonged period, but with options for voice, head movement and eye controls it probably won’t be an ongoing problem.

Setting up your view is pretty easy with the focus wheel on the top of the headset, but on a negative front there are a few people online that talk about the difficulties of wearing glasses with the Gear VR. This is both in terms of fitting the headset over them and eye strain if they don’t fit and you end up trying to use the device without your glasses. If you need to wear specs then you might want to get a demo at your local Samsung store before buying the headset.

Samsung Gear VR technology review

The majority of the tech that powers the Gear VR sits with the smartphone that you opt for, so the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge will be the most future proof on the market. However, no matter which phone you have it won’t really come close to the firepower of either a high-spec PC, which sits behind the Oculus Rift, or the Sony PlayStation 4, which sits behind the PlayStation VR.

There’s obviously a big price difference to take into account, and we’ll get to that with our price review below, but you can’t escape the fact that the Gear VR is on the lower end of the virtual reality tech power spectrum. That said, it’s currently punching well above its weight when it comes to the games that are available with the likes of Gunjack looking and playing on a par with Eve: Valkyrie on the Oculus Rift. As time goes on and more developers get behind virtual reality gaming you’ll start to see more of a gulf between the Gear VR and its heavyweight equivalents, much in the same way you can see the difference between the average Xbox ONE game and an equivalent Android title.

The device itself comes with a touch pad for controls, along with a back key, volume key and focus adjustment wheel, along with voice recognition technology and eye tracking. The gyro, accelerometer and proximity sensors provide accurate head movement controls within the Gear VR interface and content. Apart from the processing firepower, the Samsung Gear VR makes for a solid alternative new tech device to it’s bigger competitors, cousins and creeps.

Gear VR price

This is one of the biggest plus points for the Gear VR with prices ranging from £79.99, compared to the £500+ price tag for the Rift and £350 marker for the PlayStation VR. This is especially the case if you already have one of Samsung’s compatible smartphones (check out the list about for details), or if you were in the process of switching to a Samsung phone as part of your existing contract.

However, if you need to get a phone to be in on the action, which would pretty much include all iPhone twitchers, then the combined outlay would be pretty pricey, putting it in the same bracket as the big boys, which doesn’t really stack up.

Overall review

The Samsung Gear VR is a solid entry point into the world of virtual reality, but it only really makes sense as a package if you’ve already got a compatible smartphone, or you can get one with your existing monthly contract. The design is cool with good comfort, fit and ergonomics, and it’s got enough technical clout behind it to make it a fun piece of kit for at least a few years to come.

It’s got very similar content in terms of gaming, movies, TV and applications as both the Rift and PS VR, so it doesn’t really have any big holes in its arsenal. While this might change in the not too distant future, right now there’s little to make the added price tag of the other devices worth trading out the Gear VR as your first dipped toe into the fresh new pool of virtual reality talent that’s just on the cusp of going very, very big.

Samsung Gear VR review: 3.8/5

Share our review of the Samsung Gear VR with: