Although I've had the Samsung Gear virtual reality headset for sometime now, I hadn't really reviewed it until now. The headset has recently been upgraded. The first version was launched alongside the Galaxy S7 with the newer model coming out to coincide with the S8. Of course, being made by Samsung, one of the limitations of this headset is that it is only compatible with Samsung smartphones, unlike its competitors such as Google’s Daydream View. As this headset has the same maker as the Oculus headsets, all of the games are on at the Oculus store.
Strapping a smartphone to your head may seem peculiar, but this is essentially what you are doing with this headset. Having said that, the Gear is comfortable to wear, even on those of us with bigger than average heads who wear glasses! The designers have tweaked their design, not only to fit the newer S8 phones, but also to allow it to fit more snugly. The only technology inside the headset are the lenses themselves. There’s a touchpad for navigating on the side and a focusing wheel too.
To fit the S8 models, it is a little larger than its predecessors and weighs slightly more at 345g (without your phone in it of course) but you won’t really notice this difference when you’re wearing it. It’s sleeker and more sophisticated too in a new curved, all-black design. The cushioning is nice – more supportive and thicker. There’s also the addition of some air vents that are there to prevent the well-reported lens fogging of the older Samsung Gear. The biggest difference is the new controller, which if I’m honest was much needed given that the competitors all seemed to have one already.
This headset also has a USB-C port. Samsung says that it is multifunctional so you can bet that Samsung will bring out some more accessories at some point.
I first tried this out in a stiflingly hot room. Despite this, it was actually really comfortable to wear and I didn’t feel like my head was on fire during it. The padding was comfy and there was a vast array of strap options to keep it secure. It didn’t slip once!
The set up was quite straightforward, but it did take a little while. There are a few apps that need installing and the headset needs to be charged first too. The good thing is, though, that you can charge the phone whilst it’s in use in the headset, which is fab!
The Gear performed well in all of the games and apps that I tried - one of my personal favourites being Lands End. The head tracking was incredibly smooth thanks to Oculus’s chip located in the headset. This tracks your head movements perfectly and then replicates them on the screen. Unfortunately, though, you can’t move around or lean in your virtual world, as there are no sensors or external cameras attached. The headset is essentially a 3DOF - movement in the three dimensions except rotation.
Of course, the performance of the screen and display is dependent on your phone. If you use the S9, it has fantastic resolution and Quad-HD technology as well as a Super AMOLED display. There’s no blurring or ghosting here, but with other models of phone, performance will no doubt vary. The S6 did perform well too in terms of colours and contrast, and that’s the lowest spec of all the supported phones for this headset. You will notice the phone does get quite hot, even after just 20 minutes of play.
The Field of View (FOV) is about 100 degrees, which is pretty darn good. The refresh rate solely depends on the model of phone, the higher the better. The S7 has a refresh rate of only 60Hz but if you want better clarity, say 90Hz - 120Hz, you'll need a more recent phone, such as the S9 or S9 Plus.
The fact that optics are adjustable is great and is a unique feature that most other headsets just don’t have.
The controller is like a small remote which looks similar to competitor controllers. It has a raised touchpad and a trigger-like button. It might not be original in its creation and design, but it does work really well and can be used by lefties just as easily as right-handed folk.
If you’re a newcomer to virtual reality then the Gear VR is an affordable try-it-out option. It’s not going to compete with the PC-powered or standalone VR headsets, but if you’re already a Samsung Galaxy owner then it’s a pretty good pick. The content selection continues to grow and it’s also easy to use once it’s set up. The fact there’s now a controller means that it’s so much easier to play games too. However, if you don’t already own a Galaxy Smartphone, then it’s probably not the best choice given that it won’t be compatible with your existing phone.
If you’re shopping for a new phone, then picking up a headset with a new Galaxy wouldn’t be a bad shout. It doesn’t cost the earth and you don’t need any existing PC gadgetry to go with it.
Have you got the Samsung Gear or used it? Share your thoughts and opinions with me using the comment box below.
VR Awards Game of the Year 2019. A Fisherman’s Tale is a strange, narrative puzzle adventure game developed by Innerspace VR and published by Vertigo Games. Available on the Oculus Rift, Quest and Rift S. A Fisherman’s Tale fully supports Oculus VR controllers. The game is ideal for adults and kids of all ages. Rated for ages 7+
Dispatched into hostile wetlands in your tactical kayak using your paddle to steer and move stealthily through hostile and remote locations, utilise military weapons and equipment to evade and neutralise the enemy threat. Engage your targets lethally or infiltrate unnoticed from the shadows: it’s your mission to execute your way. Phantom: Covert Ops is stealth action redefined.
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