Samsung Gear VR-Ready for the mainstream?
April 15, 2015
Written by Ramon Mejia
The Samsung Gear VR innovator addition was released in December 2014. It turns the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, exclusively, into a virtual reality (vr) head mounted display. I have spent the last five months with the device and have shown it to over one hundred people. I feel enough time has passed to give a fair well rounded review now that there is a full app store for the device.
The Gear VR uses the Samsung Note 4 to provide all the graphical processing power. This means your experience is only limited by the hardware limits of the phone it is linked to. Right now the Gear VR only works with the Note 4 but Samsung plans to release another version of Gear VR to work with the Samsung Galaxy 5 and Galaxy S5.
How the Gear VR compares to other devices
I've worked with virtual reality devices for over a year now. The Gear VR is not the best of them. However, this is the first device that does portable vr right. Often compared to Google Cardboard, which also turns your cell phone into a vr system, Gear VR does more. It provides additional sensor data and gets special accesses to your phone’s hardware to maximize the virtual reality experience. While there is no positional tracking, or ability for the device to sense when you’re moving around the room. It does track where you look and when you turn around rotationally. What all this means is that if you’re just sitting down this works wonderfully. Don’t expect to be able to wander an empty room with this on and see changes to what you’re looking at in vr. Even with these limitations, there are some genuinely great virtual reality experiences to be had with the Samsung Gear VR.
In the last month Oculus, who provided the software to run the Gear VR, has opened an app store for the device. The App store, which can be accessed within the Gear VR, allows for purchase and download of an ever increasing variety of virtual reality games and experiences. Describing the experience of using these applications is difficult since they usually have to be seen to be believed. However, some of the best vr apps are listed below.
TheBlueVR – This is usually the very first vr experience I show people on the Gear VR. The app puts the user in the middle of the ocean underwater with a variety of underwater creatures (whales, narwhals, dolphins, more) with a narrator providing educational information on each animal. A favorite among kids since they get to swim with dolphins. Free in the app store.
Oculus Cinema- This is the app I use the most. Oculus Cinema puts you in the middle of your own private movie theater to watch 3D/2D movies or television shows that you have. I personally love watching my favorite movies and anime on a giant movie screen. I can honestly say I spend at least two hours a week using this app alone. Free in the app store.
Oculus 360 video-Watching 360 degree videos isn't for everyone. I've had a few people complain about the lower resolution videos or feeling a little motion sick. However, if you don’t get motion sick these videos are pretty neat. Free in the app store.
Oculus 360 photos- Looking at 360 degree photos is an oddly compelling experience. Since there is no movement, there is no motion sickness. However, because the high resolution pictures completely surround you, the user gets a great sense of presence. Some of the places pictures are taken from include Italy, Hawaii, Mars, and Rome. Free in the app store.
Proton Pulse- One of the very first Gear VR games to be developed. Using your head to direct the paddle, you play a virtual neon game that combines pong and block breaker. Demo available to try before you buy. This app costs $2.99 in the app store.
Esper- A fun puzzle game set completely in a single room. You have been endowed with the power to move objects with your mind. You use this ability to solve ever more difficult puzzles. The narrator in the game makes the whole experience fun and challenging. If you have ever played portal than you know that a great narrator can make even the most difficult of puzzles fun and compelling. Demo available to try before you buy. The app costs $4.99 in the app store.
Darknet- Another puzzle game that combines a hacker theme with a game of pick up sticks. As you hack nodes you earn money that you can use to upgrade the tools used to finally access the main servers. Don’t think this is going to be a piece of cake though. Not only are the servers defended with firewalls but there is a very strict time limit in which you must finish the hack. While there is no narration in the game, it is still a fun time pretending you’re a super hacker. Our most expensive recommendation, the app costs $9.99 in the app store.
Virtual reality is still in the early phases of development. The Samsung Gear VR is the first iteration of a product that produces a very good mobile virtual reality experiences. However, because the Gear VR runs only on the Samsung Note 4, which costs about $800 without a contract, this innovator addition is a bit expensive when you add in the $199 cost of the Gear VR.
I’d recommend buying this product if: 1) You already have the Samsung Note 4 phone, 2) Your phone contract is finishing up and you were going to upgrade to the Note 4 anyways, or 3) You’re a super VR enthusiast that doesn't mind spending $1,000 for a mobile virtual reality experience.
Outside of those three reasons this is a product that, while a great experience, is too expensive for the casual gamer. In the next few years there are going to be multiple new vr headsets that are going to be produced. This will bring the cost of products down and increase quality and device capacity. Unless you’re someone that lives on the cutting edge of technology, just wait to buy your first vr headset. You’ll really only have to wait a couple years to get a less expensive and more powerful device.