Samsung Gear VR (Hardware) Review

Virtual Reality is one of the most interesting technologies emerging today, at least for me. I’ve been keeping an eye of a lot of the consumer models releasing over the next couple years trying to decide which would be the best for me. Unfortunately I don’t have a particularly beefy computer at this moment, and I’d rather get a great experience from these VR devices than a subpar one because of hardware limitations. This is what makes Samsung’s Gear VR an excellent addition to the growing consumer market of VR.

I haven’t had the opportunity to try out the Oculus Rift , the HTC Vive or any other pieces of VR tech yet, and maybe some of the readers have so take my thoughts on the Gear as you will. The Gear utilizes Samsung smart phones, and you wouldn’t think a phone wouldn’t be able to emulate anything really spectacular, but after spending a few days with a Galaxy S7 Edge planted in the Gear, I was pretty blown away with what I experienced.

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What I first noticed with the Gear is how surprisingly comfortable it is, considering things strapped around your head historically aren’t that comfy. My whole view was blocked from outside interference such as natural light and things like that. The phone’s screen lit up to a strange menu from the Oculus app, dropping me in to this computerized world making me wonder if I had just entered the Matrix. I would turn my head to the direction of the option I wished to choose, and the animation was crisp and smooth, but I don’t really expect molasses-like movement from a $700+ smart phone locked inside a $100+ headset. It didn’t really occur to me at the time, but I had well over $1000 worth of equipment tucked in front of my eyes—and they say rich looks are hard to obtain.

Extended periods of use are definitely not recommended. If you’re prone to motion sickness, having the Gear on for more than an hour could potentially leave you feeling nauseous. It does start to feel uncomfortable and became more humid as time went on. My side of the eye shield even started to fog up from use.

The gear features a directional pad used to scroll through the menus and actually pick the option that you want to toy with. The store page already features a healthy of amount of content for users, from immersive video games to incredible movie shorts. A fun game I spent some time in was called Smash Hit. Being free on the shop helped pique my interest, and for a free game it was very fun. The whole game is played in a first-person perspective and is set on-rails. You shoot various pieces of glass that are obstacles in your path and see how far you can make it on your limited ammo supply. As you get further in, it speeds up, the obstacles start moving faster and become more elaborate, and your opportunities to replenish ammo become scarce. Honestly it’s a very easy game and you can only really screw up by being trigger happy and shooting all over the place. As I said, for a free game it was a nice surprise.

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Gear’s movie short selection featured a wide variety of content and actually had me trying to get up and explore the digital movie theater it dropped me in. On my head are a pair of goggles I’m using to put myself in the perspective of someone sitting in a movie theatre watching a movie. Yo dog. One of the videos I checked out showcased some divers swimming around in shark infested waters. What’s interesting about this one is it took me out of the movie theatre perspective and made it look like I was underwater with the divers. (Not all the videos do the theater perspective; it’s just a detail I found worth mentioning.) I’ve never been a big fan of the oceans because they’re deep, and we still don’t have a complete idea of what else could be living down in them. This was, to me, pretty damn scary but I think that’s what made it so much more immersive than others. Even more so when a shark attacks the camera and I’m left with the “this is it, I’m dead” thought process.

To calm myself down, I switched myself to a helicopter view of Iceland, which was infinitely more beautiful to me than the ocean because sharks weren’t attacking me up there. I can definitely see why the experiences with VR will be different for each person. It plays on your emotions and thoughts, e.g. people like me being scared of the ocean, or if a person afraid of heights chooses the helicopter ride.

After spending a few days with the Gear on and off my head for a couple hours at a time, I can say I had a very fun experience with this. Once I finally get around to thoroughly trying out the higher-end VR headsets like the Rift or the Vive, I’ll have a better comparison for this than similar offerings like Google Cardboard. The Gear relies entirely on what kind of phone you’re running it with, which should be the Note 5 or the S6 or equivalent. If you’re already set up with one of those, are looking to start somewhere with an impressive VR experience, and have $100+ to drop on something, add the Gear to your cart. Then get to swimming with some sharks. Just don’t blame me for any VR related panic attacks.