Review: Samsung Gear VR
With the increasing availability of virtual reality headsets in the market, does the Samsung Gear VR set itself apart from the competition?
The Samsung Gear VR stands out in an increasingly saturated market for virtual reality headsets, in that the unit utilises smartphones, rather than PC and console-based options, to power the surreal experience.
You simple remove the protective cover at the front, plug in the Samsung smartphone, and before you know it, you are through the door and off to a new adventure.
The Gear VR does away with the need for hefty batteries, as well as avoiding the inevitability of a tangled mess of connected cables. In fact it can be argued that Samsung's VR headset is one of the few examples that truly realises the concept behind virtual reality, as the user is unburdened from having to remain fixed in place.
They are free to appreciate the 360° without fear of pulling cables, as well as enjoying the mobility of moving around the household freely. The smartphone's camera can even be used as a set of eyes to help navigate around and avoid furniture.
The drawback here however, is that the virtual reality experience is limited to the processing power of the smartphone, which pales by comparison to some of the other offerings available in the market. Both PC and console-based variants simply have more powerful hardware and thus achieve higher graphical fidelity and performance.
Packed into an ergonomic design, the Gear VR is both compact and light, weighing a mere 318g. Compatible with Samsung's Galaxy S6 and S7 lines, as well as the Note5, the unit takes full advantage of the Super AMOLED display, boasting a field of view of 96° and a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels (1280 x 1440 per eye).
Additional features includes a microUSB charging port for mobile phone, a PARC user interface touchpad with back key, volume key, as well as a handful of sensors. These include gyros and an accelerometer, as well as proximity sensor.
In terms of energy management, the Gear VR utilises the proximity sensor to oversee the activation of the headsets' display. When brought up to the eyes, the unit turns on, but immediately powers down when removed from the user's face, thus conserving battery life.
Overuse of the unit can however lead to excessive heat build-up, which in addition to affecting the performance of the smartphone, also annoyingly flashes messages to the user to cool the unit down.
The Gear VR is also equipped with a focus adjustment wheel on top of the headset, which allows the user to focus the image projected by the phone's display. While able to sharpen the image however, the adjustment wheel is unable to be personalised for eye spacing. Additionally, users who wear glasses may also find it uncomfortable to wear the VR headset over long periods, as well experiencing difficulty in achieving full picture clarity.
Apps and games are accessible through the built-in Oculus store and since the unit's launch in 2014, the content available has grown exponentially. The experiences range from 3D environments, first-person interactive videos, as well as complex and engaging video games. It is recommended with the latter however, to invest in a gamepad in order to manipulate gameplay.
The controls available on the side of the headset are easy-to-use, a simple method of aiming the cursor with the headset and tapping the pad to confirm selection, but is rather limited when it comes to engaging in more complex interactions.
In terms of its place in the market, the Samsung Gear VR falls into the middle ground, between what some may call cheap imitations and the really high-end and equally expensive models. While limited to Samsung Galaxy and Note5 users, the headset is a good start for those wanting to experience virtual reality for the first time.