We let Oculus get inside our heads with the new Samsung Gear VR headset. Here's what we thought.
VR? You must be dreaming ...
Let's assume that you've never tried VR before, or, if you're like me, didn't put much stock into the whole virtual reality thing; dismissing it as just another fringe technology that you wouldn't go out of your way to cross paths with ... like curved TV for example.
So, how does it work? The Samsung Gear VR is a headset that you wear, fully enclosing your vision, with the idea being that you become immersed in the world within the headset. The headset itself uses an accelerometer and gyroscope which tells it what way you're turning, tilting and swiveling your head so as to adjust the virtual world around you. The interface and apps are controlled by your gaze, by the touchpad on the right hand side of the headset or if you wish by connecting a Bluetooth controller to your device.
Something to be aware of straight off the bat, is that this is not a standalone device. It's powered by Oculus software running one of the following Samsung phones: Galaxy S6
, S6 edge
, S6 edge+
, Note 5 or if you're really on the cutting edge, the brand new Galaxy S7
or S7 edge
As I've said above, I'm sceptical when it comes to this stuff, so when the Samsung Gear VR made it's way to my desk, I had to convince myself to keep an open mind on the whole VR thing and jump into the VR world with no expectations or preconceived notions. And while I've had a go of other cheaper VR experiences and didn't think that much of them, tech gods be praised, the Gear VR has finally converted me!
When unboxing the Samsung Gear VR, the first thing that struck me is how premium the headset itself feels. For an item that essentially has very little electronics in it, the Gear VR it deserves it's €99 price tag.
It's light –
a mere 318g (without your phone) –
comfortable and roomy with lots of padding; no trouble if you wear glasses. The aforementioned touchpad is embossed on the right-hand side of the headset and takes a bit of getting used to, but we'll talk more about that later.
It's certainly a cool looking piece of kit in white and black, despite it making you look a bit daft when you're wearing it –
but who cares? You certainly won't. The buzzword that accompanies any and all VR products is 'immersive', and the Gear VR is certainly that. But it's more than that; with the audio and video working together you really feel like you're actually there.
The Gear VR is also wireless and portable. The one suggestion I would make here however, is that in future generations of the Gear VR, Samsung should consider including a case for the headset, whether it's a semi-shell type case, like those that come with Beats headphones, or even a protective bag of some kind to keep the Gear safe and secure.
Picture and sound
This type of wearable device will be the new standard by which smartphone screens will be judged. Lots of people wonder if we need more pixels on a phone screen; the Samsung Galaxy S6 and S6 edge runs at 557ppi (pixels per inch), the Note 5 a little less than that at 515ppi and the new Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 edge run at 577ppi or 4K. When you get into the whole VR world, you'll soon come to the conclusion that 'the more, the better' where pixels are concerned.
It might seem pretty obvious, but a decent set of headphones is also essential to maximise the Samsung Gear VR experience. Yes it shuts out sound pollution from the 'real' world but the sound will also create spatial depth that will make the experience as immersive as it can be (there's that word again).
Getting the Gear VR up and running is easy; remove the black protective cover on the front of the headset, slot your Samsung phone into the micro USB port as you would if you were charging the phone. Secure the clips, install the headstraps and away you go!
At this point you'll be asked to download the necessary Occulus software and apps and set up an Oculus account, this can take a few minutes so be patient. My tip is do all of this 'housekeeping' on your phone, it's quicker and you don't need to have the headset on.
Once you're up and running, it's a good idea to walk through the tutorial. I'm not always one for the RTFM approach but in this case I found it actually gives you a good idea of how to use the touchpad on the side of the headset and how to tweak the settings.
Within the Oculus app, the large colourful tiles feel instantly familiar and easy to navigate. If you get lost within the various lists of apps and games – which is growing every week – holding the back button just above the touchpad will take you back to the home screen. There's also a volume key just in front of the touchpad and a focus dial on the top of the headset.
Recipe for a great VR experience: You need to approach the Samsung Gear VR without preconceived notions about what VR was, is or should be. You need a set of headphones, a swivel chair and the ability to forget what might be going on around you in the real world. You also need a phone from the Samsung Galaxy S6, Note 5, or if you're spoiling yourself, the S7 range. Once all of these elements are mixed you're in for a truly great VR experience.
The Samsung Gear VR is definitely my new favourite wearable.