Hardware: Gear VR
Category: Virtual Reality
Editorial note: As Android Reviews generally covers the software realm of applications and games, the advent of technology marches forth with unique innovations that drive the market beyond our imaginations. Given the recent influx of virtual reality titles powered by this particular hardware, some reviewed applications presented here in the future may rely upon these devices. In our endless quest to inform, educate and entertain our audience with all relative Android aspects that affect our scope of content, it was deemed necessary to present this optional equipment for your consideration. Without further ado, I am proud to present HitBattousai's thorough introduction to the cutting edge of technology. - Shardz -
This is going to be the make or break year for virtual reality with products such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Playstation VR coming out later in the year bringing VR into focus. That said, all these products have high price points and high computer requirements(or require a PS4 in the case of Playstation VR), plus they are still products that are coming in the future. For a taste of VR now, there are limited options. The super-budget route of Google Cardboard has gotten some popularity for those that just want to try it out in a limited form, but the Samsung Gear VR is the definitive step-up into the immersive world of VR.
I'll preface this with the big negative on the Gear VR off the bat, it requires a phone in the Galaxy S6 line or the Galaxy Note 5 to even use it. It is not compatible with other phones so the appeal of it is to a limited audience by default. If you're an owner of one of said phones, the Gear VR's price point of $99 is very reasonable for the experience it delivers.
The Gear VR is designed like a set of diving goggles with a Stormtrooper-esque white and black color scheme. It is surprisingly lightweight at about 277 grams (most of the weight comes from your respective phone), but manages to not feel flimsy with a good hard plastic design. It comes with a set of straps that goes around the side of your head and one that goes around the top of your head to relieve pressure on the bridge of your nose. There are no useful extras such as a case, defogging spray, or a microfiber cloth so Samsung did cut costs in that manner. The Gear VR has a light foam cushioning when it goes on your face and it offers enough space for those that need glasses (as long as the frames aren't huge), but in a big positive it also has a focus wheel at the top of the device that focuses well enough that mid-range prescription glasses users (I'm a -5 for reference) can enjoy the experience without needing their glasses. It is fairly comfortable to wear.
The Gear VR has sensors that help with tracking and can detect your head proximity to the device, but it's driven by the phone itself. To start it up, you unlock your phone, then you slot it into a micro USB slot on the front. The first time it will prompt you to take the phone out and directs you to the Oculus software download, but after that you plug it in the Gear VR and it has a simple snap-down procedure to hold the phone in place properly. The length of use depends on your phone's battery life; you can plug the phone power in via a tiny port at the bottom of the Gear VR, but you will be hurting your mobility with the device in the process. With the Note 5, an hour of play takes up roughly 20 percent of your battery life for a reference point. You'll likely want headphones or earbuds for a more fully immersive experience and the Gear VR does leave room for your phone's headphone port. You put the phone on and you'll see an obligatory warning and the Oculus store loads up, which is similar to the Xbox One OS. On the right side of the Gear VR is a tactile touchscreen and a back button, and there's a short tutorial teaching the user the interface.
Finally, on to the experience itself. The short answer is that I was very impressed. There is a ton of content both free and paid available on the Oculus Store. As a basic example of the experience, you can get the Netflix app, and it puts you in a virtual environment seemingly in a nice cabin with a gigantic virtual TV in front of you to watch Netflix. You can turn your head and see posters and things around the room while the show is going on. If you play Titans of Space, an educational free game, you'll be transported to space, where you'll be going to an (unrealistic) depiction of the planets of the solar system with the ability to look all-around in the process, seeing random asteroids around you, stars, and other planets besides the one in the central display. One of the best retail games, Land's End, has you roaming through a variety of pretty virtual environments solving simple puzzles using telekinesis while once again you can simply look all around and take everything during the process. Incredibly, at various points it will take you flying or standing right over a ledge, and I actually got a sense of vertigo looking down from a high perch. This is referred as a sense of "presence" where you feel like you're actually immersed in the environment and the best videos, apps, and games available manage to achieve this feeling on a semi-regular basis.
This past weekend I was able to watch a live streaming VR boxing card with 180 degree vision and multiple cameras, including one right above one of the corners of the ring. It was an amazing experience and in a similar vein you can take a ride in a race car, or take a virtual tour of various areas such as Venice. Besides the Oculus store, there are workarounds to use the Gear VR with Google Cardboard apps and games if you have the inclination. I can't really fully convey the experience, it's really something that if you're given the opportunity even if you don't plan on buying anything VR related you should at least try if given the opportunity just for the experience. On the nitpicking front, despite these phones being very powerful ones with sharp displays, the display still has a "screen door" effect where you can at times see the individual pixels on screen, resulting in a slightly fuzzy effect on everything. Since you're effectively looking at your screen super-magnified, any dust particles on the lenses or screen are noticeable and can take away from your immersion, so you'll want to keep things as clean as possible. Depending on circumstances, the lenses will fog up on occasion, though it's usually minor and goes away after a time, but that's where a defogging spray or microfiber cloth comes in handy. You cannot put your phone in the Gear VR if the phone is in a case, even a thin one is too big for the slot. If you're going into this expecting to play 10+ hour games and the like, it's not happening as of now, most of what's available are designed to be bite-sized experiences based on the assumption that you have limited phone space and even though the Gear VR is lightweight, wearing it does tire your neck after a time regardless unless you're used to having weight around your head on a regular basis. If you're really enthusiastic about VR and price isn't a factor, you'll probably want to wait for the more polished retail experiences coming later in the year. That said, if you have the phone for it, the Gear VR is a great experience in my view and a must-buy at the price point.
- Budget price.
- Very immersive.
- Lots of free and paid content available.
- Unique experience that can't be found anywhere else right now.
- No extras.
- Screen door effect.
- Issues with fogging.
- Bite-sized experiences.
- Only works with a few phones.
Device/OS used: Samsung Galaxy Note 5 / Lollipop 5.1.1
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