Affordable virtual reality used to be the hardest thing to find in the tech world. Now that more companies have embraced it, the number of models keeps growing. There is still a clearly defined line that separates the budget headsets from the heavy hitters. No one is going to realistically expect a Samsung Gear VR to outperform the Valve Index.
But for basic use scenarios, a Samsung Gear VR might both serve as the introduction and permanent resident to any VR interested home.
The design of a VR headset is more about comfort than it is about looking goofy. So far, there hasn’t been a VR headset introduced that completely gets rid of the bulk. It still looks (and feels) like a luxury brick on your head. The Samsung Gear VR follows other modern headsets by intelligently distributing the weight.
Unfortunately, there is still room for improvement in this area. Users will notice a lot of pressure being put on the bridge of their nose. Think of it as a pair of uncomfortable glasses with an additional weight added on top of your head. For VR sessions under an hour, it is bearable. Anything longer than that and you’ll instantly notice how important design is with a headset.
The display and resolution quality are going to be the most highly contentious parts of loving the Samsung Gear VR. In order to get the most out of the headset, you have to pair it with a compatible smartphone. Suspiciously enough, the only compatible devices are from Samsung’s flagship line.
It all makes sense when you consider that Samsung is on the same level as Apple with display resolution. But then it makes less sense as Samsung Gear VR doesn’t work with their latest flagship devices – the ones with the best screens.
Minus the obvious flaws of hardware dependability, the setup almost seems like it promotes eye fatigue. This happens around the hour mark, and can be intense if you are already visually impaired.
Glass and contact wearers that were annoyed with the lack of hardware compatibility will be thankful after their first VR headache. It was a smart move by Samsung to limit smartphones to their very best. Anything lesser than their flagships would make the Samsung Gear VR unbearable.
Even with these complaints, the Samsung Gear VR looks incredible. The step-up in visual fidelity blows away alternative solutions like Google Cardboard. When playing the right media, this headset actually competes with the Valve Index and Oculus Rift S.
The build quality of the Samsung Gear VR is the same high quality as the rest of their products. For gamers, the controller quality in particular is light years ahead of current generation consoles. Nothing about the unit feels cheap, and there is no reason to worry about a small drop rendering it unusable.
This is good news since the device holds what is essentially a smartphone worth six times its price. The phone doesn’t rattle around while enclosed, and feels secure during rapid movement. By itself, the Samsung Gear VR doesn’t have enough weight to hit the ground hard when dropped, but with the addition of a phone, the weight dynamics change greatly.
It all goes back to the amount of pressure being put on the nose by the device. That isn’t a problem with the Samsung Gear VR, but a design problem of having a heavy smartphone resting on the front of the unit. With the phone inserted, dropping the unit will make it fall forward like a giant brick.
The most impressive part of the hardware is the motion controller. It’s more accurate than the motion plus controller from a Nintendo Wii, and more comfortable than the PlayStation Move controller. Samsung Gear VR created a controller that feels just right for a casual VR user. It’s not really meant for hardcore gamers and keeps things simple in VR land.
Lack of extra buttons will hamper some virtual reality experiences, and in other cases make games completely unplayable. This does not apply to games meant exclusively for the Samsung Gear VR. Games that have issues with the controller are usually outside the scope of the original hardware anyway, so most users won’t run into any trouble.
It would have been nice if there was an official Samsung gaming controller that pairs well with the headset. As an alternative buying option, it would have been better than the third-party options available. Users that want to push the limits of the Samsung Gear VR can always purchase Bluetooth enabled controllers to replace the included motion pad. As a result it will provide a better gaming experience, but at the cost of comfort and maneuverability.
Device size is probably the reason Samsung declined to make their current flagship devices compatible. This is a glaring flaw on a really good VR headset, but there is hope for the more adventurous types in the world.
Have you ever rooted a smartphone? If the answer is yes, then that opens up an entire new compatibility sheet for the Samsung Gear VR. The results aren’t always pretty, but with the right setup you can get better performance with the smartphone of your choice. Users that take this route are on their own since Samsung doesn’t provide support for incompatible devices.
Audio is going to be the biggest flaw of the Samsung Gear VR, and is another one of those design mishaps. There is support for Bluetooth and a headset jack if the phone supports it. There are two major flaws with this, starting with Bluetooth.
With Bluetooth connected, audio latency is an unavoidable problem. This happens with demanding games or high-resolution media. Sometimes it is fine, and other times it does whatever it wants. An unreliable Bluetooth connection is something that should never be a problem with a phone created in the last few years.
Depending on your smartphone choice, the headset jack on the phone may be obstructed. And even when it’s not, the hanging wire is both a hazard that goes from the front to your ears. One quick movement and you can send the phone flying across the room. This is a double whammy that will destroy both the phone and the headset all in one go, while it is still attached to your face.
The Samsung Gear VR handles audio hardware horribly and does nothing special to improve the actual software portion. It depends on the smartphone and really has no way to interface with the commands to make it user friendly.
How Does The Samsung Gear VR Compare?
Getting a Samsung Gear VR requires a lot of sacrifices if you’re not already in the Samsung ecosystem. It’s the dream headset that a lot of consumers wanted before VR really took off. The idea is nice, but it lags behind in several key areas when compared to the Oculus Go. For reference, look at the head to head matchup against the weakest member of the Oculus family.
|Samsung Gear VR||Oculus Go|
|Resolution||1440p – 4k*||2560 x 1440p 75 HZ|
|Software||Android 5.0 or higher||Android 6.0 or higher or iOS 10 or higher|
|Audio||Bluetooth, 3.5mm audio jack||Surround sound and spatial audio, 3.5mm audio jack|
|Compatibility||Android||Android and iOS|
Pretty, Pretty Good For The Price
When it is working right, the Samsung Gear VR provides incredible value for your money. Users with a compatible phone will get the most out of the unit.
With that said, there is no reason for consumers that want an entry-level VR device to look at the Samsung Gear VR. There are better options available, and none of them require buying a third-party controller or modding your smartphone.