The Samsung Gear VR virtual reality headset is an interesting piece of hardware. In what is a market and technology in its infancy, the Gear VR attempts to bring the virtual reality experience to a broader audience. Owners of certain Samsung phones can connect their smartphone to the VR headset and immerse themselves in a virtual world. There are a wide variety of apps and games that it is compatible with and compared to other headsets on the market it’s very affordable. The headset itself has had several different iterations over the years, so it’s important to know which one is compatible with your phone.
In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Samsung Gear VR headset. This includes how it works, how much it costs, how it compares to some other similar headsets, and some of the uses it has. For this article, we’ll focus mainly on the most recent version, although we will mention the older ones too. Welcome to your complete guide to the Gear VR.
What is the Samsung Gear VR?
Oculus, the makers of VR headsets such as the Rift and the Go, is one of the pioneering companies behind the recent virtual reality revolution. After a successful Kickstarter campaign saw them fund over $2.4 million, they were eventually sold to Facebook for around $2.3 billion. Since then the company has been dedicated to making this exciting medium available to the mainstream market. Part of this venture saw them partner with tech giants Samsung to create a headset that was more affordable and accessible for general consumers. The result of this partnership is the Samsung Gear VR.
Instead of connecting to an expensive PC via a system of wires and sensors, the Gear allows users to connect their Samsung phones. Many modern smartphones have fairly powerful processors, meaning that they can run VR software. The headset straps to the user’s face and the newer version has a handheld controller that’s used to interact with the device. By adding headphones or using your phone’s speakers, you have an immersive experience ready to go.
How the Samsung Gear VR Works
Using two lenses focused on the screen of your smartphone, the Gear VR presents a virtual experience for users. Once the headset is placed over the eyes, a gyro sensor, accelerometer, and magnetic sensor track movements made by the head. This gives 3 degrees of freedom (3DoF), 360-degree head tracking effect; your view will adjust based on where you move your head. It should be noted that the Gear VR doesn’t track movements of your body. So, moving forward or walking around won’t translate into the virtual world, unlike with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
To use your phone with the Gear VR headset, you’ll need first to create an Oculus account with a verified email address. There is then an Oculus interface that allows you to interact with the various apps and content you have installed on your phone. The handheld controller gives you a further means of connecting with your virtual environment, and there are also controls on the side of the headset itself. You can also connect a third-party controller to give you greater control when using games, or a Bluetooth or 3.5mm headphone. Both of these connect directly to the phone.
Samsung Gear VR Requirements
In the introduction, we mentioned that there had been a variety of iterations of this headset. The first consumer model launched back in 2015, and the most recent version was delivered in 2017. Regarding requirements, we’ve outlined each model and the compatible phones below:
Much like with the high-end VR devices, the cost of the Gear VR depends on whether you already have the requirements to power it. The headset alone is fairly reasonable; it’s currently listed on Samsung’s website for $94.95/£119.00, and often goes on sale at a lower price than that. However, if you don’t already have a Samsung phone, you’ll need to purchase one of those too. The most recent handset at the time of writing, the Galaxy S9, costs $719.99/£739 direct from Samsung. This puts the cost of the VR experience up considerably unless you already own a compatible smartphone.
For this price, you could nearly afford to purchase a high-end gaming PC and the superior Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headsets. However, the actual Gear VR itself isn’t expensive, so it depends on your situation and smartphone.
Samsung Gear VR vs Google Daydream View
One of the leading VR competitors in the market to the Gear VR is Google’s Daydream View headset. The two are similar in many ways. Both are compatible with high-end Android phones, have similar apps, and the same basic design. Each has a 3DoF head tracking system, and both are comparable in quality and price. There are some differences, however. The Daydream is coated in a soft fabric but doesn’t have adjustable lenses like the Gear VR.
The most significant difference between these two headsets is the types of phones each is compatible with. We’ve covered the Samsung ones, but the Google Daydream View can connect to Google’s own Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL handsets (and Pixel and Pixel XL), as well as the Samsung Galaxy S8, Note 8, and S8 +, Asus ZenFone AR, LG V30, Lenovo Moto Z and Moto Z Force, the Huawei Mate 9, and the ZTE Axon 7. Sadly for Apple users, there is currently not a headset of this kind that connects to iOS devices.
Samsung Gear VR vs Google Cardboard
One of Google’s earlier forays into the world of VR came with the Google Cardboard. Much as the name implies, this is a cardboard device with lenses in. Like the Daydream View and Gear VR, you place your smartphone in the front of the device and look through the lenses. However, there are some significant differences between this device and the others we’ve mentioned so far. The biggest one is in the price. The Cardboard can be purchased for around $20/£15. This sounds appealing, but you have to remember that it is made out of cardboard. It doesn’t have any straps, which means you have to hold it to your head.
The most significant difference is the lack of head tracking sensors. The Cardboard relies on the user’s phone, meaning the experience isn’t all that immersive. The Gear VR gives a much more authentic virtual reality experience. However, there are many more phones, including Apple ones, which can be used with it.
Samsung Gear VR vs Oculus Go
Comparing these two headsets is interesting because they are the same in many ways. Oculus has had a great deal of input into both, and they both use the same Oculus app store to deliver content. Head tracking is almost identical, as are the controllers that come bundled with each. However, the big difference is compatibility. The Oculus Go is a standalone device, meaning you don’t need to connect it to anything for it to work. This marks a step forward for the technology and makes the Go a very appealing choice to those who don’t own a compatible smartphone.
Concerning price, the Go is more expensive, priced at $199/£199. However, that’s the only money you’ll need to spend (aside from apps) to experience virtual reality. In our Oculus Go review, we concluded that the headset offers almost unrivalled quality for the price.
Samsung Gear VR for Entertainment
The Oculus store has seen a lot of new content added since the launch of the Gear VR. This means there’s a wide variety of apps and games that you can play around with. The primary focus of this headset is the games and VR entertainment; it’s not quite advanced enough for the training or education purposes we saw with the Vive and Rift. However, it’s still a joy to use as an entertainment device. It’s possible to watch TV and movies with the Gear; a process made much easier thanks to the Netflix app. Watching a film or show is made all the more immersive when you use a headset to watch them on.
There is also a wide range of experience apps on offer through the Oculus store. These can range from various famous locations across the globe, to extra-terrestrial explorations. You are transported to a virtual recreation of some of the most well-known places on and off the planet. This is where the ingenuity of the head tracking is at its most apparent, as you gaze around your environment and take in the scenery.
Samsung Gear VR for Gaming
Many consumers will buy the Gear VR for a chance to explore some of the virtual reality games on offer. There are a lot, ranging from the mobile-style casual ones to the more serious ones. The Gear VR’s controller is particularly useful here, as it gives you greater flexibility and a useful trigger. Alternatively, you can connect a Bluetooth controller to get a more versatile experience. The numerous titles on offer vary regarding quality and price, ranging from free to around $10/£10.
The games themselves can be surprisingly atmospheric at times, even with the limited 3DoF movement. You can’t walk towards your target to explore it, but you can look around the cockpit of your start fighter.
Samsung Gear VR Top Games
The best games for the Samsung Gear VR depend somewhat on what it is you’re looking for. However, the library has grown to a decent size, meaning you’re sure to find something you like. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the best:
If there was ever something that VR was invented for, becoming a space fighter pilot was it. Eve: Gunjack allows you to take a seat in the cockpit of your spacecraft and fight wave after wave of enemies. It looks fantastic, is immense fun, and can be challenging at times.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Imagine all the pressures of a quick-fire puzzle game, only you’ll explode if you don’t get it right. This is what Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes brings. As a bomb diffuser, you must talk your support team through everything you see. The support has only a manual and no way of seeing what you do. Between you, you have to solve the puzzles and diffuse the bomb. Simple, but incredibly fun.
Minecraft Gear VR
Explore, mine, craft, avoid enemies. Another game with a simple premise, but regardless of whether you’ve played Minecraft before or not, you should give it a go. It’s engrossing and immersive.
Samsung Gear VR Review
For those who own a Samsung smartphone and want to take their first tentative steps into VR, there are few better options than the Samsung Gear VR. As we’ve seen in this article, the device is backed by one of the biggest names in the virtual reality industry. They’re committed to bringing VR to the masses, and the Gear is one of the first steps along that road. Oculus continues to grow their library of games, apps, and experiences, and for a relatively low price you can pick up and get started.
If you don’t have a Samsung device that’s compatible with the Gear, the outlay may be too much to justify. After all, the PSVR and other headsets offer a better experience for not much more cost. The biggest drawback of Samsung’s headset is that it only has 3DoF tracking. There’s only so immersive that can be. However, they still do the best job they can with the technology as it is today.
Affordable, particularly if you already own a Samsung phone.
Well-made and comes with a good controller.
Plenty of quality apps available.
Requires a Samsung device to power it.
No movement or controller tracking.
Resolution could be better.
As far as mobile-based VR goes, the Samsung Gear probably still takes the title of the best available headset. Despite only being available to owners of Samsung phones, the overall experience and quality stands out from the crowd.