Samsung Gear VR hands-on review
Samsung has teamed up with Facebook-owned virtual reality experts Oculus to create its own version of the Oculus Rift, the Samsung Gear VR, which brings virtual reality to consumers by using the new Galaxy Note 4. We spent some time with it during IFA 2014 in Berlin and later at UsTwo's London office, so here's our Gear VR hands-on (and eyes-on) review.
Samsung Gear VR hands-on review: Price & availability
Samsung certainly seems to be trying to make virtual reality accessible to consumers rather than just developers, by pricing the Gear VR at a reasonable £150. The catch is that you'll need to own a Galaxy Note 4 smartphone in order to use it, which we expect will cost you an additional £600.
The Gear VR was expected to be available by the end of 2014, but there have been some delays to the launch of the device. Samsung made the Gear VR Innovator Edition development kit for Gear VR available to order in early December. While anyone can order the Innovator Edition, it's not designed for the general consumer and isn't quite the finished product.
"This is just the first step toward true consuemr mobile VR," reads Oculus's blog post announcing the availability of the Innovator Edition. "Though it's missing several key components for comfort and presence, we're working with Samsung to improve in every vertical including optics, distortion, heat, weight, ergonomics, tracking, and display tech. Ultimately, it's a long term effort that we're commited to getting right.
With the launch of the Innovator Edition came the launch of the Oculus VR Store, which lets developers share their VR applications for Gear VR owners to download and use.
See also: Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review
Samsung Gear VR hands-on review: Hardware & design
First things first, it's important to note that to use the Gear VR you'll also need a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. The Gear VR only works with the Galaxy Note 4 right now, but that means you'll get the stunning 5.7in Quad HD Super AMOLED screen to help provide that fully immersive experience needed to make virtual reality truly effective. See: Samsung Galaxy Note 4 review
The Galaxy Note 4 slots into the Gear VR, connecting via microUSB on one side and slipping beneath a secure clip on the other. Then, black, semi-translucent cover is snapped onto the front of the device ready for use.
The Gear VR slips over your head, with large, goggle-like cushions around the eyes, a large, cushioned strap that rests on top of your head and connects to the main strap that wraps around your head. It felt secure and once positioned you're completely immersed in whatever's going on on the screen in front of you, and it feels pretty awesome.
It's wireless, too, so you won't need to be tethered to anything or worry about tangling yourself in wires if you get a bit carried away looking around you.
It is rather heavy though. I spent little more than 10 minutes using it, but already felt the strain on my neck. I can't imagine spending a long time playing a game or watching a movie, that's for sure.
The Gear VR is only available in Frost White.
Despite the fact that there's an accelerometer and gyroscope built in to the Galaxy Note 4, the Gear VR uses its own sensors for tracking your movement, because it needs to be exceptionally responsive in order to trick you into being truly immersed in what you're doing. We didn't experience any lag what so ever when using the Gear VR.
If you want sound, though, you'll need to plug your headphones into the Note 4 itself. The Gear VR is designed to leave access to the phablet's audio jack.
There's a catch for anyone that wears glasses with the Gear VR: you'll need to take them off. There is a focus dial on the top of the headset to help you adjust the clarity of the screen, but if you have different vision in each eye you'll find it tricky to get it perfect.
See also: Samsung Gear S hands-on review
Samsung Gear VR hands-on review: The experience
We first tried The Blu by Wemo Lab with the Gear VR, a virtual reality simulation that takes you deep into the ocean where you'll find sharks, whales and other sea creatures everywhere you look. It's a 360 degree, 3D experience that really shows off the potential of virtual reality for educational purposes.
Before getting my go with the Gear VR, I watched others spinning around on their chairs to see everything around them, and one woman actually reached out her hands to try touching something she could see in front of her, highlighting how effective the Gear VR can be.
Tapping the touchpad on the side of the headset itself paused and resumed the experience, and there's a small back button above the touchpad that will let you return to the home screen.
There are many more apps available that'll work with the Gear VR, and that library will only grow with the device's popularity. These apps include games, IMAX movies, 3D simulations and more.
Samsung Gear VR hands-on review: Land's End
One app that we're particularly excited about for the Gear VR is UsTwo's Land's End, a mesmerising game from the makers of the beautiful and hugely successful Monument Valley. Watch the video at the top of this article to find out more about Land's End and hear from the developers of the app.
We spent some time with Land's End at UsTwo's London offices, and despite being an early build of the game with just one level to play through at the time, we all absolutely loved it.
Illustrated in the same simple and beautiful style as Monument Valley, Land's End is a completely immersive Gear VR game that requires the user to focus their gaze on a particular spot in order to move there. It's a clever way of making the player forget about the technology and concentrate on the experience, as it requires no touch input at all.
One thing playing Land's End did make us realise is that the Gear VR really requires a swivel chair of some sort, because you want to be able to look everywhere in the VR world without running into barriers or feeling restricted. Playing Land's End on a sofa, for example, wouldn't be anywhere near as fun.
We're looking forward to spending more time with the Gear VR for our full review soon.
Samsung's definitely proving to be an innovator with its announcements at IFA 2014, with the Gear VR and the new Galaxy Note Edge smartphone. We think the Gear VR has the potential to be a big hit in the education and gaming markets, and the low price means virtual reality is more accessible than ever. We can't wait to spend more time with the Gear VR when we get it back to our labs.