Heads-on with Samsung's Oculus-esque headset, the Gear VR


September 3, 2014

Gizmag straps on the fruit of Samsung's partnership with Oculus, the Gear VR

Gizmag straps on the fruit of Samsung's partnership with Oculus, the Gear VR

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If VR is going to be the next big thing, you wouldn't expect Samsung to pass up such a golden opportunity, would you? Alongside three other devices, Samsung today revealed a new virtual reality headset that's powered by a Galaxy Note 4. Gizmag got some hands – erm, heads-on time with the Gear VR.

Samsung partnered with the folks at Oculus for the Gear VR – and it shows. I got a demo of the Crystal Cove version of the Oculus Rift at CES, and the experience of using the Samsung headset was remarkably similar.

This could be a huge development in the adoption of virtual reality. Rather than being tethered to a bulky desktop PC or gaming console, you can now just slide in a phablet and enjoy your new virtual reality.

To me, the experience of using modern virtual reality is far different from any form of entertainment that we're used to. When playing a console or PC game, or watching a movie on a TV, I'm always aware of the separation between me and the content. I may get absorbed in it, but I never really feel like I'm shooting up baddies with Nathan Drake or asking a favor of Nucky Thompson.

Oculus – and now the Oculus-esque Gear VR – can enrapture your imagination in ways that legacy media can't. Now that it's been hyped for a while, with no retail products to show for it, it's easy to get cynical about virtual reality. But just wait: it's really like nothing else before it. And the retail products are almost here.

The Gear VR headset itself looks almost exactly like the Oculus Rift prototypes that developers are playing with – only with a more Samsungy consumer-friendly exterior. The biggest difference is that, instead of looking at a self-contained display, you're looking at the Quad HD display of the Galaxy Note 4 that slides inside. We don't know what pricing is going to look like, but I'd imagine (or at least hope) that customers can save a few bucks over a self-contained VR headset by letting the phablet provide the power.

The device's quality looks to be right on par with Oculus, but the demo itself left something to be desired. In my little virtual world, I sat in front of a stage at a party where Coldplay was playing. At first I thought that was just the prelude to a more in-depth gaming demo, but nope. That was it. Just me, Chris Martin and some drunk people shaking their tail feathers.

That points back to the biggest question mark here: content. At its presentation, Samsung splashed a big screen full of current and future partners for the Gear VR. But what will be available at launch? Will it be more impressive than a looping Coldplay concert? I sure hope so.

If not, maybe Google's legion of Cardboard developers can lend a hand.

Samsung didn't announce any pricing details, but the Gear VR will be available later this year. So unless there are some surprise announcements right around the corner, this is going to be the first big virtual reality headset to hit store shelves. Yep, Samsung knows how to latch onto "the next big thing" when it sees it.

For more on Samsung's newest products, you can check out our hands-ons with the Galaxy Note 4, Galaxy Note Edge and Gear S smartwatch.

About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Before finding a home at Gizmag, he had stints at a number of other sites, including Android Central, Geek and the Huffington Post. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica. All articles by Will Shanklin

The unit does render based on axis sensors such as turning your head left will scroll the display. I imagine using Google Sky (Sky Map) would be neat. 360 degree immersion sounds like fun. Can't wait to take this on the airplane to watch movies during those long flights. My question would be if you can program a HUD, etc, Augmented Reality with the front facing camera for use with the headset.


Does the point-of-view turn when you turn your head? Is there any motion blur when you do so? Is the sensation of focussing on something so close to your eyes as awkward as it looks? Is the set light and comfortable? Do you get a good 3D effect from the set? I realise you can't do a full review on such a limited demo, but some info on these basic aspects is surely what most people clicking on an article billed as "hands/head-on time" will be hoping for.

Steve Jones

One thing reviewers frequently forget to mention that is of vital importance to a large part of the population (and, a very large part of the target population): does it work with glasses?

Some systems work with glasses, some require expensive prescription lenses that are purchased separately, and some systems do neither, leaving the spectacle-wearing populace out entirely.

John Whiting

"It looks so cheap, there's too much plastic."

blah blah blah.

Mark Keller
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