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Samsung Gear VR Hands-onTired of targeting your wrist with its wearables, Samsung now has designs on attaching things to your face. With Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus making waves in the realms of virtual reality the Korean manufacturer has decided to board the bandwagon. Enter the Samsung Gear VR.
Unlike the VR industry’s big players, however, the Gear VR is not a standalone device. The headset itself features the stereoscopic lenses required for virtual reality but lacks a screen. Instead, it is an accessory into which a Galaxy Note 4 must be inserted.
I stepped out of reality and into a virtual world during IFA 2014 to see if Samsung is on to something with the Gear VR, or simply chasing the shadow of an industry buzzword.
Samsung Gear VR DesignA futuristic product needs a futuristic design and the Gear VR has just that. Samsung has worked with Facebook owned VR specialist Oculus in building the product, and it shows.
The bulbous eyepiece might be plastic, but its bright white finish gives it a slightly more advanced look. The dark, removable facia, however, is a little unsightly and cheapens the overall aesthetic. That said, this is a serious, well-built accessory, not a slightly more robust take on Google Cardboard.
Inserting the Note 4 is simple, too. Unclip the front and a hinged docking port is present. I found the handset easy to insert, and it locked into place with minimal fuss. Once docked with the headset, the Note automatically enters a Gear VR mode. That’s it, you’re ready to go. It’s that’s easy.
An elasticated strap and cushioned headpiece keep things in place. These are comfortable and I was able to easily adjust the straps, even while wearing the device.
Although a frame of foam cushioning helps make the eye-encompassing headset soft on the face, I did find it pinched the bridge of my nose. The device sampled was a pre-production model, however. Hopefully this will be rectified by the time the device hits retailer’s shelves later this year.
Samsung Gear VR Features and PerformanceDuring my time with the Gear VR, I experienced three bits of sample software. These covered the wearable’s three content options – video viewing, VR gameplay and a 360-degree virtual experience.
Thrown into the 360-degree world of a Cirque Du Soleil show, the initial reaction is impressive. Turning my head left and right I was able to direct my view at different parts of the performance. The Gear VR was responsive to my movements and content was only slightly marred by motion blur.
In this experience, however, the novelty soon wore off. For me, there is still a disconnect with such live virtual reality ‘experiences’. Although I was able to explore all angles of the theatre from my static viewpoint, it was an isolating experience. Everything felt distant.
On to gaming then and I played a space shooter. It was basically a simplistic take of the Oculus compatible Eve Valkyrie. This was far more engaging and, as such, entertaining. The Gear VR features a small touch pad on the right side for menu navigation. In the game, tapping on this let you shoot enemy space crafts. The panel is highly responsive.
Despite whipping my head up and down, round and back, I found the Gear VR far less disorientating than Oculus Rift.
That isn’t necessarily a good thing, though. The lack of disorientation shows the immersion levels are not quite there. The Gear VR always feels like you’re using an accessory. Oculus on the other hand makes it feel like you’re living the experience.
Finally, video mode. This highlighted something I spotted in the previous two demos. The image quality is just a little off.
Despite the Note 4 playing host to a stunning 2560 x 1440p QHD display, force your eyes to stare intently at it at such a close distance and individual pixels can be picked out. This doesn’t totally tarnish the overall experience. It does, however, lose some of the immersion.
What’s more, with Samsung suggesting you don’t use the Gear VR for more than 30 minutes at a time, using it to watch a film would be a heavily fragmented experience.
Further physical controls include a volume rocker and, for those with near or far sightedness, an ‘optical adjustment dial’ allows you to make small alterations to the lenses.
Impressive but far from revolutionary is how I would describe the Samsung Gear VR after first use. The content I sampled was entertaining and, at times, engaging, but it has its limitations. A lack of support will surely hamper the device in the long term and the practicality of such a device is still a concern. That said, I look forward to getting the device in for a full review soon.
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