Samsung Gear VR (2016) review

Still the reigning champ of mobile VR but Daydream is coming

There's a new Samsung Gear VR in town. If you're keeping count, this is now the fourth iteration of the Korean company's Oculus-powered VR headset.

Revealed alongside the new Samsung Galaxy Note 7 smartphone, the latest Gear VR is the same price as its predecessor – that's $99. In short, though, this is an extremely similar headset to last year's consumer Gear VR.

It's wireless, using your phone to power the VR, comfortable to wear, easy to set up and now has an even larger library of – free and affordable – apps, games and videos to try in VR.

In this review we'll let you know our experiences with the differences and additions in the new model, rather than rehash our original Gear VR review.

Reviewer's note: On account of the Note 7's current exploding problem, we largely tested the new Gear VR with a Galaxy S6 Edge, which is obviously not the best resolution you can get.

Samsung Gear VR (2016): Design tweaks

samsung gear vr 2016 review

Side by side, the new Gear VR looks almost identical to last year's headset. But there are some noticeable differences – the most important of which in our book is the fact that there's more room inside the headset and some new vents on the side.

This means we haven't experienced any lens fog so far with the Gear VR (2016), which was one of our main bugbears with the original. Samsung also says it has made it more comfortable and it might be ever so slightly nicer on-face, but the first one was fine so this is pretty minor.

It's now an all-black plastic affair and there's a new Oculus Home button next to 'Back' above the trackpad which takes some getting used to, if you've been using the old model and assume there's only one button you can press. But once you're used to it, it's super handy. The trackpad is back to smooth, doing away with the experiment with arrow-like indents. As ever, we'd recommend grabbing a Bluetooth gamepad to use with the headset.

Unlike before, the fascia seems designed to only be put in place when there's no phone slotted into the headset. Not that you'd notice but there's also now a thin strip of plastic in between the two lenses on the side of your phone display. The straps are pretty much identical and easy to adjust and the focus wheel remains on top.

One more thing – the Gear VR does feel ever so slightly heavier than the first and it's also bigger, particularly wider in front to accommodate Samsung's larger Galaxy phones. Neither of these are noticeable enough to be a mark on the Gear VR's score though.

Samsung Gear VR (2016): VR experience

samsung gear vr 2016 review

The actual visual experience of using a Gear VR will depend on which smartphone you use, with Samsung, of course, nudging you towards the big and sharp Note 7 screen.

But there are some improvements to the actual headset no matter which phone you've got – specifically Samsung has widened the viewing angle to 101 degrees (from 96 degrees) and darkened the colour tint to reduce glare and reflections.

The new field of view is a welcome addition – it puts the Gear VR on a par with the Vive and Rift for this spec at least. But while this and the tint help with the immersion, it's not a real step up. And frankly, it doesn't need to be. This isn't a perfect picture, this is mobile VR and with these small upgrades Samsung still has the best mobile VR headset around.

Samsung Gear VR (2016): USB-C friendly

samsung gear vr 2016 review

Another big new feature the Gear VR (2016) packs is a USB Type-C adaptor so in theory you can plug Sammy's newest handset straight in (if you ignore the current warnings from Oculus et al not to go near it in case of explosions).

That doesn't mean that owners of S7 and S7 Edge phones are going to miss out on the improved virtual reality action. You can pop the USB-C adaptor out and swap it for a regular old Micro USB one.

It's easy enough to do, a little module just pops out in the front compartment and you can slide it along (between A and B) to account for phone size. Just don't lose the adaptors.

The full list of compatible Samsung phones are the following: Galaxy Note 7, S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+.

Samsung Gear VR (2016): Which headset?

samsung gear vr review 2016

The 2016 Gear VR is – as before – well worth the extra money over a Cardboard viewer, mainly down to the app and video library. The only caveat now is that Google Daydream is about to drop and Samsung is involved, so perhaps wait until early October to make your decision.

Samsung Gear VR (2016)
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It's the one you'll no doubt end up buying if you don't own a Samsung mobile headset already, as the first one is showing as out of stock on Samsung's site. Which essentially means Samsung is replacing its first mainstream model – and in our eyes, that's no bad thing.

If you own the first one, there's no essential reason to upgrade unless you get a USB-C phone or really want to say bye-bye to that fog issue.

Samsung Gear VR (2016)
By Samsung
Still the reigning champ of mobile VR, the 2016 edition of Gear VR is weeks away from facing its real first rival – Google Daydream. We'd recommend waiting until October to see Google's plans and partners. Otherwise, this is still a neat, fun, at times mind-blowing Samsung Galaxy accessory with genuinely welcome design and tech tweaks plus a much larger and higher quality library of apps, games and videos than when we first reviewed it.

  • Big selection of apps and vids
  • Fog issue solved
  • Easy, fun, affordable
  • Only works with Galaxy phones
  • No high end features like motion tracking
  • Will Daydream kill Gear VR?

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  • Kermit·

    But still no ability to adjust the lens focus or separation independently? Cant be just me with different prescriptions in each eye!

    Compared to 'passive' cardboard types, either Gear VR is way better. Pretty sure there are extra sensors in the Gear VR, as it seems to be much more responsive than the same phone in a cardboard.

  • Pedestrian·

    Actually rhe S6 Edge would give you a better resolution than the S7 Edge or Note 7 Since they all have the same resolution, being 2560x1440, but the S6 has the smallest of all displays, thus granting the highest ppi.

  • LeeG·

    am enjoying my first experience with 3D viewing.  the Gear VR seems to be everything the reviews hyped it to be.  my only disappointment is that my S6 phone seems to heat up too fast for me to enjoy a complete experience. I have to stop and restart a lot because I have to let the phone cool down before continuing.  amy I doing something wrong?

  • terryjones·

    It seems Samsung is determined to continue hurting themselves. If you're thinking of GearVR for watching 3d content in 180/360 degrees, then think again. Firstly, if you live outside of US (e.g. Australia where I am), then you can't download their SamsungVR player (formerly known as MilkVR). Why, Sammy, why oh why would you do this???? You promote GearVR worldwide then limit who can use a huge chunk of software functionality?? You should at least have a big red warning sticker on the box in these other countries saying 'your GearVR will not be allowed to download some of Samsung's core software for GearVR'. So, I managed to get around it using a VPN on my phone. Initially I had MilkVR, then after an update Samsung apparently detected that I lived in Australia and so after uninstalling MilkVR it refused to let me have the newer SamsungVR. Again, I used a VPN to get it. Now, playback is WORSE (noticeably jittery). They have also removed the ability to reorient by pressing and holding the centre of trackpad. Now you need to pop out through the menus to do it. Takes much longer and kills whatever immersive experience u were enjoying - especially if u need to redo a few times to get the positioning correct. WHYYY Sammy, would you remove obviously useful functionality. Frig me, the stupidity. I'm guessing whoever was responsible for designing Note 7 battery has been put in charge of GearVR.

  • taker·

    Any body Plz answer this.........

    Will there be any effect if we use tempered glass/ screen protector in mobile (s7) for watching in gear VR

    • darrenwill·

      Absolutely not i use tempered glass no problems. If you dont have one buy one, very smooth vr experience i tried cardboard and its not even close.

  • VrSteve·

    I like your posts they are very informative, the only thing is that there is so many of the improved models on the market. The only thing you didn't add into your descriptive blog is the current model numbers to differentiate what we buy the Internet is flooded with these vr glasses but the prices very alot, how can I tell if I'm buying the latest samsung vr without the model number, is there another way I can tell.

    • s.charara·

      This is the 2016 edition, usually referred to as v2 or version 2 on Amazon etc. It's for Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 edge etc unlike the previous consumer edition. 

  • Robin007·

    May i use gear vr for galaxy s5??? plz tell me...

  • Juliosefu·

    after having the psvr for couple months after release lack of games and expensive  sold it, and bought after 4 months later a gear vr 2016, i have to tell you same quality picture as psvr but less cables  use it in bed as youtube  player,,, great  product easy to use, one little miss is an gamepad would be usefull to play some games but really quality picture you  as psvr with all that power,,  all of this comes from a ex sony fanboy