Samsung Gear VR review

The Gear VR is your front row seat to the future - if you have the right phone
Samsung Gear VR

If the Samsung Gear VR was selling for double its $99 price, we'd probably still be recommending it as one of the coolest purchases you can make right now.

Sure, you might be waiting for Oculus, HTC Vive or PlayStation VR but this is different. This takes seconds to set up and, most importantly, there are games and short films and TV shows for it that you can watch and play right now.

The Gear VR is a tricky device to test because it has zero competition. There are faults and I'll detail those but please just add '...but it's really fun' after pretty much every moan and niggle.

If you have a Samsung phone and you're up for getting a taste of what's to come next year, then the Gear VR is a no brainer.

Samsung Gear VR: What's it like?

Let's assume you haven't tried VR before. Or if you have, it was two minutes in a Samsung store or putting a DIY Cardboard 'headset' up to your face.

Samsung's Gear VR is actually wearable in the sense that you strap it around your head and - in theory - your eyes are completely enclosed. Thanks to an accelerometer and gyroscope, it knows how you are tilting or moving your head so your view of the VR world changes as you roll or turn your head up, down, side to side or swivel around entirely. You control the UI and apps by using your gaze, tapping and swiping on the touchpad or connecting a Bluetooth controller. Playing on a swivel chair or standing up often means a better overall experience.

Read this: The best Gear VR apps, games and experiences so far

Powered by Oculus on a Samsung Galaxy S6/S6 Edge, S6 Edge+ or Galaxy Note 5, with not one but two app stores, you can transport yourself to 3D, CG animated worlds and 180 or 360 degree live action scenes. And it's not all games. Some VR creations are meant to be experienced simply by looking around a scene.

It's immersive, sure, and that's the buzzword but you won't just be immersed by the images and audio, you'll feel like you're really there. If you find yourself at the edge of a rock in ustwo's Gear VR gameLand's End, you'll get a bit of vertigo, it's that powerful. In short, it's magic.

Samsung Gear VR: What's new?

If like me you've been with Samsung every step of the way with the first Gear VR and the Innovator Edition, the first thing you'll notice is how light this is - down to 318g from 393g without your phone slotted in. Samsung's headset has always been comfortable but with this one, there's better foam cushioning and much less chance of getting that feeling that you need to tilt your head higher and higher to stop a heavy-ish headset annoying your nose.

Read this: 50 gamechangers in wearable tech for 2016

This consumer version of the headset also essentially has more room for your face, which is designed to allow easier viewing for glasses wearers. Even with the advent of contact lenses, I'm going to assume the Venn diagram of nerds and speccy-four-eyes is still pretty strong so that's a good thing. But if you don't need the room - say, you have 20-20 vision and a small head - you might find that some light gets through. Another small change, that the inside of the Gear VR is white now, not black as before, doesn't help either. That's a pain.

The last real change, the new, embossed touchpad, is another design refinement. We're divided over how we feel about the new touchpad in the Wareable office. To someone who has never used a headset before, it might be easier to find your bearings and it's also wider. But when you're actually tapping and swiping in a game like Gunjack, we can't help missing the old smoothie on the Innovator Edition a little.

As before, the Gear VR is wireless, portable and easy to pick up and play. I actually found it a bit of a faff to cart it around to and from the office (settling on keeping it in its plastic container from the box) so it's probably worth getting a nice case if you plan to do this. It's a minor gripe, considering this is an awesome bit of VR kit, but you won't want to bash it about too much.

Most of what I said about the previous Samsung headsets apply here: personally I wouldn't wear this on the train just yet; my Galaxy S6 Edge slotted into the headset securely and with the cover for the front; it feels like a complete product that won't fall apart if not a premium one.

Samsung Gear VR: Apps and games

The Samsung Gear VR apps to try first

The Gear VR is the only high profile VR headset that is actually on sale yet. But if you compare the selection of apps, games and experiences on offer to what you'd get if you bought a Google Cardboard viewer, Samsung and Oculus now comfortably win. The omissions for now are Google's own efforts including YouTube and Street View.

Read this: Our pick of the best Google Cardboard apps

The Oculus and Milk VR selections are still small compared to say the iPhone's App Store. Don't get me wrong, and depending on how open you are to new genres, you might still run out of things to try out over the holidays. But it's big enough to give you real choice. There are now full games with replay value and more stuff is being added all the time. Seriously, we've been finding a couple of decent Gear VR titles popping up daily now in the December rush.

The quality of apps and games made for Gear VR is higher than Cardboard too and the boundaries are being pushed in terms of social interactions with Oculus' own Social Alpha, with controls in the CG animated Rosebud and with interactive storytelling in the True Detective-esque series GONE. And yes, there's a browser for VR too, which is currently in beta.

As the quality has gone up, so have the prices with plenty of $7.99, $9.99 and even $14.99 games now (it's all in dollars) available to download as well as free demos and experiences. Most of them are worth the money, but check out our pick of Gear VR apps, games and experiences so far first.

Samsung Gear VR: Picture and audio quality

I could rip apart the picture quality of the Gear VR compared to say, the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. And it is hard to see the amazing games and TV shows that are being created for Gear VR up close and low res, wishing that I had more pixels in front of my eyes.

The S6 Edge has a 5.1-inch, 1440 x 2560 AMOLED display which works as 577ppi and the Note 5 is bigger but slightly less sharp with a 5.7-inch, 2560 x 1440 (515ppi) display. They are both vivid with good contrast and guarantee a picture quality that, by contrast, varies a lot when using Cardboard with any old phone. The 96(ish) degree field of view is decent too - the phone's display is split in half for each eye then magnified by the lenses.

Back when I was a smartphone reviewer in another life, I would have written emphatically that we don't need any more pixels in smartphone screens. I've changed my mind. Forgetting the battery problem for now, let's do it for the sake of mobile VR, following Sony's lead with the 4K Xperia Z5. It makes me impatient for 2016 but at the same time, the overall package you get with the Samsung is a great trade-off. For now.

One point that might panic you picture wise is that the Gear VR does tend to fog up a little, depending on the temperature of the room. So you might see cloudy white circles on the lenses - these do go away as you settle in but it's interesting that Samsung removed the fans from the Innovator Edition - probably best as they didn't solve the problem.

It's an obvious one but I recommend using headphones with any Gear VR experience. Not just the ones which prompt you to, which is simple enough as your phone's headphone jack will be accessible. It's not just about feeling more immerse though, it also means you can get extra depth from spatial sound on Samsung's own apps and Milk VR experiences that take advantage of the tech. Then again, there is the fun factor of using your Samsung phone's speaker when making an idiot of yourself in front of friends.

Samsung Gear VR: Set up and UI

Setup is super easy - just slot your Samsung phone into the front of the Gear VR as you would with a Micro USB cable, put the headset on (after attaching and securing the straps) and then you will be prompted to download all the necessary Oculus apps.

The Oculus app, which has an icon with 'Gear VR' in it, is where you should head to download apps and games. It's quicker to do this on your phone than within VR, particularly for bigger downloads like GONE.

Follow the tutorial to look around the settings, especially getting back to brightness, do not disturb and the passthrough camera which are all useful. The main screen is Oculus Home, though, and you'll be gazing, swiping and tapping away through the big, colourful tiles in no time. One good thing to remember is that long pressing the back button above the touchpad gets you back to Oculus Home. Plus there's a volume key just in front of the touchpad and a dial on top to adjust focus. Not much has changed here, apart from the fact that there is simply a lot more to explore from Oculus and Samsung's Milk VR store.

Samsung Gear VR
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Samsung Gear VR: How it compares

Well, it doesn't really. This is a real step up from a Cardboard viewer in terms of comfort, immersion and the quality of apps and games so it's no competition really. It's also good preparation for the high end, wired headsets coming for the PS4 and PC next year. I'm not saying the Gear VR experience compares to using an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, say, but now Samsung have dipped below the $100 mark, for some people it doesn't matter.

And we'll just say this one more time, you can buy the Gear VR now. Sony might be working on a rival, the HTC Vive is launching in April, Sony and Oculus release dates are still up in the air. This is an incredibly fun $99 stop gap if nothing else if, and it's a big if, you own a Samsung phone. It may even sway a few people over from rival smartphones if contracts are up.

Samsung Gear VR
By Samsung
Like its predecessors, this is an accessory for Samsung smartphones. But you will not find a Samsung accessory that produces more fun than the Gear VR. It corrects what was missing in the developer editions - there are now plenty of quality apps and games, it's now lighter - and it's selling for a kind of impulse buy price. This is the VR headset to buy, if for nothing else than to prep you for what's coming in 2016.

  • Great intro to VR
  • Small but nice selection of apps and games
  • On sale now
  • Only works with recent Samsung phones
  • Low-res next to high end headsets
  • Fog is a pain


  • L_E_O says:

    This seems awesome, and I'm really itching to get one, but my biggest fear is that Sammy will drop support and enhancements for this in a heartbeat for a "Pro" or other iterative version of the device. I've been burned by them a few times like that.

  • tjm says:

    I dont see the appeal? VR is designed for gaming and its best use will be on a console. Project morpheus will beat all VR headset handsdown as there will be games for it. Also if anything Microsoft bring for xbox one. I dont think the consumer wants to be stuck on which VR headsets to buy? Or want to own multiple VR headsets. If the consumer is to stop and think before they buy then they will realise that all these headsets are a waste of money if you were to buy one for ypur phone before realising there's a better one on a console backed up by, any games. Orculus will also see failure as no doubt they'll be a higher price point and few takers. It just wont compete with sony lineup especially in the future if VR takes off the majority of ps4 games may be VR compatible? Other companies bringing out VR headsets when competing against an established games console is the same as these same companies bringing out a3d handheld console when the 3ds is available, they wouldn't stand a chance

    • mwright123 says:

      Brother I understand where you're coming from but as an owner of the original Gear VR for the Note 4, I assure you there is value to this. I paid $200 but now that the price is $100 for newer Samsung phones it is actually quite a bit better than some may think even though it's only powered by a smartphone. It does have its drawbacks obviously but if you already own a Samsung phone especially the newer models it's well worth it with the cost cut in half. Now that being said I am absolutely going to buy a Vive or an Oculus rift or project Morpheus Sony VR in the future, but considering the processing power the cpus the rift will require and the ps4, which I own as well, this is a great start for consumer ready VR. Especially since it will be at least April before morpheus or rift if not longer, it will drive me to upgrade and they will need to be significantly better when budgeting your hard earned money. So in short, this only a start, but if you already own a Samsung phone, it would be crazy not to buy it. I've been curious about this sort of thing for years and it will not disappoint. This has driven me to explore which one of the more powerful headsets I'm going to buy. I'm not sure but I can vouch for its usefulness. From videos to games that were free as demos, this thing is powering vr into bigger and better things. Check it out. Once again if you're already own a samsung phone it's only five times the cost of a Google cardboard which you can play most of those games as well on it, and there's no contest. Now which ones yet to come out are you looking at?  Because I value input of others that have something to say and you obviously are somebody that actually wants this whole virtual reality thing to grow larger. Hopefully I put things in the kind of perspective that will help. And I hope you already own a Samsung phone because if not then disregard :-)

      • RogueBear says:

        Your thinking is pretty.much the same as mine, I bought a very early vr headset that my note 5 fitted into but to be honest it was rubbisg, I also bought a cardboard which was surprisingly good for what it was. The Samsung VR headset really is a huge step up, and as you say if you own a recent Samsung phone and are interested in VR then buying this is really a no brainer. What I am really waiting for is Microsoft Hololens, I just hope that Microsoft iron out most of the bugs before RTM, I can just think of so many applications for it, both work and play. It is interesting to see that some Global software companies like

  • SloSuenos says:

    The Innovator edition had its price lowered to $99.00 several weeks ago. Look it up...

    • raluca1maria says:

       That's Not true.. Last week i purchased the Innovator Edition with $189.. from Amazon

      • atlfusion06 says:

        Actually it is true. I got mine from Samsung directly for $99. Even Best Buy had the Innovator on sale for $99 at one time

    • Prafter says:

      Whay is the difference with the Innovator edition? I can buy either one for $99 and not sure what the difference is. 

      • tw33kr says:

        The difference is which phones it will connect to, the newer one only works with like the S6 and Note 5 series of phones I believe, I had an innovator edition for my Note 4 before I upgraded. 

  • garebear says:

    The concept and immersion is good but i was expecting more clarity. The resolution was disappointing. The black lines between pixels  prevented a seamless image for a  experience. The image was like a looking though a thin cheesecloth effect. Maybe I did not set up note 5 correctly to accept software. What what should expect for $99. I should be glad VR has come this far. New refinements should be soon.

    • RogueBear says:

      I dont get any black lines using a note 5

  • deeders says:

    I received the Gear VR for Christmas and upgraded my phone to the note 5.  I have spent about 45 minutes playing with my new toy

  • bigpete says:

    Got my new Samsung VR headset for my s6 edge+ £ review of the VR.....well what can I say it's unbelievable it really is how an item like this is so bad quality of build is great sound is great but the vision of when you look into them so so bad I'm giving it 1/10 tried to use the focus but the picture is never sharp or even close colour fringing all over the place....and I have 20/20 vision but not to be bios I gave it to 3 of my friends and 1 of them was defo thinking of buying 1 for his s6 well they tried it and just laughed how you could even use it with out damaging your eyes because you cannot focus on something that's already out of focus before you even start

    • RogueBear says:

      It works great for me but then I wear glasses, maybe time to get your eyes tested?

  • Courage0124 says:

    I have the Gear VR and it is a great concept super fun but I have had it less then 24 hours and am already irritated with it. You plug your phone into it and in less then 5 or 10 minutes you have to take it out cause it over heats super fast. I even turned my brightness down on my phone which I read has helped some people but that did not help at all. It would be more fun if I didn't have to worry about it ruining my brand new S6. If there was just an app to download on your phone and you had to keep it close by but not actually hook your phone up would be so much better then playing hot potato with my new S6.

    • RogueBear says:

      Try it without the front cover the phone wont get quite as hot or at least it takes longer to get hot.

  • kamyar says:

    hi There,

    I just got one of these Samsung SM-R322NZWAXAC Gear VR Smartwatch and I have been playing with it all day. Great toy. I had a question about the image quality. I find it very low quality when watching Netflix videos. Is it supposed to be like this or am I missing something. I made sure I remove the plastic covers from the lens. It does not appear to be very sharp and it looks like I am viewing it from behind a fine screen window. 

  • 1jem says:

    Samsung Note 5 from Verizon & Gear VR- WHATA NIGHTMARE it has been- STAY AWAY!!! Would be my suggestion.

    My experience with Gear VR has been horrible. First, I am not sure how it got to my phone. I don’t need it and I do not want it, I did not ask for it or gave permission for it to be downloaded to my Samsung Note5. As I connectmy device to a power cord the gear VR screen will pop up and at the same time drop any phone call AND close any app I may be using… like navigation app, in the middle of traffic. IN MY OPINION THIS IS DANGEROUS! I have spent countless hours trying to get this app out of my phone or at least getting it to force stop- it keeps coming up again. I have been (multiple times) in contact with Verizon and Samsung, and have done everything they suggested to get this resolved including a soft AND hard factory reset- unsuccessfully. Now they want me to either send my phone in or get it to BB for a wired accessed deletion of the app—but they cannot guaranty it will not be reinstalled on a future update!!

    If anybody cares: Ticket no. 214 177 9967 with Samsung- 888-987-4357. I think it was a mistake to buy a Samsung phone with Verizon…

  • gil_ghost says:

    i wonder if this will be compatible with FPV drone apps.... would you know?

  • NeverAgain says:

    This vision was blurred and it cut off the video on the edges. Samsung received the item back on 1/21/2016. I've called for my refund 8 times and they told me to wait 10 business days. We are on day 16. I called them twice today and they lady told me the that the lady who does the refund, he father past away so  no refunds were issued last week. Then I called back later to speak to a manager, the same person came back on the phone and said the manager said she will manually put  it back on my card. in another 7 days. I've filed a better business bureau complaint with this company. DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH SAMSUNG. They've basically stolen my money and refuses to give it back.

  • Kingmoussa says:

    I wouldn't recommend this crap even to my worst enemy! I bought the gear vr for my note 5 (the international unlocked version). The set up was supposed to be automatic because I was supposed to hear a bip to continue the setup process. But I have never heard that bip and therefore wasn't able to make the set up. I feel soooooo frustrated right now. Don't buy it if you don't have 99 bucks to throw away. 

  • mohammedkhan says:

    I think the VR lite is really a bad buy compared to the gear VR. For one, the padding is really bad, allowing light in and not very comfortable.

    If I had a choice I would return it and rather pay a bit more for the standard VR

  • linard says:

    Yesterday I've got Samsung Gear VR... connected it to my Samsung Galaxy S7Edge and start watching. Big big disappointment. 

    1.Resolution is very bad (Netflix) grainy images, definitely not HD

    2.Padding is very uncomfortable

    3.Lack of Blue tooth connection

    4. You cant use (watch) it when laying down (in the bed

    5.Finally you can not adjust focus for myopia (mine is -3.5), to get image" in focus" you have to wear glasses!

    I would not recommend it, it is in immature stage. Don't waste your money.Wait for improvements.


  • Alban says:

    I wold like to bye but first wold like to know how long can play games with Samsung Grate Vr couse as I know the mobile phone will be very hot after some times so how long is that time also after first mobile phone is hot if change only mobile phone and but second mobile phone can we start again use it or also vr glasses will be hot and need to turn of ??

    If time of use vr glass depend of mobile model can you please inform me for each mobile that can use how long can keep in vr glasses ??

    Also can I download new 360* games which can bye in other web pages in this software of vr glasses , Im interested to have different roller coaster games in 360* system 

    Thanks and best regards


  • mikster says:

    can I watch any movies on Netflix with the glasses?

  • Abbas says:

    Hi can I attach vr glasses with  samsung galaxy alpha phone 

  • SyedShameem says:

    The virtual reality case is really amazing and makes you wonderful feeling. It protects all outside agencies such as weather, rain, dust etc. And the lens is protected as long on. The cover is available in market in cheap rate. so i recommend you to take the cover for your daily usage.

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