Not willing to rest on its mobile VR supremacy, Samsung is back with a new Gear VR headset. If you've lost count of the iterations by this stage, we don't blame you – the Korean company's latest device is the fifth to show off the Oculus-powered VR platform.
But while previous updates have offered much of the same with only small changes to the spec sheet, Samsung has now included a motion controller for you to control the action, despite this also increasing the price of the pair. The only other difference is the Orchid Grey finish to match Samsung's new flagship phone. That's it.
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The experience is still totally wireless, using just your Samsung phone to showcase games, videos and apps, but how did we get on when using the newest addition to the Gear VR lineup, and is the controller really worth the upgrade? Read on to find out.
Samsung Gear VR (2017): In use
Generally, your experience using a Gear VR will depend on which smartphone you lock inside the headset. Samsung, of course, will be pushing you toward the Galaxy S8 and its wide screen, but those with an S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+ are all covered, too.
Sticking with the same 101 degree viewing angle that was improved through the last iteration, the new Gear VR is still just about on par with the PlayStation VR for visuals. A darker colour tint is also involved so glare and reflections are minimal, while room inside the device also means that fogging issues of the past are no longer a problem.
It's not a perfect picture, but this is still mobile VR, and it's the best that you can strap to your head in this range.
Samsung Gear VR (2017): Controller
Right, let's cut to the big addition here – that shiny new controller. As you'll likely have noted from the image above, the device matches the fresh aesthetic of the headset itself, with the same mixture of gloss and matte featuring.
The device itself is only 48.1 x 38.2 x 108.1mm, and accessing the volume controls, back button, home screen or touch pad are all a breeze, meaning your days of fiddling around on the side of the headset are over.
The trigger also opens up a lot of potential for plenty of first-person shooter type games plus a new way to get around the virtual world Samsung has created. If you've experienced Google Daydream's accessory (below) before, it's a pretty similar experience that will come naturally – you point the controller, you click the controller, you win.
There's obviously a minimal amount of depth here, which means its hard to separate the two, but the headline is that the new controller makes shooting around menus, jumping between videos and playing games a much more attractive experience than any before it. It does its job, and does it well. The only downside regarding the whole thing is that it took this long to implement.
Samsung Gear VR (2017): Apps
Samsung has been dabbling in VR since late 2015, so the fact that there's a lot to do once you strap on the headset isn't a surprise.
Not only can you get involved with the big names like Oculus Rooms, YouTube and Minecraft, but the indie end of the spectrum is also packed with options for you to travel through.
It's an area that continues to push Samsung above its rivals, with plenty of demos and free apps existing alongside the pricy hitters. Users are also able to choose items to download through descriptions and a Netflix-style five-star review system. It's still simple, and it still works nicely.
As expected, the amount of apps which support the controller right now is limited. And while many games, for example, do support it, this can often turn out to just mean using the controller to navigate through menus, rather than actually playing differently.
Expect this to change as developers work through how to better utilise the tech, though the early signs with apps like Dead and Buried and Ocean Rift are encouraging.
Away from apps, Samsung has a new 360-degree video library at SamsungVR.com – there are 8,000 videos at launch and Gear 360 users can upload their own creations too. Sure that means there will be some tat, but there's enough quality out there including 'Originals' like Doug Liman's VR series Invisible. All impressive stuff, you won't get bored.
Samsung Gear VR (2017): Compatibility
The Gear VR is still very much a Samsung Galaxy exclusive, with one of its only negative points being that it only works with eight phones in total. Like last year's headset, it comes with both Micro USB and USB Type-C adaptors so you can use the device with multiple Samsung phones. It's very quick to swap these modules and align your phone correctly with the slider. Just be careful not to lose these.
The full list of compatible phones for the Samsung Gear VR (2017) is: Galaxy S8, Galaxy S8+, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Note 5, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge and Galaxy S6 Edge+. This is the exact same list as the 2016 headset, with the addition of the two S8s.
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Samsung Gear VR (2017): Which headset?
The thing to remember here is that the real upgrade is the controller. If you don't already own a Gear VR and you have a Galaxy S8 or S8+ then go for this latest model. Otherwise, if you already own the $99.99 Gear VR (2016) then we'd say buy the $39 controller separately – it works with older headsets. You don't need that fancy fascia enough to buy an identical headset, surely.
Likewise, you could buy that 2016 headset – it's now discounted to £49.99 in the UK and $99.99 from Samsung in the US – and the controller for less than the price of the 2017 edition, depending on where you live. Everything is essentially cheaper in the US, and Samsung hasn't started to slash prices of the older model but on Amazon it is around half price at $44.99. (Don't go back further to the cheapest, 2015 model – that one has a few issues like lenses that fog up).
So for most people, check out last year's model too and you could snag a bargain out from under Samsung's marketing speak about the "new design". You may have to be relatively quick though – we presume there is a finite supply of this older stock.
- Strong selection of apps and videos
- Controller adds new dimension
- Easy to use
- Still only works with Galaxy phones
- More expensive
- No real motion tracking
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