VR made affordable for Samsung phone users

The latest version of the Samsung Gear VR virtual reality (VR) headset uses a Samsung smartphone to run VR programs and as a display.
The latest version of the Samsung Gear VR virtual reality (VR) headset uses a Samsung smartphone to run VR programs and as a display.PHOTO: REUTERS

The latest version of the Samsung Gear VR virtual reality (VR) headset was released in August, in conjunction with the launch of the company's Galaxy Note7 smartphone.

This is the second consumer edition of the headset, which uses a Samsung smartphone to run VR programs and as a display.

The most obvious difference is that the body of the new Gear VR is black, instead of white. This is not a purely aesthetic change, but a functional one as well, as the darker colour reduces glare and provides a more immersive experience.

The rest of the new headset is very similar to the old version. The back edges of the Gear VR are still lined with soft foam padding over rubber, which ensures a close but comfortable fit.

There is still a focus wheel on the top of the headset, and two head straps, one going around the head and one over.

The weights of the headsets are also similar. The old one weighed 318g without a smartphone, and the new one clocks in at 312g. Pair it with a Note7 (169g), and this adds up to 481g - on par with the Oculus Rift (470g), and lighter than the HTC Vive (555g).

The most obvious difference is that the body of the new Gear VR is black, instead of white. This is not a purely aesthetic change, but a functional one as well.

The field of view has widened, from 96 degrees to 101. While it does not feel very different in practice, it is a nice upgrade.

The biggest functional change is the inclusion of USB-C connectivity, to cater to Note7 phones.

  • TECH SPECS

    PRICE: $148

    FIELD OF VIEW: 101 degrees

    WEIGHT: 312g

    CONNECTIVITY: USB-C and Micro-USB

    COMPATIBLE DEVICES: Samsung Galaxy Note7, Note5, S7, S7 edge, S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+

    RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 5/5

    OVERALL: 5/5

However, those with older phones like a Galaxy S7 or S7 edge need not worry, as the connector can be swopped out for a Micro-USB one.

This can be done by toggling a switch on the connector to the unlocked position, then sliding it out towards you. After putting in the Micro-USB connector, users can lock it into place by toggling the switch again.

The device is compatible with the Note7 and Note5, and all phones from the S6 and S7 series.

The trackpad on the right side of the headset has also been changed. In the previous iteration, it was grooved in four directions with a raised circle in the middle, so users could feel where their fingers were even when wearing the headset.

Now, the trackpad is smooth, save for a small raised line in the middle, which provides for a cleaner experience overall.

Samsung has added a new Home button above the trackpad, while retaining the Back button from the last model.

The Back button is slightly more raised, so users will be able to distinguish between the two by touch alone.

The headset still caters to phones of two sizes, such as the smaller S6 and the larger Note7. There is a long, flat button at the base of the connector which allows you to move the connector's position to fit either phone size.

The button is pretty stiff and difficult to press, and often, I found myself using my fingernail to reach it.

This would not be much of an issue, except that the headset's cover now latches onto the connector and only fits when the connector's position is set for a larger phone.

Before, the cover clipped onto the sides of the headset, and could be used in any position. This means that when I was using it with the smaller S7, I had to keep moving the connector whenever I wanted to store or use the Gear VR. It was a frustrating chore.

That said, the Gear VR is still definitely the most affordable and accessible way to experience virtual reality for Samsung phone users, and at $148 is a must-buy accessory for Samsung smartphone owners.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'VR made affordable for Samsung phone users'. Print Edition | Subscribe