Gear VR is an augmented reality headset created by Samsung and Oculus. It is designed for use with Samsung Galaxy S6 edge+, S6 edge, S6 and Note 5 smartphones. The headset is primarily a set of binoculars with a smartphone attached across the front. You can remove the face plate, which bears the name Gear VR in big, shiny letters, and connect the phone into the hinged charging port built into the case. The case is made from plastic and weighs 310 grams. Gear VR features adjustable, spandex straps to affix the headset onto your head. It fit me fine but was a little bit snug on my husband. Thick padding lines the edge of the device where it makes contact with the skin – around the forehead, eyes and nose, which made wearing it more comfortable.
From the moment a smartphone is connected to the device, it powers on the Gear VR home screen. I used the headset with the Galaxy S6 Edge. On the home screen, I first selected the video tutorial which was a short, yet comprehensive overview of how to use Gear VR. Basically, this is how it works; There’s a touch pad on its right side which allows you to swipe backwards and forwards to scroll or tap to select. There is a Back button above the touch pad and volume controls are located on the same side as well. The entire control panel is contained in a small surface area of the headset. You can also look at an item on the screen and then tap to select it – a feature a found to be impressive.
The longest period of time that I wore the headset was one hour. During that time, I didn’t grow tired of it nor did it feel noticeably heavy. I attempted to download an app from the app store. While it loaded in the background, I continued exploring the device. I checked back a few times and it was still downloading with no end in sight so I killed the request. I’m not sure how long it would’ve taken to complete the download but it wasn’t quick.
I used the device while sitting, standing and moving around a bit. At times the screen would become disoriented and blurry. Currently to fix the problem you have to press and hold the Back button to access a menu of settings. As frequently as this is subject to happen, I think there should be a quick – maybe even gesture controlled – way to re-orient the screen.
I powered Gear VR with the Galaxy S6 Edge for my review. As I made final notes on the experience I was blown away when I remembered that. This experience isn’t powered by a massive gaming PC instead it’s supported by a smartphone – a pretty darn good smartphone. From eye sight recognition to multimedia management, the Edge did not disappoint. I tried several apps that were pre-loaded. For example, VR Gallery allows you to scroll through or play a slide show of all the photos stored on the smartphone. VR Photo gives you a 360 degree experience using a photo. The example was a photo taken from the perspective of standing on the rooftop of a skyscraper. What VR Photo does is extend the view of the photo if you look to the left and the right of you. It can best be described as an interactive panoramic experience. Then, there was my favorite, Cinema, which includes 5 different theaters. The theaters differed by environment. For example, the Ant theater featured a large movie screen in a backyard setting among tall blades of grass, wild mushrooms and flowers. I see this virtual movie experience being a hit with kids. The other theaters include Home, which looked like a home theater with couches, Moon which allowed you to watch a movie in outer space, Void which is just the screen with blacked out surroundings and Cinema which looked exactly like what you’d expect to see at a Vox cinema with curtains and cup holders built into the seats.
Using the Gear VR headset I was able to watch videos, movie trailers and virtually see full movies everywhere from a backyard all the way to the moon. In one of the videos titled “Lebron James: Striving for Greatness”, I was impressed by the simulation of space. I felt like I was standing at center court while Lebron James spoke to me from the bleachers. When I looked to the left and right of me, I saw a proper gym; the bleachers continued, there were hoops on each end and even floor markings. In another simulation called Mythbusters 360 Sharks, I was submerged under water with sharks swimming all around me. I can see this being a relaxation hit for those who find water calming – maybe minus the sharks.
Overall, testing Gear VR was a positive experience. There were more apps available that I did not try like many of the gaming apps. I’m not a big gamer so I didn’t find them appealing. If I owned this iteration of the device I would most likely use it to watch movies or occupy my kid by letting him watch a movie. If we’re sharing the same space however, we’d both be privy to the experience. It seems there’s no way to limit the audio to the wearer only. Gear VR is portable in terms of its size but you’d likely only want to take it from one house to another because it’s not the type of thing you want to wear in public. I was photographed wearing Gear VR in public and while it didn’t cause a spectacle, there were a few raised eyebrows. It’s not a dainty, minimal accessory that fades into the background. Instead, it’s a prominent piece of hardware strapped to your face – the kind of thing you enjoy in private.