Virtual reality has long been limited to expensive headsets and even more expensive PCs to run them. However, in recent years mobile processors have become a lot more powerful. This power increase has meant that the latest smartphones can handle running VR experiences. They may not be quite as immersive or graphically impressive as their PC-tethered counterparts, but mobile VR headsets have still made an impact. One such device is the Samsung Gear VR. Powered by Samsung’s flagship devices, the headset has seen a number of iterations over the years. In 2017, the company released an updated version paired with a remote control.
Whether or not mobile VR has a future remains to be seen. The limitations so far have been around the lack of room-tracking, meaning that only head movements are translated into the virtual space. As it stands, only the very best and most expensive VR headsets use a 6-degrees-of-freedom (DoF) tracking method. The Gear VR only supports 3DoF tracking, but it does it very well and for an affordable price. In this review, we’ll cover some of the pros and cons of Samsung’s most recent headset, its key features and specs, design, and price.
Samsung Gear VR Pros and Cons
Affordable, particularly if you already own a Samsung phone.
Well-made and comes with a good controller.
Plenty of quality apps available.
Requires a Samsung device to power it.
No movement or controller tracking.
Resolution could be better.
Samsung Gear VR Key Specs
Although much of the power of the Samsung Gear VR comes from the attached handset, there’s still plenty of interesting tech inside the headset itself. Part of what makes the device such an appealing option is that it utilises both the phone and some VR-specific technology:
Both the new Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+ have a resolution of 2960×1440. However, the S9 has a slightly better pixel density, making it marginally better for VR.
The Gear VR works with the most recent versions of Android installed on your phone. It uses the Oculus app to power the VR experience.
Unlike the Oculus Go, there is no internal processor. Instead the Gear VR relies on a Galaxy phone to power it. With the Galaxy S9, that’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. Samsung’s is a newer processor than the Lenovo Mirage Solo, but it’s not optimised for VR like its competitor.
4 GB for the S9, and 6GB for the S9+.
USB Type-C for power connection, Micro USB, OTG USB memory, 3rd-party controller.
Gyro sensor / Proximity sensor
207.1 x 120.7 x 98.6 mm
345 g (0.76 lbs)
£99/$129.99 plus the cost of a compatible phone.
Although the headset relies mainly on the phone that’s attached to it, there are still some neat features on show. The latest Galaxy S9 is more than up to the challenge of powering the VR software, but it also costs a lot. If you already own one, the headset is more than worth the price. However, it’s a significant expense if you don’t.
Samsung Gear VR Hardware
The hardware has been around in one form or another since 2015. Samsung paired with VR pioneers Oculus, so the virtual reality pedigree is certainly there. It shows too, particularly with the most recent release of the Gear VR. The big addition was the controller. This handheld device, very similar to the one paired with the Oculus Go, brings a new edge to the experience. A touchpad and trigger, as well as function keys, improve the performance of many of the apps available. Although it’s not quite at the level of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift controllers, the accessory is a welcome addition. You still can’t track your hand movements with it, the whole Gear VR has only 3DoF, but it makes navigating the app store and playing games a lot easier.
As for the headset itself, a gyro sensor and proximity sensor make it responsive to head movements that seamlessly translate into the virtual world. The lenses create a 101-degree field of view, which means it isn’t quite as good as other headsets. Some level of immersion is lost, particularly as the ‘screen door’ effect is still an issue with most virtual reality devices at the moment. However, for the money, and if you’re a Samsung smartphone owner, the Gear VR is the best accessory you can buy.
Samsung Gear VR Key Features
Now that we’ve looked at some of the technical aspects of the headset, it’s time to turn to the big hitters. It’s the features and content that can make or break a device, as we saw with the rival Lenovo Mirage Solo. Here are some of the standout elements of the Gear VR:
The Oculus Interface
Oculus has been updating their VR app ever since the launch of the Gear VR. Its latest iteration makes using the Gear VR a truly enjoyable and seamless experience. The virtual room you enter when first putting on the headset gives you access to everything you need in an easy-to-navigate manner. There’s also a voice command option which lets you open apps without any fuss. On a similar note, the breadth of apps and experiences available shows that there is a lot of promise in the technology.
We mentioned this previously, but the newly added controller is an absolute joy to use. Although similar to the Oculus Go and Daydream View controllers, the Gear VR’s controller distinguishes itself from the rest in its quality and responsiveness.
In the box
Along with the headset and controller, Samsung provides everything needed to get set up and exploring virtual reality content. Adapters are provided for both micro USB and USB-C compatible phones, as are AAA batteries for the controller, and a wrist strap. The only slight disappointment is that the controller itself isn’t rechargeable.
Key Features: 7.9/10
Samsung Gear VR Design
We’ve mentioned in other reviews that it’s hard for any of the current generations of VR headsets to look particularly amazing. They’re all based on a similar theme, and likely will be for some time. That being said, the latest version of the Gear VR gets a lot right. The ‘Orchid Grey’ finish on the headset is the same as the casing of the S8 and S8+, which gives it a feel of quality. The device isn’t heavy, yet it’s still reassuringly sturdy; you certainly feel as if you’re getting your money’s worth. Despite this, it’s not as sleek and discreet as the Google Daydream View.
Over the years, Samsung has worked hard to improve on some critical features. The lenses of the headset can be adjusted to allow room for glasses, and light reduction is still excellent. They’ve also addressed the issue of heat dissipation. Previous versions of the headset were notorious for overheating the phone when in use. This no longer seems to be an issue.
In general, the headset fits well on your face and is comfortable enough to wear even for longer VR sessions. Visually it may not be the most appealing, even amongst other headsets, but functionally Samsung has improved the device considerably.
Samsung Gear VR Software and Content
One area where the Samsung Gear VR headset truly excels is in the amount of content available for it. The Oculus platform delivers a diverse range of apps, games, and experiences. There are hundreds available across a variety of genres and prices. Some of the biggest gaming titles currently available include Minecraft, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and Eve: Gunjack. Each offers a unique take on what a VR game should be. Of course, there are a lot of apps on the store that don’t come close to being as enjoyable. Oculus has tried to remedy this by adding a star-rating system, which does help. However, sometimes you can find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer number of junk apps.
In terms of quality, the headset does a good job of immersing you into the worlds you’re exploring. A good pair of headphones is a must for this immersion, which sadly Samsung don’t provide in the box. The performance will vary depending on the device you plug into it, but with the Galaxy S8 and S9 ranges, you shouldn’t have a problem. Older phones and processors may struggle with some of the more graphically demanding apps, however.
Samsung Gear VR Review: Final Thoughts
As far as mobile-based VR goes, the Samsung Gear probably still takes the title of the best available headset. Despite only being available to owners of Samsung phones, the overall experience and quality stands out from the crowd. Google’s Daydream View comes close, but the available content and quality of the controller on the Samsung device give it the edge. For a relatively low price, Samsung Galaxy owners can immerse themselves in some of the best VR action outside of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. However, with standalone devices such as the Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage Solo being released, Samsung could face some serious competition.
Both of the newly released headsets offer innovation, affordability, and good content. For those who don’t own a Samsung smartphone, the Go and the Mirage Solo are attractive options. It will be interesting to see where the Gear VR’s future lies.
Samsung Gear VR Review
As far as mobile-based VR goes, the Samsung Gear probably still takes the title of the best available headset. Despite only being available to owners of Samsung phones, the overall experience and quality stands out from the crowd.
Reader Rating18 Votes
Affordable, particularly if you already own a Samsung phone.