It didn’t exactly come as a surprise when Samsung unveiled its first ever virtual reality headset during a press conference on Wednesday, but I’m not sure anyone expected the Gear VR to come out the way it did. Unlike the Oculus Rift and other virtual reality headsets we’ve seen in the recent past, the Gear VR is not a standalone device. Instead, Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 4 docks in the headset and the phone’s 5.7-inch quad HD display serves as the screen for all the action.
It’s an interesting implementation, to say the least, but I found that the virtual reality experience the Gear VR provides is shockingly entertaining.
Samsung’s Gear VR is fairly interesting in the way it works, and it has obvious pros and cons. The front of the device pops off and then snaps back on once the Note 4 is locked in place — the only real purpose of the cover appears to be the fact that it masks the phone a bit so you don’t just look like you have a phone strapped to your face.
The Note 4 then serves as the brains of the operation as well as the display, and the Gear VR has a touchpad and a back button on the right side for basic controls. Samsung will also be launching a Bluetooth gamepad alongside the Gear VR, which will be a must-have for those looking to take full advantage of the experience.
Of note, the Gear VR was developed in partnership with Oculus, and games will be coming down the road from Oculus and other VR gaming companies.
Now, on the plus side, the Note 4’s quad HD display provides more than enough pixels for a solid VR experience. The powerful processor also does a good job of keeping things fluid during use.
On the downside, the Note 4 is the only smartphone that will work with the headset, so most people won’t even consider purchasing the Gear VR. To devote so much time and all these resources to a device that so few people will ever use seems odd, but perhaps it will eventually lead to something more universal if early feedback is good.
I got the opportunity to play with the Gear VR for a few minutes during meetings with Samsung and to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much. Within just a few seconds of testing the device, however, my stance was completely reversed.
The Gear VR is a whole lot of fun.
Just like the Oculus Rift, the Gear VR immerses you in a 360-degree world and integrated sensors shift your view as you move your head. You can turn all the way around or look all the way up and down, and the Gear VR will follow your motions and adjust the view instantly as you move. It’s awesome.
While sitting in a chair in Samsung’s shop in downtown Manhattan, I flew through the sky above the mountains in a hot air balloon, toured New York City from above, attended a Coldplay concert against my will, jumped into Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, and flew through space defending by ship against enemy crafts.
The quality of the experience the Gear VR provides is impressive, though it obviously doesn’t quite match a dedicated device like the Oculus Rift. While the Gear VR’s audience will be extremely limited due to the fact that it only works with one phone, those who do purchase it will undoubtedly enjoy the Gear VR as long as Samsung ensures that a solid catalog of games is made available for it at launch.
The Gear VR will launch this fall, and pricing hasn’t yet been announced.