For mobile VR, there is no better VR headset and software experience than Samsung’s Gear VR.
The Oculus-powered VR headset isn’t quite as powerful as high-end VR headsets like Oculus’s own Rift or the HTC Vive or even Sony’s upcoming PlayStation VR, but it’s enough of a middle ground to get you hooked once you try it out.
I’ve tried every version of the Gear VR since the original First Innovator’s Edition. The new Gear VR, which launches with Samsung’s new Galaxy Note7, is the fourth version of the headset, and there are some subtle changes that make it even better than previous models.
Lighter and comfier
First, the new Gear VR headset comes in a new black and midnight blue finish, which gives it a more serious look than the black and white colorway. I like the darker design a lot.
The headset is also about 0.28 ounces lighter, and the padding around the lenses are larger and comfier on your face. The extra padding is great, but it feels even more like you’re wearing a scuba or ski mask than the older version.
Looking dorky comes with the territory (until headsets like the sunglasses-shaped Dlodlo One V are the norm) and I’ll take face comfort over looking dumb any day.
Samsung’s expanded the field of view (FOV) from 96 degrees to 101 degrees for broader viewing perspectives and a more immersive VR experience.
Any improvement is always great, but I honestly couldn’t tell much of a difference while watching VR content and 360 videos on the new Gear VR and the old Gear VR. They looked about the same to me, but maybe my eyes are just terrible at noticing the difference.
An FOV expansion to 110 degrees would have put the new headset on equal footing with the Oculus Rift’s optical experience, but maybe next time.
On the right side of the new Gear VR is a new home button, next to the back button. Pressing the home button brings you back to the Oculus Home menu. It’s very welcome addition, and I’m glad Samsung put it there.
People apparently had trouble touching the cross-beveled touchpad on the Gear VR, so Samsung removed the indentation and made the entire touchpad wider. Frankly, the touchpad has just returned back to the spacious size on the Innovator’s Edition. There’s more room to swipe around, but I never had any control issues with the old Gear VR.
Works with new and old Samsung phones
The biggest change to the new Gear VR is that it works with the new USB-C-equipped Galaxy Note7 and Micro-USB-equipped S6, S6 Edge, Note 5, S6 Edge+, S7 and S7 Edge.
To make the new Gear VR backwards compatible, the headset comes with two swappable adapters — one for USB-C and one for Micro-USB.
The adapters snap into place into the headset and allow you to insert your Samsung phone like on previous Gear VRs and secure them into place with the latch on the opposite side.
Adapters are never an elegant solution and I almost lost the Micro-USB one after getting them photographed for this review, but it’s really nice that Samsung designed them at all.
Samsung could have just as easily made the new Gear VR only work with its new phones with USB-C ports and left everyone else behind with the older model, but it didn’t. Kudos to Samsung.
When I first reviewed the Innovator’s Edition of the Gear VR, I lamented the lack of VR apps and how incomplete the ones that were available were. What a difference an entire year and a half makes.
The Oculus Store is now frequently updated with new VR games and experiences. Some of my favorite VR games include Land’s End, Drift and EVE Gunjack, and VR experiences like VRock, a VR music player, are trippy and fun to lose yourself in.
With time and greater adoption, we’ll see more content become available from the professional and consumer side.
Samsung’s own Samsung VR app (née Milk VR) is still kind of mediocre. The content quality on there is always such a mixed bag and the video resolutions are all over the place. But that’s exactly why its partnership with Oculus is so key to the Gear VR’s success.
VR, for mobile or high-end PCs, is still a very new platform. With time and greater adoption, we’ll see more content become available from the professional and consumer side.
Things are expected to get very interesting come later this year when Daydream — Google’s own rival mobile VR package made up of high-performance phones, VR headsets and controllers that will be made and sold by third-party phone companies — launches.
Right now though, at $99, Samsung’s new Gear VR maintains its lead as the best mobile VR offering available as well as a fantastic entryway into the expanding world of VR — so long as you also own a compatible Samsung Galaxy phone.
Samsung Gear VR (2016)
Lighter and comfier • New convenient Home button • Larger, wider touchpad • Works with new USB-C and older Micro-USB Samsung phones • Still $99
Only works with Samsung phones
The Bottom Line
There’s no better mobile VR experience than Samsung’s new Gear VR.