Samsung Gear VR – Why… and Why Not
If we are to believe the momentous amount of talk around the Samsung Gear VR, one would think that it’s some sort of revolutionary tech piece the likes of which we never have seen and will never be able to see in the future. However, as with all would-be-blockbuster tech pieces, this one too, is way overhyped. We may blame the company for this. We may, likewise, blame the company. But we’re not going to do that. Why? Because if you give a closer look to the people who are die-hard fans of the Gear VR, you will notice one thing: they’re Samsung fan–boys.
So if you’re thinking of buying a Samsung Gear VR for Christmas, you’d better watch out for them. You should read comprehensive reviews. Like this one (just kidding). But there are a lot out there who will tell you everything you need to know about the Gear VR. And more.
In the end I guess the biggest question you need to ask yourself is whether or not you want to be dragged into this never-ending conflict between Apple fanboys and Samsung fanboys. And girls – because of course, girls can also be obnoxious, rude, and self-righteous adults acting like 14-year-olds. Of course, one can get the Samsung Gear VR as is and not care about the feuds. However, I would argue, it is the fans and not the device itself that gives Samsung a bad reputation. Let me explain:
The Samsung Gear VR team has just released a new commercial of the device (the video above). The titles that spread across internet media like wildfire were along the lines of: Samsung makes VR look simple, Samsung is bringing the normal to VR, or Samsung is giving VR to the masses. All okay titles – of the sort we’ve come to expect from media outlets who think gamers and tech-enthusiasts are just a bunch of oversized nerds. So if you’re not like that and click the YouTube video, you’re in for quite the shock:
I’m not the one to criticize nerd communities, but when your comment section contains messages like “Apple = c**p”, “iSheeps go and **** Tim ****’s ****”, or the occasional “does this work with a case?” – you really, really start to doubt if the target audience of the Samsung Gear VR includes you. I won’t even go into why these comments are ignorant, disrespectful, and mean. Apart from mentioning that Apple’s VR endeavors have been, as far as we can tell, modest. So there is absolutely no point in comparing the two companies in terms of this new technology.
What the Samsung Gear VR Actually Brings
Leaving the terrible, terrible fanboys aside, there is actually a great deal that you will find to your liking if you decide on getting the new Gear VR. First off: the price. As Samsung announce just recently, the actual price of the device is incredibly low. Going back about a year, Ben Gilbert reviewing for engadget, estimated the price at about $200. Back then, the compatibility of the VR was relatively unknown. So they also added another $700 (the price of a Galaxy Note 4) to that sum. This meant that the total amount we believed we’d end up spending would come in at around $900 to $1,000.
Oh, how we were wrong.
Fast-forward to November 2015, and that price drops. Drastically. What we know:
Samsung Gear VR Price: $99
Samsung Gear VR compatibility: Galaxy Note5, S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+
So, where does that leave us? Considering the lowest price of the above list (the Galaxy S6 averages in at $500), we have a total price (for the Gear VR + the accompanying smartphone) of approximately $600. That’s almost $400 less than we expected. The only thing you would add to that is something that people kind of overlooked back a year ago: the controller.
Like with every type of “reality” based immersion, you need something to control it with. That something can be either a keyboard, a mouse, a controller, a pad. For the Gear VR, however, you have very few options. In fact, if we’re to trust the Oculus and the Samsung websites, there’s just one option: the SteelSeries Stratus XL.
The fact is: there aren’t that many controllers out there that are compatible with Android devices. This one, which is suggested by Samsung, costs $69.99 on Amazon. However, last we checked, it was out of stock (probably due to increased demand). When it is in stock, here’s what you get: a general controller, which can work just as well with Windows, with Steam, and with devices running and Android version from 3.1 onwards. Still, it’s your best bet if you don’t want to mindlessly scroll through VR with just the small touchpad on the device.
But consider: you will be running extreme graphics, on a big resolution, in a pair of tightly shut goggles next to your eyes. And if that’s not enough – you’ll also be using Bluetooth to control it. The question: will it overheat? There have already been reports as to the dangerous temperatures that the phone comes to produce. So the bigger question is: are Samsung struggling too hard to “bring the Gear VR to the masses?”
Ignoring that particularly cheesy turn of phrase, we’re left wondering: why buy it, when you can keep the money, and wait for the Oculus Rift? After all, the Rift is the bigger, meaner, and probably safer brother of the Gear VR. The answers come from a lot of different direction, and yet somehow, all seem to point into a single direction:
The Samsung Gear VR, while being a good device on its own, was designed not so as to be the definitive VR experience. In fact, in actual specs and capabilities, it’s a mere toy compared to the great engineering feat represented by the Oculus Rift. There’s the fact that you’re using a phone, however smart, to do something that it was only marginally intended to do. Then there’s the community you’re joining – which may ruin the experience for you.
However, the Gear VR can prove an incredible experience. All reproaches aside, if you want to get a taste of virtual reality before the consumer version of the Oculus hits the market: there’s nothing better. I know it’s essentially just a smartphone: but a very, very good octa-core processor makes you forget that. And your phone will probably still be functional after a VR session – however, it will be drained of all life and in need of a serious charging session. There’s a bundle of VR games to make sure of that (which we’ve reviewed here)
All in all, it’s all up to you whether you try the Gear VR or not. Should you do that? I don’t know. Do you have a compatible smartphone already? If so, then yes – you should definitely try it. If not, I think it’ll be best if you wait a while longer.