While the Note 7 is a pretty great piece of kit all on its own, Samsung sent out another technological gift to go with it—an updated and enhanced version of their Gear VR head-mounted display (HMD) device. Sure, you look ridiculous while wearing it, but you won’t care given the sheer amount of entertainment that goes along with it.
While Google released their rather primitive take on VR a while ago in the form of Cardboard and are busy getting their next attempt ready (called Daydream), Samsung has been working with Oculus—makers of the PC VR rig, the Rift—to create a surprisingly good middle ground between the cheapie Cardboard and the incredibly expensive Rift and HTC Vive.
The new Gear VR isn’t any kind of sea change in the overall design of Samsung’s VR tech, but it offers several important updates that, while minor, make it a better unit all around than the last couple years’ versions. It’s important to note, however, that the main reason for a new version of the Gear VR is specifically to be Note 7 compatible. While the Galaxy 7 uses the standard, older microUSB port, the new Note is all in on USB C, making it completely incompatible with any of the old peripherals from chargers to HMDs.
Thankfully, however, the new Gear VR can accommodate both ports with its nifty exchangeable phone port. Just unlock the small dongle with the USB-C tip and switch it for the included microUSB version. This makes it compatible with the last two generations of Samsung phones.
Aside from the color scheme switching to all black, as opposed the white body of the original, there are a few small but useful changes on the new Gear VR. The touchpad on the right side is larger, making it easier to manage and control. Samsung has also added a dedicated Home button to go with the Back button, which is a welcome change. This means you’ll no longer have to hold the Back button in for two seconds, then go through the pause menu just to get back to the central VR hub.
The overall headset is a bit larger than before, allowing Samsung to increase the field of vision slightly from 96 to 101 degrees. What this means is that it’s a wider picture to help fool your eyes into thinking the video is all around you. Despite the large size, the overall headset is actually lighter than before and more comfortable to wear. Samsung also improved the overhead strap, which frequently popped off on the older one. The straps still use Velcro, but are more stable overall.
The frame the phone sits in is more padded as well, giving it a tighter fit. It’s so improved, in fact, that the black backing you snapped on over your phone in the earlier units is gone entirely. The result is less light coming in to ruin the experience.
Unless you’ve actually gone out and bought a Note 7, however, there’s really not quite enough improvement to warrant replacing your current Gear VR. The extra touches are nice, but the core experience and technology remains exactly the same. In fact, the biggest change here has more to do with the Note 7 then the headset. Even compared to the Galaxy 7, the Note’s bigger screen seems clearer and sharper—particularly for Netflix. Although the blacks in dark scenes still need help, since they tend to get noticeably blotchy.
Samsung’s Gear VR easily holds onto its title as the best mobile VR on the market. Although it’s lacking a lot of the bells and whistles of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, any owner of newer Samsung phones should absolutely own a Gear VR. The headset runs for just $99, but keeps your eyes open for the chance to pick it up for free with special carrier deals.
So as long you’re cool with putting a potentially exploding device run up against your face, the Gear VR is still an absolute must-try.