Review: Samsung Gear VR Headset

A friend gave me a Samsung Gear VR headset for Christmas. When I got home, I opened it up and started playing around with it.

Of course, growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s, like anybody else, I’m fascinated with VR. I’ve waited years for this technology to be viable.

The Gear VR headset is compatible with the Galaxy Note 5, the S6 line, and the S7 line. Fortunately, I have a Note 5.

The first thing you have to do is install the Oculus app from the Play Store. You have to create an account on the Oculus website and verify your email address. You can then login to the app, and mount your phone in the headset and put the headset on your head. You go through a tutorial and setup process. Then you can play around.

The first night, I didn’t have many options. Unless I wanted to spend money on a game or movie, I was limited to the content on my phone. But still, it was cool. There’s a 360-degree background, so you can look in any direction and see it. You can zoom in on the pictures. For instance, I have a picture of my cat laying on the floor in front of the couch. I zoomed in all the way. I was looking at the cat, and had to look WAAAAAAAAY up to see the couch.

The next day, I had to take my children back to New Jersey (it was my first Christmas with them in 4 years). Took about 10 hours in holiday traffic. When I got home, I opened a beer and looked at the Play store to see what other VR apps were available. Samsung has a VR app, so I installed it and went back to VR-land.

The headset has a touchpad, volume controls, and a back and home button. It also has a focus wheel.

Samsung’s VR app includes videos. For now, the content is fairly limited, but there are some interesting ones up there. CNN (Clinton News Network) has some VR videos. GE has some promotional videos. Mythbusters have some of their Shark Week content available.

Among the videos I watched, I rode a weather balloon into the stratosphere, I was in the press pit for Donald Trump’s victory speech (2 1/2 minutes of it, anyway), took a tour of Singapore, and watched planes land at Heathrow Airport. It was a lot of fun.

At this point, it’s not true VR. This is how it works: they film with a 360-degree camera. (You can buy these cameras and make your own 360 videos). You can watch these videos on your computer or phone without a headset. But with the phone mounted in the headset, you don’t exactly see the edges, and the lens magnifies the video, so you are immersed in it. It’s enough to induce vertigo in some cases. Even though you KNOW you’re standing or sitting in a room, when your mind sees immersed motion, it wants to interpret it as actual.

There are a few minor problems. For one, when mounting your phone, it’s not hard for the Home button to contact the case. Then you put your headset on and you’re looking at your phone’s launcher. You can’t launch the VR apps this way. You have to take the phone out, re-launch the app, and mount your phone again, hoping you don’t make the same mistake twice.

Also, the VR apps put a heavy strain on your phone’s processor and battery. After watching a few videos, my Note 5 is burning up; almost enough to become a Note 7. I could probably shut my house heater off while I’m using the headset and heat the house with my phone.

One thing I would love to see is the ability to control your phone completely in the headset. The interface is similar to a vision I once had for the Human-Computer Interface (HCI). Think about it; your mind is very powerful, and your computer/phone are very powerful, but the only way you can “talk” is through a screen, keyboard, and mouse. It would be awesome to be able to read through my emailĀ and browse the Internet with the headset on. You could spread your various applications across the available space, and not switch screens. Of course, responding to email or going to another website would require a keyboard, which you can’t see. I could probably touch type well enough to use it.

For the most part, this is a decent and affordable way to get started with Virtual Reality through your phone. This technology is still in its infancy, and I look forward to what comes next.

You can buy the Samsung Gear VR here. (Currently $59.99 on Amazon).