The holidays gave me a chance to spend some extended time with the new retail version of the Samsung Gear VR with Oculus. I think this is easily the best product publicly available for experiencing virtual reality.
Mostly this is due to ease of use and portability. The Gear VR ships with the first version of the Oculus App Store, so all you need to do is slip the phone in the Gear VR, put it on, and you are done. You literally never need to touch the phone except to charge it.
I now keep the Gear VR in my car or office, and in just a couple weeks I’ve demo’d virtual reality to more people than I had in the previous year with the Oculus DK2 and its predecessors.
While the day to day experience is polished and easy for anyone, getting things set up the first time definitely had a few hiccups. With that in mind here are a couple notes:
– I’d describe the current virtual reality as a “swivel chair experience.” It’s great to swing around 360 degrees, and helps to keep your shoulders still which is important since the Gear VR doesn’t have positional tracking (it tracks your head not your shoulders). At some future date I’m sure we will get to walking around, haptic chairs, and Omni stands, but for now the swivel chair is it.
– Bluetooth headset is required. I prefer an earbud style so I don’t have another thing to put on top of my head. These Jaybird BlueBuds I got via Wirecutter work really well.
– The lenses fog up. Use anti-fog wipes like you would for snowboarding goggles, or I just created a little gap in the top of the goggles to let air out (the hole is not viewable with them on).
– If you are looking to make the plunge it’ll cost you about $250 for the Gear VR, and then $700 for the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, both can be purchased online but be aware that you need a U.S. unlocked version of the Note 4. I made a mistake first purchasing an unlocked phone on Amazon, only to have return it since it was international. The easiest path for me was just walking into Best Buy and asking for an unlocked Verizon version of the phone. You want an unlocked phone on a carrier that you use for another phone, so you can swap in the sim for carrier supported updates. Other than that you won’t need a contract or monthly payments.
Once set up though, the thing is a breeze, which of course brings us to the
issue: content. Oculus has done a better job than any hardware company I can think of in being transparent and honest about the state of their product, and this is labelled the “Innovators Edition” for a reason.
There are new releases every Tuesday to the Oculus App Store, although mostly what is coming out right now are early demos. Out of that group I’ve enjoyed Oculus Cinema (can’t wait till there is real content there), Ocean Rift & The Blu (underwater will be a ripe category for VR), and Titans of Space.
On the games side the only thing publicly available that draws me to play it again is the early demo for Temple Run – although for some all the movement can make people uncomfortable. That said, there are some private demos that I’ve played recently like Lucky’s Tale (from Paul Bettner and Playful) and Land’s End (from the makers of Monument Valley) that feel really compelling and should be coming soon.
It’s short of a real consumer product, but the Gear VR has come a long way from the early prototypes I tried over a year ago. It feels like a polished, finished piece of hardware just waiting for great content. In the end, I’m giving up the processing power and positional tracking of the full blown Oculus DK2, but I gain something I can get up and running in two minutes, then toss into the carrying case and take with me to show anyone that will let me.