From the time of writing until June 19, Samsung is running a promotion that offers the perfect excuse – and the perfect opportunity – to dive into the world of virtual reality. If you purchase an eligible Galaxy smartphone, you’ll receive the Samsung Gear VR for free (while supplies last). Now, my S5 was doing just fine. It was running like the day I bought it and I have no doubts that it could have lasted me another few years. “But,” thought I, “I am due for an upgrade and I’ve been wanting to try the Gear VR for myself.” So I went for it. A few days and many demos, games, and videos later, I’m happy to report that the Gear VR is the perfect entry-level VR experience.
The gear VR, like virtual reality in general, is something you really have to try before you understand its potential. Trying to describe the experience doesn’t do the product justice, especially when it comes to the inevitable Q&A session with the curious and skeptical. “Does everything look HD? Is it comparable to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive?” The answer to those questions is, of course, no. “Can you get motion sickness? Isn’t it just a phone really close to your face? Can you tell you’re wearing a head display?” Yes to all of the above.
But don’t let any of that turn you off. I’m just being honest, and it’s important that you don’t strap this thing to your face expecting Oculus-Rift-level immersion. That’s an $800 device, and the Gear VR is $100 in comparison, and you’re about to get it for free! But you can’t write this HMD off. That’d be a huge mistake, and here’s why:
The Gear VR does provide an immersive VR experience. This isn’t an Oculus Rift, but it does have Oculus technology inside. The Oculus-powered sensors in the HMD work in tandem with all of the sensors in your device, and the result is quite amazing. I’ve experienced no noticeable latency or delay at all, and if I whip my head around in real life, I whip my head around within the virtual space. The screen is close enough to occupy the majority of your peripheral vision, but not so close that it’s uncomfortable or blurry. The visual fidelity varies depending on the game, movie, or app, but it’s generally very good, and text is sharp. It all comes together to create an immersive experience that can be quite powerful.
Disney has a VR promo for The Jungle Book that you can watch for free. I found myself in a giant, overgrown temple with sunlight pouring in through a distant opening. All around me were monkeys scurrying and looking up at me curiously, and before long I heard a great, powerful voice from behind. I turned around, literally turned my body around, and was startled to find I was looking up at an enormous orangutan 5 or 6 times my size. It was truly frightening, and I didn’t want him to come any closer (which he did). Later that night I let my wife try on the Gear VR and watch the same video, and I was smiling ear to ear as I watched her turn around, cower back instinctively, and exclaim, “Woah, that’s so cool!” She’s more adventurous than I am.
The past week has been full of “Woah, that’s so cool” moments. There’s a ton of content out there, with more coming down the pipeline all of the time. There’s no shortage of games, apps, tools, demos, and videos that take full advantage of the hardware and offer immersive experiences. Even simple things like watching Netflix feel wonderful on the Gear VR, which places you in the middle of a huge mansion or theater with a huge screen some distance away displaying the program of your choice. It’s a wonderful trick, and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet.
If, like me, you have an older phone laying around and you’re due for an upgrade, do consider taking advantage of this deal and grabbing yourself a Gear VR. Until the Rift and Vive come down in price, this is your best option, and it’s really opened my eyes to the power of a consumer-friendly HMD. It’s given me even greater confidence that Sony will dominate the VR market early on with the PlayStation VR, and even then I’ll keep my Gear VR around as it will be the only cordless option. Give it a shot, and just remember not to give yourself whiplash like I did when you first put it on. You don’t have to turn your head around to look at everything all of the time.