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First Look: Samsung Gear VR

“I always wanted to swim with dolphins, I just never thought I’d be doing it at work in the boardroom.” This was the response from one of my workmates while trying a virtual reality “experience” on the Samsung Gear VR headset.

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Everyone else who tried it was similarly impressed, mainly expressed with oooohs, aaahhhhs and the occasional swear word.

It’s an apt response, the experience is amazing.

The Gear VR needs a Samsung Galaxy S6 (or S6 Edge) loaded with the Oculus app for it to work. On the right-hand side of the headset is a touchpad, a back button and a volume control button.

Oculus is one of the world’s best virtual reality technology companies, so Samsung getting them as a partner was a forward-thinking move. There are a number of developers working with Oculus technology, creating experiences, games and apps for viewing movies and photos. So by partnering up, Samsung can launch a product that already has a lot of content – both free and paid.

First, you download the Oculus app to the phone. The Oculus app is essentially an online store where you can download VR apps, as well as a library to store those apps. Some games need a Bluetooth gamepad to work, so read the descriptions before downloading. You can browse the Oculus menu with either the phone in your hand or headset.

While wearing the Gear VR, the Oculus menu appears as a series of tiles floating above the floor of a virtual apartment. Turning your head moves the cursor and you select or scroll using the touchpad, it’s pretty intuitive. However, not all the other VR apps I tried were this simple.

Most of the apps are “experiences” or games. Experiences put you in situations you can’t control, like floating in the Arctic Ocean with whales, dolphins and sharks swimming around you. These are fun and incredibly immersive, I found myself reaching out to touch things as they went by.

Games add interactivity to the equation. My favourite, Anshar Wars, saw me piloting a small spaceship through an asteroid field while fighting off aliens. For this, I needed to sit in a swivel chair and spin around to make sharp turns.

However, there are downsides. For example, you can’t wear glasses while wearing the Gear VR. The headset does have a focussing dial and this worked for most glasses wearers in the office, but not all. Even with 20/20 vision, the image can be a little fuzzy as your eyes try to adjust and focus. Moreover, if you have trouble watching 3D movies then you’ll probably struggle with the Gear VR.

My main problem though was the motion sickness. A lot of the games, and some of the experiences, make it feel like you’re moving, but you’re not. The confusion between your eyes (we’re moving!) and your inner ear (no we’re not!) is what causes motion sickness. So some people may find it difficult to use for extended sessions.

Verdict

The Gear VR is an expensive accessory for your new Samsung Galaxy S6, but it’s also an incredible experience.

RRP: $300 (available at Noel Leeming).

Our review unit was loaned to us by Samsung NZ. First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

By Hadyn Green.

The cardboard version

Not sure if you want to pay hundreds to swim with virtual reality dolphins? Erin Bennett constructed her own VR headset on a budget.

I gave the Cardboard VR headset a go to see what kind of experience I could get for under $20. As its name suggests, it’s made of cardboard and uses your smartphone and the Google Cardboard app to deliver virtual reality “experiences”. There are various games and experiences available depending on your phone’s app store. I rode rollercoasters, swam in the ocean and toured Tokyo all in one night.

You can buy kits to build these headsets from Google or online stores, like I did, for as little as $15 including shipping. If you don’t want to wait, or pay, Google also offers a free template and instructions on putting one together – but you will need to buy a few extras like plastic lenses, magnets and velcro.


It took less than 10 minutes to construct and the only thing I needed that wasn’t provided was a paperclip to push the extra cardboard out of the slots (see our video). The headset has a magnetic control on the side, which works as a “select” button.

The headset can be used with any iOS, Android and Windows smartphones that have screens up to 6 inches and a gyroscope – you may need to check online if your phone has one.

It was easy to use and the viewing quality was good. While it wasn’t as comfortable to use as some higher-priced VR headsets, and you couldn’t adjust the focus of the lenses, it delivered a great virtual reality experience.

The Cardboard VR was hours of fun for the amount it cost me and is definitely a must-try experience in my book.