Review: Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy S6/S6 Edge

One downside to the Gear VR for S6 and S6 Edge, though, is the lack of upgradeable memory found in the S6 and S6 Edge smartphones, a decision by Samsung to each of those phones that we criticised earlier in the year when we reviewed them.

That decision means Samsung can’t really supply a demo microSD in the box like it did with the Note 4 Gear VR headset, and you have to get your demo material another way.

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We wondered how this would affect things early on, too, and while Samsung never really got back to our requests for comment on this matter, we now know how this whole thing will work: streaming.

Yes, the solution for Samsung’s lack of memory upgrade comes through streaming videos to your phone, a decision that if we’re honest really isn’t the best.

One of the better demo videos from the original Gear VR was a helicopter tour of Iceland, and while this video could have been in better quality, it was very immersive.

Unfortunately, this video is no longer stored on the unit because there is no microSD card, and it comes down streamed to your Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge phone instead, which can result in slowdowns, pauses, and a file quality that isn’t even as good as what it looked like on the original unit.

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Soft, blurry, and still being downloaded. This wasn’t what we experienced on the Gear VR for Note 4.

 

Low quality video and video that pauses to cache just doesn’t make the Gear VR experience any better — far from it, in fact — and unless you have a super-strong WiFi connection or 4G data you don’t mind wasting, the experiences offered by the demo videos just aren’t impressive.

Instead, those demo videos look blurry, soft, and take a while to get themselves up to the point of looking clear thanks to needing to be downloaded, and by then you might have given up, wondering why Samsung made streaming the main way of getting demo videos on the Gear VR.

You can, of course, download other videos from the store — they call them “experiences” — but these aren’t small, either. Initial file sizes don’t look particular big for some of them — 10 or 20MB — but after installation, they’ll download a good 200-600MB of information, at least, before the video can continue.

At least these videos appear to be of a higher quality than what Samsung offers for demo streams, and Samsung is continually adding to its collection of apps, games, and experiences, with more likely to come as a result of the Oculus Jam programming competition going on at the moment, telling us the longevity of the Gear VR is still pretty good, just not what Samsung provides as demo material.

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In fact, Samsung has even reduced what is available, and some of the better images in the 360 photos world have been removed, with no more Mars images from NASA while the shots of the desolation from Chernobyl have disappeared. You do get some temples, deserts, and some photos from other places around the world, as well as some CGI images from video games and digital architectural plans — virtual homes, so to speak — but our favourites from the first Gear VR have disappeared, and they download gradually, highlighting that online only stream again.

Some of Getty’s 360 images have been preloaded, so that’s handy, and the Gear VR home screen is much better this time around, but really we’d have appreciated a microSD slot in either the phone (which isn’t going to happen) or the headset (which isn’t here, either), because with no way to expand the storage, you’re going to be pretty limited in what you can load on the handset that’s of a virtual reality nature.

But Samsung’s own “Milk VR” system still hasn’t been made available locally, a shame since it offers more videos than just what the Oculus store rolls out, and even allows you to easily load your own complicated-to-make virtual reality videos if you have the setup, time, and inclination.

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Also still a bit of a problem are the lenses found on the Gear VR headset which just like on the previous Gear VR unit fog up in no time.

Perhaps we’re too close, and perhaps we’re too intrigued by the imagery on screen, but what we can tell you is that you’ll have to take the headset off frequently and wipe down the lenses, as these fog up without any problems, and all too frequently.

One of the developers at Oculus, famed game maker and the man responsible for “Doom” John Carmack, has said that defog wipes have helped in his experiences, so we’re surprised Samsung hasn’t looked into including some with the Gear VR, because they’re definitely needed.

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Conclusion

A little more expensive than its Gear VR for Note 4 brother, and yet a little lighter and better design, the Gear VR Innovator Edition for Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge gets a little closer to being a product you’d want to put your eyes on often if not for the fact that Samsung seems to have gone a bit backwards in regards to use and entertainment quality.

Let’s get something out of the way: we’re not slighting the quality of the Gear VR unit itself.

In its second iteration, Samsung has already improved some elements, with a better comfort, improvements to design, and an included microUSB port which is definitely more than welcome.

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But this Gear VR takes a different handset, and one that can’t take a microSD card. That lack of expansion means Samsung has had to take an alternate route with demo material, and means it streams instead of being stored, with this change often resulting in video slowdowns and a reduction in quality.

In a virtual world, that’s a frustrating turn of events, and means your immersive experience doesn’t feel quite as good as it did on the Note 4, unless you happen to have the best reception — 4G or WiFi — at the time.

If the media is stored on your phone, you’ll be fine, but given that the games and video experiences are all very, very large for the Gear VR, you’ll want to tread carefully since you can’t just upgrade the storage when you want to.

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This turn of events, this change of upgradeability on the part of the Samsung Galaxy handsets, appears to make the Gear VR for S6 and S6 Edge just a little less immersive, at least for now until we see a more reliable streaming system, or unless you own the 128GB equivalent of the Samsung Galaxy S6 handsets, and then you have plenty of storage to load your own videos in.

Right now, the content is still lacking, though more is being made, making this a neato gadget to check out if you’re already an S6 or S6 Edge owner and want to be an early adopter of virtual reality technology, too.

We still think the Gear VR has a way to go, and Samsung definitely needs to bring back the microSD slot to make the handset more usable for large and immersive videos, but this isn’t a bad second round for the portable virtual headset, even if it is a pretty expensive package once you factor in the cost of the phone.

 

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