A future on your face: Samsung’s Gear VR reviewed

The virtual world is here, and you can actually take it with you, as Samsung’s Gear VR finally makes its way to Australia. Is this a future that you can take home today, or should you just let it mature a little longer?

Features and performance

Regular readers to GadgetGuy might know how obsessed we are with technology, and it’s true: our desks are packed with it.

When we wake up in the morning, those of us responsible for writing and reviewing gear have probably been clued into the technology news of the world before we’ve found out what the weather is outside.

This is what we do, after all, and technological developments are our world.

So you can imagine just how excited we get when we’re able to play with truly new technology: future ideas that can bring a great wealth of entertainment, edutainment, and a learnings that can change the way we think. Essentially, it’s like thinking outside the regular box that is common technology, because most of what we see every day is commonplace in some way, even if it changes year on year and gets better all the time.

But Samsung’s Gear VR is anything but commonplace, and it sits in that category of exciting technology that could change the way we think, or at the very least, the way we tackle boredom.

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From a feature standpoint, there’s not a lot to the Gear VR, and essentially, it is just a small headset with a couple of lenses, a dioptre adjustment wheel, a touchpad, a back button, some straps to keep this apparatus to your head and a small bay to hold a phone using a microUSB port.

Notice how we say “a phone” because that was intentional wording; the Samsung Gear VR will only work with one phone at this time, and that is Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4.

Even though the Galaxy Edge is practically identical with the exception of the slightly curved screen on one side, the Gear VR will still only officially talk with the Note 4, and that has to do with the screen.

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You see the screen on a Note 4 runs at a resolution of 2560×1440, a pretty special resolution that only a few phones around the world support. It’s higher than Full HD, and offers better pixel clarity for your eyes when you’re viewing the phone as a regular phone, but the Gear VR takes advantage of the screen in a different way.

That resolution allows the Note 4 to split the screen into two square-like displays on the horizontal, capable of showing roughly 1280×1440 on each side. With 1280 across, you will essentially be looking at 720p high definition video per eye.

In essence, virtual reality is similar to 3D in that it works by showing you two images, one per eye. When you go to the movies and watch a 3D flick, each lens — one of the left, one on the right — displays a slightly different picture, situated so that when your brain does the math and sees both, you see the image pop out of the screen in 3D.

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VR is like this, and so you’ll see two images in each of the screenshots taken directly from the Gear VR in this review. The image on the left is what you see on your left eye, while the image on the right is the right eye.

With two images and your brain doing the math, the apps and games and movies and images you see on the Gear VR can pop out of the screen and feel more lifelike. You can feel more like you’re a part of this world, the one occurring inside the Galaxy Note 4 and the Gear VR.

But to make it happen, you need to put the two items together.

Plug the Note 4 into the Gear VR and you’ll be asked to download some apps, with Samsung connecting up with Oculus for some apps of the virtual reality persuasion. You’ll want to look inside the little zip up bag for the Gear VR to find the included SD card, because there are quite a few demo movies, trailers, and 360 degree photos on there waiting for you to explore.

Without it, Gear VR will work, but we suggest using it to at least see what’s available to you in the world of VR.

Once everything is installed and the SD card is loaded in, you’re ready to go, and you only need to plug the Galaxy Note 4 into the Gear VR’s microUSB port to automatically start up the Oculus home.

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Inside here (and the rest of the Gear VR experience), you’ll find where you aim your head will be one of the main ways to get around, with that target showing up on a reticle in the middle of your sight.

Along the right side of the headset is a touchpad, and by touching this you will be able to select items aimed at with that reticle.

It’s a fairly easy control setup to get used to, and inside other menus, you’ll find swiping left and right gets you through other options, such as selecting apps to install or play, or changing images.

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A back button also sits above the touchpad, and this will let you get out of the apps, or if held down, take you back to the basic Oculus home system where you can activate a passthrough camera and see through the headset (by using the Note’s camera).

Let’s talk about those apps, though, because they — and the entertaining videos — are pretty much the main reason you’ll don the Gear VR.

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