December 1, 2015
Samsung Gear VR Provides Thrills, But Proves Virtual Reality Still Has A Long Way To Go

The first commercial version of the Gear VR, created by Oculus for Samsung, is finally available. It can only be used with the Samsung Note 5, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, and Galaxy S6 Edge+. One year ago, Samsung released an innovator's edition for the Galaxy Note 4, which was well received given that people thought by the time of the commercial version, a lot would be fixed. :That hasn't quite happened yet.

If you use the Galaxy S6 or Galaxy S6 Edge, the field of view (FOV) is too small and makes the software seem as if you are looking at it through an igloo hat. This isn't much of a problem on the Galaxy Note 5 or the Galaxy S6 Edge+ since the phones are bigger. However, no matter which phone you use, your eyes will see faint black squares on each side of the lens. When you look at one of the squares directly, it disappears. This can be fixed by holding the Gear VR slightly further from the face or inserting cotton balls on both sides by your cheeks to push the unit slightly away from your face.

Then, there is the screen door effect. While a Quad HD screen on a smartphone looks beautiful and crystal clear when looking at in your hands or on a desk, it doesn't have the same effect when the screen is magnified right in front of your eyes. You will notice individual pixels. This isn't a huge deal; you actually get used to the screen door experience. After all, it's a huge improvement from the 1080p screen of the Oculus Rift DK 2. It's more annoying on the larger Samsung phones since the pixels are more spread out. A 4K screen would certainly take care of the screen door effect.

Samsung Gear VR
The Gear VR has its shortcomings, but will bring the geek out in you. [Photo via Daryl Deino]Despite the shortcomings, the Gear VR gives consumers a taste of what virtual reality could be and in some cases, provides absolutely amazing experiences. The Gear VR is at its best when using the Jurassic World app, which puts you right in front of a resting Apatosaurus. It's all relaxing until he wakes up and come right up to you and looks at you straight in the eye. He then balances himself on his feet before going back to sleep. The immersive experience is absolutely stunning. Don't be scared; the Apatosaurus is as friendly as a dog.

Another app that shows just how great VR could be is Netflix, which provides you with your own personal television theater on some resort in the mountains. Picking the choice of your movie is as easy as looking at the movie and pressing the "Select" button. If you would rather watch the movie lying on your back, there is a "Void" mode that puts the screen in any position that you want it. It's easy to predict that, in the near future, current movies will play on the VR screen, which will hopefully have a better resolution. Viewing movies on the Gear VR is quite antisocial, but it's also thrilling.

The commercial version of the Gear VR is noticeably lighter than the developer's version that came out a year ago. Like that version, the lenses also fog up when your face is cold and the unit is warm or vice versa. You can buy something like Rain-X Anti-Fog Cleaner and put it on the lenses every couple days. It's still quite disturbing that you should have to buy a cleaner in the first place.

Many reviewers have compared the Gear VR to the Atari 2600 game system from the early 1980s in that it allowed people to play video games in their homes, even if it wasn't quite the "real deal." I would say that the description is pretty accurate. However, if you own the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, or Note 5, the Gear VR is a must-buy for just $99. You will be thrilled, but you will also find yourself wishing that you'd be even more thrilled.

[Photo via Daryl Deino]