The Samsung Gear VR 2016, which just came out on Friday, is worth $99 if you already have a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, a Galaxy Note 5, an S6, an S6 Edge, an S7, or an S7 Edge. If you already have the Gear VR from late 2015, you probably won't need to upgrade, though doing so certainly doesn't hurt and provides a slightly better experience.
The Gear VR 2016 has received excellent reviews. Wired calls it the best $100 phone accessory out there.
"Once you plug a phone into the new Samsung Gear VR headset, it does some incredible things. The most mind-boggling of them is this: It makes looking at a magnified phone feel a lot more like using an Oculus Rift than a Google Cardboard viewer."The review adds that the new headset just refines and improves upon the first generation's comfort, sense of immersion, and controls. Wired's review is very accurate, and spending two hours with the Gear VR today was a pleasurable experience, for the most part. The black unit itself looks more refined and more futuristic than the white version that was released in late 2015.
The big winner here is the field of view (FOV) which increases from 96 degrees to 101 degrees. Yes, there is a noticeable difference with five degrees. It's safe to say that it doesn't feel like you are looking through an igloo anymore when using the Gear VR. You still wish the field of view could be 110 degrees like it is for the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, but the improvement, which allows a more immersive experience, is welcomed.
The Quad HD resolution is still too low for a complete and crisp viewing experience, but the screen door effect is less noticeable than it is on the HTC Vive or some other VR headsets. Samsung should solve the screen door effect when they release the Galaxy S8, which is highly rumored to have a 4K screen and will likely work with either the current VR or a next-generation headset.
Even though the new Gear VR is bigger, it feels more comfortable on your head and on your face. Those who wear glasses can easily use them with the new Gear VR -- something that wasn't really possible with previous headsets. The focus "sweet spot" is easier to find and the straps feel like they are supporting your head, not pulling it.
The software is the same, but the new Gear VR seems to run more smoothly, mostly because it was tested with the new Galaxy Note 7. The previous Gear VR, which used this author's Galaxy S7 Edge, seemed to stall at times and the virtual reality world would sometimes become a little shaky, causing nausea.
Yes, it's true that the Gear VR can't offer the same thrills offered by desktop VR systems such as the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive. Then again, you can't take the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift with you wherever you go. The Gear VR is great for what it is and will only get better in the future.
[Image via Daryl Deino]