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Samsung Gear VR review: The Gear VR supports all four Galaxy S10 phones

Seth Barton
5 Mar 2019
Expert Reviews Recommended Logo
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
120
inc VAT

Samsung’s VR headset in its third iteration – sadly, there may not be a fourth

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UPDATE: Samsung has announced that its new Galaxy S10 handsets will all be compatible with the 3rd-Gen Samsung Gear VR headset. As reported by Road to VR, the South Korean conglomerate confirmed that all four phones will operate with the latest Samsung headset thanks to an adapter that comes boxed with the Gear VR.

While many gamers were hoping for a 4th-Gen Gear VR headset announcement to go along with the Galaxy S10 launch it's promising that Samsung is at least keeping the device alive. The Samsung Galaxy S10, Galaxy S10 Plus and upcoming Galaxy S10 5G all have HDR capabilities but there's no word yet on HDR content for the Gear VR. Will there ever be a new Samsung Gear VR headset? We can only hope. 

Check out the latest Samsung discounts

Our original review of the Samsung Gear VR continues below. 


Since the Samsung Gear VR came out there has been a considerable increase in competition from other VR headset manufacturers. While Google, Qualcomm and Lenovo are all working in the field, the biggest threat comes in the form of the untethered Oculus Go from Oculus; the same company that partnered with Samsung to make the Gear VR in the first place. The Gear VR has been updated twice by Samsung and has a price advantage if you already own a recent Galaxy S or Galaxy Note phone, but is Samsung still committed to Gear VR when Oculus seems to be exploring other options?

Will Samsung continue to update its VR headset? One might argue that it doesn’t really need to because each new flagship Samsung phone will improve the display and performance of the Gear VR. Ultimately, the specifications of the handset determine the experience. The better the Samsung phone you’ve got, the better the Samsung Gear VR will be. When choosing VR, you have to weigh up three things: price, portability, and performance. The Gear VR has the first two covered, at least – but a device like the Oculus Go, which requires neither a phone nor a PC to run, has it beaten in the third category.

READ NEXT: Oculus Go review

Samsung Gear VR review: What you need to know

The Gear VR is a Samsung-made virtual reality headset which requires a phone to operate - and specifically a Samsung phone. Because the Gear VR is locked to Samsung devices, the choice of compatible handsets is fairly limited – this is not a problem for the Google Daydream View VR headset, which runs with any smartphone that conforms to Google’s minimum spec.

The first version of the Gear VR we reviewed was launched alongside the Samsung Galaxy S7 (you got a Gear VR for free if you pre-ordered), while the most recent upgrade came out with the Samsung Galaxy S8. This model has a sleeker design and, more importantly, is much more comfortable to wear. As mentioned, VR purveyors Oculus manufactured the Gear VR, which is why all the headset’s games are on the Oculus store.

Samsung phones compatible with the Samsung Gear VR are as follows: Galaxy S9, S9+, Note8, S8, S8+, S7, S7 edge, Note5, S6 edge+, S6, S6 edge, A8, A8+.

 

Samsung Gear VR review: Price and competition

The current edition of the Samsung Gear VR, released in 2017, is £120 – this includes the wireless motion controller which previous versions of the Gear VR did not. You can pick up an earlier iteration of the Samsung Gear VR for as little as £31, but it won’t be nearly as good. If you want a decent quality experience, it’s third-generation all the way.

In 2018, the Samsung Gear VR has two main competitors. First up is the Google Daydream View, originally launched in conjunction with the Google Pixel 2. This headset has also seen a recent update, although it wasn't as much of an overhaul as the Gear VR’s. The Daydream View costs £99, the same fixed price as the earlier edition.

Yes, it’s slightly cheaper than the Gear VR and works with a wider range of phones, but there aren’t as many games available for it on the Google store, and they aren’t as good.

The outstanding Oculus Go is the real challenger here, though. At £200 it’s a real bargain for such a powerful and well designed VR headset and gives you a standalone, self-contained VR console which does not require tethering to a PC or smartphone in order to operate – a major advantage. We gave the Oculus Go a shining five-star review and found that it was much more comfortable than the Gear VR too. Although the two headsets share the same games library on the Oculus store, the Go has improved optics and a better controller.

Samsung Gear VR review: Headset design

The newest Gear VR is a tad larger than the original, with dimensions of 12 x 2 x 9.9 cm and a weight of 345g (not including your phone) compared to 318g but those extra few grams won’t make a noticeable difference when wearing it. Appearance and comfort, however, have been vastly improved over the 2nd generation Gear VR. The old white and black has been replaced with an all black, curved design that’s much more Oculus-esque.

The cushioning around the eyes is now much thicker and more supportive, allowing you to use the Gear VR for prolonged periods of time without experiencing discomfort. And the optics have seen improved, too. The lens optics can be toggled using a dial atop the headset, and underneath the lenses a few air vents have been added, eliminating the fogging problem that occurred with earlier iterations of the Gear VR. External light blocking is just as effective in the 2017 Gear VR, ensuring that your session won’t be interrupted by any unwanted rays of sunshine.

Samsung has upgraded the plug-and-play port on the headset to USB-C so that you can charge your phone as you use the Gear VR. This can be swapped out for the old microUSB, allowing compatibility with plenty of older Samsung models. The button layout on the headset has been swapped around a little to match the button mapping on the controller, which I’ll get onto next.

Samsung Gear VR review: Gear VR controller

The addition of a controller is the biggest change to the Gear VR, and it has been sorely lacking, given that the Google Daydream View had one from the get-go. It’s powered by AAA batteries rather than charged, and it’s got the same sleek black design as the headset. It can still be paired with the older Gear VR headsets, however – you can buy one separately for £30. It’s got a circular touchpad, volume and control buttons, and a trigger on the back for shooting games.

The controller feels nice in the hand too, with motion tracking up to the standard of the Oculus Go – not really a surprise, given it’s designed by the same company. Unfortunately, there still aren’t a huge number of games built specifically with the controller in mind, but over time that will hopefully improve. Still, all pre-existing apps and games playable on the old Gear VR can be controlled using the new wireless motion pad.

Samsung Gear VR review: VR experience

The head-tracking on the Gear VR is very smooth, as it always has been. This is no doubt thanks to the Oculus chip inside the headset, which tracks your head movements down to a tee. There’s no external camera or sensor, though, so you can’t move about within your virtual environment or lean out and over to see down an abyss for instance.

The display quality of the Samsung Gear VR headset is dependant on the phone you’re using. The Samsung Galaxy S9 has a Quad-HD 2,960 x 1,440 resolution on a Super AMOLED panel display – this means games incredibly have fast response times, with zero ghosting or blurring. Even the Samsung Galaxy S6, which has the ‘lowest’ resolution of all the supported phones, has a 2,560 x 1,440 resolution on AMOLED panels, with outstanding colour accuracy and contrast ratio.

Even still, the Gear VR experience isn’t quite up to that of the latest dedicated headsets like the HTC Vive Pro or Oculus Rift. The Gear VR’s field of view is estimated to be a bit below 100 degrees, which is only a few degrees less than those headsets, but the difference is noticeable nonetheless. Likewise, the refresh rate is only 60Hz, not the 90Hz that you really want for VR. Of course, if you haven’t spent time on £500+ devices, you’ll have little to complain about.

Graphically, games come out looking stretched, a bit more Xbox 360-like than PS4-standard. Textures that would normally look hyper-detailed on your Samsung Galaxy S9’s 5.8in screen are instead warped across a huge virtual display so that even the best games tend to look a little tired.

Samsung Gear VR review: Games

The Gear VR has access to all the same games playable on the Oculus Go – well over 100 of them, in fact. All these games come from the Oculus store, which you can browse in VR or simply via the app on your phone. There’s plenty to choose from in every genre, but VR games cost more than most mobile games and there aren’t many free-to-play titles, which may irk those used to that payment model.

Some paid games are available for as little as £2.99, however, and every 24 hours Oculus offers a new ‘Daily Deal’ on a popular VR game or app. You’ll need to do a bit of research before splashing your cash on more expensive titles; it’s worth checking out our list of the best Samsung Gear VR games if you’re not sure what to go for.

Samsung Gear VR review: Video and Gear 360

It’s not all about games, though, with 360-degree photos and videos also being important options. There’s a good selection of incredible 360-degree photos on the app already and these will download quickly enough to make browsing them good fun. Video is another matter; expect long waits to download 360-degree video clips before enjoying them. There’s some great stuff, but not a lot of it right now. The quality isn’t always as high as you’d hope either.

There’s a whole lot more to see on YouTube, especially with the arrival of a YouTube VR app made for the Samsung Gear VR. There are some excellent features here, including watching videos together with friends or strangers in a ‘virtual space.’ It’s just a shame that the Oculus Go, Rift, HTC Vive and Google Daydream View all had YouTube VR much earlier, while Samsung took 2 years to get the app in place.

You can also shoot your own 360-degree video with the Samsung Gear 360. This compact video camera works much like the Ricoh Theta range (which has it own Oculus app already) by combining the input of two fisheye lenses to create a 360-degree image. Here’s our full, in-depth review of Samsung’s Gear 360 (spoiler: it’s great).

Samsung Gear VR review: Verdict

If you’re interested in VR and are looking for a new smartphone, then Gear VR should be sufficient reason to turn your head Samsung’s way. You don’t have to spend a fortune, nor will you need a high-spec PC to run any of its games, unlike with the premium Oculus and HTC headsets. This 3rd generation Gear VR is also much more comfortable than previous editions, which means you can play for longer periods of time, and the addition of a motion controller vastly improves the interactivity of the VR experience.

The only problem is that the experience isn’t quite as good as on the Oculus Go. The Gear VR is £80 cheaper and the best way to try out virtual reality gaming and video if you have or plan to have a compatible Samsung phone. If not, Oculus’s own headset is the way to go.

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