I tried Gear VR for the first time at the SVVR meetup last December so I had measured expectations. I’ve also held out until now because I’m an iPhone user and the setup isn’t cheap. In this review, I hope to give you some novel insights into the Gear VR from a DK2 developer and an iPhone user.
First off, the unboxing experience is quite enjoyable. It comes in a nice case and there’s more protective tape than a stainless steel refrigerator. Setup was smooth except for a slight hiccup with the Note 4’s SIM card (you can avoid that with my tips at the end). In particular, the tutorial is well thought out. There’s a lot more content than when I first tried it. Games, movie trailers, 360 photos and videos, scanned 3D environments you can explore, etc. 360 photos are the best. Specifically, I love the 35 city night scenes from around the world. They can be higher resolution than videos because they’re static and they’re professionally composed. MilkVR, Samsung’s content service, is promising. I immediately watched a 360 video of J.J. Reddick shooting threes since I’m a basketball fan. I hear the NBA recorded parts of the All-Star weekend as 360 experiences as well. Overall, the user experience has quite a few advantages over the DK2 today: much more content, easier management and delivery of content, portability is key, slightly better screen resolution which leads to a less noticeable screen door effect. The most important metric is “willingness to stay” and the Gear VR, even at this early stage, handily beats the DK2. However, while the overall experience is great, there were a few things that are disappointing.
Downloading content is like the final round of Jeopardy. If you thought installing apps on your phone was annoying before, it’s even more annoying when it’s strapped to your face. Oculus alleviates this issue a bit by including a SD card with content but even on a 24-Mbit connection, you’ll probably want to put it down and get a drink while you wait. Judder and stalling happens once in a while and not having positional tracking makes me a little sick (note: I’m slightly above average in terms of sim sickness sensitivity). The field of view is smaller than the DK2 and the “sweet spot” in the optics is smaller but the content is carefully designed to downplay those deficiencies. The texture quality can be low in most places but the typical user will not notice these things. The warping and general weirdness of some of the 360 video experiences can be disconcerting. Finally, the back button gets a lot of love so I’m worried it will give out like my phone’s home button. These are mostly quibbles so let’s move on to my wish list.
It’d be more immersive if bluetooth headphones were included. I used my earbuds and while functional, having the cable sticking out of the phone while it’s in the Gear VR can be annoying. I would also love to be able to charge the phone via the Gear VR. My wife requests more multiplayer experiences and I was disappointed that you can’t reset the orientation while lying down. Most of all, not having a bluetooth controller bundled is limiting.
I look forward to developing apps for the Gear VR. The overall experience is superior at the moment to the desktop counterpart (I’ve yet to try Crescent Bay in person) so I expect to spend more time in there. However, it’s clear that for more immersive experiences, especially with my soon-to-arrive STEM and Omni controllers, I’ll still be developing for and using the DK2. The future is bright indeed and kudos to Oculus and Samsung for quietly releasing this “CV0”.
How to Get It
If you also have an iPhone, get an unlocked Samsung Note 4 from Amazon (~$700), a Gear VR from Samsung’s website (~$200), and a SIM card adapter from Amazon (~$7). The phone model needs to match your carrier (mine is N910A for AT&T) and you may need the adapter because some iPhones use a different size SIM card than the Note 4. With this setup, you’ll be able to download the update for Gear VR since an active SIM card is required for initial setup–you’ll be able to use the Note 4 as a backup phone. See the documentation if you’re on a different carrier. Head over to the Gear VR subreddit if you need help.