Virtual reality (VR) headsets are not new. There are several available locally and internationally. In fact, the Samsung Gear VR made its debut over a year ago, through a partnership with Oculus (announced in 2014) to bring a headset, which incorporates the Galaxy phones, to market.
At that stage, we already had Oculus’s Rift, Google’s Cardboard (a remarkably affordable version, really made from cardboard), and Sony’s "Project Morpheus".
But, in 2015/2016, VR really went mainstream — thanks in part to the Gear VR and a bundled deal with Samsung’s high-end smartphones.
The Samsung Gear VR is a visor headset that clamps your Samsung phone (Galaxy S6, S6+, S6 Edge, S7 and S7 Edge) in place over the lenses. It connects via the same micro USB port you use for charging.
The first time you do this, it should prompt you to download the Samsung VR app, which gives you access to photos, videos and games for the Gear VR headset.
After a few minutes, and perhaps a couple of false starts, it’s ready to go. Slip on the headset, adjust the strap and — wow! — virtual reality. The room you’re in disappears and is replaced with a 360-degree view of a virtual world of depth and clarity.
The app will take you through a basic tutorial, including how to scroll through options, select and go back using the sensitive controls on the right side of the device. As you are not able to see these while you navigate, it can be tricky to orientate yourself, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it.
You will likely need to adjust the focus, which is done using a wheel at the top of the headset, or the volume, which is on a rocker button.
The headset weighs 318g, which is not nothing when strapped to your face. Add in a device and you’re looking at almost 500g. After a few minutes you will be aware of the drag, but the foam cushioning on the face side means that it is still a very comfortable fit.
Then, the price. If you are not getting this with your smartphone, the recommended retail price is R2,000. Some apps and videos are free, others paid for. On the one hand, it costs a lot more than the disposable options out there. On the other, it is well designed, comfortable, hardy, and has a good seal between headset and device that cheaper generic versions can’t hope for.
Whether it’s a gimmick or worth its weight in gold really depends on your preferences.
It’s an oddly simple device for something that was firmly in the realm of sci-fi not so long ago. Simple, but wonderful.
Combined with the Galaxy S7 Edge used for review purposes, the experience was wholly immersive and, frankly, exciting.
Samsung Gear VR
Cool factor *****
Value for money ***