Samsung Gear VR Brings You Virtual Reality Through Your Phone

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor
Yahoo Tech

Samsung is launching a new virtual reality headset. Dubbed the Gear VR, the head-mounted gadget uses Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 4’s massive 5.7-inch QHD display as its viewscreen.

The headset itself looks like an X-Wing pilot’s helmet from Star Wars, which is to say it’s a bit bulky. The Gear VR fit comfortably around my ears and eyes, but because the majority of the weight was in front of my eyes, it weighed down on my head and neck.

You control the rig via a touchpad on its right side and a Back button that lets you exit apps.

Samsung was tight-lipped on what apps and games will be available for the Gear VR, though I did get to take a 3D tour of various cities, including New York, and hang out in Tony Stark’s lab from Iron Man as part of an Avengers app.

In the city-touring app, you start out flying in a helicopter above downtown Manhattan, overlooking the Freedom Tower. It wasn’t until I looked down from the helicopter that I realized how impressive the Gear VR was. At one point, I actually experienced a hint of acrophobia.

A second app I used let me tour a prehistoric frozen wasteland complete with woolly mammoths and elk. A third app put me in the shoes of Tony Stark as he interacted with his faithful virtual assistant Jarvis.

Daniel Howley wearing the Samsung Gear VR
Daniel Howley wearing the Samsung Gear VR

In the app, I was seated at a desk on an elevated podium, and as I looked around, I felt a genuine sense of fear that I would roll my chair off the podium’s edge if I moved too much.

The Gear VR is certainly a slick device, but here’s the thing: Google was able to accomplish a similarly immersive VR experience with its Cardboard headset. What’s more, Cardboard worked with a multitude of Android smartphones rather than just one, as the Gear VR does.

The Gear VR can provide superior visuals to those offered by Cardboard, but the fact that it works only with the Note 4 is a letdown. Samsung says the reason for the Gear VR’s limitation is that the Note 4 is the only phone that has a QHD Super AMOLED display, which offers a higher resolution than any of the company’s other phones, save for the new Note Edge.

According to Samsung representatives, the company is working with Oculus, makers of the Oculus Rift VR headset, to help create games for the Gear VR. If Samsung can offer a compelling number of apps and games for its headset at a reasonable price, it may be a welcome accessory for the Note 4.

But if it’s too pricey and the apps aren’t there when it launches this fall, you might want to pass on this spacey headset.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley or on Google+ here.