The final Oculus Rift is coming next year. But why wait? If you’ve got a shiny new Galaxy S6, you can get a glimpse of the virtual reality future today. I’m talking about the new Gear VR headset, which turns your phone into a far clearer VR viewer than any you could buy to date.
Is it good enough to buy in now, though? Eh… I might hold off a bit.
I got my hands on the new Gear VR Innovator Edition for Galaxy S6 this week. It goes on sale today. Since it’s basically the same as the Gear VR that you could buy for the Galaxy Note 4, you might want to read that review first. (Go ahead, I’m not going anywhere.)
As you’d expect from a second-gen product, the new Gear VR is improved in a whole lot of ways. While it’s only the teensiest bit lighter and shorter — mostly because they removed the useless front cover — the straps are way more comfortable because they curve down underneath the back of your head.
There’s a tiny fan inside to keep it from fogging up now, and a microUSB port that lets you keep the battery from draining during your escapades. (It can also top off your battery overnight if you just let it sit there.)
The touchpad and back button are also a little easier to find now, and the diopter dial adjusts further (down to -9) to accommodate more types of eyes too.
But the most important change is that you’re sticking a Galaxy S6 in there — a smaller, faster phone with the most amazing, pixel-dense screen we’ve ever laid eyes on.
The result is incredible. But it comes with a major caveat. Though the virtual worlds look crisper and clearer than ever before… you see less of them. Where the Note experience was pixelated yet super immersive, the GS6 has a bit of tunnel vision. Sadly, it’s just physics: when you have a smaller screen size, and magnify it the same amount, you get a smaller field of view. Oculus mobile boss Max Cohen admits it was a tradeoff.
Is it a dealbreaker? Not at all. I tried the new Gear VR side by side with the old one, and 9 times out of 10 I’d pick the newer model. It’s just way more comfortable, and the new processor seems to make VR experiences run smoother. (Though I did notice a weird stuttering issue in a couple titles; I’ll ask Oculus about that now.)
Also, it’s worth noting that updates may come slower to the Note version. While “the plan is still to continue to support all these platforms,” Cohen admits that they ran into some difficulty when the Galaxy Note 4 was upgraded to Android Lollipop. Omega Agent (below) isn’t yet available on the Note because of a graphics issue related to that upgrade.
Omega Agent. Jetpacks are awesome.
Would I buy either of them, though? That’s a tougher question, and I don’t think the answer has changed since our original review. You still can’t lean into the world the way you will with upcoming VR headsets. Even though there are more apps — and thank god they figured out an easier way to let you scroll through them — there just aren’t a lot of experiences yet to actually sit down and enjoy right now. Even though I really like a few of the latest games, like Omega Agent and Herobound they didn’t really keep my attention for long enough to justify carrying around a headset and (for those particular games) a Bluetooth controller, or even pulling them out on a regular basis.
Herobound: Spirit Champion. Like Zelda in VR.
As a hot piece of hard-to-get technology, though, something you take to a party and show friends, there’s practically nothing better. It’s super easy for anyone to put on their head and adjust for comfort, unlike most early VR experiences. If you’ve already got a Galaxy S6 and have $US200 burning a hole in your pocket, I’d say it’s a no-brainer.
Particularly because one of the most amazing party games I’ve ever seen is coming to the Gear VR by the end of May, one that only requires a single Gear VR: Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes. I think this video explains it way better than me:
Trust me. I’ve played it. It’s awesome — and it’s even better on Gear VR. (Now you have to rotate the bomb.)
No, if you’re going to wait, I’d say the real reason to wait is because we know an even better Gear VR is coming this fall. “This is incredibly compelling now, there are lots of awesome experiences, and you can have them today,” Cohen tells me, when I ask why anybody would jump on board today knowing a better version is right around the corner. He asks me if I’d wait to buy a Tesla with a slightly bigger battery pack, or a new computer with better components if I really want one today.
I think he’s got a point. Like the Tesla, it’s definitely an early adopter product.