With Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 comes the release of an updated Gear VR headset. The upgrades on the Gear VR partially mimic those of the Note 7 in that they mostly relate to product design, while key features remain essentially the same. We took it for a quick spin at Samsung's NYC launch event this week.
While some of the Note's updates fall in the "fun-to-use" category, such as biometrics-driven eye scan technology, others fall in the practical realm, like water resistance and on-the-fly translations, the Gear's improvements fall squarely in the realms of practicality, comfort and style.
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Since the Note 7 is the first Samsung flagship to use USB Type C data ports, the updated Gear is equipped with USB-C connections for attaching to the Note and controllers/accessories. It also has a microUSB adapter for the Galaxy S7 series, S6 series and the Note 5, making it both compatible with recent flagships in Samsung's product line and very future friendly.
The navigational trackpad on the right side of the headset has been smoothed out (most recent iterations had grooved touch pads) and seems more touch-sensitive. There's also a new "home" button just above the trackpad, which brings you back to the Gear VR main menu (before there was only a back button, which is also still present on this model).
The device itself underwent a color change, from mostly white to an allover bluish black. From the outside, the darker color is more on-trend, and fits in better thematically with its PC-laden sister device, the Oculus Rift. We never found the old off-white interior to be distracting (once contrasted with the bright screen, it may as well have been black), but from the inside, the new model does get a bit more immersive.
The new Gear VR also has a slightly roomier size. It's not as noticeable from the outside, but once you put the headset on, the spacious interior translates into a more effective invitation to forget your surroundings and enjoy the ride.
Older Gear VR with white interior on the left, next to new Gear VR with dark interior and wider-stretched face pad
The area that presses against your face is stretched wider than on the old model, while its padding is cushy and comfortable. Samsung has also made the headset lighter, so it does an excellent job of fighting off that pinched, achy effect that heavy or confined headsets can have.
Similarly, the new Gear VR has a slightly wider field of view (101° over the old model's 96°), which also enhances immersion within the virtual reality landscape. It's not yet caught up with the (roughly) 110° Oculus Rift, but it's getting close.
To be clear, the Gear VR still lacks positional tracking and motion controls. You'll still be restricted to 360-degree head rotation, without the ability to move around in the virtual world. And since the Note 7 did not make any updates to screen resolution, that means the Gear VR doesn't have improved resolution either (though it's already higher than that of the Rift or Vive).
We had been hoping to see positional tracking and "hands" controllers for mobile VR this year, but with the Gear VR apparently not there yet, and Google's upcoming Daydream headsets only supporting a single motion controller (sans body tracking), it looks like mobile VR will continue to stay a healthy pace or two behind PC VR, not just in horsepower but also in tracking.
All in all, the changes to the Gear VR are far from dramatic, but they are improvements. And since Samsung is keeping the Gear VR at the same price, there are no drawbacks, as long as you have a compatible device.
The new Gear VR is up for pre-order now from the product page below. For a refresher on the little-changed product's predecessor, you can hit up our review of the first consumer Gear VR from last year.
Product page: Samsung