It's been almost a month since we first got our hands on the new Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy S6. Our review covered most of the bases, but after four weeks with the mobile virtual reality headset, we have a few more thoughts.
Since running our new Gear VR review, the biggest news in virtual reality has been the announcement of the first consumer-facing Oculus Rift. It was Oculus VR that sparked this recent virtual reality craze (we got our first taste at CES 2013) and by this time next year the company should have two consumer flagship headsets on the market: the PC-based Oculus Rift, and a full consumer version of the Gear VR (the current version isn't technically a full consumer product yet, but it feels awfully close).
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The overheating issues that were common with the Note 4 version of the Gear VR are basically kaput in the GS6 version, thanks to an internal fan. We can immerse ourselves in the new Gear VR for an hour before getting an overheating message. And if you aim an external fan at your head, there's basically no limit to how long you can play.
The new headset is also more compact and includes a power port for preventing the Galaxy S6's battery from draining. You will need to power it with a Samsung-made cable, though, like the one that comes with the Galaxy S6. And since it isn't very long, your best bet is to plug it into a portable charger (sitting on your lap or in your pocket), rather than a wall outlet.
The combination of quality cooling and being able to plug into a power source makes the Gear VR for S6 more of a ready-for-primetime VR platform than the Note 4 version was. This is basically the first real VR console consumers can buy. It doesn't feel like watered-down "mobile" virtual reality (Candy Crush this is not), as in many cases the Gear VR experience is more console-like than casual. It's a full VR platform that just happens to be powered by a phone, rather than a PC or game console.
When you're "inside" the Gear VR, you don't feel like you're playing a game, and you certainly don't feel like you're playing a smartphone game. You're just wearing a "magical" headset that transports you into these amazing worlds.
There's already a healthy selection of VR content in the Gear's Oculus Store – including constantly-updated 360-degree videos in Samsung's Milk VR app. There's also a good selection of full games (many of them paid), including a few gems that provide hours of quality gameplay.
Our favorites include Viral (an on-rails, physics-based shooter that's loads of fun), two different Herobound games (third-person action/adventure, somewhat akin to Zelda) and a crap-your-pants horror-fest called Dreadhalls (the horror genre in VR is more horrifying than you can imagine).
Other highlights include hacker-puzzler Darknet, jetpack spy adventure Omega Agent and the stealth action/strategy title Protocol Zero.
The fact that we can rattle off a "best of" list of full console-type games is a sign that the platform is coming along very nicely.
In fairness, all current VR platforms – including this one – are still in beta (while others are completely closed to consumers). But, again, the Gear VR is good enough that it could be considered a consumer product right now – even if Oculus and Samsung insist that it isn't quite there yet.
There should also be plenty more content on its way in the coming months, as Oculus recently sponsored a Mobile VR Jam, awarding over US$1 million in prizes to VR developers. The top pick was a co-cop submarine game called SteamCrew VR. Runners-up include The Night Cafe, a mesmerizing walk through Vincent Van Gogh's post-impressionistic world and Drift, a bullet simulator (where you're the bullet trying to find its target).
Gear VR owners can download and play the current builds of the VR Jam games and experiences right now (including those and many others). They aren't in the Oculus Store though ... build links can be found in this Oculus blog post.
Giving Gear VR owners access to the winning entries both pads the platform's available content in the short term and gives us all an exciting glimpse of what's to come. Playing with the winning entries is a bit like exploring a new frontier, with some of these demos peeling back different layers of what virtual reality will ultimately be able to do.
Another thing we've learned since running our full Gear VR review is a cheaper way to deal with lens fog. Our previous recommendation was an effective – but expensive – product called Clarity Defog It Wipes (they run around US$4 per wipe, and start to dry out and lose effectiveness after 3-4 uses), but we recently tried a liquid alternative called Jaws Quick Spit Antifog Spray.
Spray a small amount of Quick Spit on each lens, rub it in for a while, and then wipe it off with a damp microfiber cloth (careful to keep the liquids on the lenses and off the rest of the headset). Your Gear VR lenses should be fog-free for your next few sessions. One bottle runs around $8, and will last a long time.
If you'd rather experiment with your own anti-fog solutions, most products recommended for scuba mask defogging should also work with VR headsets.
Of course if you don't own a Galaxy S6 or Note 4 (and don't plan on buying one), then you're left out of the Gear VR fun. Versatility is one big advantage Google Cardboard will have, as its aim is to play nicely with just about any phone – Android or iOS. But the flip side is that by only supporting select Samsung flagships, the Gear VR can provide a more consistent user experience, one that doesn't vary depending on processor, GPU, software version or display.
Right now it looks like Gear VR will be the more Apple-like approach, with Google Cardboard more like Android.
Samsung has yet to throw its full marketing might behind the Gear VR, but once it does, this has the potential to be its most important product yet. The fact that this version is still labelled as an "Innovator's Edition" tells us how high a bar Oculus and Samsung are setting, in terms of content. The hardware user experience is already rock-solid and the content library is in very promising shape – much better off than the Xbox One and PS4 were in their first month as full consumer products.
If this is still "pre-consumer," then we can't wait to see what "full-consumer" looks like.
Speaking of consumer VR headsets, stay tuned to Gizmag leading up to E3, for more on the Oculus Rift, as well as rivals like the HTC Vive and Project Morpheus. The Gear VR for GS6 is available now, for $200. The Galaxy S6 (or GS6 edge) is sold separately.
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