Hands-on: Samsung's $99, Oculus-powered, consumer Gear VR

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Gizmag goes hands-on with the first consumer-facing Gear VR(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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The new US$99 Samsung Gear VR is the first full-consumer mobile headset from Oculus. Though we'll have to wait to see what the VR experience is like (spoiler: it's probably exactly like it was on the Innovator Editions), we did get to check out the physical differences in the new model.

The consumer Gear VR is 22 percent lighter than the version for the Galaxy S6 (which itself was already lighter than the Note 4 version) – and you can feel the difference when you pick it up. It's not that we ever thought the previous model felt heavy, but the new Gear VR does get you closer to completely forgetting that you have a mask strapped to your face.

When you add the fact that it's wireless (as it always has been), the consumer Gear VR is fleshing out its role as the portable one. The Oculus Rift is the more powerful headset (and always will be), while the Gear VR is the mobile option, with raw horsepower that will sit maybe two or three years behind.

Making the Gear VR lighter than it already was plays to its inherent advantages: phone in pocket, headset in backpack, instant VR everywhere you go.

Another subtle tweak that should help out is the touchpad's new textured cross-pattern. Though you knew on the older models to reach for your right temple, the flat pad could be tricky to find when you're "inside" the VR worlds and need to quickly zap a bad guy. The indented pad will be much easier to find when you're "blind."

The biggest upgrade, though, is the fact that it fits all of Samsung's 2015 flagships: the Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 edge, Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+. A slider adjusts the phone area to fit either the smaller or larger phones, and there's an indicator that lets you know which pair of phones it's currently sized for.

The front cover is back with this model. The 2014 Innovator Edition (Note 4) had a cover, but the early 2015 (GS6) model didn't. You can still, however, use it without the cover if you want.

Though, in yesterday's keynote, Samsung showed a product image of the headset without the top strap, the new model does still have one. It's just removable. The focus adjustment wheel (which the Rift doesn't use, as it simply leaves room to wear glasses) is back as well, and in the same place, top-center.

The facial padding on the new model uses a different material. Hard to say exactly what it is from our hands-on (though it looks and feels like some kind of fabric). Oculus' Mobile Head suggested it could potentially help with lens fog.

The lighter and more compatible Samsung Gear VR will launch this November (at some point before Black Friday, Samsung says). Its $99 price is half what the Innovator Editions cost developers and early adopters.

For more, you can check out Gizmag's full coverage of Oculus Connect 2.

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