The 2017 update of the Gear VR is just about here, and we spent some time with Samsung's incrementally-updated mobile VR headset – along with its new motion controller – at yesterday's Galaxy S8 launch event.
The Gear headset – and mobile VR as a whole – isn't advancing as quickly as one might hope. This is the third consumer edition of the Gear VR, and it's barely different from the second one, which itself was a minor iteration over the first.
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The standout feature of this new model is a wand-like motion controller, which appears to be a direct response to Google Daydream View and its bundled controller. But unfortunately Samsung didn't take a cue from Google on price: The Daydream set costs US$79, while this year's Gear VR and controller are $129.
The controller does have slightly more going on than Google's ultra-minimal one: Samsung's adds trigger buttons, as well as home and back shortcuts, in addition to a trackpad.
During our demo, however, we experienced major tracking glitches with the controller, with the cursor choppily jumping from one point to the next. In Samsung's defense, we suspect Bluetooth interference in the crowded demo area had everything to do with that.
In terms of fit, looks and feel, the headset has made few changes. Like the 2016 model, the new Gear VR has a roomy interior and the same 101° field of view. So despite the larger screen on the 6.2-in Galaxy S8+, the headset's FOV doesn't appear to be stretching beyond what we've seen previously. Nor have there been any improvements in weight or fit.
Ultimately it feels like the same Gear VR experience. We'll reserve judgment for a full review, but from where we stand the new Gear VR looks like a pass for anyone who owns a previous model.
If you want the new controller, you'll be able to buy it individually for $39. It works with any of the old Gear VR headsets. (It pairs with the phone, so the headset you're using is irrelevant.)
On the other hand, if you already have a separate gamepad, you may want to wait and see if developers come up with some kind of compelling in-game use for the wand shape. Considering the current Gear VR content library, there's not an apparent advantage to us quite yet.
The new Gear VR with bundled controller (and controller sold separately) launches on April 21, alongside the Galaxy S8. The new model works with not just the S8 and S8+, but also the Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Note 5, S6 and S6 Edge+. (Note that last year's Gear VR also works with the Galaxy S8 phones, using the included USB-C adapter that was originally intended for the Note 7.)
If you're thinking about upgrading to one of Samsung's new flagship smartphones, you can check out New Atlas' hands-on with the Galaxy S8 and S8+
Product page: SamsungView gallery - 4 images