Tips and tricks for the Samsung Gear VR
One of the perks of Samsung and Oculus releasing public developer kits for the Gear VR headset is that, though it just became a consumer product, some of us have already been using different versions of the headset for over a year. Let us help you get started with some handy tips and tricks to get the most out of the consumer Gear VR.
Play in a spinning chair
The Gear VR isn't nearly as powerful as its PC-based sibling, the Oculus Rift, but the Gear has one big advantage in being wireless. You'll want to take full advantage of that and play in a spinning chair, like an office chair or stool.
If you don't have access to one, then you can always just play standing up. Failing either of those options, you'd better stick to games that face mostly in one general direction (both Herobound games and Eve: Gunjack are prime examples).
Avoid lens fog
Samsung solved most of the tech issues with the Gear VR Innovator Editions, but until someone invents a wonder lens coating that prevents lens fog, chemistry dictates that it will be an issue in every VR headset. After playing for a while fog will go away on its own (it's caused by a discrepancy in temperature between the lenses and the phone; that gets narrower after you've been playing for a while), but you can also be proactive about it.
There are plenty of affordable chemical products designed for scuba gear that get the job done. We've had success with both Clarity Defog It wipes and Jaws Quick Spit, but we prefer the latter simply because it's so much cheaper. It runs around US$6 a bottle on Amazon, and lasts for at least 200 sprays. Before jumping into VR, just spray some solution onto your finger, massage into each lens, wipe off the excess and enjoy fog-free virtual reality.
Keep it clean
There's nothing more annoying than sliding your Galaxy phone into your headset, plugging in your headphones, getting your gamepad ready, strapping it on your head ... only to realize there's an annoying spec of dust right in your field of view.
We keep an air canister handy to blow off both sides of the lenses as well as the phone screen before starting up, and that almost always keeps the field of view free of distractions. Or, if you enjoy getting lightheaded, your own lungs can meet the same end.
Download your apps outside of VR
Overheating was a big problem on the first (2014) Gear VR Innovator Edition headset, but it's pretty much a non-issue in the consumer version. The only time we ran into the issue was when, while wearing the headset, we queued up a few apps for download and played something else while they were installing.
VR content can sometimes work your phone pretty hard so it isn't too surprising that adding background downloads to the mix can make things hot. Extend your sessions by downloading your content in the Oculus Store app on your phone a few minutes before jumping in.
Get an Android-compatible gamepad
This may go without saying, but Samsung's built-in touchpad only gets you so far on the Gear VR. Some of the best games require a gamepad and others provide a better experience with one.
We love the Steelseries Stratus XL (left), but not everyone wants to add $70 to the cost of smartphone and headset already required to use the Gear. For a gamepad that feels cheaper but gets the job done just the same, we've had no issues with the $28 Moga Hero Power (right).
Virtual reality is a largely visual experience, but don't underestimate the effect that audio has on your feeling of being somewhere else.
The Gear VR can broadcast game audio through the phone's speakers, but that's going to make for a lousy experience. The earbuds that came with your phone will be a step up from that, but, if you have access to them, a quality pair of cans (those are Sennheiser Momentums you see above) will crank your sense of presence up to 11 in the Gear's virtual worlds.
Know your tolerance
Some people are more sensitive than others to motion sickness in VR, and some content is more likely to make you feel queasy than others.
Fortunately Oculus is on top of this and includes comfort ratings in the Oculus Store app listings: ratings like "comfortable for most," "comfortable for some" or "comfortable for few." Compare your reactions to these ratings and use them to guide you towards and, if necessary, away from games that do or don't fit your tolerance.
Watch your phone's battery life
Unlike something like a 3DS or Vita, you may not be able to just drop the Gear VR on a charger and forget it about it until you use it next – after all, that's your smartphone powering things on the inside. The Gear VR has built-in charging capabilities, so you can leave it plugged in while playing and keep your phone's battery juiced up.
There are, however, a couple of caveats. It (annoyingly) only works with Samsung chargers, so you'll want to use the one that came with your Galaxy phone. And since that cable isn't very long, you won't likely be able to plug into a power outlet – so your best option is to leave a portable charger on your lap or in your pocket while you're playing.
If you skip this option you may be just fine. Using a Galaxy S6 edge+ inside the Gear VR, its battery usually only drops around 15-20 percent for a full hour of VR gaming. If you have time before going about your day, you can also just drop the phone on its Quick Charging cable for a few minutes after you're done.
If all else is equal, go with the phablets
Though it isn't a dramatic difference, when we use one after the other, we can appreciate the wider field of view you get from the larger two Galaxy phones that play nicely with the Gear VR (Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge+). They have 5.7-inch screens, compared to 5.1-inchers in the Galaxy S6 and GS6 edge.
Of course we're talking about the phone you use every day and leave in your pocket, so it's ultimately most important to go with the one you prefer as a phone. Only let the slightly better Gear VR experience affect your decision if you're torn 50/50 between big Galaxy and smaller Galaxy.
For more on our favorite wearable of 2015, you can hit up Gizmag's Gear VR review and our list of the best games and apps for the Oculus-powered headset.