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Hands-on Gear Review

Samsung Gear VR Review

Editors' Choice Award
Price:   $130 List | $89.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Comfortable, Immersive, very easy to set up
Cons:  Not as interactive, limited compatibility
Bottom line:  The best of the best when it comes to mobile headsets, but only if you have one of the compatible Samsung phones
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   Samsung

Our Verdict

This premium product is the best of best when it comes to mobile VR headsets, earning an Editors' Choice award for its performance. This headset is exceptionally comfortable to wear and is incredibly immersive. It's easy to use and while it doesn't offer quite the same level of interactiveness that the tethered headsets have, this product retails at a fraction of the price.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best VR Headsets of 2017


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
David Wise and Austin Palmer

Last Updated:
Thursday
September 21, 2017

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The Gear VR is an awesome mobile VR headset, with the only major drawback being the limited number of compatible phones. This product only works with a handful of the latest and greatest Samsung phones, so you are out of luck if you have anything else. However, this model is the clear choice if you are searching for a mobile VR platform and have one of the compatible smartphones.

Our Editors' Choice mobile headset  the Samsung Gear VR.
Our Editors' Choice mobile headset, the Samsung Gear VR.

Performance Comparison


To rank and score these products, we bought the top models available and tested them head-to-head to evaluate their performance. We grouped these tests into five weighted metrics, with our findings detailed below.

With the Samsung Gear you have the option to use a remote or the trackpad and buttons on the side of the visor.
With the Samsung Gear you have the option to use a remote or the trackpad and buttons on the side of the visor.

Interactiveness


Comprising the largest portion of the overall score out of all of our rating metrics, Interactiveness takes credit for 35% of the final score. We compared the motion tracking accuracy of the headset and controllers and how you interacted with the device to determine the score for each product, with the Gear VR earning a slightly subpar 4 out of 10. You can see how this compares to the rest of the products in the chart below.


While this score may be a little on the low side, it is the highest out of all the mobile headsets. The tethered models track your motion throughout the room, not just where you are looking, giving them a distinct edge over the mobile headsets in this set of test.

It is decently easy to interact with the headset, with a few buttons and a directional trackpad built right into the side of the headset.

The Samsung Gear is equipped with a built in track pad  home and back button.
The Samsung Gear is equipped with a built in track pad, home and back button.

There is also a handheld controller with a touchpad that can be used as an alternative interface method.

Sometimes you will need to recenter the view inside.
Sometimes you will need to recenter the view inside.

The Gear VR does a solid job at tracking where you are looking, though it does not track when you move throughout the room. The motion tracking of the remote is also decently accurate — on par with the Google Daydream — but it will occasionally drift, requiring you to reset the center position to the center of where you are facing by holding down a button on the controller.

We felt the Samsung Gear was the most comfortable to wear.
We felt the Samsung Gear was the most comfortable to wear.

Visual Immersiveness


Ranking next behind Interactiveness, our Visual Immersiveness group of tests merits 20% of the total score, based on our comparison of the visual quality, sharpness and resolution, and field of view, as well as how well each headset blocked out ambient light. The performance of the Gear VR underwent a marked increase from the previous metric, earning a score of 9 out of 10. The chart below shows how this compares to the rest of the models in the group.


The Gear VR does an excellent job of blocking out ambient light, by far the best of the bunch. This headset has a form-fitting mask that fits comfortably against your face, preventing any light leaks.

The sensor between the lenses detects if your face is there or not  turning on or off the display saving battery life.
The sensor between the lenses detects if your face is there or not, turning on or off the display saving battery life.

This headset has a decently wide field of view, claimed at 101° and only displaying slightly less of our test image than the Oculus. The resolution of the display depends on the phone used, but we found the image to be crisp and sharp, with overall excellent viewing quality when using a Samsung S8 as a test phone.

The Samsung Gear is comfortable enough to sleep in.
The Samsung Gear is comfortable enough to sleep in.

Comfort


Comfort came next in terms of importance, accounting for 20% of the overall score. We evaluated how it felt to wear each headset for a long period of time, whether or not there is adequate room to wear glasses, and if there is enough ventilation to keep the optics from fogging. The Gear VR again scored very well, meriting another 9 out of 10 for this metric. You can see how the rest of the headsets ranked in the chart below.


The form-fitting soft gasket also makes the headset exceptionally comfortable, in addition to blocking out ambient light. The Gear VR is also exceptionally roomy, leaving plenty of room for glasses. However, it was only about average in terms of ventilation, which could cause your face to get sweaty if worn for long periods of time.

You can adjust the focus with this dial on the top center.
You can adjust the focus with this dial on the top center.

User Friendliness


Accounting for 15% of the final score, our User Friendliness metric assessed how easy it is to hook up the audio system for each product, whether or not it was easy to inadvertently press buttons on your phone while using the headset, and how much work it took to get your phone ready for use in the headset. The Gear VR scored alright in this metric, earning a 6 out of 10 for its overall above average performance. The chart below shows how the Gear VR stacked up against the rest of the headsets in the group.


It is quite easy to add sound to your experience when using the Gear VR, either by playing audio through your phone's speakers, or by adding a set of headphones to improve it even more. The headphone port is easily accessible when using this headset, so it's no trouble at all to connect a pair.

Even with the skinniest of cases we couldn't get the phone in.
Even with the skinniest of cases we couldn't get the phone in.

It is a little more work to get the phone setup in the headset, as it actually plugs into the charging port at the bottom of the phone and has a pair of clamps that securely hold the phone in place. This also means that you usually have to take the phone out the case to place it in the headset, but it makes it almost impossible to accidentally hit any buttons on your phone.

You are required to plug your Samsung phone into the USB-C connector to use the Gear VR.
You are required to plug your Samsung phone into the USB-C connector to use the Gear VR.

Ease of Setup


Finally, our Ease of Setup metric takes credit for the residual 10% of the overall score. We compared how long it took to install the hardware and software, as well as what the hardware requirements are to run each system properly to determine the score, with the Gear VR doing a solid job, earning an 8 out of 10 for its performance. The following graphic shows how this stacked up against the rest of the group.


There is minimal hardware setup to get this headset ready to go, only taking a few minutes to attach the straps to the headset and remote, install the batteries in the remote, and adjust and focus the lenses to your own particular interpupillary distance.

We had to install a few apps on the phone to get the software side of things ready to go, taking a bit longer than the other mobile headsets. However, we encountered no difficulties, it just took slightly longer. This model did lose a few points by having a limited set of phones that are compatible, fewer than some of its competitors.

Value


The Gear VR is a little on the pricey side for a mobile headset, but does deliver a premium VR experience.

Conclusion


If you want the best of the best when it comes to mobile VR media or gaming experiences, then look no further than the Gear VR. It's comfortable and visually immersive, offering an awesome experience at a fraction of the price of a tethered system.
David Wise and Austin Palmer

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