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Samsung GearVR (Note 4 edition) review: Virtual reality gets a great demo kit

Hayden Dingman | June 5, 2015
Should you buy a GearVR? Eh. Should you try a GearVR? Absolutely. As soon as you can.

Software-side, GearVR is just as easy. When you plug the Note 4 into the GearVR headset it launches a VR-specific dashboard controlled by aiming your head at specific options and tapping the touchpad to confirm your choices. It's elegant and a far cry from getting kicked back to Windows after exiting a DK2 demo, or fumbling for a mouse/keyboard with the Rift over your eyes.

Even better, Samsung and Oculus created a fantastic "Welcome to VR" video that's the perfect demo for those who've never experienced virtual reality before. It's just a short little film (three minutes or so) that kicks off with you floating above Earth before running through a few other experiences (a Cirque du Soleil performance, a man playing music in a studio apartment, et cetera).

I've shown that film to probably three dozen people now, from teenagers to grandparents, from people who can barely work a cellphone to those who play games all day, from friends in San Francisco to distant relatives in Italy. Every single one of them, at some point during the video, has smiled and said something like "Wow" or "Fantastic" or (in the case of the aforementioned Italian relatives) "Bellisimo."

And I get it, because that's how I felt when I first tried VR. The difference is I was strapped into a comparatively low-res DK1, wrapped in wires, and walking around the Unreal 4 demo.

There are a few other apps worth recommending, despite the GearVR's paltry selection. Oculus's official movie app comes preloaded with some trailers and is an excellent showpiece for the potential of VR cinema--watching Interstellar on the moon, for instance. Darknet is a fun puzzler. Samsung's MilkVR app updates weekly with new 360-degree videos, and is a great resource once you've exhausted the Welcome to VR video. And a few desktop favorites have been ported over--Titans of Space and Ocean Rift made it from my stable of DK2 demos to my stable of GearVR demos.

But all that comes later. First things first, you need to convert people to VR believers. GearVR is the best way I've found to start that process.

Bottom line

Do you need GearVR? Probably not, unless you're deep into virtual reality already and are of the "collect-them-all" mindset. There are too many unknowns for me to recommend GearVR as a consumer device--especially considering Samsung's bound to release an exponentially better version next year. Thus goes mobile development. Thus goes the breakneck pace of virtual reality.

That doesn't mean GearVR is bad,though. Far from it. GearVR is a fantastic device--and maybe the most important step VR's taken since the DK1, as far as consumer appeal. The problem is it only fills a certain, very small niche. One you probably (statistically) don't fit into.

 

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