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Samsung Gear VR: Virtually controlled fun


The new wireless controller brings an extra dimension to gameplay– users can now point at the item they want without having to swipe and down repeatedly. — Photos: RAYMOND OOI/The Star

The new wireless controller brings an extra dimension to gameplay– users can now point at the item they want without having to swipe and down repeatedly. — Photos: RAYMOND OOI/The Star

Let’s face it. Virtual reality is the new frontier for consumer tech. However, the option to access the platform has been limited to ­mostly Google Cardboard and Samsung Gear VR, especially here.

While the original Gear VR was a popular headset when it was first released, that was almost two years ago – which brings us to the latest model, simply called Gear VR with Controller.

As with its predecessor, it is ­powered by Oculus, a US-based VR technology company, the same one that was bought over by Facebook in 2014. So what’s new this time around? Read on.

Size does not matter

One of the issues with the first-gen Gear VR was its support for ­devices, or rather lack thereof. For instance, the VR headset could only be paired with the flagship Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge models. This time around, compatibility seems to be the key selling point with an expanded list of supported devices.

The headset comes with two interchangeable USB adapters – microUSB and USB Type-C, where users old and new will be able to connect depending on their port. — RAYMOND OOI/The Star
 The headset comes with two adaptors – micro USB and USB Type-C – so you can use the Gear VR with both old and new Samsung smartphones.

It not only works with the ­flagship Galaxy S8 and S8+, but also with the S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge+. Samsung has included two adaptors – USB Type-C and micro USB – so you can continue to use the headset even if you upgrade from an older device to the S8/S8+. Another departure from the first-gen headset is the colour, which is now a darker navy blue instead of white, a ­welcome change as it doesn’t stand out as much.

More apps, better graphics

While there are a large number of interesting free apps available on the store, for instance A Night Sky where one connects the stars in the sky to form an object and Unimersiv, which takes you along on a journey into the human brain, most of these free apps only offer short-lived experiences.

However, if you are willing to invest a little, around US$1.99 (RM9) to US$9.99 (RM44), you might be rewarded with a richer VR experience than what you get for free.

For instance, we enjoyed Rangi, a game in which one takes charge of an adventurer tasked to solve ­puzzles by exploring temples, reconstructing ancient statues and avoiding traps in a fantasy world with an African tribal theme.

Another game we love is Wands, which puts you in control of a ­wizard in an alternate 1880s London. At your disposal are your customisable wand and a wide variety of spells that you will need to best your opponent in a duel.

While playing these games, it became pretty obvious that two years on, the gameplay and ­graphics quality of VR apps have greatly improved compared to the early days. They are now more refined graphically – especially the newer releases – and also less ­pixelated.

Another game-changing feature that has been added is the ability to take screenshots and record ­videos while in VR mode. Both functions are only ­accessible through the Oculus app, which means the user has to hold on to the Home button on the ­controller to head back to the Homepage temporarily to take a screenshot or video.

The video turned out to be rich in detail but it’s locked to your frame of view so it only captures within a ­limited frame and not in the wider 16:9 format.

Moving along

The bundled controller, a new addition this time around, is a ­personal favourite of ours.

The new Gear VR now comes in black and supports a wider range of Galaxy smartphone models. — RAYMOND OOI/The Star
 The Gear VR comes with a motion-sensing controller which is great for playing games. 

It has a circular touchpad for navigation and volume, Home and back keys, as well as a trigger ­button which comes in handy for first-person shooters.

The buttons bring more ­dimension to the controls, which were previously limited to the touchpad and keys on the right-hand side of the headset.

The new Bluetooth-connected wireless controller liberates users from having to constantly stick out their right hand and hold on to the touchpad the entire ­period while using the headset.

Also, it no longer matters ­whether you are right- or left-­handed, as you can configure the controller for either hand.

For users who suffer from motion sickness due to aggressive visual panning while in VR mode, the controller is a life saver as one can now point towards an object with it instead of having to pan around with the headset.

Samsung has chosen to go with two AAA batteries for the controller instead of a rechargeable one and it’s not a bad idea. After a week of moderate use, the battery was still almost full.

Conclusion

Almost all the apps can be used with the controller but not all ­support the motion sensor so you will only get to use the hardware buttons on the controller with these apps.

If you wish to try out the motion sensor go for Rangi and Wands as they fully take advantage of the controller’s features.

All in all, the Gear VR is one of the best headsets and it’s much cheaper – at RM499, it is RM300 cheaper than the last model. Also, you can use the headset with more Samsung smartphones now.

PROS: Supports more phones; swappable USB adaptor; wireless controller makes its easier to navigate in games.
CONS: Not all apps support the controller's motion sensor.

Gear VR with Controller
(Samsung)

SPECIFICATIONS: Accelerometer, gyrometer, proximity sensor, 101° field of view
CONNECTIVITY: Micro USB, USB Type-C
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 207.8 x 122.5 x 98.6mm
WEIGHT: 345g
WEBSITE: www.samsung.com/my
PRICE: RM499 (inclusive of GST)
RATING: Four and a half stars

Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia Electronics, 1-800-88-9999

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