Innovation

Our review of the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition for S6: The perfect VR intro for professionals

If you're looking to for a serious introduction to virtual reality, but with a relatively low barrier to entry, the Samsung Gear VR is a good bet.

We're drenched in talk about the impending wave of consumer-facing VR headsets about to hit the market, starting at the end of 2015. By contrast, you can walk into a Best Buy right now and pick up the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition for the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge.

That's a great thing, because if your business is looking to take advantage of VR in some respect, that means you've got easy access to a VR device that's quick to set up and has plenty of content to get you started.

As a professional, the reason you'd buy the Gear VR is most likely linked to some type of client-facing project. You want to show them something impressive, and with the spiff of a pearly-white head-mounted display and a shiny new phone like the S6 or the S6 Edge.

Whether it's 360-degree videos, photos, tours, or whatever you're hoping to make your use case, the Gear VR offers easy setup, mobility, and a generally strong experience to help you make your case.

Photo gallery

Photos: Up close with the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition for S6

Image: Erin Carson/TechRepublic

Specifications

Price: $199
Dimensions: 196.1 x 98.5 x 82.8 mm
Controls: Back button, trackpad, volume controls
Weight: With the S6 Edge plugged in: 403g; With the S6 plugged in: 409g
Ports: microUSB
Sensors:Facial proximity sensor, gyrometer, accelerometer, and geomagnetic sensors

Who is it for?

Generally speaking, this is probably for the gadget geek or future-gazing technologist who already has a Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge — or perhaps someone about to upgrade. The Gear VR could potentially tip someone toward a Galaxy phone. It's a powerful $200 accessory. More specific to the professional world, as previously mentioned, if you're buying this, you're probably in a marketing or client-facing role with a product that can be shown better in virtual reality.

What problems does it solve?

The Gear VR mainly solves the mobility issue with VR. As of yet, what interested folks have been able to get their hands on are either Oculus Rift developer kits, which tether the user to their computer and require a lot of hooking and unhooking, especially if they're using a laptop for the sake of mobility, or Google Cardboard, which many don't even really consider to be true VR because of its lack of sensors, narrower field of view, and generally lower quality depending on which smartphone is being used as the display. The Gear VR couples the sophistication of multiple types of head tracking sensors with the the ease of merely having to plug in your phone.Initial setup basically amounts to downloading software when prompted and popping the phone into the front of the device. It's a low barrier to entrance for those who are not necessarily techies, or who would prefer not to deal with a spaghetti plate of wires.

Standout features

Samsung's content platform - One of the biggest challenges for VR will be keeping people interested when the novelty off. So far, Samsung has an offering of app experiences available, ranging from simple games like Rocket Toss, a game of ring toss using your face, to BluVR, which is a smooth, on-the-rails tour of the ocean. There's also the Milk VR app, which is stocked with videos from South by Southwest, Mountain Dew, and others. There are other content apps too. VRSE has a small collection of immersive videos. "Evolution Verse" is a must-see first stop for folks getting acquainted with VR. They've also got app experiences from Saturday Night Live's 40th anniversary. Many apps are free, some cost anywhere from $1.99 to $9.99. Fireproof's Omega Agent will run you that $9.99, but you do get to fly with a jetpack, so your call.

Along those lines, movies like Insurgent, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and most recently Jurassic World have app experiences. Sure, the latter two are technically straight up marketing materials, but if find yourself with the opportunity to be disdainfully sniffed by an apatosaurus, you should always take advantage of that. The bottom line: There's a bunch to do. The download times can be a momentum-killer, but if you like trying out apps on your smartphone, you'll probably like trying them out here too.

For professionals, though, there is not much on there with an immediate business use. However, if you are in the position of introducing a client, let's say, to VR for the first time, you've got a lot to chose from to show off the experience.

Decreased bulk - VR headsets are bulky, and they'll probably remain bulky for a while. It's hard not to notice something strapped to your face. However, the Innovator Edition of S6 and S6 Edge gets rid of the front cover of its predecessor, and according to Samsung, is 22.4% smaller.

Design - Another change from the originally Gear VR is a redesigned strap that more evenly distribute weight on the user's face. It's padded and easy to put on and adjust. The plastic on the straps make the whole headset feel a bit like a helmet, but that's not something you think about when you're playing a fun strategy game like the Esper demo.

Also, there's something to be said about the device's overall attractiveness. None of the headsets slated for release are sexy, per se, but the Gear VR is quite a bit more friendly-looking than an ominous black brick with a couple straps attached to it.

Better defined trackpad - Since the trackpad is the chief way the user navigates the interface without a connected gamepad, it's important they can actually find it. This Gear VR has a bit of a deeper lip than the original and has a dot in the center to help you find the center of the trackpad.

What's wrong?

Battery drain - Definitely have your phone charger on hand when using the Gear VR. It eats through your phone's battery pretty quickly, and the phone also gets hot to the touch. If it gets hot enough, you'll get a warning to take a break, otherwise performance won't be optimal. Even the temperature of the room can factor in. One night, recently, it was nearly 90 degrees, and my apartment was getting a little soupy, though not enough to bring me to turn on my AC. Within a few minutes of playing with the Gear VR, I got the heat warning. So, be mindful to its heat sensitivity.

No glasses accommodation - It's not a new complaint, but at the moment, VR in general isn't great for those of us with imperfect eyesight. While the resolution of the Galaxy S6's screen is good, it's not crystaline just yet, and that can be rough when coupled with an astigmatism, or whatever your flavor of malfunctioning vision is. There is a dial on the top of the headset that allows the user to adjust the distance of the lenses from his or her face, but there's definitely a cap on how clear it gets.

Lens fog - The other snag I hit was the lenses fogging up. They didn't do it all the time, but when they did, it was pretty annoying, and took a bit more than just pulling the HMD away from your face to let the humidity dissipate. During Oculus' pre-E3 press event for the consumer Rift, founder Palmer Luckey mentioned to the throng of journalists that the new Rift will use convection to keep airflow in the headset, in order to stave off fog. Samsung said they'd improved ventilation, but again, perhaps, that's a situation that will get better for the Gear VR in the future as well.

Competitive products

Unlike the Oculus Rift, which will likely be duking it out in 2016 with the the HTC Vive headset, the Gear VR has a relatively safe little spot in the VR spectrum, at the moment. If you're looking for immersive VR experiences powered by smartphones, with a content platform built out enough to keep you downloading and trying out apps for a while, then the Gear VR is perfect.

Though, if you're not sold, there are a few other options — the Ziess One VR is $99 and has native head tracking and can accommodate a phone up to 5.2 inches. It's got a 100 degree field of view, which is about 4 degrees more than the Gear VR.

Where to get more info

Bottom line for business

For business users, Gear VR is easy to setup and use. There's not immediate way you'd tie it into your work, however, there's an increasing number of options for creating marketing or demo-focused content.

So, if you're in need of a new way to, perhaps, show something to clients that would be better suited for VR, then pulling out the Gear VR and your Galaxy S6 or S6 Edge might be your most impressive bet.

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About Erin Carson

Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.

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