At its Note 7 unveiling earlier this month, Samsung unveiled not only the new phone, but also a new version of its virtual reality headset, Gear VR, to go along with it. The $99 headset will be available in stores along with the Note 7 this Thursday, August 19th, and offers a small upgrade from last year’s model. Is it worth trading in the old for the new? I spent some time using both devices side by side to decide.
Looking at this year’s Gear VR you’ll immediately notice that there’s something a little different. The new model is blueish-black rather than white, something that gives the device a more subtle look, but a change that has a functionality element to it was well.
If you’ve used the white version a lot, you’ve likely encountered a situation where the light from your phone has reflected off the white interior of the device. It’s not a huge deal, but it does remind you that you’re sitting on your couch in your underwear rather than skiing the Swiss Alps (or whatever you were trying to do) and is something Gear VR owners had mentioned to Samsung as a downside of using the device.
With the darker version, you’re able to escape reality just a little easier. Think of it like the difference between watching a movie in a room with the lights off, versus one with dark walls and blackout curtains. It’s not a huge deal for casual users, but enthusiasts are going to immediately tell a difference. Also, I think the sleek dark version has the added bonus of making you look like a little less of a goofball while you’re doing it as well. Because everyone definitely wants to look their best while using VR.
The updated headset is also a bit more comfortable to wear, with plusher padding than the previous version, and a longer head strap to accommodate those of us with really big brains (read: giant heads).
This year’s version bumps the field of view for the device from 96 degrees to 101. It’s a small incremental change and one I had difficulty noticing using the two side by side. Samsung says that the wider angle makes things seem more immersive, and I’ll give it that: The combo of the darker interior and wider angle certainly felt a bit better, albeit slightly.
One thing that will definitely stand out to existing Gear VR owners are the controls. The new Gear VR has a dedicated Home button, which makes exiting out of things a ton simpler. The device also ditches its etched D-pad for smoother design, which takes a second to get used to, but is overall a pleasant change.
Out of the box, phones are also connected to this year’s Gear VR using USB-C (what the Note 7 uses to charge) rather than micro USB. If you have an older phone, don’t worry, it comes packaged with an adapter to make it compatible with most of Samsung’s recent phones, specifically the Galaxy S7 series, S6 series, and Note 5. Using it with older phones simply involves popping out the USB-C adapter and replacing it with a micro-USB one.
Samsung plans to phase out the existing third-generation Gear VR for the new version in stores, so if you’re shopping for one in the next few months you might not have much of a choice. The device is priced at $99, just like the older version, so it’s an even trade.
While there are certainly a handful of notable tweaks with this year’s Gear VR, I think the connection bit of the device is honestly the most notable change. For this reason alone, I would suggest buying this model over the old one if you’re shopping for one now. Even if you manage to snag the older version at a discount, most phones are on their way to using USB-C, so you’re going to want that connection soon enough. Save yourself the hassle of an upgrade down the line.
If you already own a Gear VR, however, I think you’re fine hanging on to it. Sure, you’re going to want the USB-C version eventually, but the one you have already is going to get the job done fine until that time comes. Caveat: If you’re one of the people bothered by the white interior of the previous version (i.e., someone that’s using their Gear VR a lot), then you should definitely give the new Gear VR a look.
There are some amazing things available in VR right now. Regardless of which version you’re using, there’s one thing for certain: It’s only going to get better.