Anyone with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 can take a dip into virtual reality today with the launch of the Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition.
For an entry fee of $199 on Samsung’s or AT&T’s sites, you can experience a variety of VR experiences on an included 16 GB MicroSD card starter kit, as well as the Oculus store. At the time of writing Samsung hasn’t confirmed whether or not you’ll be able to get all of the card’s content on the Oculus store, so if you’ve expanded your phone’s storage with a card of your own you may have to do some swapping on occasion.
Those who already own the most recent Oculus Rift developer kit will notice a few big differences when they strap on the Gear VR. Because the screen is a Galaxy Note 4 you attach to the headset, you’ve got a 1440p screen rather than 1080p. That means the so-called “screen door” effect, where you can see the pixels on your screen because they’re so close to your eyes, won’t be quite as distinct with this headset.
The new screen does come with a bit of a trade-off, however. The Galaxy Note 3 screen in Oculus’ second dev kit is set to refresh 75 times per second. The Note 4 can only handle 60, which means that you’re slightly more likely to experience some nausea as you spend time in VR.
Because the Gear VR is made to be mobile, Samsung can’t rely on a persistent external camera to track your position in space while you wear it. This means you’re not going to be able to play the kinds of games built for Oculus that let you interact by moving your body — say, leaning around to fly a ship or dodge bullets — as the gyroscopes can only really check the angle of your head.
Samsung partially makes up for that with the inclusion of a Bluetooth controller (with “standard” video game controls, i.e. a directional pad, action buttons, and shoulder buttons) in a $249 bundle that’s also available today. That’ll give you full control of some of the more in-depth interactive experiences that will be available through the Oculus content hub, including a few games at launch.
That’s not to say you’ll need to break out the controller every time you slot your phone into Samsung’s headset. Unlike the current Oculus dev kit, the Gear VR has a touchpad built into the side of the headset that controls like that on Google Glass: swipes for navigation and taps for selection.
Those hoping to get lost in virtual reality with the Gear VR should temper their expectations. Based on the hands-on time I got with the device at Samsung’s developer conference a few weeks back, many of the experiences built thus far for the device are intentionally short, taking somewhere between 1-10 minutes each. That’s actually more of a pro than a con, as it keeps you from getting too uncomfortable from any individual experience.