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article imageReview: The best of Samsung Gear VR so far Special

By Michael Thomas     Feb 5, 2016 in Technology
Until the Oculus Rift comes out later this year as a competitor, the Samsung Gear VR is far and away the best virtual-reality device on the market. Here, I'll explain how it works it and what to check out.

The basics

The Samsung Gear VR is a $99 headset that requires a newer Samsung phone (Samsung Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge or S6 Edge+) to work. On the front of the device is a port to plug in your phone, and on first use, plugging it in will immediately begin downloading the relevant software to your phone, along with some suggested apps like Oculus Video and Oculus 360 Photos.
The Samsung Gear VR
The Samsung Gear VR
The headset features a touchpad and physical back button on the right side, which allows for navigating through menus when using the headset. Simply looking around while using the device will move the cursor. It will take a few minutes to get comfortable with using the touchpad and back button. It's also recommended that you use a pair of headphones with the headset — it creates a much more immersive experience.

What to check out

The device has only been on the market for a few months, so it's still relatively early days. That said, there's plenty to see in the Samsung Store's selection of VR apps. While I saw plenty of videos, this review won't look at many games, as I did not have a gamepad to play them with.
Oculus Video
This is a good place to start, with most videos running anywhere from one to three minutes. There are numerous menus to look through, but only a few provide truly immersive 360-degree experiences. The "Facebook 360 video" has a number of quick options to browse through, with videos that let you explore Australia's Gold Coast, swim with sharks and even ride through the sands of Jakku in a Star Wars: The Force Awakens video.
The gold standard for video experiences in this app, of all things, is actually a trailer for Assassin's Creed: Syndicate's "Jack the Ripper" DLC. Ubisoft seemingly went all out as you're pulled through Jack the Ripper's London. You'll be right up close as an Assassin tries to end the notorious killer's life, and virtual shards of glass will fall right "near you." Try not to jump when a knife is thrown right at your face.
That said, quite a bit of the content isn't as impressive — a lot of the video is just like watching on a TV screen, except you're inside a theatre that you can look around in. That novelty doesn't quite cut it.
Samsung Milk VR
It's surprising that this app isn't installed by default on the device, because it is a treasure trove of stuff to look at. On entry, you're immersed in a 360-degree room full of windows to peruse (you can also swipe left or right on the touchpad in case you don't want to spin around). The app seems to add at least one new video every day, and all take advantage of virtual reality. A few highlights:
Little Door Gods: Divine Tours: Though it acts like a trailer for the Chinese-language animated film released on Jan. 1 this year, it's a breath of fresh air. You'll be taken through the sky and encounter giant flying whales, turtles and more. It's reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's animated films (Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle)
Interrogation: Funny or Die presents this video starring Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer, starring you as the suspect accused of setting off a deadly fart. Huebel and Scheer wonderfully take the good cop/bad cop dynamic to extremes, and it's worth taking a look around the room, which is filled with little jokes in the form of graffiti. The seven-minute video is completely ridiculous and one of the funniest VR experiences out there, though at one point you'll have a gun pointed at you, which is terrifying even when you know deep down that you're in no danger.
GONE: A mystery series in multiple parts, this implores you to scan environments that seem slightly off-kilter as you look for clues in the disappearance of a missing girl.
Educational videos: Besides the fantastical, there are several videos that will help you learn something, too. One video allows you to peek around inside a human heart as it does its work. Another puts you in the centre of a climate model as a narrator explains the seasonal fluctuations in carbon dioxide and methane. One of the coolest comes from USA Today, where you get to fly with the Blue Angels and experience all the loops from a pilot's perspective. Not for the faint of heart.
Keep checking every day, because you'll almost always find something new to dive into.
Temple Run
One game I did get to play was a VR version of the popular mobile game Temple Run. In this game, you are the runner and facing your obstacles head on. Grabbing the treasure at first is a genuinely terrifying experience as you can see the cave's beasts coming after you. If you're brave enough to look behind you once you start running, you'll be able to firmly look at your pursuer. The motion of the game might be too much for those who easily get motion sick, so if that sounds like you, take it easy with this game.

Final notes

In summary, though it's still a young product, the Samsung Gear VR is well worth your time. There are two things to keep in mind, however. First, this tech can drain your phone battery fairly quickly. Make sure to have your charger handy. Second, be sure to take breaks every 15 minutes or so to assess how the experiences make you feel. It can definitely make you feel a little motion sick.
There's certainly plenty more to come in the future. Just yesterday, VR's Second Life, AltSpace, just launched, so VR could also soon be a gathering place for your friends, too.
Next week, David Silverberg will look at the many applications for VR that will soon change how we work and play
More about samsung gear vr, Samsung, Virtual reality
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