VR 101: Everything You Need to Know About the Samsung Gear VR
If you’re reading this right now, you’re likely one of two people: you just got a brand new Samsung Galaxy S7 and a Samsung Gear VR headset came with it, so you went to Google to figure out what the heck the thing is and what you can do with it, or you just got a Gear VR some other way and you found this because you’re curious about where to start. Either way, your mindset is the same: you’re new to the Gear VR and you’ve got no idea where to start or what to do. That’s why we’re here to help!
If you’re looking for a primer on the entire point of VR and why you should even care about it, then you can check out the previous entry in this series, VR 101: What You Need To Know To Get Started With Virtual Reality.
Your fancy Gear VR headset is a lot more than just a hunk of plastic with some lenses inside. You might have heard of the Google Cardboard before, which is the most basic version of VR, so you can think of the Gear VR as a step above that format. Samsung actually partnered with Oculus, the creators of the Oculus Rift, to create the software which runs the Samsung Gear VR headset. That will help explain a lot of the branding.
First and foremost, the Gear VR only works with a very limited number of smartphones, all of which are created by Samsung. You need to own an iteration of the Galaxy S6, Note 5, or S7 in order to even use the headset, although there is limited Note 4 support as well. Oculus plans to support the software it makes for Gear VR for at least two years, but developers can stop supporting older phones at any time. So to make sure your Gear VR works with everything for the longest period possible, it makes more sense to get the S7, released in March 2016, rather than the Note 4, which was released in late 2014.
Once you know you have a compatible phone and a working Gear VR, all you’ve got to do is take off the front cover and plug your phone into the port – it’ll be snug fit so don’t be shy about making sure it slides in firmly.
After that, put the headset on and you should be prompted to remove your phone again while the Oculus application downloads and installs on your phone. I’d recommend installing all of the suggested introductory apps it gives you as an option. It’ll walk you through the entire process from start to finish, complete with tutorials and tips.
Once everything is squared away, next time all you do is unlock your phone so the screen is on and slide the port into your phone and everything starts up automatically. Pretty simple!
The Basics of Using the Gear VR
Once you’re inside you’ll be taken to the home page of the Oculus Store on Gear VR. From here you should see your starter apps in the main menu as boxes that can be selected. Although Oculus will teach you how to operate the menu system it’s pretty straightforward, so don’t assume it’ll be hard to learn.
The best way to understand the Gear VR is to imagine you’re using the headset like a window into another world. The current Samsung headset doesn’t have a lot of the advanced features found on the most expensive headsets like Rift or Vive, so you can’t lean or walk around in Gear VR. Basically, you can use it seated facing forward, standing in place or turning around 360-degrees in a swivel chair. Instead of tapping your phone’s screen to select something, you’ll tap the touchpad on the right side of the headset. This pad also detects swipes and other gestures, so it’s a great complement to the otherwise gaze-based controls. Right beside the touchpad, closer to the front of the headset, is also a volume toggle with up and down buttons, as well as a back button located right above the touchpad itself.
You don’t really need to clip the black cover onto the front of the headset when you’re using it – that actually prevents you from using your phone’s camera for some features – but I’d recommend clipping it on when it’s not in use to prevent any damage or extra dust to build up on the exterior of the lenses.
Beginner Games and Apps
So your headset is all setup and you know how to use it, so now what do you do? Well, you actually use it, of course!
Intro to VR Video
I always recommend that the very first thing anybody sees in the Gear VR is the Intro to VR video – this should have been installed on your phone during the device’s setup process. Just pick that from the home menu and enjoy. It’s a short video, with narration, that does a wonderful job of letting you peek into the world of VR more completely. You’ll float around in space, on stage, in other countries, and in the clouds – fully capable of looking all around and behind you. It’s a very manageable and approachable introduction to VR.
A great way to ease yourself into the VR experience is to reimagine something familiar, like Netflix. With the Gear VR, you can not only watch Netflix as if you were sitting in a living room, but you can do that from literally anywhere. On a business trip in a hotel with a crappy TV? Laying in bed? On a plane? No problem – you have a full living room with Netflix on a great TV just a headset away.
Oculus 360 Photos
After that, dive into the photo gallery. The image quality is much higher than most videos you can watch on the Gear VR and some of the locations and art are simply breathtaking. This also is a great way to get comfortable navigating something using the touchpad.
TheBluVR and Ocean Rift
Everyone loves going to the beach and swimming in the ocean. While you won’t be able to smell the sea and hear the waves crashing against the shore in these particular apps, you will be able to hear the bubbles while you’re submerged deep below the water’s surface. TheBluVR is guided narration as you learn about different animals in a 360-degree animated video, whereas Ocean Rift lets you fully explore the water using the touchpad or an actual controller as you swim with fish and other animals.
This is a great option as one of your first games for VR. It’s all controlled by looking around and exploring a breathtakingly beautiful environment as you complete levels. Since it’s not going for a realistic artistic style, it’s very easy to suspend disbelief and get sucked into another world. It’s not overly stressful or difficult and is more relaxing than anything else.
More Advanced Games and Apps
Once you feel like you’ve gotten your bearings a bit, then you might be ready to move onto something more intense. VR sickness is a very real thing, so if you got woozy from any of those other experiences, then you might want to stay away from some of this faster-paced stuff. Although, they’re always worth giving a shot!
To this day, Smash Hit is still one of my absolute favorite Gear VR games. It’s so simple and it’s based on an existing mobile game, but it’s just so much fun. You’re traveling down a hallway at a fast speed in first-person and you tap the touchpad to shoot a metal ball. Your objective is to break crystals and avoid getting hit by obstacles. There are some awesome bonuses and an endless level after you beat the main stages. Great fun, highly recommended.
Anshar Wars 2
This is my favorite space combat game on the Gear VR. It takes the formula laid out by the first Anshar Wars – flying in space and shooting down enemy ships – and improves and expands on it in every way. It’s one of the most well-rounded and genre-appropriate games out there for Gear VR.
If you really want to push your phone to the limit and see how pretty a game can look on a mobile device, then EVE: Gunjack is definitely for you. While you won’t be flying a ship in space like you would in Anshar Wars 2, you’ll still be shooting down enemies with different weapons from a beautifully stylish cockpit.
Out of all the types of games that exist, horror games are the ones I’m looking forward to seeing how they progress the most. While fully-immersed in a VR environment there is so much potential for amazing and terrifying things to happen. In Dreadhalls, you’ll have to literally look over your shoulder to make sure you’re not being followed and the creepy sounds surround you at all times. I’d recommend playing this one with the lights on, but in VR, that doesn’t really matter.
Just recently the Gear VR got some nifty upgrades that allow you to search for and add friends, which is great, since VR is still a relatively niche hobby at the moment. In addition, there are lots of great apps to try out if you want to interact with others in VR. Oculus Social has a great Trivia mode and lets you watch things like Twitch with friends. vTime is great to hang out and chat with people in some really gorgeous environments. Then AltspaceVR is the most advanced of the bunch with tons of activities and even live events always going on.
The Best Gear VR Accessories
Alright, so you’ve got your phone, you’ve got your Gear VR, and now you’ve got some games and other cool apps to use – but that’s not all you need to know. Just like any piece of technology, you can dramatically enhance your experience with some top-notch accessories.
This is probably the most important one. You can use some regular-old earbuds, but it’s not really the same. If you get some great, over-the-ear headphones, it will make a huge difference in regards to immersing you in another world. Outside noises can be canceled out and you’ll be able to focus exclusively on the experience before you. Stay away from Bluetooth wireless headphones if you can – it doesn’t really cooperate with some of the experiences and can distort the audio sometimes.
Getting a nice controller is also crucial, especially if you plan on playing many games. Some of the higher-end experiences out there, like Dreadhalls or Adventure Time, require a controller to play. There are lots of cheap ones that get the job done, so there’s no need to break the bank. Something small and portable would complement the rest of your gear nicely. I recommend the POWER A MOGA Hero Power controller – it’s the one I use and I love how compact it is.
Lens Cleaner and Anti-Fog
You’ll also want to make sure you’ve got a nice cleaning cloth and solution on hand (not the edge of your T-shirt!) to keep the lenses nice and smooth. Use something that’s made specifically for lenses like the Gear VR because anything else could scratch it irreparably. Also, if you’re like me, then your lenses will probably fog up pretty frequently in the first 10 or so minutes of use, which is why I use an anti-fog liquid. A couple drops on my cloth, wipe the front and back of each lens a couple times, and I’m good to go for the entire session. It’s also a good idea to use some compressed air to remove any dust particles that wiping with a cloth could miss.
Gear VR Cover
I think the Gear VR is one of the absolute most comfortable headsets on the market right now and that’s likely due to the fact that it’s the first publicly available one. Even still, protecting it and keeping it clean is super important, which is where the VR Cover comes in. You can slip this on for added support and comfort, as well as sanitation, and then slip it off to clean it every once in awhile.
A bluetooth keyboard is probably the least necessary of all the accessories (I don’t even have one of these yet!) but it’s pretty useful if you want to take screenshots or if you see yourself getting work done while in the Gear VR. The “print screen” button on the keyboard can be used to take screenshots that go straight to your phone’s gallery.
Now that you’ve got everything you need to maximize your Gear VR experience, you’ll need something to keep it all in not only for storage, but for travel as well. One of the great things about mobile VR is that it’s, well, mobile! You don’t need a fancy desktop computer or entire room rigged with trackers and cameras to use the Gear VR, you don’t even need a power outlet! All you need is your phone, so putting all of your stuff in a bag and taking it over to people’s houses and to parties is a ton of fun. Once you start getting into VR more, you’ll quickly learn that the smile on someone’s face the first time they experience VR is one of the coolest things to see.
Welcome to VR!
That wraps up everything you need to know to get started with the Samsung Gear VR! There are tons and tons of other apps and games I could have recommended, but I wanted to keep this as succinct (while still comprehensive) as possible. Many of them are free too, so once you’ve got the basics down, start downloading and trying stuff out on your own.
VR is a different experience for everybody, so go out there and find what works for you!