“Tonight is big,” those were the opening words from Samsung at tonight’s Mobile World Conference event in Barcelona. Turns out GDC isn’t the only place for VR news, after last night’s big announcement of HTC’s new HMD with Valve, Samsung followed up with the announcement of the new Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge, complete with a new version of the Gear VR designed specifically for the new phone.
The new phone comes with it some performance boosts over the previous version of the Gear VR. Boasting a 5.1″ Quad HD Super AMOLED screen with 577 pixels per inch, the new phone will provide an 11% increase in pixel density over the Note 4, which drove the first iteration of the device. The new phone also boasts more powerful memory, running on 3GB of LPDDR4 RAM and an eight-core processor, as opposed to the quad-core that powers the Note 4. This means “you get higher quality VR content, all wirelessly.”
The new phone is also smaller than the Note 4 and the new version of the Gear VR follows suit, coming in 15% smaller than the pervious iteration. Additionally, battery drain during long play sessions is going to be a thing of the past, as you can now charge the phone while it is in the Gear VR. While this means that you will be tethered, it will only be briefly, as the new phone “charges faster than any on the market,” needing only 10 minutes to get up to four hours of “day to day use.” This means that when you are on hour three of that Bombsquad marathon and the low battery indicator turns on, you don’t need to fret about having to return to the real world for long.
An improved camera will also help provide far clearer experiences in the Gear VR’s passthrough mode, which allows you to peer into the real world to do silly things like walk around Vegas, or practical things like grabbing a glass of water. One of the technical achievements demonstrated on stage was the camera’s video performance in low light situations. This should be great for usability, as the previous version often struggled sometimes resulting in rather hilarious circumstances*.
One other interesting feature of note is the new curved screen on the Galaxy S6 Edge, which wraps around the edges of the phone allowing for notification access and other potential input features. From the images displayed, it is difficult to tell how accessible the edge of the screen will be when plugged into the Gear VR but if it is, it will be interesting to see what uses developers can find for that new potential input real estate.
As of now, Samsung is still calling the Oculus powered device an “Innovator Edition.” But the marked improvements of the device makes it feel like the Innovator Edition 2.0. Now, all we need is some positional tracking and we will really be cooking with gas. Mobile VR has huge potential, and this is only the beginning.
*If you are at GDC, ask me to tell you that story.