GearVR first impression


The GearVR was only released in Holland two days ago. I probably could have gotten one earlier through US channels, but let's face it; it's not like I had time for it anyways. But I pre-ordered one early January and it's here now. I had already ordered a Note 4 as well, which is the required mobile device to use as a screen.

The price tag of the GearVR is pretty decent, 200 bucks. But the requirement of the Note 4 makes it an expensive deal unless you already happened to have one. But I don't think that would make a great combo since you're bound to do some minor scratching on your phone and any scratches will surely be a pain in your submersive experience.

About that... The good is that the VR experience is quite good. You've already heard plenty about that so I won't reiterate those words. The bad? Basically the whole thing weighs down on my nose, up to a point where it actually hurts after a short time and there seems to be no way to relieve that pressure without losing clear view.

The vertical head strap helps a little bit, but the GearVR needs to be level right in front of your eyes. So the vertical strap can't really pull upwards since then the viewport will be too high. I'm going to experiment with a cushion of some sort because I can't keep on going like this. The pain also affects the experience negatively, since you'll be distracted. You're constantly reminded that this isn't real (okay okay, not seeing your hands, or flying in space kind of gives it away as well).

I actually haven't used it so much yet. I got the device yesterday. Turned out my Note required a software upgrade. But none seemed available (even though the required version was available over here). After trying furiously and being very tempted to just flash it myself (voids warranty), I decided to go to bed and give the Samsung helpdesk a shot first.

In the morning the rep wasn't very helpful. Friendly sure, but s/he couldn't really help me with the problem as "it should work with that version". I was directed to a shop with Samsung desk in hope of more help there. Thankfully the shop was actually able to flash the right version to the phone (while keeping my warranty in tact) and after that the software allowed me to proceed.

After initially b0rking the signup process (somehow I went for, so that qFox account is lost forever, I guess) it went on to install a few hundered megs. Wish I had known that before as I was tethering from my other phone while still in the shop, though after 200 megs I gave up and drove home to continue on wifi.

So I probably used it for about two hours today. Went through the, probably, standard stuff of intro, watching a movie, playing silly games, and ... well, that's about it.

This is a problem I didn't actually anticipate; there's little to do with my GearVR. You can't go to a browser, so I can't go and play around with variousexperiments online. You're pretty much limited to what the shop has to offer, which is very limited to say the least. What is there seems to be pretty, at least. But also pretty lacking in some way.

The major disappointment is that I now still can't experiment with WebVR. I'll have to get a CardBoard and DK2 and now wait for that. The lack of any browser is a serious deficiency and I can only guess that it's one of the highest priorities out there. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

I tried a few downloads in the store and they all seemed to focus around using hour head tracking as the pointer. That kind of makes sense in some ways, but since every app is doing it the trick is getting old fast and seems to suffer from the wiimote problem. By that I mean, while it's a great feat to control your cursor with your head, it actually gets a bit annoying over time and I would prefer to control the pointer with a different device. (Slashing your sword in Zelda on the Wii was nice for the first couple times, but after ~70 hours you're wishing for a button to do the exact same thing.) I had anticipated a 3d world where you can freely move the camera around and use your head as an additional navigational apparatus, so to speak. But so far all demos I've seen have a fixed uncontrollable camera (at least not directly). That's pretty disappointing, though I'm sure that'll change soon.

The GearVR comes with a small touch pad on the side, a back button right above it, a focus controller in the middle of the device on top, and volume controls in one of the corners. The volume control is hardest to find blindly, but I suppose also the least used.

I need to turn the lens focus all the way to the back, and wouldn't mind putting it even a bit further though that's not possible, to get a clear picture. I'm not sure if that's just due to my eyes or whatever.

The touch pad and back button work fine, good response, but are clearly not the ultimate way of delivering input (gorilla arms anyone?). I bought the GearVR package with a joypad and am very happy I did. Most software currently on the device works with the pad (though not everything does), making the whole experience a lot better.

I notice I do miss seeing my hands when they're in front of me. Not for orientation, but just because it makes sense. And while hands may be a bit hard to draw on a screen (though they could augment that part), it feels like they could have done some effort in detecting the position of the joypad and at least show that in the screen.

Oh and talking about hardware, I accidentally discovered that a 360 turning chair is an ultimate must for the 360 VR experience. One piece of hardware I'll predict is an augmentation device for regular office chairs that controls their rotation (and perhaps pitch/height) from within the device. This device would then be controlled from software in the VR. It's such a simple addition that'll bring a great impact to the submersive impression. Can't wait to get one :)

Personally, I'd like to have a laser pointer that works with the VR world. So instead of controlling the pointer with my head, I just want to point at it with a little laser pointer, with one or two buttons. This should be simple enough to create and will allow you to keep pointing and "clicking" at stuff while moving your head around freely. There was this one game where you shoot random characters but the aiming is done through the head. So annoying because you can't go have a look elsewhere on the playing field.

Oh that's another problem which I suppose is mostly UI. Focus. I finished one game and the credits came on, but I had no idea where to look. All I was seeing was a brick wall. I had to swirl my chair 360 to get to the right spot. The GearVR can refocus, but it's relatively cumbersome (hold back button, etc). It would have been nice if there were dedicated buttons for that stuff. Same for see-through mode. Or at least dedicate some buttons on the joypad for that?

Ahwell. Don't read too much negativity into the above. I love the GearVR. It'll only get better in time. And once I can get out of the sandbox and into a browser... oh man :)

In the mean time, I'll be ordering my DK2 and CardBoard because I can't wait for that browser to appear (it's not like the GearVR hasn't been out for a long time yet, that's true for this little country).

I'm still convinced VR/AR is the future. I'm putting my money on it.

More... later