Gear VR’s latest iteration is more about the phone than the controller

Viewed from outside the virtual worlds it creates, the latest iteration of the Samsung Gear VR looks no different than the last version of the virtual reality headset released in 2016 alongside the doomed Note 7.

And, in fact, the specs are identical down to the size, weight and features, with one key addition: a new included controller.

But that’s dismissing the fact that this fifth iteration of the headset is releasing alongside Samsung’s latest phone. The S8 and S8+ are both beautiful powerhouses capable of pumping out better, smoother graphics for your endless exploration of the virtual.

I’ve spent about a week using the S8+ as both my daily smartphone and as the heart of my portable VR rig. As with the Note 7 Gear VR, the S8 Gear VR headset weighs about twice what the phone does, or 312 grams. It offers up a 101-degree field of view, up from the original version of the headsets which only delivered 96 degrees. To put it another way, that’s slightly more than the PlayStation VR’s 100-degree field of view and less than the Vive’s 110-degree FOV.

While the headset now comes with a controller, it still includes a touchpad located on the right side of the device along with home and back buttons. There are also still volume buttons on the device and, of course, a dial used for manually adjusting the focus.

Gear VR with controller

The headset’s straps remain unchanged, as does the padded liner that presses up against your face to block out most light. There is now a small circular strap that can be slipped over a side strap to hold the controller when not in use.

The controller looks a bit like a bent spoon. It features a smallish handle with volume buttons as well as a home and back button. The bit of the controller that makes it look like a spoon is actually a perfectly round, clickable button that also tracks swipes. There’s also a trigger located on the bottom edge of the top of the controller.

The controller is nicely weighted and shaped in a way that the Google’s Daydream controller and even the Oculus Rift’s original controller aren’t. Where the Rift’s controller feels awkwardly small and wide for my hand and the Daydream’s click surface gets lost in its simplistic design, the Gear’s slightly bent shape results in a controller that sits easily in your hand and places the trigger right at your finger.

Thanks to a rather recent overhaul of the of the Gear VR’s home, everything inside the virtual world of the headset feels fast and fresh. That’s even more noticeable when using the S8 +. I had the good fortune to test out the Note 7 on the Gear VR headset released alongside the device before it was recalled and appreciated the upgrade the phone delivered.

The same can be said of the S8 and S8+. Where the Note 7 delivered a 1440 by 2560 resolution screen and 518 pixels per inch, the S8 +…

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