Last year we reviewed the Samsung Gear VR running on the S7, and we were fairly positive about it, with some reservations. 12 months later it was great to get our hands on the new version of it, and with the 360 camera to play around with, and a mini hand controller as well.
Firstly, in the context of Samsung specifically, and VR in general, we have come a long way in the last 18 months to two years. The overall experience is getting better and better, more believable, compelling, and visually impressive. With the VR Gear in particular, there is a marked improvement in what is going on, and the range of games and experiences you can use on it. There are still some aspects, like watching youtube videos on it that are not yet particularly more compelling than watching on a flat screen (until people start releasing 360 videos). However the rollercoaster demo provides a great example of when VR can really work.
For this experience we quickly learned that the user needs to be sat down, and carefully told not to start walking around. Even though your mind is telling you it’s not real, as the roller coaster swoops down and up, your body is already reeling, and your stomach turning. This was both fun, exhilarating, and a good illustration of how fast the experience is improving – though if you don’t like roller coaster rides in real life, this may be a little too true to life to help change that feeling. In terms of set up, it was all quick to do, and the app to view the demos and the 360 footage installed quickly and easily. Also, as neither a Samsung or iPhone user currently, the S8 was a lovely device to use, with lovely looking pictures on it, so it seems like a positive evolution from the S7 we reviewed last year.
This brings us to the 360 camera itself. First up, conceptually, and this may seem obvious, but you need a VR headset to even see the footage, as it is, of course in 360 degrees. We mention this because we are still in the early days of understanding how and what to film in 360. Prior to getting this camera to review we had seen some other footage and it didn’t necessarily add much meaning or context. We started experimenting, and, if you move slowly enough, you can begin to capture some interesting things. Move too quickly and the footage becomes jarring, jerky and unpleasant to view. Once we managed to get our over keen cameraman to slow down a little we then did create some interesting footage. When played back to the participants they described it interesting ways, as though they were watching a copy of themselves. This was interesting, even for our tech friendly millenials, to see them wowed by a different way of capturing what they were doing.
One aspect our reviewing millenials were less than happy about was the controller. Firstly it is great that there now is one, a logical addition from last year’s kit. However the teenagers who helped us trial this said they felt it was a little too ‘slippery’ in terms of the control it offered them when playing in game. They were happy there was a controller, but felt it’s ‘control’ could be tightened up.
We definitely enjoyed using it, which then also helped to think about ways in which it might be useful. An immediate question was ‘is it water proof?’ I doubt that it is, but it would be good if it was, and like the evolution of other action cameras you would imagine that in future iterations this may come as a standard feature. The great thing about this Samsung range of products is, once you have the phone that they run off, the rest of the gear is relatively cheap, the headset under €100, and the camera in the same range as other action cameras (hence it’s need to be waterproof too). So overall it does help to put cutting edge technology out into the hands of a wide range of people, which offers great potential for new and creative uses of it. We look forward to seeing what comes next.