A quick summary of this article for people with no time to read this large and full review is offered at the bottom of the page…
A GEARVR NEWS HARDWARE REVIEW
The Samsung GearVR Consumer Edition 1, or CE1 for short, may have been out since November 21st, but I hadn’t been able to get one until last Christmas Eve. Yes, it was a Merry 2015 Christmas to me indeed! A nice gift to myself, for sure.
CAVEAT: For the remainder of this review, I will refer to the Consumer Edition Version as CE1 (meaning GearVR’s CE1 not Oculus Rift’s CV1 which will be available soon) and I will refer to the Innovator Edition as “InEd” (not IE, because that makes one think of Internet Explorer.)
I’ve been using a GearVR Innovator Edition 1 (CE1) for Samsung S6 for quite a while now and grown pretty accustomed to it. I’ve never used the Note 4 Edition so I can’t speak to that. But when my GearVR CE1 came, I was a bit excited and anxiously awaited the moment I arrived home so I could assemble it and give it my first spin. This review will actually be a comparison in many ways to the Innovator Edition, which to be honest I feel is a much superior product to the rather disappointing Consumer outcome. I do know mostly where they went wrong and I will elaborate on all those points herein. If you had the Innovator for S6 edition, you may find yourself agreeing with me and if you’re new to Samsung VR, having only recently gotten a Consumer version, you may be surprised to learn how far the apple has fallen from the tree.
I really don’t think the money saved is worth it, in my opinion. $200 was not that much for something that actually works better mechanically in every way save one: the Consumer version has better optics, which I will discuss toward the end of the article. I’m saving the good news for last, so stick with me. So … let’s dive right in, shall we?
The CE1 is slightly wider than it was with the InEd. There’s a sliding latch which adjusts the phone into two size-ranges: phones fitting size A or phones fitting size B.
I think Oculus or Samsung must’ve felt two ranges were enough here, but I disagree with how they handled the S6’s sizing. The B position is barely small enough to hold the S6 phone in it safely. The latch only grips about 7 mm on the locking side of the S6 phone! It feels a bit flimsy too. Already, just trying to insert the headphone jack into my phone while it was in the CE1 caused my S6 phone to get ejected mid game! I nearly had a heart attack as this happened! However, while flinching horribly trying to snatch my phone out of the air, I found it was still in the USB cradle. It hadn’t fallen on the floor this time, but it could have if I was leaning over when it happened. The phone is not securely held like it was in the InEd; it’s barely held in at all! Not good, Samsung.
One positive thing I can say here is that for owners of the larger Samsung phones, the CE1 does have a well-designed way of dealing with the larger phone fitting into it. There are a number of plastic spring-loaded mechanisms inside the case that help tightly bind the phone in much more snug way than what those with an S6-sized phone receive. While the S6 sits floppily into CE1 case, the larger phones are seated quite cozily. It seems a lot more care put into GearVR was given to large phone owners than the smaller-sized phone owners. My S6 does not feel as safe sitting in the CE1 as it did seated in the Innovator Edition housing, or as snug as a larger Samsung phone will feel.
USB DOCKING CRADLE:
The CE1 USB cradle is a bit wiggly due to its sliding, transformative nature. What’s immediately realized is how hard it is to get the phone to lock into it. It can take 4-5 tries to get the phone to dock, especially if you already inserted your headphone cable. You tend to insert the cable first because if you try to insert the cable once it’s docked, you can eject your phone as I previously stated. It is possible, if you think you have the phone in securely and let it go, that you could literally drop your phone on the ground! You should always insert your phone over your bed or desk or somewhere where there’s something soft below you, because a mistake could lead to damaging your phone. If you are over a hardwood floor or concrete, you could be in for a real disaster!
When the phone docks as you push it into the locking mechanism, there is a solid click (possibly the only part here which has been designed well) followed by a tone letting you know the phone is connected. The CE1’s new latching mechanism seems more robust than the InEd, which is a plus, but the USB cradle’s floppy nature and inability to grip enough of your S6 phone for a good, solid phone lock is a little unsettling. It’s even crueler to try and insert your headphones during a game and watch your phone suddenly get ejected. That’s one quick way to seriously harsh your mellow!
INTERIOR OF HMD:
That’s not all that is immersion busting; the color of the walls inside the CE1 is alarming at first. The InEd had a black interior (pictured above), but the CE1 comes with a white one, which is hard to believe! Quickly donning the CE1, this particular worry evaporates. There is still a lovely shade of darkness. However, I think a white interior might’ve been needed for the sensor, which sees in the dark. The white would allow just a hair more photons getting into the sensor to help detect a user’s face. Which means it could require less power to work, saving on battery life. If true, I think that might’ve been one good decision, despite the initial shock over possible light leaks. Speaking of which …
Neither the CE1 nor the InEd have been particularly good about preventing light leaks. Both my InEd and CE1 have between 3 and 4 light leaks each. During a game, it’s not noticeable, so that’s not immersion breaking, but whenever there’s darkness, those tiny pinpricks of light can jab you in the eyes uncomfortably, bothering you quite a bit. Samsung needs to work a little harder on this issue because it really does put a damper on the device’s quality and irritates you when you least expect it. There’s something about being lost in VR, alone in your private space (in total darkness just before a game) that is so peaceful. The light leaks are not conducive to enjoying such moments … as you are hounded by them instead, causing you to waste time hunting the leaks down.
The head and face straps for the InEd were very well done on the InEd for S6. They were very high quality and had a nice look to them, which actual solid plastic-beveled padding the straps were slotted through. The design also spoke to Samsung’s quality and professionalism. They got rid of that quality with CE1, and just have these boring black straps that feel as cheap as they look. The top strap of the InEd was so well designed, in that you could adjust it from the top, out of hair’s way. The CE1’s top strap is pinned from underneath, against your skull. To adjust those straps, you now have to lift it off your head and adjust it without catching it your hair; nigh impossible!* It’s difficult and irritating to mess with. It is not worth the money saved at the expense of having to fiddle around with something that was once intuitive and just right. *CORRECTION: I had originally installed the top strap incorrectly, causing this problem myself. Re-installing it correctly solved this issue.
It just gets worse from there. The InEd’s straps used to be projected ABOVE my ear line, making earphones fit perfectly. They were very comfortable! CE1 changed this dramatically and now I finally see why people on Reddit were complaining that they can’t use GearVR that long “due to discomfort.” My InEd was so comfortable that I could watch Netflix for 4 hours and barely notice a thing. But now I am irritated every few minutes by the CE1’s poor design! I have to keep adjusting and fiddling with it constantly like I’m watching TV in a beehive. Even in photos with Palmer Lucky, you see the CE1 cutting off his ears. The CE1’s designer’s cheaper designs reduce comfort by bringing the new straps right across the top of your ears. You can’t wear your headphones securely anymore. I mean, you can, but they are forced OVER the straps, which are then pressing and cutting into your ears. This is the most irritating aspect to the idiocy of their need to cut corners I’ve ever seen! Isn’t one’s comfort worth more than money?
It looks as if, from the strap’s eyelet’s upward angle, they were intended to raise the straps over your ears, but the outcome is still failure, they still cut into my ears. This is because the center of the back-most strap needs to be pulled back quite far to keep the CE1 from slipping off my head entirely. So the place where the strap catches my skull which is comfortable enough to hold the CE1 on securely just happens to be where my ears are. I don’t know about anyone else’s head dimensions, but that’s my experience. The back strap cuts into my ears the whole time I wear it, which makes putting my headphones on properly impossible. I can still hear the audio well despite the headphones jammed over these straps, but there is no secure seal around my ears, so the outside world can be heard. I am no longer being fully enclosed inside, which I don’t enjoy. The back strap needs more work to lift the straps even more while being re-worked to provide a good catch at the back of one’s skull. Thus, I feel the whole strap situation is something that needs serious re-tooling to get it right.
FOAM FACE PADS:
Last year when I put the Innovator Edition on my face, it just felt right. I never even noticed the foam or had any issues at all. Therefore, it wasn’t until I put the CE1 on and felt its “brutal economy” that I knew how good the InEd’s foam molding really was. It just worked. But the CE1 is a real disaster in this area! I mean it really is ridiculously bad. The hard rubber that fits between the plastic case and your eyes is as sharp as a knife and almost as hard as steel. The new CE1 foam doesn’t cover that rubber enough, so the edges cut into your face harshly like having knives poised against your face.
The new foam molding does not cover it enough; they needed about 50% more padding to adequately cover these rubber projections. In fact, while my InEd came with an extra foam pad to swap out when the one that it comes with wears out, the CE1 came with no backup molding; yet another detriment of the reduction in price. So I had to use the extra foam molding of my InEd in my CE1 to try and double up the foam inside my CE1 or I couldn’t even wear it at all. It was poking into my face in four different places like some nightmare. I kept asking myself, “This… is the Consumer Version?” I know they wanted to cut corners to lower the price, but I feel they cut off their nose to spite their own face, or more accurately, their customer’s own faces (pun intended)!
The new CE1 design for the nose has a serious issue with fogging. I think the nose guard is supposed to channel air out or down, but some of the air (when I’m centered in the visual sweet spot) get launched up my face, over my eyeballs, and causes some serious fogging. I couldn’t watch Netflix the other night for almost 1 hour. I spent every 3 minutes taking off the CE1, wiping the lenses, putting on, adjusting headset, putting on headphones, getting Netflix centered in the void view, clicking play, watch 2 minutes of video, only to get more fogging and have to do the whole process again. This process never did get resolved in an hour. The InEd had a fan that blew out your breath to reduce fogging. If there was any fogging, which was rare, it was always over within 5 minutes. But the new CE1 apparently has no fan or it is of such poor design it no longer works to prevent any fogging. The fogging doesn’t ever go away!
My whole Netflix experience was ruined by the incessant fogging and the irritation with trying to remove it, leading to a cycle of frustration that built and built until I wanted to toss my CE1 in the trash. Whatever you did, Samsung, you just aren’t there yet. The issue of fogging hasn’t been resolved*, it’s only been made worse in some ways. The only thing I could do to resolve this issue is learn to breathe out of my mouth to send the air down, channeling it manually away from my eyes. (Update: this issue has occurred dozens of times since this review was first written, so it isn’t going away, either.) This means I have to actively think about breathing every second during many games or during my Netflix experience. I might as well be doing meditation instead; I’d get more out of it, and feel more serene.
*NOTICE: One tip for fixing this issue is to cut open a potato and rub the starch on your lenses and let them sit for an hour until dry. Then gently buff the dried starch off the lenses and you won’t have any more fogging. Potato starch has anti-freezing/fogging properties due to being made for growing even in cold soil.
TRACKPAD REDESIGNED FAULTILY:
The CE1 sports a new design for the track pad, the touch-sensitive area for the right hand that allows you to play some games, applications, and navigate the Oculus Home Store, without the need for a classic game pad or joystick. While the new look at first made the CE1 appear classier, its functionality is not better off for it, but in fact much worse. The problem lies with how the track pad needs to be used. The straight “cross” symbol your finger fits into only works when you are level with gravity, level with the ground. But as soon as you lean forward or back, your finger and your brain get confused and the cross begins to feel like a winding, twisting squiggle you can’t make sense of. It seems our brains process our finger’s angle differently based on our head orientation. Any change in the angle of your head transfers to mixed signals in the brain, and what was useful while level now becomes confusing when not. It was a nice experiment, but with user experience we see now that it has failed.
When lying down, our ideas of what “straight out from our face” and what “adjacent to our face” seem to change. The angles of the cross suddenly feel wrong to our finger. The track pad becomes unusable to us. Therefore, the cross shape should be removed from the next iteration. All we need is the large round hole to stick our finger against to find the “base” location of the pad, and the outer square edge. And the inside flat surfaces might benefit from a kind of gritty braille approach, where we can feel how far our fingers are tracking from the grit itself.
Samsung, please just create a hole with small gritty bumps leading to the edge. This is all we need. We can use those bumps to measure how far our finger is traveling for times when we want to move in small increments but be able to measure that distance blindly with only our finger and the bumps to help us navigate. Think of how “braille” does it, and just do that. And please remove the cross indentation, it does not work most of the time: it is not useful for information; quite the opposite!
Here we can begin discussing some good news. The weight really is reduced over the InEd version, but how you would think. I used the CE1 for about 4 hours in a row the other day, watching Netflix. Then I quickly put on the InEd with my overheating phone and moved my head around a few times. It felt like a lead weight with a chain was on my head after that.
The difference isn’t much mathematically, only about 126 grams, coming from the InEd’s more elegant head pads, while the actual HMD portion sans head pads is about the same as the InEd. Both CE1 and InEd are roughly 277 grams (if the CE1 has the face plate on over your phone, without the face plate, the CE1 is 40 grams lighter than the InEd). But if you count the head strap on the InEd, the CE1 is 126 grams lighter. I don’t know why, but I can really feel the difference in actual use, despite the final tallies being so similar.
LENSES & OPTICS:
At last we come to the most redeeming feature of the CE1, the optics. They are amazing to say the least. The new lenses are not as thick as before but do the job just as good visually, with some major new features. Gone is the chromatic aberration that we could saw in the Innovator Edition. In the InEd, just move your eyes away from the center even a little and you would see red and green lines Oculus uses to correct for lense distortion. It was everywhere, becoming more distracting than the problem it was originally designed to correct. But CE1 also has a much larger clear viewing angle known as the “sweet spot” which is no longer circular in shape, but an oval. Its shape actually now mirrors the Oculus logo itself. It’s absolutely fantastic, the best and most welcome change of CE1!
The old sweet spot on the InEd was a circle directly in the center of the visuals. If you looked even a little to the right or left, things got fuzzier and were ghosted with chromatic aberration all over the screen. But thanks to the new oval-shaped sweet spot, the chromatic aberration can no longer be seen but in a few, extreme and rare, cases. The fuzziness that once coated the outer visuals is now gone, too, and that one is pretty amazing. The visuals are clear in every direction which you look.
The sweet is spot is essentially two times wider, and 50% more top to bottom, than it was in the InEd. Now, when watching Netflix, the entire virtual-TV screen looks perfect no matter where your eyes are looking on it. Before, to keep details in focus, you had to turn your head to look where you wanted to see, now you can just turn your eyes. This is very important to VR, and serves to make the CE1’s rather large list of flaws suddenly melt into the background.
These new optics are really a game changer for the platform. Games look crisper in every direction, the chromatic aberration no longer ruins the visuals as fully as it once did; you see what you were meant to see by the game designers. Whatever my other issues with the device, the new optics have saved the CE1 from being an unmitigated disaster, in my opinion. At least compared to the deep comfort of my Innovator Edition for S6.
The horrible situation which caused the CE1 for GearVR to not be as awesome as the InEd version is that Oculus required Samsung’s GearVR to be whittled down to lower the cost of entry to the average person.
This is sort of like how a writer and his editor compete for their final product. The writer completes an award-winning amazing book for a group of sophisticated people the writer wants to impress (i.e., VR enthusiasts). But the editor wants to sell more copies and refuses to accept the submission until it’s been whittled down in size for a whole different class of people who only read smaller books (because editors only care about money). The entire concept of the book (a top-notch immersive experience) has to get thrown out to please the editor who has the money to publish the book. A form of this is what occurred with the Consumer Version of GearVR with CE1. To please a larger number of customers who won’t spend money on new-fangled technology, the Innovator Edition, which by far is the classier, softer, and gentler overall solution, got thrown out and we were given a device which is severely flawed in all but a few ways: it allows more phones to work with it, which is a huge game changer, and it has two times better optics overall.
These two modernizations allow the CE1 to remain worthy of its potential success, despite its terrible flaws. These flaws are not by accident, as the Innovator Edition was already much more comfortable and amazing. Therefore, to arrive at something this de-improved in a subsequent iteration, they had to do it on purpose, to purposefully sacrifice quality. I don’t like it, but I really hope this strategy works to hook a larger audience, because if enough people get the Samsung GearVR, then perhaps there will be a chance for them to go back to what made the Innovator Edition so much better. And in the future, when enough people are ready to upgrade to what Samsung is bringing to the table, the next version can go back to the comfort and professionalism the InEd possessed. While retaining the expandability and superb new optics provided by the first Consumer Version.
The Innovator Edition possessed the comfort and super craftsmanship that showed us what Samsung’s engineers are capable of, while the Consumer Version brought dramatic new optics and expandability to the table. Now what we need for Consumer Version 2 is a SYNTHESIS of both products into one final, completed model that sacrifices nothing but gives everything of both models contained within them. And BTW, don’t forget the extra face foam and soft zip-line-velvet carrying bag that the Innovator Edition came with but which the CE1 did not.
IF the next Consumer Version is able to combine all of these aspects into one device in time for the next iteration of Samsung phones, it will just be what this version should already have been all along. I for one never liked the idea that quality needed to be skimped in order to produce something people would even buy. But when GearVR gets back to what it should have been, it will be wonderful. And with the +40% increase in rendering power, 64-bit Virtual Addressing, +40% heat reduction, and rich new VR-related features coming in the next Snapdragon chip made especially for VR, the CV2+S7 combination will truly be a VR solution with all the goodies! It will be something even more worthy of sharing with all of your friends.
Or better yet, at these prices, you’d better just be stingy and keep the VR all to yourself. It really is going to be that good … one day.
Too bad that day wasn’t here already with the GearVR CE1!
Rigging not catered to hold S6 securely; phone can be ejected by only pushing on it a little.
USB Docking Cradle wiggly due to transformable nature; does not promote easy insertion of phone.
White interior color is alarming, but it does not ruin total-dark immersion once on your face.
Cheaper head straps that lock down toward your hair. Can’t be adjusted while being worn; irritation!
Still has light leaks coming through face mask, letting outside light points stab your eyes; discomfort!
Straps no longer over the ear line, but cut into top of ears, preventing seal with headphones; idiocy!
CE1 straps not at all comfortable for head or face, previous InEd version were padded and delightful.
Fogging doesn’t always happen, but when it does (for whatever reason), it won’t ever stop like the InEd version would. InEd version had a fan, CE1 doesn’t appear to have one, or it doesn’t work at all.
Foam padding for face is the worst part of CE1’s Too cheap, too little of it, thinner than before, less springy than before, it feels nonexistent; rubber molding is sharp, cuts into your face, requiring drastic action to repair, such as cutting your own foam and trying to create something Samsung should have created, a face molding that actually works to provide comfort while wearing their device for long periods of time. The fact that this issue is not of paramount importance for CE1 is utterly laughable and makes me doubt the very sanity of the company. This is the worst aspect of the CE1, and almost made me throw it in the trash if not for the amazing optics and larger sweet spot making that impossible.
The face foam is so bad, a market’s opened for new foam covers HERE: GEARVR_COVERS
The new cross-shaped track pad design is not functionally useful; it actually gets in the way of using the track pad. A new track pad should be designed with only the dot in the middle but with braille dots painted thickly within, so we can feel the distance and speed our finger is traveling by touch alone.
Modular Size-Transforming Rig Many Samsung Phones Can Fit Into. More phone support is great!
Stronger USB latching mechanism, more robust, clicks louder, but … side to side is a bit wobbly.
White interior possibly helps lower the power consumption of the Face-detection Sensor at the inside middle of the face plate.
The weight of both units sans head straps is 277 grams, nearly identical. But with the face straps and face plate, the CE1 is 126 grams lighter overall compared to the Innovator Edition.
Sweet spot is two times wider and has 50% more coverage from top to bottom. It is now shaped like Oculus’ logo: an oval. You can see in all directions without a compromise in clarity. It is wondrous!
Chromatic aberration is mostly no longer visible from any angle within the sweet spot; fewer lines ghosting the game visuals, so the worlds you visit in VR now feel more real and polished.
A $99 price tag, which created most of the Cons listed above in comparison with the much more comfortable InEd that I had.
Categories: Hardware Reviews