Virtual reality has made some great strides over the course of the last year, thanks in large part to the introduction of high-end VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Unfortunately, the costly investment needed to get in on the action leaves both of these devices out of reach for all but the most serious VR enthusiasts. In comparison, mobile VR is a better candidate for consumers that are looking to jump into virtual reality for the first time, as most smartphones are capable of delivering the experience with little added cost.

There’s an obvious difference between the quality found in mobile VR and higher-end PC-based experiences, though the Samsung Gear VR arguably does the best job at bridging this gap. With the arrival of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, Samsung has now introduced the second consumer iteration of the headset. The big question is whether or not the new Gear VR offers much different from its predecessor.

Thankfully we had the opportunity to go hands-on with the new Gear VR to help better answer that question.

Samsung Geat VR hands on 3

Visually, the Gear VR (2016) headset doesn’t look all that different from its predecessor at first glance, though it does feature a new, all-black finish that’s consistently employed throughout the body. There’s no more white with this model, and the new paint job does give the headset a more cohesive finish. We wouldn’t go far to say that it’s the most intriguing or stylish looking headset, but there are still nonetheless a few noteworthy changes that are worth mentioning.

First and foremost, the padding around the headset, as well as those put around the straps, are a bit more substantial this time around. The padding helps in giving the headset a comfortable feel when it’s put on. Other changes to the headset includes the touch sensitive pad on its side, which is now in the shape of a cubicle (cube-square shape), to allow for better distinction with our finger while the headset is worn. They’ve even added a dedicated home button, in addition to the back button near it, just to make it easier to get back to the Oculus home screen.

Samsung Geat VR hands on 5

Just as before, placing the phone into the headset is done by removing the protective plastic cover on the front, which now is less transparent and more solid in tone to help reduce ambient light from interfering with the lenses. In a change from past Gear VR iterations, the headset is now connected to the phone via a USB typ-C connection, but is also compatible with older Samsung flagships, like the S6 and S7 series, thanks to an adapter that accommodates the microUSB connection.

All in all, the new handset features a few visual changes and makes some minor changes to the way its controlled, but probably the most substantial improvement would be the headset’s wider field of view, which jumps from 96-degrees with the previous model, to now 110-degrees.

Samsung Geat VR hands on 6

Since we didn’t have the previous model on hand to compare with, it’s really tough for us to say right now with confidence that the wider field of view makes for that significant of a difference at this stage. We were able to try out this skateboarding experience using the new headset, where we stood on top of this articulating skateboard that placed us in that first person view going down a hill. It was good, but not nothing we’d say was noticeably better than what we’ve seen and experienced previously with other mobile VR headsets. Regardless, this wider 110-degree field-of-view should help in making the visuals appear less cramped.

Samsung Geat VR hands on 1

Although it’s hard to believe it’s been that long, the Samsung Gear VR was actually first introduced in 2014 in the form of an “Innovator’s Edition” during the company’s press conference for IFA. Two years is a long time when you think about the yearly refreshes we see with smartphones. So if you already own the previous generation Gear VR, is it really worth picking up the new one?

While we’ll reserve full judgment until we’ve had more time with the headset, we’d say its unlikely we’d recommend picking it up if you already own a Gear VR and aren’t upgrading your phone anytime soon. Of course if you plan on getting the Note 7, you’ll be forced to upgrade, as the older Gear VR models will not work with the latest Note.

See also: Galaxy Note 7 hands on

Pricing is expected to be set at the same $99 price tag as the original consumer edition of the Gear VR and it should likely arrive around the same time as the Note 7. What do you think of the latest model based on what you’ve seen so far? Share your thoughts down in the comments.

John Velasco
Storyteller, ongoing health nut, persistent complainer of running, & religious flosser.
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