Gear VR: A Look at Samsung's Virtual Reality Headset

samsung gear vr and galaxy phones
Each new version of Gear VR adds support for new Galaxy phones. Samsung

Gear VR is a virtual reality headset manufactured by Samsung, in cooperation with Oculus VR. It is designed to use a Samsung phone as a display. The very first version of Gear VR was only compatible with a single phone, but the latest version works with nine different phones.

Gear VR is a truly mobile headset in that it only requires a phone and headset to work. Unlike HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Playstation VR, there are no external sensors or cameras.

How Does Samsung's VR Headset Work?

Samsung's Gear VR headset is similar to Google Cardboard in that it doesn't work without a phone. The hardware consists of a headset with straps to secure it in place, a touchpad and buttons on the side, and a place to insert a phone in the front. Special lenses are situated between the phone screen and the user's eyes, which help to create an immersive virtual reality experience.

Oculus VR, which is the same company that makes Oculus Rift, is responsible for the app that allows Gear VR to turn a phone into a virtual reality headset. This Oculus app has to be installed for Gear VR to work, and it also acts as a storefront and launcher for virtual reality games.

Some Gear VR apps are simple experiences that you can sit back and enjoy, while others make use of the trackpad and buttons on the side of the headset. Other games make use of a wireless controller that was introduced alongside the fifth version of Gear VR. These games typically look and play a lot like VR games you might play on HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or PlayStation VR.

Since Gear VR relies on a phone to do all the heavy lifting, the graphical quality and scope of games is limited. There are ways to play PC games on Gear VR, and to use Gear VR as a PC display, but they are complicated and not officially supported.

Who Can Use Gear VR?

Gear VR only works with Samsung phones, so people who own iPhones and Android phones made by manufacturers other than Samsung can't use it. There are other options, like Google Cardboard, but Gear VR is only compatible with specific Samsung devices.

Samsung typically releases a new version of the hardware each time they release a new phone, but the newer versions typically retain compatibility with most, if not all of the phones supported by previous versions. The main exceptions are the Galaxy Note 4, which was only supported by the first version of Gear VR, and the Galaxy Note 7, which is no longer supported by any version of the hardware.

Samsung Gear VR SM-R325

Samsung Gear VR SM-325
The SM-325 added support for Galaxy Note 8 and retained the new wireless controller. Samsung

Manufacturer: Samsung
Platform: Oculus VR
Compatible phones: Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, Note 5, S7, S7 edge, S8, S8+, Note8
Field of view: 101 degrees
Weight: 345 grams
Controller input: Built in touchpad, wireless handheld controller
USB connection: USB-C, Micro USB
Released: September 2017

Gear VR SM-R325 was launched alongside the Samsung Galaxy Note8. Aside from the addition of support for the Note8, it remained largely unchanged from the previous version of the hardware. It comes with the Gear VR controller, and it is compatible with all of the same phones that the SM-324 supported.

Features of Samsung Gear VR

Gear VR controller
Gear VR's wireless controller sets it apart from other phone-based VR systems. Oculus VR / Samsung
  • Handy controller: Wireless controller is included with the latest version of Gear VR and backwards compatible with earlier versions.
  • See more in VR: Wider field of view than PlayStation VR or Google Cardboard.
  • Light headset: Gear VR is lighter than Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PSVR.
  • Mobile VR: No external cameras or sensors required, so you can use it wherever you want.

Gear VR SM-R324

Samsung Gear VR SM-R324
The SM-R324 added a wireless controller. Samsung

Compatible phones: Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Note 5, S7, S7 Edge, S8, S8+
Field of view: 101 degrees
Weight: 345 grams
Controller input: Built-in touchpad, wireless handheld controller
USB connection: USB-C, Micro USB
Released: March 2017

Gear VR SM-R324 was launched to support the S8 and S8+ line of phones. The biggest change introduced with this version of the hardware came in the form of a controller. Controls were previously limited to a touchpad and buttons on the side of the unit.

The Gear VR controller is a small, wireless, handheld device that duplicates the controls on the side of the headset, so it can be used to play all the games that were designed with those controls in mind.

The controller also has a trigger and a limited amount of tracking, which means that some apps and games are able to use the position of the controller to represent your hand, or a gun, or any other object inside the virtual landscape.

The weight and field of view of the SM-R324 remained unchanged from the previous version.

Gear VR SM-R323

samsung gear vr sm-r323
The SM-R323 was launched to support the Note 7 and included support for USB-C. Samsung

Compatible phones: Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Note 5, S7, S7 Edge, Note 7 (deprecated)
Field of view: 101 degrees
Weight: 345 grams
Controller input: Built in touchpad
USB connection: USB-C (adapter included for older phones)
Released: August 2016

Gear VR SM-R323 was introduced alongside the Galaxy Note 7, and it retained support for all of the phones that worked with the previous version of the hardware.

The biggest change seen from the SM-R323 is that it moved away from the Micro USB connectors seen in earlier versions of the hardware. Instead, it included a USB-C connector to plug into a Note 7. An adapter was also included to maintain compatibility with older phones.

Another big change is that the field of view was increased from 96 to 101 degrees. This was still a little less than dedicated VR headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but did improve immersion.

The look of the headset was also updated from a two tone black and white design to all black, and other cosmetic changes were made as well. The redesign also resulted in a unit that was a little bit lighter than the previous version.

Support for the Note 7 was patched out by Oculus VR in October 2016. This coincided with the Note 7 recall, and it made it so that anyone who chose to keep their phone would no longer be able to use it with Gear VR and risk it exploding in their face.

Gear VR SM-R322

Gear VR SM-R322
The SM-R322 featured a redesigned touchpad and was also lighter than earlier units. Samsung

Compatible phones: Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, Note 5, S7, S7 Edge
Field of view: 96 degrees
Weight: 318 grams
Controller input: Built in touchpad (improved over previous models)
USB connection: Micro USB
Released: November 2015

The Gear VR SM-R322 added support for an additional four devices, bringing the total number of supported phones up to six. The hardware was also redesigned to be lighter, and the touchpad was improved to make it easier to use.

Gear VR SM-R321

Gear VR SM-321
The SM-321 removed support for Note 4 and addes support for S6. Samsung

Compatible phones: Galaxy S6, S6 Edge
Field of view: 96 degrees
Weight: 409 grams
Controller input: Built in touchpad
USB connection: Micro USB
Released: March 2015

The Gear VR SM-R321 was the first consumer version of the hardware. It dropped support for the Galaxy Note 4, added support for the S6 and S6 Edge, and also added a micro USB connector. This version of the hardware also introduced an internal fan that was meant to reduce lens fogging.

Gear VR Innovator Edition (SM-R320)

samsung gear vr sm-r320
The SR-320 was made available to developers and VR enthusiasts ahead of the official Gear VR consumer release. Samsung

Compatible phones: Galaxy Note 4
Field of view: 96 degrees
Controller input: Built in touchpad
Weight: 379 grams
USB connection: None
Released: December 2014

Gear VR SM-R320, also sometimes referred to as the Innovator Edition, was the very first version of the hardware. It was introduced in December 2014 and provided mostly to developers and VR enthusiasts. It only supported a single phone, the Galaxy Note 4, and it's the only version of the hardware that supports that particular phone.