There was a fair amount of tittering in the press room at Oculus Connect when Samsung unveiled the retail version of the Gear VR headset; it looked exactly the same as the pre-release "Innovator Edition" that was aimed at developers and enthusiasts. This was the mainstream product? What was the difference?
I was able to sit down with a pre-production sample of the hardware and wear it for a bit and, while the aesthetics haven't changed much from the earlier versions of the design, the fit and finish is much improved.
It's a bunch of little things
One of the biggest functional changes was the addition of a selector that allows the Gear VR to fit a variety of phones. You just select your device on the slide, and it will fit.
The touchpad has likewise been redesigned, making it easier to feel when you're inside virtual reality.
I was able to use the hardware with the Galaxy Note 5 connected, which is a rather large phone. What struck me, outside of the fact everyone in VR tends to make the same stupid-looking face, was how light and comfortable the retail unit is compared to the Innovator Edition. I was told they reduced the weight by 22 percent, while increasing the ventilation and ditching the fan.
The result, combined with a better form-fitting design for the foam that touches your face, is a virtual reality headset that's much more comfortable. I was only given a short demo, but it felt like it would be much easier to wear the device for a significant amount of time. The spacing between the device and your face was also improved; my glasses fit very well, and much more comfortably than the existing hardware.
The retail version of the Gear VR will be released in November of this year, for $99. It's compatible with the Note 5, S6, S6 Edge and S6 Edge Plus.