As I get older, I find I can be crotchety about change and adopting new technology sometimes. Not all the time, but sometimes. When I started writing for PhoneDog back in 2012 there wasn’t much more than smartphones and some basic accessories to talk about; if you wanted to get really fancy you could talk about Bluetooth headsets and docking stations. Not too long after, though, the winds of change were a-blowin’ in the mobile industry as wearables were just about to become a hot commodity.
I liked the idea of wearables, but I didn’t think I needed one. I mostly admired them from afar. I purchased my first wearable this past fall, a $40 secondhand Pebble (RIP) Time smartwatch. I felt the price was right for a product that I still wasn’t sure I really needed, but I did want to try it out. I’m happy with the purchase. I found the smartwatch to be more useful than I thought it would be, but calling it a “necessity” is a stretch. 3 months later and I still use it on occasion, but not often.
I was able to add to my growing list of experiences with wearables this past week as I received a 2016 Gear VR to use with my Galaxy S7. I can honestly say that the idea of virtual reality hasn’t particularly appealed to me, but I did get a serious kick out of the concept when I used a free cardboard VR contraption a while back. I was amazed by how it worked, but it wasn’t something I ended up using more than two times after I wrote that article.
The Gear VR, however, has proven to be very different from my cardboard VR experience. For one, the assembly was more complicated. You have to hook up and adjust the straps to the headset and adjust the phone area to fit your specific Galaxy variant. It's not super complicated, but it isn't something I would consider hassle-free.
However, that added complication was for a good reason. I had to hold the cardboard viewer up to my face constantly, but the straps and connections with the Gear holds things in place for me. There’s also a very nice cushion mask that makes the large device almost comfortable. Heavy, but comfortable. I find that not holding the headset to my face helps with immersion.
And, oh my God, the immersion of VR is cool. And weird. But cool.
Along with the Gear came a bundle of VR “experiences” and a couple of movies. Some of the experiences included exploring space or the deep sea and relaxing on the beach. There was also a horror experience called AFFECTED – The Manor, and for some reason I decided that would be a good one to dip my toes in.
Honestly, I didn’t think it would do anything for me. I enjoy horror games and movies, but I don’t usually get that scared from playing or watching them. My biggest issue is the threat of being touched, like in haunted house attractions, which obviously isn’t an issue here. I assumed that a VR experience would largely be the same as any other video game, but I was very, very wrong. VR only takes horror games to the next level. Despite the cartoon-ish graphics and mediocre resolution of the game, I’m a little ashamed to admit that I straight up pulled the headset off because I was so startled at one point when a little girl with no eyeballs appeared out of nowhere and lunged at my face.
After accepting my new life as a total weenie, I decided to spend the rest of my time with more relaxing VR experiences like exploring the sea with Ocean Rift (which was actually kind of freaky in its own way, especially when you go looking for the great white shark), space exploration with Star Chart, and a visit to the beach. My time spent with these experiences were much more pleasant. Not too long after visiting the beach, I started to feel a little dizzy and decided it was time to take a break.
In the end, here are my thoughts on VR: It’s fun and the technology is remarkable. However, I don’t think that VR will catch on for a while. As much fun as it is, most headsets are still very expensive (the Gear VR itself is pretty cheap, but you need a Galaxy S6, S7, or Note 5 to run it, so it’s actually quite expensive) and they’re just so bulky and heavy. Currently I would say they’re nothing more than a novelty, but overall I would say this experience showed me that VR technology is an amazing feat, and I anxiously await the day that it becomes an all-around excellent experience.