With the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 and Galaxy Note 10 Plus (Galaxy Note 10+) released today, you’d assume that it, like some of its immediate predecessors, is compatible with Gear VR. According to a tech analyst who’s talked with the phone maker, it isn’t.
“I just got confirmation from @Samsung. No version of the #Note10 is compatible with the GearVR. Not a huge loss tbh. Standalone is where it’s at. #VR,” wrote tech analyst Anshel Sag on Twitter earlier today.
Samsung’s decision to deny Gear VR compatibility to any of its Galaxy Note 10 series while providing an adapter for Galaxy S10 and Galaxy S10 Plus compatibility earlier this year indicates a deliberate decision by the South Korean Android juggernaut to shut down phone-based VR — or to at least sideline it for now.
Samsung’s timing to deny the Galaxy Note 10 series Gear VR compatibility comes after Google announced in May that the Pixel 3a, its affordable, low-cost budget series, wouldn’t support its Daydream VR platform.
With Google seemingly surrendering its VR hopes, perhaps Samsung is doing the same thing considering that it hasn’t updated Gear VR in the slightest since 2017 when it added Daydream VR compatibility to its “Galaxy.”
The only reason Samsung would refuse Gear VR compatibility for its new flagship series pertains to user adoption. Companies are always reevaluating whether or not user adoption is sufficient or great, often eliminating projects and downsizing in order to place profit in places where profit is easy to be made.
Gear VR is an affordable, low-cost option for many smartphone users who are curious about what’s ahead. When Samsung first offered Gear VR to its Galaxy users, it did so at a price that many could afford. There are a number of standalone VR headsets in the market today that provide a superior experience to Gear VR, yet cost 5 to 7 times what Gear VR costs.
And yet, standalone VR is where it’s at, to use the words of tech analyst Anshel Sag. The reality is that phone-based VR is low-cost but has a large number of obstacles and hurdles for users. For one thing, phone-based VR guzzles battery life tremendously.
Even when users got a taste of Gear VR in the Galaxy Note 5, the 3,000mAh battery dwindled to zero within 4-5 hours. If a 3,000mAh battery dwindles that quickly, and a 3,600mAh battery could dwindle in 5.5-6 hours, imagine how little better the Galaxy Note 9 would fare with its 4,000mAh battery — or the Galaxy Note 10 Plus with its 4,300mAh battery.
Gear VR users and early adopters could charge their phone to 100%, only to play through an entire charge in a matter of hours. Business professionals who play Gear VR would have to charge their phone at least twice a day to be able to use it if they engaged Gear VR for any length of time.
In such a scenario where playing Gear VR dwindles your battery in a few hours and you have to charge your phone twice a day, there’s little motivation to keep using it. Fun becomes a chore when battery life is so easily eliminated.
Next, there are issues with Gear VR itself. Graphics left much to be desired in many games (the graphics of the phone at the time were bad due to inadequate phone resolution) and apps. Games may look great on a phone with Quad HD resolution, but they don’t look as appealing in a VR headset where the phone is placed so close to your eyes. Such an experience reveals how pixelated VR gaming is at the moment. You shouldn’t see pixels in games and apps; it’s a sign of resolution inadequacy.
Overheating issues would interrupt one’s tour of a new geographic location. Gear VR messages such as, to use a paraphrase, “shut down Gear VR, let it cool down, then start again” lead users to quickly abandon it. How can hardcore gamers engage their favorite activity (gaming) when the phone became at risk for overheating and possible explosion?
Phone overheating led to game and app freezes, as games would suddenly stop in the middle of something, not saving the player’s current level or location — with little way to get back without playing the same scene or level over again.
As for Gear VR itself, the early instructions when installing the headset told users that they could not turn around or move while using the headset, but had to sit down. With the Oculus Quest, for example, users don’t have to sit down and can turn around and “get physical” with movements in the air that correspond to moves in the game they’re playing.
Gear VR limited players to the seating position while other standalone VR headsets let players interact with the air outside and the game inside their headset. A kick in the air is a kick at the person in a fighting game.
Gear VR was a partnership between Samsung and Facebook, the company that acquired VR company Oculus. Oculus/Facebook supplied the software while Samsung designed its own Gear VR headsets. Oculus handled the software while Samsung promoted the VR company with its users. Its early adoption led to Google finally creating its own Daydream VR platform some two years after Gear VR took off.
But supporting Gear VR becomes difficult when player adoption is on the decline. And phone-based VR, in and of itself, is a lovely idea, but it’s all the little problems mentioned above (battery life, no gaming movement, phone overheating, terrible graphics due to low phone resolution, etc.) that made Gear VR something that is still not yet ready for primetime.
Standalone VR headsets will prove to be more popular than phone-based VR because of their standalone capabilities and batteries; mobile users can still use them and conserve battery life in their phones. And yet, whether phone-based or standalone, virtual reality is still a fledgling field whose heyday hasn’t yet arrived.
As smartphones grow in resolution, refresh rates (as some are implementing 90Hz refresh rates, ditching the tired 60Hz standard), battery life, and cooling technologies, the obstacles of phone-based VR will fade in the distance.
And yet, maybe it’s the case that, until we arrive at 8K resolution graphics, the best we can hope for is mobile gaming done on the phone. Virtual reality is great, but when its problems overwhelm you in actual reality, you realize that gaming on a portable smartphone, no headset required, will do just fine.