Sometimes a good idea is a good idea, even if your competitor had it first. Well over two years since the first Gear VR headset was launched (but just a few months after Google’s Daydream VR headset launched) Samsung is launching a motion controller for Gear VR which adds a new layer of interactivity and brings the headset’s input scheme in line with Daydream.
Until now, Gear VR users have had two primary methods for controlling the VR world around them: first was using a trackpad on the side of the headset for swiping and tapping, and second was to use an optional Bluetooth gamepad. Then along came Google’s Daydream headset back in November which included out of the box a simple controller—consisting of a trackpad, a few buttons, and the ability to sense rotation—that much more intuitively allowed users to interact with the virtual world using their hand instead of their head.
Samsung seemed to agree that this is the way to go when it comes to input for mobile VR headsets, and is launching on April 21st the new Gear VR Controller priced at $39. Nearly identical in functionality to the Daydream controller, the Gear VR Controller gives you a more intuitive and interactive way to manipulate with the virtual world.
The Gear VR controller is a squat little device with a trackpad, trigger, and a few buttons, which feels worthy of its $39 pricetag in every way except for the lack of an internal battery which could be charged via USB. Instead, the device uses two triple-A batteries (included, thankfully). That feels a little weird for a device which is intended to be used with a phone which itself would charge via USB. Granted, even Oculus’ high-end Touch controllers for the Rift use a single double-A battery instead of an internal rechargeable battery, and there may be some common reasoning between the two with regard to that design choice.
The end of the controller has a bit of a crook to it, which angles the trackpad downward. That may seem like an otherwise needless way to differentiate from the Daydream controller, but it actually serves a smart purpose which addresses an issue I specifically noted about the Daydream controller in our review:
The controller works well and is a simple but smart addition to the mobile VR experience which adds a lot, but there’s one niggle that rather irks me. ‘Remote’ style controllers (those which are long and flat, and must be ‘pointed’ at their target), are not comfortable for long durations of pointing because they require you to cock your wrist at an entirely unnatural angle. Try this: reach out your hand like you’re gripping a remote that’s in the shape of a small cylinder (like a roll of quarters). Now imagine that in order to use that remote, you need to point the top of the cylinder at the thing you’re controlling; try that action and see the position in which if puts your hand—that’s the sort of cocked wrist motion that gets uncomfortable quickly.
The tilted end of the Gear VR Controller makes the actual pointing part of the device angled downward, which means your hand can rest in a more natural position while using the controller. This is an improvement, though frankly I probably would have angled the end even further!
The trackpad senses swipes and also presses down like a button down with a satisfying click. The trigger on the back side of the controller feels mostly like a glorified button, since it has a relatively short throw and presses straight down instead of rotating around a hinge like you’d be used to on most gamepads. Still, we’re glad to have it; there’s just something about using your index finger in a pulling motion which feels more natural for ‘shooting’ inputs compared to just tapping a button (or god forbid, a trackpad on the side of your head).
Overall the Gear VR Controller feels just a little more snug in the hand, thanks to its shape, than the Daydream controller.
Included in the box, along with the batteries and a wrist-strap, is a little fabric loop which you can attach to the strap of your Gear VR headset and then insert the Gear VR Controller to keep it and the headset stored together. It’s handy to have a way to keep them from getting separated, but the implementation feels like a bit of an afterthought.