Samsung and Oculus's new Gear VR Controller makes navigating menus and controlling games much easier.
Generally speaking, Samsung’s Gear VR is great in a pinch. It doesn’t deliver the visual fidelity of, say, Facebook’s Oculus Rift or HTC’s Vive, but it’s significantly more portable. It also boasts a growing library of hundreds of games, apps, movies, and videos. The only problem? It doesn’t have a controller.
Navigating around menus and games required finagling with a directional touchpad on the Gear VR’s side, which wasn’t exactly intuitive. But at Mobile World Congress on Sunday, Samsung unveiled a solution: The Gear VR Controller.
The controller, which was developed by Facebook’s Oculus division, looks a little like a shrunken Nintendo Wii Remote controller. It sports a prominent touch-sensitive trackpad that doubles as a clickable selection button. Below it is its home, select, volume, and back buttons; on the underside is a trigger; and near the bottom is a wrist strap to prevent users from losing their grip during “vigorous play.”
On the Gear VR’s inside are a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer that track motion, allowing users to point, drag, drop, tilt, shoot, and more.
Samsung gave us a sneak peak at Mobile World Congress 2017. The controller is a little smaller than we imagined, but the rounded grip makes it easy to grasp. The touch-sensitive directional pad, which reminded us of HTC Vive controller’s trackpad (albeit smaller), felt sturdy and stable. The home button and volume buttons were responsive, and the trigger, while narrower than the, say, a Wii Remote, felt satisfyingly springy enough to withstand an intense session of virtual reality combat.
Unfortunately, the unit we were shown was non-functional. But a Samsung spokesperson said the Gear VR Controller will support older-generation Gear VR devices and will eventually be sold separately.
The Gear VR controller will have broad support at launch. Oculus said that more than 70 new controller titles are already in development, and the firm will make the Gear VR Controller’s software development kit available to all developers in the coming weeks. Developers can submit their applications for the software development kit — and Gear VR hardware — via the Oculus website.)
If the Gear VR Controller looks familiar, that is probably because the idea is not exactly a first. Google’s Daydream virtual reality platform launched with a controller, and both the HTC Vive and Oculus leverage motion controllers. But with Samsung’s backing, VR motion controls will be placed in the hands of more developers than ever before.
“We’re thrilled to welcome this addition to the Gear VR and all the potential it holds for mobile VR,” an Oculus spokesperson said. “[Some] of the best experiences […] benefit from a controller to tap their full functionality. We can’t wait to offer the freedom of improved, streamlined controls to the entire Gear VR community soon!”
More: Samsung Gear VR review
The Gear VR controller is compatible with the Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Note 5, S6 edge+, S6, and S6 edge. The Gear VR with Controller, a slightly revised version the Gear VR headset, has 42mm lenses with a 101-degree field of view as well as distortion correction technology that minimizes motion sickness. It supports both MicroUSB and USB Type-C ports with an included converter.
Article originally published 02-27-2017. Updated on 02-28-2017 by Kyle Wiggers: Added hands-on impressions and photos.