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Wearable Tech

Samsung's new Gear VR headset goes USB-C, but you won't be left behind (hands-on)

An included dongle allows the headset to be compatible with older Samsung devices. It also includes a wider viewing angle, better navigation, more face padding and an all black paint job.

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I'm on a skateboard cruising down a highway with some friends. We are beginning to pick up some serious speed, but then I remember none of this is real. I'm actually standing awkwardly on a gyrating skateboard inside of a flashy New York City hotel with a virtual reality headset strapped to my face.

I'm here testing out Samsung's new Gear VR headset. I take off the headset and begin to examine it. The all-black design is appealing, but what's more exciting is the device sitting on the inside. It's the new Galaxy Note 7, which is connected to the headset's USB-C port -- a new feature this year. I see this and immediately begin to wonder: Does this mean the new VR headset won't support older models? Luckily this isn't the case, as the headset ships with a dongle that makes it compatible with older Samsung devices.

The USB-C port isn't the only new feature. There's also a wider viewing angle, better navigation, more face padding and an all black paint job. Perhaps even more appealing is the price. The new Gear VR will begin shipping on August 19 for $99, £80 or AU$159, which is the same price as last year's model. Preorders start tomorrow.

What's new?

  • There is a USB-C port to connect with the Galaxy Note 7 (a Micro-USB adapter is included in the box to work with older Samsung devices like the Galaxy S7 and Note 5).
  • A second USB-C port sits on the top of the unit for compatibility with what Samsung teased as "future accessories".
  • The viewing angle has been expanded from 96 degrees to 101 degrees for a more immersive experience and reduced tunnel vision (honestly, I couldn't tell the difference in the demo).
  • The touchpad on the side is now flat, not recessed like before.
  • There's an Oculus Home button on the right side that quickly brings you back to the Oculus home screen (previously you had to long press the back button).
  • Thicker padding around the face and longer head straps make the headset more comfortable.
  • The headset is all black (including on the inside), rather than the white-and-black Panda-pattern of previous designs.
Josh Miller/CNET

What's it like to use it?

The new Gear VR is just as good as last year's model. While Samsung quickly pointed out the expanded viewing angles, I didn't notice them during my brief hands on -- but I never had a problem with the angles before. I also didn't wear it long enough to see if the increased padding made it any more comfortable. It just kind of felt the same.

The Oculus Home button is my favorite feature. You previously had to press and hold the back button to get back home (something I only figured out recently). The new home button makes it easier to jump in and out of an app.

Josh Miller/CNET

I'm also happy Samsung made the new headset backwards compatible, although I could definitely see myself losing the little Micro USB dongle that comes in the box.

Overall, this is the same Gear VR headset we liked from 2015. The added features don't scream "upgrade now," but the headset is still the best mobile virtual-reality gadget that Galaxy Note 7 owners can buy to experience VR.

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