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Samsung Gear VR (2016) review: Samsung Gear VR is still the best virtual reality for your phone

The new Gear VR exists because it now works with the USB-C connected Note 7, and other Samsung phones that may use it going forward. You also get an easy-to-attach adapter to plug in an older Micro-USB phone instead. There's also a second USB-C port which Samsung says will work with future accessories. Right now, those don't exist...but I'm intrigued. In the meantime, that port helps charge the Note 7 while it's on your face. Using Gear VR burns through the phone's battery.

FYI, the Note 7's rear camera works better in passthrough mode, if you ever use it, to see around while still wearing the headset. I do this once in awhile when I'm lazy and want to grab something on my desk.

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Oculus Rift (top left), Gear VR (top right), Google Cardboard (bottom). Gear VR falls in the middle.

Sarah Tew/CNET

VR's rising expectations

Gear VR is still, absolutely, the best VR you can get on the go or with a phone. But it's so good that my expectations start to shift. Suddenly, I forget I'm using a phone. I think I could play games that are as good as the Oculus Rift. And I can't. The graphics obviously aren't as capable, but also there aren't any good controller options. Gear VR has a side-mounted touchpad on its headset, or you could use a paired Bluetooth game controller. Neither are as good as using an Xbox controller with a Rift on a PC. Deeper games with more advanced controls feel jerky-jerky.

In AltSpace VR, for instance, which throws people using Gear VR, Rift and even Vive together to explore virtual spaces and chat, I found my limited controls frustrating. I found myself in a gaming parlor where a Vive-using avatar handed me a sword with one of his floating motion-controller game wands. I gladly took it...but all it did was float in front of my face when I pressed my controller's button.

And moving around the room wasn't fluid, because unlike PC VR systems, the phone-based Gear VR doesn't have positional tracking. In other words, if I lean forward or bend down, nothing happens. And to walk across the room, I need to move my game controller stick or use the trackpad on the side of my head. With games and apps tuned to Gear VR, especially basic 360-degree video players, that's not a problem. But as games get more evolved, it feels like a drawback. It makes me want to dive back into using Vive and my gaming PC.

Of course, these are totally different experiences. Gear VR is a $100 accessory for a phone -- that's cheaper than a good pair of headphones. The Rift and Vive are $600 and $800...and that doesn't even include the required high-end gaming PC.

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Still looks cool (also, I need VR breaks).

Sarah Tew/CNET

The current Gold Standard for mobile VR

Again, now that other options are here, the Gear VR feels more like a VR Starter Pack. It's an excellent on-the-go toy, and it's the most finely tuned hardware in mobile. It has the best selection of high-quality mobile VR apps, too. It also just might be my favorite VR platform right now, because it's so simple to set up and carry around. I can share it with others. I can take it to other rooms. It's low-maintenance.

PC-based VR is far more impressive, and transformative. But most people still won't be able to afford it -- or need it. Until that level of VR drops down to a reasonable (and more polished) level, Gear VR still seems like the way to go.

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