Samsung talked a big game at its Note 9 event, but where was Gear VR?

Commentary: Is Samsung's Gear VR headset in a slump, or a transformation?

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR | Gaming | Metaverse technologies | Wearable tech | Tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read
New Samsung Gear VR for Note 8

To use a Note 9 with a Gear VR headset, you'll need an adapter.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Note 9 phones, Bixby smart speakers, Galaxy smartwatches, Spotify partnerships, Fortnite exclusives and even a little toss-in mention of AR. Samsung's latest Unlocked phone event had everything. Except for one technology the company's been pushing for years.


I realized it only after I left the event in Brooklyn. After I'd worn smartwatches and looked at speakers and played Fortnite on the Note 9. Where was Gear VR?

I came back to the office and mentioned it to a colleague, who just shrugged and suggested VR was dead. It's easy to think that, with slumping sales and disillusionment from some early adopters frustrated by the lack of A-list software. But affordable devices such as the Oculus Go and Google's Daydream View are a move in the right direction, freeing virtual reality from PCs and consoles and bringing down the price. 

Samsung's Gear VR headset, a $100 device that transforms many of its phones into portable virtual reality machines, was the original budget VR rig. It makes a great entry point for exploring VR worlds, and lets you leverage the powerful processor and sweet OLED display on your phone in a new way. 

I found it shocking that Samsung, a leader in the consumer VR field, didn't mention virtual reality a single time at the Note 9 event. (If you can recall a mention, please remind me.) Mention of a new Gear VR is absent from Samsung's own Note 9 press release, too.

I asked Samsung, and Oculus, whether the Note 9, with its slightly larger dimensions works with existing Gear VR headsets. The answer is yes, but with an adapter. So, it seems, the answer is settled.

Is a new Gear VR on the way?

But why not mention Gear VR at all at the press conference? Perhaps there's something new coming in its place.

At the least, Gear VR seems destined for a name change: Samsung moved from "Samsung Gear" to "Samsung Galaxy Watch." Maybe, then, Samsung Galaxy VR?


Samsung already makes a high-end Windows VR headset, called the Odyssey.

Josh Goldman/CNET

Or, maybe, there's a standalone headset like Oculus Go coming. Reports of a standalone Samsung AR/VR headset have suggested a possible showing as soon as the IFA trade show in Berlin in a few weeks' time. Or, maybe, at Samsung's Developer Conference in November. With standalone VR already here with the Go, Lenovo's Mirage Solo and, soon, HTC Vive Focus, Samsung might choose that path for its future VR efforts.

VR reporters at UploadVR noted that Samsung has already filed trademarks for something called "Perfect Reality," which led to thoughts that perhaps these could refer to a VR headset update. UploadVR points to 4K VR display tech that could aim to reduce the screen-door effect. Samsung's shown prototypes of a standalone VR concept going back to last year.

Watch this: Samsung's latest VR lets you take giant leaps on the moon

Samsung could also evolve a new piece of hardware that does more with Samsung's powerful phone processors, working as a Galaxy phone accessory. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip can achieve better things in VR than this year's standalone VR headsets are doing. In-headset positional tracking, at the least, which the Lenovo Mirage Solo has. Oculus Go, while beautifully designed, has limited tracking and no room-tracking awareness.

My guess is: Samsung has much more left to show in VR, and it's not yet ready. But maybe that VR news will come soon.

Galaxy Note 9 looks stunning in these photos

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