I just got the new Samsung Gear VR for Galaxy S6, the second Innovator Edition developer headset released in partnership with Oculus. We had tested the first Gear VR with the Note 4 earlier this year, in time for the launch of paid apps in the Oculus store. Since then, few new apps have been introduced to the store, though events like the current Mobile VR Jam is encouraging devs to put their ideas in front of early adopters. Momentum in software and hardware is leading up to Oculus' consumer release in the first quarter of next year, but they've also said that the next Gear VR release will be a consumer-ready one. So while this new Innovator Edition is still a developer kit, it's interesting to see how Samsung is iterating its hardware based on some short-term feedback and also adapting it to fit the 5.1-inch 1440p display in the new Galaxy S6. 577 PPI!
The physical design of the Gear VR for GS6 (I'll just call it "new Gear VR" from now on) is slightly improved from the original. Yes, it's a little smaller, but the ergonomic improvements aren't night and day. Much of the reduced size is due to the lack of the bulky plastic cover plate that fit over the Note 4 when mounted in the headset, which I don't think many people used anyway. In its place is a smaller plastic protector plate that fits into the slot where the GS6 sits when not in use, to protect the lenses. You don't have a way of covering up the phone when it's slotted in the new Gear VR, and that's just fine. Overall, the headset weighs a little less with the phone plugged in, partly due to the GS6 being significantly lighter than the Note 4 as well. I still found the head straps a little too short for my liking, though. With enough slack, the whole unit fits relatively comfortably over my glasses, but I ended up using it without glasses for tonight's tests.
On the bottom of the new Gear VR is a micro-USB port for charging the GS6 while it's mounted. That's a much-needed addition from the Note 4, and my GS6 was draining its battery really quickly when running VR demos unplugged. I don't have the Note 4 any more for a direct power consumption comparison, but I'll be conducting a VR battery test soon with Oculus Cinema and Hero Bound.
The touchpad is a tad smaller on the new Gear VR, and now has an indent to help guide your finger to its center point. For some reason, the back button was also moved slightly toward the front of the headset. These changes didn't affect my use of the touchpad, and I still prefer using a bluetooth gamepad for both UI navigation and games.
On the left side of the headset, Samsung added a small fan and opening for airflow. When I first heard about this, my thought was that the fan would be used for cooling down the mounted phone, since the Note 4 had a tendency to overheat and slow games down in long sessions. However, the fan in the new Gear VR--which is powered by the phone--is actually used to reduce lens fogging. In practice, it works really well, too. I didn't have to wipe the inside of the Gear VR once while running demos tonight, something I had to do every 15 minutes or so with the Note 4. Some people have reported that their new Gear VR arrived with a busted fan, but it's really just quiet. It also only activates when your face triggers the proximity sensor on the inside of the headset.