Updated Samsung Gear VR takes some important steps forward

Along with the new Galaxy Note7, Samsung also revealed an updated version of its smartphone-based Gear VR headset at the Unpacked event this morning. The price ($99) and features remain essentially the same as the last-generation model's, but the new headset brings in a slightly wider field of view, interchangeable phone connections, and a darker color scheme.

Arguably the most exciting news about the new headset is that it supports USB Type-C, not only for connecting to phones but also for external data connections. The older Gear VR headsets have a micro-USB connector for charging the phone while using the headset, but game controllers had to be connected to the phone via Bluetooth, which is notoriously fickle.

The new Gear VR has an external USB Type-C port that is both used for charging and also to support data connections, opening up the door for all sorts of peripheral shenanigans. The latest Gear VR can still support phones with micro-USB connections, though. The internal connector that joins the headset and your device is modular and interchangeable; both micro-USB and Type-C connectors are included.

Other functionality changes include a field of view expansion, from 96° to 101°. This brings the Gear VR experience that much closer to the 110° field of view offered by the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The new headset resembles its more expensive cousins externally, too, but the new navy color scheme isn't just for looks. With the older, white headsets, reflected light (from an inadequately snug fit) could ruin the VR experience. Hopefully the darker plastic can alleviate that to some degree, but the fit should be more reliable too, as Samsung has made the face padding both thicker and softer.

The input functions of the Gear VR have been revised, too. The previous model of the Gear VR introduced a cross-shaped indentation to guide the finger along the trackpad, but on the new model, the trackpad has been flattened out. Only a small ridge—like the one likely on your F key—remains to guide the finger. Finally, the back button above the trackpad is now matched opposite a home button that returns the user to the Gear VR main menu.

Samsung's Gear VR has been a runaway success despite initial skepticism, and it's probably the most accessible VR experience right now. As a result, even though the new iteration is more of an evolution than a revolution, this update is pretty significant. In any case, incremental improvements offered at the same price point are always welcome. The new Gear VR goes on sale on August 19, and you can pre-order one right now.

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