Gear VR works with Galaxy Note 4, but there are problems

Here’s one more reason to love the Samsung Galaxy Note 4: the 2014 powerhouse has been confirmed to work with the 2016 Samsung Gear VR headset. After trying it however, it quickly becomes clear why there’s no official mention of the backwards compatibility by Samsung or Oculus.

It’s been almost two years since the original Gear VR: Innovator Edition was released, which gave Note 4 owners access to virtual reality before the technology made its way to the general public. Although the pioneer phablet packs a beautiful 4K display, the Note 4 was shut out when the Gear VR made it to the retail market, favoring the more powerful hardware of the Note 5 and Galaxy S6 series.

A rarity to be sure, the VR Innovator wasn’t mass-produced to be given away as promotional items like the Consumer edition. The headset has become somewhat of a collector’s item, making it a hard sell for the average buyer. Thankfully, the virtual reality market is still in its infancy and we’re seeing plenty of experimentation and improvements in hardware design, which brings us to latest Gear VR model for 2016.

The main reason for the Gear VR redesign by Samsung was in preparation for the launch of the Galaxy Note 7, which sports a USB Type-C connection that isn’t found on last year’s VR headset. For 2016, the Gear VR is fitted with an interchangeable USB Type-C or micro dock for compatibility with older Galaxy phones.

Samsung Gear VR 2016 Official Compatibility Chart. Photo: Samsung.
Samsung Gear VR 2016 Official Compatibility Chart. Photo: Samsung.

Unfortunately for Note 4 owners, diving into the Gear VR website reveals no luck when it comes to using the latest model with their handset, as the official specs suggest only using the VR with a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 or later. Actually trying to put the Note 4 into a 2016 Gear VR, however, reveals something much more exciting.

Will Gear VR work with Note 4?

Without any special modifications, the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 is unofficially compatible with the 2016 Gear VR headset, but you should know about these problems first before you try it.

Problem #1: The Note 4 Barely Fits

While it’s true you can get the Galaxy Note 4 to work with the Gear VR consumer edition from 2015, it requires modifying the headset by hacking away at its device cradle until you can manage to get the phone in. Examples of this procedure can be perfectly illustrated through a number of YouTube videos and online posts.

does the galaxy note 4 fit on the 2016 gear vr?
Photo: Phablist.

Pushing the phablet onto the 2016 Gear VR microUSB connector is a little scary, there is barely enough room for the body, which means you have to apply some pressure. The corners are a tight fit but as long as you gently push the Note 4 into place it works perfectly, just don’t force it.

Once you manage to get the installed, you will notice that the volume and power buttons are almost pushed in and headphone jack is blocked, so unless you want to drill holes in the VR, you’re limited to using bluetooth headphones.

how to use the galaxy note 4 with gear vr 2016 fitment
Photo: Phablist.

Problem #2: The FOV is Distorted

The new Samsung Gear VR has an expanded field of view when compared to the previous generation, now offering an FOV of 101-degrees over 96-degrees. This means you should see more of the virtual world clearly than before, but that’s not the case when using the Note 4 with the new headset.

Watching 360-degree videos had an overall pleasant experience but image warping was noticeable about 60% out from center, with the overall environment stretching out briefly with every movement of your head. Videos with limited field of view displayed even worse distortion around the edges. This problem is most likely attributed to the larger optics found on the updated headset.

Problem #3: Battery Drain and Over Temperature

The Galaxy Note 4 has an impressive 4K QHD Super AMOLED display and some powerful hardware, but the phablet showed its age when using it with state of the art consumer VR technology. The Snapdragon 805 and Adreno 420 has to work noticeably harder when compared to the 820/530 setup found in the Galaxy Note 7.

All this extra processing means stronger demand from less RAM and the smaller 3220 mAh battery found in the Galaxy Note 4. Over temperature warnings came up while watching videos stored on the microSD card during the test. 360-degree videos were able to stream just fine in the Samsung VR App but larger resolution movies stored locally showed noticeable lag time, especially while scrubbing.

See what happens when we put a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 under a thermal camera. Photo: Phablist.
See what happens when we put a Samsung Galaxy Note 7 under a thermal camera. Photo: Phablist.

After two over temperature warnings, the Note 4 was unpaired with the VR head set and allowed to cool for a short while. Using the microUSB port supplied on the VR headset did nothing to help the battery stay charged, as levels dropped by 10% every 15 minutes.

Some things you can do to help keep the Note 4 cool while using VR and conserve battery power is to enable Airplane mode to turn off any wireless communications you aren’t using for your virtual experience. For example, you might need to keep Bluetooth on for audio if you’re not using the phone speaker. You can also keep air moving across the device with a fan.

Problem #4: Software

Most of the Oculus software is designed for Android 5.0.1+ but you will have compatibility issues if you’re Note 4 isn’t running on Android 6.0 Marshmallow. During initial setup, the Oculus software installed and started right up at impressive speeds. The touchpad and control buttons all worked flawlessly.

how to setup the galaxy note 4 on gear vr 2016
Photo: Phablist.

How to setup Gear VR on the Galaxy Note 4

If you can manage to live in a slightly distorted world, the 2016 Gear VR is a no brainer for those looking to experience virtual reality with the Galaxy Note 4 on the cheap. Once you get your hands on the latest VR headset, getting things setup is no different from pairing it with any other modern Galaxy device. Follow this simple three-step process:

  1. While there’s a USB-C port for the Note 7, the new GearVR supports older phones via an included Micro-USB adapter. Make sure the microUSB adapter is installed properly and gently push the phone onto the connector, as it just barely fits. It is important to remember that your Note 4 must be powered up and unlocked before connecting it to the Gear VR.
    samsung gear vr 2016 usb connection adapters
    Photo: Samsung.
  2. After pairing the Note 4 with a VR headset for the first time, you will be prompted to uncouple the device to continue with the necessary software installation. All you have to do from here is work through the setup wizard; this will guide you through getting the necessary software installed.
    vr headset for note 4 setup
    Setting up Gear VR on the Note 4 is no different from pairing it with any other modern Galaxy device. Photo: Phablist.
  3. When the software installation completes, put the Note 4 back into the Gear VR headset and put the combined unit over your head to start the Oculus engine.
    gear vr note 4 compatability
    Carefully place the Note 4 in the Gear VR once the installation has completed. Photo: Phablist.

Bottom Line

While the 2016 Gear VR works with the Note 4, it offers up a sub-par virtual reality experience when compared to Samsung’s current flagship models. It’s a fun experiment with the Note 4 but it’s not worth buying unless you are planning to upgrade to a newer Galaxy device in the future.

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