First things first: What is a Gear VR?
There are several Virtual Reality headsets out there today, but the Gear VR is made by Samsung specifically to work with Samsung phones. Samsung created a container for most of their new Android phones for creating Virtual Reality experiences, and as long as you have a Galaxy S or Galaxy Note phone that was released in the last year you only need this container to jump into VR. You connect the phone to the container, pull the side straps over your head, and look through the lenses to see a new 360-degree world.
Oculus makes the software?
Yep! Oculus and Samsung built the Gear VR together, as part of a larger partnership between those two companies. When you put the headset on, the first thing you see is the Oculus logo. The Oculus app on your Samsung phone maintains your library of apps, and is what you use to complete transactions. Oculus controls the entire experience, including what apps you are allowed to install from the Oculus store. It's a contained experience, separate from the rest of your phone in every way.
What can I do with Gear VR?
Oculus has worked hard to ensure there's a significant number of high quality apps available for the Gear VR. You can watch video with a variety of options, including several 360-degree video apps or Netflix and Hulu if you'd prefer something more traditional.
When it comes to games, Oculus has a massive selection of adventure games, shooters, space games, and action titles where you move your head to solve puzzles or fly through objects at speed. You'll even find Minecraft on the Gear VR, modified from the mobile version to include head tracking.
How do you play games with this thing on your face?
Samsung has a trackpad on the side of the headset, and many developers have used that for input in games. You can tap to select, swipe forward or backward for actions, and as long as your arm doesn't get tired from holding your hand up to your head for a while it's a lot of fun.
There are also more console-like experiences on the Gear VR, and for that Oculus and Samsung suggest a good Bluetooth gamepad. You connect the controller to your phone like you would any other Bluetooth accessory, and when you but the Gear VR on the gamepad works exactly the same as an Xbox or PlayStation controller.
How nice do games and movies look through the Gear VR?
Samsung has a long history of using some of the best displays for smartphones in the world, but when you put something on a phone in VR that display is cut in half and basically looked at with a magnifying lens. This means the resolution is cut in half and distorted, so what would ordinarily be a display more crisp than your HD television at home is now subject to what is commonly called the "screen door" effect. The lines of pixels that make your display are more visible, and can add what looks like black lines when staring at a flat white screen in VR.
In most VR apps, the amount of motion you experience makes this less noticeable. Static VR apps like Netflix can occasionally make this "screen door" stand out, so it's important to remember there's nothing wrong with the headset itself.
Will this kill the battery on my phone?
Using your display is one of the most battery-intense things you can do on your phone, so yes. When doing something like watching Netflix the battery drain won't be too much more than you'd normally experience while streaming video on your phone, but playing games will consume your battery much faster.
The rate at which the battery will drain depends largely on your phone and its battery capacity. The Samsung Galaxy S6, for example, can be fully drained after an hour of active gameplay and be quite warm. The Galaxy S7 under the same stress will consume roughly 1/3 of the battery in the same hour, while a Galaxy S7 edge or a Galaxy Note 5 has a dramatically larger battery overall and can handle a lot more and generates way less heat.
My phone can overheat?
Sort of. Your phone has safeguards in place to offer warnings when your phone is getting too warm, that pop-up warning will appear inside the Gear VR environment when the phone needs to take a break. This warning doesn't mean you are damaging your phone, rather that you could if you continue doing what you are doing before letting your phone cool down.
On new phones like the Galaxy S7 and Galaxy S7 edge, that heat warning will only appear if you are playing games for an extended period of time while the Gear VR is connected to power and charging the phone. On older phones, that warning means you need to stop for at least 10 minutes before going back to your game.
Can I play the Gear VR games I buy on Oculus Rift?
Yes and no. Oculus has worked with developers to release Oculus Rift versions of their popular titles from the Gear VR, but you have to pay for the game again. The games are almost always the same price as what you paid on the Gear VR, but the games are using higher resolution audio and visuals in most cases and the developers feel they can charge for the game on the more advanced platform.
In most cases the experience isn't noticeably better, so if you enjoy playing the game on the Gear VR you should take advantage of being able to play that game wherever you want instead of being tethered to your PC.