The new Gear VR Controller isn't a unique idea in the world of phone-based VR, but it's far from a "clone" of anything. Google's Daydream Controller may have been the first to offer motion controls and a touchpad for VR, but is it the best? Lets take a look and see what Gear VR and Daydream have to learn from one another when it comes to controllers.
The phone-based VR dividing line is basically Samsung and Oculus vs Daydream right now. Samsung's latest phones don't run Daydream (even though they totally could) and nothing but Samsung phones work in a Gear VR. Basically, if you're interested in using a phone you already own to power a VR headset, you don't really have a choice. You get to use whatever is available on your side of the dividing line.
This applies to the controllers used in these respective platforms as well, which makes less sense than you might imagine. There's very little technically different about the way Oculus and Google have designed these little VR wands to behave. They're both offer the user three degrees of freedom in VR, which means you can rotate the controller all around, wave it up and down or left to right, but that's it. If you move the controller forwards or backwards, you'll see nothing change from inside the headset. If you've ever used one of the motion controllers for a PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, or Oculus Rift, you'll immediately see the difference in functionality.
Not only are these two controllers similar in functionality, they're almost the same size. The Gear VR Controller is slightly taller than the Daydream Controller, and its touch pad is slightly larger, but it fits about the same in your hand. There's no significant weight difference between them, and both come with an option wrist strap to keep you from accidentally launching it across the room during gameplay. The biggest difference when you're looking straight at these two wands is the color, both of which match the plastic parts of their respective headsets.
And then there's the trigger. The Gear VR controller is slightly bent at the top, so it rests in your hand in a way that ensures your index finger rests on this trigger. It's an extra button, one that doesn't exist on the Daydream controller, and it's only job is to act like a trigger in games that have guns. You can use it the same as you use the top button in most situations, but the trigger itself is very comfortable. It's a more natural feel in your had, though not always the most natural look when you glance down at the Controller while in VR and see the angle you're holding the wand.
Other than this trigger, the Gear VR and Daydream buttons are basically the same. Volume Up/Down, Home, Back, and the touchpad button. The touchpad on the Gear VR Controller is designed to emulate all of the things you used to need to touch the side of the Gear VR for, but the whole main interface has been redesigned so you can use it in almost the same way as the Daydream Controller.
The two most substantial differences between these two controllers, the differences you'd really notice if you were using both right now, come in charging and storage. Like the Oculus Touch Controllers, this Gear VR Controller runs on regular AAA batteries. No recharging, like you see in the Daydream Controller, which means when you're out of power you're done until you can find another set of batteries.
The Daydream Controller also has a protected space in the Daydream View headset where it is stored and not easily lost, while the Gear VR Controller is attached to the side of the Gear VR with an optional elastic slide-on holster. While it does a great job keeping the Controller secure out of the box, over time the elastic will loosen and that will be less true.
In a perfect world we'd see a second generation of these controllers soon that borrowed from one another. Google borrowing the trigger design and bent wand shape from Oculus and Samsung wouldn't be the worst thing ever. It also wouldn't suck if the Gear VR Controller could be charged via USB-C so you could just use the phone to charge the controller for a few minutes when needed. It'll be a while before we see those kinds of changes, but they aren't impossible.
One thing we know for sure, Daydream and Gear VR are nowhere near done competing with one another.
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