Offered at the same price point as the Samsung Gear VR at release last year, the Merge VR is pitting itself against some very fierce competition indeed. The Gear is a product of the relationship between Samsung and Oculus, and it shows in the quality and breadth of content. It’s here that the Merge headset ultimately falls short with a much smaller level of content being offered. Where the Merge headset succeeds however, is in its all-inclusive attitude, welcoming IOS and Android alike, which is where I think this squishy, purple headset will succeed.
At first glance, the Merge VR headset is a very strange beast indeed. Made of purple foam (which is thankfully antibacterial), it is quite an imposing thing. This soft spongy approach to the design is a blessing in disguise however as it makes the headset insanely durable which is a godsend when placed into the hands of sticky, hyper and impatient little ones. It’s also pretty comfortable as well. Though it does weigh more than the Samsung Gear its strap and soft feel make for a relatively breezy experience. You certainly aren’t going to forget it’s on your face but in my extended time and long play sessions it never felt unpleasant. There’s two buttons on the top of the headset which allow for menu navigation and interaction with applications. These buttons are attached to sliders which are used to focus the lenses. I always found the picture to be clear and crisp and appreciated the ability to adjust the lenses at will. Your phone slides into a slot at the top which is large enough to accommodate any phone of the last two years and due to the foam, there’s a lot of variance in what you can get away with. A removable piece of foam is located on the front which exposes your phone camera. This allows for the possibility for AR interactions which, while not that useful right now, definitely future proofs the tech somewhat. I found the Merge VR to be perfectly adequate when playing games or watching videos, a controller is much more ideal sure, but the buttons on the top work nicely.
The applications and games on offer with the Merge VR are great but nowhere near as extensive as the Gear library. They are at least a lot cheaper with a lot of experiences offered for free and many great games offered at anything up to £10. The Merge VR does offer interaction with Google Daydream apps and Cardboard. There’s also an option to configure the headset to Google apps which, once done, makes them run smoothly and intuitively. Navigating the menus can be a little finicky though, with the user required to remove the phone in order to search for new apps. The lack of a back button is solved by the use of a head tilt gesture which is a nice touch. There’s plenty here to enjoy, from Discovery experiences to arcade shooters.
In my time with the headset I noticed a few problems with regards to the way the lenses are positioned. During longer play sessions the lenses seemed to be sliding out of focus, gradually causing the screen to blur with more rapid movements. Using a Samsung Galaxy S6 I also noticed my phone getting very hot when running certain apps, I’m wondering if the foam is perhaps acting as an insulator, raising the temperature of the space inside the headset. Other than these issues, the headset works very well. The buttons on the top were responsive even in fast-paced shooters and never felt a chore to use.
At the end of the day, the Merge VR headset is an affordable, extremely durable and functional VR headset. It’s a solid bet as a jumping on point for those wanting to give the medium a try and those wanting a headset for their non-Samsung devices. The inferior level of content offered when compared to the Gear VR will put off more serious users but as a casual, easy and comfortable VR headset with enough to keep you busy, you could do a lot worse.