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Samsung won me with VR but is losing me with updates

Engadget Engadget 5/07/2016 Steve Dent

© Provided by Engadget

I want to get a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, I really do. I like my Galaxy S6 Edge, with its striking curved screen, and the new model improves on it in nearly every way. Most importantly, I like to dabble in virtual reality -- I'm not ready to commit $700+ to a PC-based headset yet -- and I can still get a new Gear VR headset free with the S7 Edge. Shamefully, though, my S6 Edge hasn't received an update to Android 6.01 Marshmallow, leaving me high and dry with Lollipop. I certainly didn't expect that with a $800 flagship phone, and I refuse to let it happen again.

Marshmallow first came out on Nexus devices in October 2015, and "Nougat," aka Android 7.0, will probably arrive around the same time later this year. The new release is full of interesting features, including a multi-window mode, improved settings and, most importantly to me, a new VR mode. For those reasons, and also the fact that I like having the latest software, I would like to get it as soon as it arrives.

The S6 Edge came out in early 2015 (I have the international, unlocked version), and some folks have indeed received an Android 6.0 update. To find out if there was a problem with my phone or carrier, I contacted the company's support line in France, and was told that the release had not rolled out to me yet. So what's the delay? Some users have reported problems with the fingerprint scanner and passwords after updating, along with slowness and battery issues. If that's accurate, then Samsung may have decided to work on Marshmallow before releasing it widely.

Does my phone still work with Lollipop? Of course, but that's not the point. Marshmallow brings a more stylish UI, a memory manager that my phone desperately needs, an improved "do not disturb" function (which I desperately need), per-app battery optimization and more. Also, as someone who likes to have the latest software (and, since I write about it, I kind of need it), I'd really rather not wait for it.

To reiterate, I really like the Galaxy S6 Edge and Gear VR. Samsung wisely partnered with Oculus, and the Gear VR is easily the best mobile virtual reality headset out there. As I mentioned in my mini-review of the original Gear VR Innovator Edition, I love the potential of VR filmmaking (even if creators haven't quite cracked it yet), and the headset-and-phone combo gives me a way to view content. That includes games like Land's End and interactive VR films including The Martian VR Experience. In addition, Samsung has created a VR version of its web browser that allows you to see 360-degree videos and other content.

I don't want to sacrifice VR for the latest updates, but what if I can have both? The best way to make sure you've always got the latest Android release is to get a Nexus phone. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a VR option for Nexus that's even close to as good as what Samsung has -- at least, until Android Nougat came along.

For Nougat, Google has created a whole new VR platform called Daydream, and a VR mode with improved performance. It also created a reference headset that looks a lot like the Gear VR, but includes a motion-sensitive remote that resembles the controllers for the Vive and Oculus Rift. Its VR tech will only work on "Daydream-approved" smartphones, which will presumably include the company's own upcoming Nexus models.

If things go as planned, Google's VR should be on par with Samsung's Galaxy S7/Note and Gear VR combination. There is a risk it'll take Google a while to get to the same level as Samsung, which has a big head start and Oculus behind it. However, Google says that HTC, ZTE, Huawei, LG and, yes, Samsung have Daydream-ready phones in the works, and it's partnering with HBO, Ubisoft, the NBA and others for content.

Until a few months ago, I was ready to get a Galaxy S7 Edge and the latest Gear VR headset.

This new information has created quite a conundrum for me. Until a few months ago, I was ready to get a Galaxy S7 Edge and the latest Gear VR headset. Now I've decided to wait until the fall, when the first Daydream-compliant smartphones and headsets arrive. I'll continue to use my S6 Edge and Gear VR, and hopefully it'll get the Marshmallow update before Nougat arrives.

I doubt my own experience is unique. Anyone who drops nearly a grand on a smartphone will want to wring the maximum utility out of it. Samsung delivered a great design, great screen and lots of power with the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, and the Gear VR gave users another good reason to consider it. With the discouraging delays to Marshmallow on my S6 Edge, however, I've lost confidence in Samsung's ability to keep its latest model up to date. And once Daydream comes along, it'll have lost one of the best advantages it had in the Android market.

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