Virtual Reality is working hard to be the future of gaming, but dedicated devices are still a little too expensive. Thankfully, you can experience the joy of VR by pairing your cell phone with an affordable headset.
Premium VR devices like the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift are really a blast. Paired with a good game it’s an incredible and immersive experience. The thing is, you need a powerful computer to use those expensive devices. So how do you go about experiencing the world of VR without dropping half a grand? You could grab a phone VR headset.
Phone VR headsets tend to run pretty cheap compared to the aforementioned premium items (and the cheapest options often go on sale for $10 or less). They’re great little devices for experiencing VR for the first time, and almost all phones work with them. At such a low price, you’d think that phone VR headsets would be like gimmicky toys, but they’re actually a whole lot of fun. Plus, the library of VR movies and games for phones is always growing, so a phone VR headset should tide you over until dedicated VR devices are more affordable.
Sadly, it’s difficult to know which phone VR headsets are worth the time of day, and it seems to be even more difficult to tell which headsets your phone will actually fit into. That’s why we’ve taken the time to find the best VR headsets for everybody’s needs, from iPhone to Android users. Keep in mind that all of these headsets have adjustable lenses, but only a couple of them are comfortable to wear with glasses.
Samsung Gear VR & Controller ($97)
The Samsung Gear VR has solidified itself as a leader in the world of mobile phone VR, and for good reason. It has a better image quality than most VR phone headsets, and it’s the only phone VR headset that’s compatible with Oculus movies and games. The Gear VR also comes with a super cool and simple controller that can add a layer of immersion to any gaming experience, which is well appreciated when playing the detailed Oculus games.
Of course, the Gear VR can only be used with Samsung phones. It’s kind of a bummer, but limiting the Gear VR to Samsung devices allows them to better optimize performance. iPhone owners still have a lot of great options, but only the Gear VR is compatible with Oculus games.
If you’re thinking about dropping almost $100 on a VR headset then you should probably take a quick look at the Oculus Go. It’s a standalone device that doesn’t need your phone to operate, but it costs about $80 more than the Gear.
Google Daydream View & Remote ($41)
The Google Daydream has become a celebrated phone VR headset for it’s stylish, lightweight design and ease of use. You can fit just about any phone inside of the Daydream, as they’re held onto the front by an elastic latch. That being said, you’ll probably experience some light leakage if your phone is too big. Like the Samsung Gear, you can comfortably wear your glasses while using the Daydream.
Sadly, the Google Daydream apps aren’t compatible with iPhones, but other VR apps on the iPhone will work just fine. And although this is a premium device, you can’t use it to play Oculus movies or games.
There are headsets that do the same thing as the Google Daydream for less than $30, and you can use the Google Daydream apps with those other headsets. Really, the Daydream is best if you have a Pixel phone, as it’s essentially optimized for the device.
D-Scope Pro Google Cardboard Kit ($14)
Years ago, the Google Cardboard was a leader in the world of phone VR headsets. And it’s still a great piece of hardware—if you have a compatible phone. Newer phones tend to be too big for the cardboard, but you can get away with something the size of a Galaxy S6 or iPhone 6 (or smaller). If you’re interested in a Google Cardboard, then you should actually buy the D-Scope Pro Google Cardboard Kit, which is a lot easier to use and a few dollars cheaper than the official Google Cardboard.
Again, if you’re still rocking a small or relatively old device (I still have an S6, no shame) then the D-Scope Pro Google Cardboard Kit will get the job done for you at a ridiculously cheap price. Since a lot of VR apps were built around the Cardboard, you don’t have to worry about any compatibility issues or confusing set-ups. You could grab a smart phone gaming controller to go along with this device, but there’s actually a little button built into the headset, so that’s up to you.
DESTEK V4 VR Headset ($25)
The DESTEK V4 VR headset is another cheap phone VR product, but it’s a little more modern and powerful than the Google Cardboard. For one, it fits modern devices as big as the iPhone X or Note 9, so you don’t have to worry about your phone being incompatible. Since it’s made of soft materials and hard plastics, the DESTEK headset blocks out most light leakage and sit comfortably on your head. The device is inarguably awkward and bulky, but it feels good for such a big, cheap headset.
Really, the DESTEK V4 headset is a great option for people who want a reasonably high-quality phone VR headset for an affordable price. It competes with the quality of the Samsung Gear VR and the Google Daydream, and lands relatively close to the mark. The DESTEK doesn’t come with a controller, but there’s a Google Cardboard-like button built into the side of the headset. Of course, you can always grab a cheap smart phone gaming controller for about $10.
Merge VR Goggles ($30)
If you’re looking for something that’s great for kids, easy to clean, and super soft, then you should take a look at the Merge VR Goggles. It’s a phone VR headset that’s branded as a fun educational tool for children, but it can be adjusted to fit on an adult’s head, and it can do anything that a regular phone VR headset can do. The Merge fits most phones, even phones bigger than an iPhone 6+. And since it’s made for kids, you know that the Merge headset is durable. The Merge VR Goggles are also compatible with the Merge Cube, an educational AR device that has its own unique games and educational videos.
Again, the Merge VR goggles are great for both kids and adults. Its quality is comparable to the DESTEK headset, but it’s a lot more comfortable, and it comes in some nifty colors. This headset would be a great gift for a kid, or even for yourself. Like other budget headsets, the Merge doesn’t come with a remote. You could buy a smart phone gaming controller for about $10, or just use the buttons that are installed on top of the device.