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Mobile VR headsets: What are your best options?
Let’s be blunt — mobile VR has fallen by the wayside. Just a few years ago, inserting your smartphone into a headset was a great and relatively cheap way to enjoy virtual reality. Those efforts never achieved much popularity though, and the best mobile VR evolved into standalone headsets like the Meta Quest. Otherwise most VR headsets are still tethered to a PC or console, such as the Valve Index and the PSVR 2.
Fortunately, you can still find mobile headsets on the market. From cheap cardboard solutions to the Quest 2, here are your best mobile VR options.
Meta Quest 2
The Meta Quest 2 (formerly the Oculus Quest 2) is the one most buyers should choose, since it’s not only actively supported but the most popular VR headset on the market, mobile or otherwise.
Its greatest strength is compatibility. In standalone mode it has access to plenty of native apps, including games like Beat Saber, Pistol Whip, Pavlov Shack, and Rez Infinite. Your options grow even wider, though, if you can tether to a PC using Air Link or a Quest Link cable — playing Half-Life: Alyx will blow your mind.
Bear in mind that Meta is preparing to launch the Quest 3 in fall 2023. Expect to it be both thinner and more powerful, but also more expensive at a minimum of $499.99. If you’re not worried about future app compatibility, the Quest 2 now starts at $299.
Samsung Gear VR
You can still find the Gear VR for sale, but you should probably skip it. Production has been discontinued for a few years now, and Samsung stopped supporting its XR apps and accounts back in 2020. On top of that, it’s only officially compatible with older Samsung phones like the Galaxy Note 9. You might find some things to do if you can get the Gear VR app on your phone.
It looks like Samsung is giving up on virtual reality for now. It might return to the field if Apple’s Vision Pro headset takes off, but even that’s not due to ship until early 2024.
Nintendo Labo VR Kit
Nintendo’s Labo Kits are among the most inventive console add-ons to come out in recent years. These creations combine a DIY approach with gaming for impressive results. The Nintendo Labo VR Kit is no exception.
How does it work? Like Google Cardboard (below), the Labo VR Kit allows you to fashion your own VR headset. Instead of inserting your smartphone into it, though, you pair it with a Nintendo Switch. Beyond a headset, you can craft a Toy-Con blaster, a bird, a camera, and more.
The easiest and cheapest way to immerse yourself into the world of mobile VR is getting your hands on a Cardboard viewer from Google or a supporting company. You can build one yourself if you’re crafty and want to save cash. Once the viewer is built, your smartphone slides in.
The price is right, but even Google has largely abandoned the Cardboard platform. It is at least offering more support than Samsung — the Cardboard Android app was updated as recently as May 2023.
Which mobile VR headset is right for me?
If you want to dabble in barebones VR, try Google Cardboard or the Nintendo Labo VR Kit. You won’t experience that much immersion, or even more than a handful of compatible apps, but you can still have some fun and test whether VR triggers any motion sickness. Some people are able to spend hours in VR without problems — others can’t handle more than a few minutes.
To see what mobile VR is truly capable of, though, you’ll have to buy a Meta Quest 2 or 3. They’re far more advanced, and really have no competition apart from tethered headsets. Apple’s Vision products may eventually change things, but expect Meta to rule for the foreseeable future.