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Mobile VR headsets: What are your best options?

Don't limit your VR experience by tethering yourself to a computer.
March 3, 2023

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 2. 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.

The best mobile VR headsets

Meta Quest 2

Oculus Quest 2
Adam Sinicki / Android Authority

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.

Meta does sell an even more advanced Quest Pro, but at $1,000, it’s probably out of reach for all but the most dedicated VR users. In fact it’s mainly intended for business audiences — it just happens to to work well for gaming too.

Samsung Gear VR

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 rumored AR/VR products take off.

Mattel View-Master Deluxe

Mattel View Master Deluxe Mobile VR headset

The Mattel View-Master Deluxe is a modern evolution of the classic reel toy from the ’80s. This Google Cardboard-style headset is built better than most of its kind. It even features a headphone connection for better audio.

What’s even better is that the price has dropped significantly. Not to mention it looks really cool, and will spark old memories on first sight.

Merge VR

These mobile VR goggles are the perfect virtual reality device for kids. The Merge VR headset is light, durable, and super easy to use. Like some other mobile VR headsets, all you need to do is insert your smartphone into the slot and dive in.

The good news is that Merge VR is compatible with a wide variety of phones, from 123mm to 158mm in size. The device can pair with almost any phone. It’s also made from durable foam, making it lighter than most mobile VR headsets at 340 grams. The material is kid-proof in other ways, too it can be cleaned easily, and it will withstand shock, as well as daily wear and tear.

Nintendo Labo VR Kit

Nintendo Labo VR

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, the Labo VR Kit allows you to fashion your own VR headset out of cardboard. 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.

Google Cardboard

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.

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 July 2022.

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 can 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 Quest 2 or Quest Pro. They’re far more advanced, and really have no competition apart from tethered headsets. That could change in the next few years, but don’t count on it yet.