Standalone VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive Pro do their job brilliantly but both come at a premium. The Rift will set you back $399, while HTC’s option currently retails for $799. If you don’t want to pay that kind of money but would still like to immerse yourself in the world of virtual reality, mobile VR headsets are the way to go.
There are a number of them available on the market with prices starting as low as $6, but they have to be paired with a compatible smartphone that’s equipped with a suitably high-resolution display, among other things.
There are many mobile VR headsets available, with some being better than others. We’ll show you a few of the best ones you can get your hands on that will allow you to enter the VR world on a budget.
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung’s Gear VR is super easy to use. Once you insert a smartphone into the device, the Oculus Gear VR app automatically launches and gives you access to over 600 games as well as loads of 360-degree video content via YouTube and similar services.
The headset features a turning wheel on top that’s used to adjust the distance between the phone and display lenses, while the touchpad, volume controls, and home/back buttons are found on the right side. There’s also a companion controller included in the box that comes in handy when playing VR games.
The Gear VR headset is only compatible with Samsung smartphones.
The problem with the Gear VR is that it only works with Samsung smartphones, making it useless for those who have a device made by a different manufacturer. The headset is compatible with the following phones:
- Galaxy Note 9
- Galaxy S9 series
- Galaxy Note 8
- Galaxy S8 series
- Galaxy S7
- Galaxy S7 Edge
- Galaxy S6
- Galaxy S6 Edge
- Galaxy S6 Edge Plus
The Gear VR is also compatible with the new Galaxy Note 9, but only with the help of an adapter — you can get it from Samsung for free. The headset is listed on the company’s website for around $120.
Google Daydream View
Google’s Daydream View VR headset looks a bit different than the one from Samsung due to its fabric exterior. It’s comfortable to wear,I partly due to the removable over-the-top head strap that was missing on its predecessor. It also features a dedicated slot for the controller.
When you place a smartphone into the device, the Daydream app automatically opens, giving you access to a variety of apps and games. There are plenty of them to choose from including Hungry Shark VR, The Other Room, and Virtual Rabbids, just to name a few.
Google’s mobile VR headset allows you to visit famous landmarks with the help of Street View and watch 360-degree videos on YouTube. The Play Movies app is also available and replicates the big screen experience of a movie theater.
Although the Daydream View works with devices made by various manufacturers, it currently doesn’t support that many of them. The headset is compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S9 series, Google Pixel 2 series, and LG V30, among others — see full list here.
The Daydream View is cheaper than Samsung’s mobile VR headset and will set you back $100. It’s available in Charcoal, Coral, and Fog color options.
The easiest and cheapest way to immerse yourself in the world of mobile VR is by getting your hands on a cardboard viewer from Google or a different company. These things are made of, well, cardboard, and start at less than $10. You can also build one yourself if you’re crafty and want to save a few extra bucks.
Cardboard viewers are far from ideal and aimed at those new to VR. They work with just about any handset, although the experience isn’t the best when using one with a low-resolution display.
The device has to be placed inside the viewer and if it has an NFC chip, the Cardboard app will launch automatically. You can play a few games, visit different places around the globe with Google Earth, and watch 360-degree videos on YouTube, among other things.
These viewers aren’t very comfortable and don’t have head straps, so you’ll have to hold one up to your face at all times.
The official Google Cardboard will set you back $15, while its clones start at $6 and go all the way up to $40. You can check them all out on Google’s website by clicking the button below.
Xiaomi Mi VR Play 2
Xiaomi’s products are known for offering great bang for the buck and the Mi VR Play 2 is no exception. It was announced last year and is similar to the Google Daydream View, as it’s made from fabric. It has a nylon headband but doesn’t feature an over-the-top head strap, which can make it a little less fixed on the head — especially when paired with a relatively heavy phone.
Xiaomi Mi VR Play 2 works with both Android and iOS smartphones.
Xiaomi’s VR headset is compatible with both Android and iOS devices, but only those with a screen size between 4.7 and 5.7 inches. It also works with Google Cardboard, giving you access to loads of VR apps.
Xiaomi is selling the Mi VR Play 2 in a number of markets including Spain and India. It’s not available in the U.S., but you can still get your hands on it by ordering it from one of the many Chinese online retailers that ship worldwide. One of them is AliExpress, which is currently selling the headset for just $25.
Zeiss VR One Plus
The VR One Plus headset from Zeiss is primarily made of plastic and works with smartphones featuring a screen size between 4.7 and 5.5 inches. However, it’s also compatible with some handsets with larger displays provided they sports a so-called bezel-less design — like the Galaxy S9, for example.
The headset might not look quite as fancy as a few other products on this list, but it gets the job done. It lets you immerse yourself in the world of VR on the cheap and is also available in the U.S. Pricing varies quite a bit from retailer to retailer, with Best Buy offering the best deal — the retailer is selling it for only $40.
This makes it way cheaper than the Google Daydream View as well as Samsung’s Gear VR, but more expensive than the Google Cardboard and Xiaomi Mi VR Play 2.
Which one is right for me?
Google Cardboard might be for you if you just want to try out mobile VR to see what exactly it has to offer. But if you see yourself playing VR games and watching 360-degree videos on a regular basis, you’re better off opting for one of the other options.
The Samsung Gear VR and Google’s Daydream View are the best mobile VR headsets you can buy right now, as both of them come with a controller. For most people, which one to get will come down to device compatibility. If you own a Samsung handset, the Gear VR is the way to go, while those with a Daydream compatible smartphone should opt for Google’s headset.
However, there are a few smartphones that work with both options including the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S8 series. In this case, the choice of which headset to get is one you’ll have to make on your own based on the price as well as the games and apps available for each model. They’re both great devices, so you really can’t go wrong.
If you want to save some money, the Xiaomi Mi VR Play 2 and Zeiss VR One Plus are also great options. But they don’t come with controllers included in the box, which may be a deal breaker for some.
Which one would you buy? Let us know in the comments.