Standalone VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive do their job brilliantly but both come at a premium. The Rift will set you back $499, while HTC’s option currently retails for $599. 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 $7, 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. Happen to rock an iPhone instead? While VR options for iPhone remain limited, there are some and you can find out more by looking at our best iPhone-compatible VR headsets guide.
Samsung Gear VR (2017)
This the most popular mobile VR headset on the market by a country mile in terms of sales. It’s easy to use, as 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 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 only 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 company announced the newest version of the headset earlier this year and is compatible with the Galaxy S8 Plus, Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, and Galaxy S6 Edge Plus.
As it’s too small to work with its latest phablet, Samsung also announced the Gear VR Galaxy Note 8 edition last month, which is also compatible with all of the devices mentioned above.
The standard version of the headset currently retails for $93.99, while the Note 8 edition is a bit more expensive at $129.99. You can get both models from Samsung via the buttons below.
Google Daydream View
Google’s Daydream VR headset looks a bit different than the one from Samsung due to its fabric exterior. Although the device is comfortable to wear, it only has one strap, making it a little less stable or fixed on the head when paired with a relatively heavy phone like the Pixel XL.
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, Virtual Rabbids, as well as others that use the headset’s included controller.
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 different manufacturers, it currently doesn’t support that many of them. The headset is only suitable for those who own the LG V30, ZTE Axon 7, Huawei Mate 9 Pro, Moto Z/Z Force/Z2 Force, Asus ZenFone AR, Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Samsung Galaxy S8/S8 Plus, and the two Pixel handsets. More devices are expected to join this list shortly.
The Daydream View is cheaper than Samsung’s mobile VR headset and will set you back $79. You can get it in the Slate, Crimson, and Snow color options.
The easiest and cheapest way to immerse yourself into 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 $7 and go all the way up to $70. You can check them all out on Google’s website by clicking the button below. Like the idea of Cardboard, but want one a bit sturdier? There are actually a number of plastic-clad options that are Cardboard compatible as well, which you can find over at our sibling site, VR Source.
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 either the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream.
For most, which of the two mobile VR headsets 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: Samsung Galaxy Note 8, Galaxy S8, and Galaxy S8 Plus. 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 can’t really go wrong.
Which one would you buy? Let us know in the comments.