Mobile VR is big business. Google has gone all-in on it and there are some great VR headsets that work with the iPhone as well.
Premium VR, such as the HTC Vive or PlayStation VR, comes at a cost – but that doesn’t mean you can’t get in on the virtual reality action for a fraction of the price. There are standalone VR headsets on the horizon, but until then all you need is a cheap-as-chips headset and that smartphone in your pocket.
Heavy hitters: The best VR headsets
Mobile VR apps and games are exploding in the App Store and Google Play – you simply use your smartphone’s hardware and display tech to provide the engine and visuals. They are essentially glorified lens cases, often with a few extra features thrown in.
Here’s our pick of an ever expanding bunch to look out for…
Samsung Gear VR
If you own a recent Samsung phone and you want in on VR, it could be well worth spending the extra money to pick up the newest Gear VR. Addressing many of the issues with the previous Gear VR headsets, the latest device is now more comfortable, making more room for glasses wearers, and includes vents to get rid of that annoying screen fog.
Most importantly, there’s more to enjoy here. Samsung and Oculus are continually adding more content and it’s not just games – there are short films and TV shows to watch as well. It’s the best you can get at home if Vive and Rift are too expensive.
The device also recently welcomed a controller into the mix, which tracks your hand motion and has a circular, clickable touchpad, which lets you point, drag and drop objects, tilt (which should help to minimise motion sickness) and of course shoot in games. It costs a little more to pick up this version, but it no doubt adds to the immersion.
Wareable verdict: Samsung Gear (2017) VR review
$129.99, samsung.com | Amazon
Google Daydream View
Even though it’s set to be joined by the Google HTC standalone headset before the turn of the year, there’s still life for the first Daydream View from Google.
It’s comfortable, lightweight and attractively designed, which is often half the battle won in the world of virtual reality, though the design does mean some light bleed. It’s available in three different colours and the controller means you don’t have to hold your hand up to your head for controls, or buy an additional third-party device.
Google also recently announced that the headset will be getting more smartphone support over 2017. That means those who don’t own a Daydream-compatible phone will still be able to jump into Google’s VR headset. First, the recently released Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ will get Daydream support this summer, before LG’s next flagship smartphone comes aboard.
$79, store.google.com | Amazon
The original and most cost efficient, Cardboard features a simple three-step assembly procedure, a better control button and support for bigger smartphones of up to 6 inches. Interestingly, Google has opened up the platform to iOS developers as well.
Read this: How does VR actually work?
Cardboard is a low-cost, DIY virtual reality headset that anyone can build, but there are plenty of third party alternatives out there from the likes of DodoCase. In fact, a quick search online reveals you can get one for as little as $5. Just look for the Works with Cardboard badge. The official one costs a little bit more.
$15, store.google.com | Amazon
Merge VR Goggles
Like the Google Daydream View, the Merge VR Goggles opt for a soft material rather than the hard plastic most affordable VR goggles are made out of. Specifically, the Goggles are made out of a soft and flexible foam, which is not only extremely comfortable to wear but will protect your phone in case you’re clumsy.
They’ll fit any smartphone from 4 to 7 inches, and they also come with adjustable lenses. So if your eyes are close together or far apart, the Goggles have your back. Oh, that foam body also makes the Merge extremely light on your head. Most of the weight you’ll feel is, well, your phone.
$59.99, mergevr.com | Amazon
Xiaomi Mi VR Play
As we said in our review of the Xiaomi Mi VR Play, “You get what you pay for here.” This isn’t the company’s Daydream headset – that’s still missing in action, but this is still another alternative to the other more expensive mobile headsets.
It’s not the best device but gets the job done and works with iOS and Android phones. Mi VR Play is also ridiculously cheap practically rivalling Cardboard’s own prices (minus the free DIY of course). There’s also the newer, and more comfortable, Xiaomi Mi VR Play 2, but it’s unclear when it’ll be available outside of China.
$15, mi.com | Amazon
Zeiss One Plus
The Zeiss VR One Plus will play ball with any iOS or Android phone between 4.7 and 5.2 inches. It packs a media player for the likes of pictures and YouTube videos and an AR app for augmented experiences. The open source Unity3D SDK means there’s plenty of scope for development. If you wear glasses, it’s designed to be worn comfortably with your specs on too.
Notable new features include a removable head strap and foam that comes in contact with your eyes, plus you can clean the optics and the new universal tray will support smartphones between 4.7 and 5.5 inches.
$99, vrone.us| Amazon
Freefly VR Beyond
FreeFly VR headset offers 120-degree field of view, and even has its own Bluetooth games controller for better control of your virtual reality games – however, iPhone VR games don’t actually make use of the controller.
The latest version of FreeFly, called the Beyond, packs dual Crossfire capacitive touch triggers instead. It’s compatible with smartphones between 4.7-inch and 6.1-inch, which puts all the latest devices in its sights.
$64.99, freeflyvr.com | Amazon
View-Master DLX VR
Mattel’s 2nd-gen View-Master VR headset was the first to actually be sold in Apple stores but is has since disappeared (could an Apple VR headset be on its way maybe?). You can still pick it up from other stores.
The DLX VR has a redesigned smartphone mount to work with more smartphone size and now offers headphone support and upgraded lenses from the first attempt. It’s all modeled on the iconic View-Master design with a more of a modern twist for this second edition.
$28.99, viewmaster.com | Amazon
BlitzWolf’s latest VR headset takes any smartphone up to 6.3 inches and is all about ensuring comfort. That includes adjusting the pupil distance because not everyone is built the same – sometimes eyes are closer together and sometimes they’re not.
It goes further than that though, letting you adjust individual pupil distance, which means you can change how far or close the lens is to your individual eye. That way, it can cater up to 300 degrees of nearsightedness. Plus, there’s some nice leather padding. Fancy.
$29.99, blitzwolf.com | Amazon