The best smartphone headsets for VR apps

Cardboard, Gear VR, Zeiss One and more – iOS and Android compatible devices
The best mobile headsets for VR apps

The big boys have arrived. The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are now on sale and congrats to those who managed to get their hands on the first batch of headsets. PlayStation VR, Sony's PS4-friendly headset, is set to land on 13 October 2016.

Premium VR comes at a cost – but that doesn't mean you can't get in on the action for a fraction of the price. 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 as Google Cardboard sales surge past the 5 million mark. And as Google also reveals more about Daydream, its own VR platform and headset, things are only going to get bigger and better.

There's a good selection to choose from now, using 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.

Google Cardboard

Mobile VR smartphone headsets

The original and most cost efficient, Google unleashed its Cardboard VR platform at I/O 2014 and then, 12 months later, revealed the all-new Cardboard design at I/O 2015. It 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.

From $5, Amazon

Samsung Gear VR (2016)

If you own a 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.

Read this: Samsung Gear (2016) VR review

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.

$$99.99, samsung.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 in the works, 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 rivaling Cardboard's own prices (minus the free DIY of course).

$16, Gearbest

Zeiss One

The Zeiss VR One 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.

It's set to be replaced by the Zeiss VR One Plus, which has already been unveiled and will go on sale for the same price as its successor before the end of 2016. 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.

$120, zeiss.com| Amazon

Freefly

With its unique winged design, the Freefly VR headset is built to work with normal sized Android phones and iPhones, but it'll hold a 6-inch phablet as well.

It uses 42mm lenses and offers an impressive 120-degree field of view with a fully adjustable head strap to get that comfortable fit.

Unlike the other headsets on this list, it's also bundled with a Bluetooth controller giving you a little extra control inside those VR universes.

$129, freefly.com | Amazon

Mattel View-Master VR

Don't be fooled by its toyish looks – this family-friendly VR headset is well built and a great performer. Built by Google and using the Cardboard 2.0 framework, it works with smartphones up to 6 inches giving you access to all the latest Cardboard apps from your iPhone or Android smartphone. To give you that nostalgic View-Master experience, it's also compatible with a series of Experience reels, which are small disks that turn into a host of different AR experiences.

The upgraded DLX model announced at the Toy Fair earlier this year adds a headphone connector, focal adjustment support, a smartphone mount to support a wider range of phones and new VR experiences including a two-player labyrinth game. Expect the second gen headset to land in the autumn.

$29.99/22.99, view-master.com | Amazon


More VR features

Oculus Rift v HTC Vive

Best Samsung Gear VR apps

The ultimate Oculus Rift setup

Oculus Rift v PlayStation VR

The best HTC Vive games


Shop for VR headsets on Amazon

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift
$599.99
PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR
$399
HTC Vive
HTC Vive
$799
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung Gear VR
$97.98

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3 Comments

  • kron says:

    The hottest thing in 3D HMD VR certainly isn't a cheapy.... tech Google Cardboard. Those are like the toy found in a box of Cracker Jacks.  Not even close to the experience of full 3D HMD VR headset you get with Gear VR. 

    The PC hardwire tethered HMD headsets are just plain too limiting in what you can do easily and still be mobile too.  With many companies taking Oculus's John Carmack's request for someone to solve the 'No Positional Tracking' issue on Gear VR. Results are impressive and is the only real roadblock getting in the way of Gear VR being on equal status with Oculus, Sony and HTC's full 3D VR headset!

    We're now seeing where this Positional Tracking on Gear VR is headed for. A completely portable AR and VR HMD headset available right now and with positional tracking accessories now in the works.... a far better experience with your Samsung phone, than any other device maker is going to give you for more money!   .......Sony PS4 nor your PC, notebook, etc can't really be used on the go or completely untethered either. Cardboard? 

    Get serious..... and I talking about imagine where those million of Google Cardboard Devices are actually still being used? I have one friend that's broke two of them in just weeks of use. The optics alone are abysmal and they don't have the guts to get you Samsung's MIT Graduate.... Pranav Mistry's 2008 TED TALK "SixthSense" Motion Detection technology. Which is at the heart of why Oculus chose Samsung to partner with. It was Pranav giving them "SixthSense" motion sensing that made it so motion sensing could be included right in Oculus headset sensor technology. Instead of using Microsoft's Kinect as an add on to that with!!!

  • Korolov says:

    Don't confuse Google Cardboard with the cardboard viewer. There are several recent model Cardboard-compatible sets on the market that are excellent. Baofeng Mojing, for example, is working on their fifth iteration right now, but my favorite is the Baofeng Mojing 3. They have sold ONE MILLION of them over the past three months, through online channels and something like 20,000 bricks-and-mortar stores. And they're just one of over 100 manufacturers making Cardboard-compatible VR headsets.

    My current favorite is the FiiT VR. Although it doesn't have the extra electronics of the Gear VR, it does have better field of view, lighter weight, adjustable lenses, and runs all the 1000-plus VR apps. I'm waiting for the BoboVR Z4 to arrive, which has 120-degrees of field of view (the best on the market) plus a built-in audio headset. Then, after that, I'm keeping an eye out for the Pico, which has a built-in Gear VR-style trackpad.

  • RoblaPointe says:

    Thanks for this VR app really great..

    Want to now more about Virtual reality app development and great features for upcoming techs check with VR apps from SDI. Hope this helps to make your own biz and app.

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