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

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. 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...


Google Daydream View

The best smartphone headsets for VR apps

The reveal of the Google's Pixel handset finally set the company's real VR plans in motion. More compatible smartphones have now landed and more Daydream headsets are expected soon.

But don't ignore the original. Daydream View is a dream come true for mobile VR. It's comfortable, lightweight and attractively designed, which is half the battle won in the world of virtual reality. 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.

$79, store.google.com | Amazon


Google Cardboard

The best smartphone headsets for VR apps

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


Samsung Gear VR

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 rivalling Cardboard's own prices (minus the free DIY of course).

$16, gearbest.com | Amazon


Zeiss One Plus

The Zeiss VR One Pllus 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.

$129, vrone.us| Amazon


Freefly

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.

$69.70, freeflyvr.com | Amazon


View-Master DLX VR

The best smartphone headsets for VR apps

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 modelled on the iconic View-Master design with a more of a modern twist for this second edition. Coming soon.

$39.99, view-master.com | Amazo


Shop for VR headsets on Amazon

Oculus Rift
Oculus Rift
$499.99
PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR
$399.99
HTC Vive
HTC Vive
$799
Samsung Gear VR
Samsung Gear VR
$79.99

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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.

  • jeremyspx says:

    I think they look insane - big, bulky box stuck on your head just so that you can carry your cellphone on the front of your head! This is the 21st century - come on, let's start thinking outside the dumb-looking box-on-the-head. You need a small pair of excellent video glasses - hard to beat the Fatshark Base SD for that, and a tiny gyro box on the elastic strap or on the visor itself. Plug those into your smart phone for the VR app. Just think about how stupid you're going to look wearing a big box stuck on the front of your head..

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