The 10 Best Mobile VR Headsets
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in November of 2016. Whether you want something for private and immersive movie viewing or are looking for a gaming machine, there is a mobile VR headset for you. We have included the best options, from basic plastic or cardboard choices that just hold your phone close to your eyes, all the way to advanced models with integrated processors and controllers that don't require any external devices. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. If you'd like to contribute your own research to the Wiki, please get started by reviewing this introductory video.
April 09, 2020:
At one point just a few years ago it looked like phone-powered virtual reality was going to be the next big thing. Unfortunately, it seems to have petered out with many companies dropping support for their VR platforms all together. For example, Google has discontinued the Daydream View platform and their headset and it is not compatible with any of their newer Pixel devices. Because of this, we felt the need to eliminate it from our list.
Samsung has also stopped releasing new mobile VR headsets and Facebook, which owns the Oculus platform that powered the Samsung Gear VR, has stated they will stop updating software for the Samsung Gear and associated phones. That being said, the headset and software is still currently compatible with most Samsung phones released since the S6, with the Note 10 being a notable exception. And since there is still plethora of apps and games available on the platform, even if there won't be new ones added, we felt it deserved a place on the list, though there is a very high possibility that will no longer be the case in a year or two. We also think it will be harder and harder to get your hands on the Samsung Gear VR headset as time passes, so if you were considering trying one, now is the time.
Truly the best way to enjoy the Oculus platform, which is currently the best and most expansive on the market, is with the company's own headsets. Not only is Facebook actively and rapidly releasing new updates to their hardware and platform, as well as a wide variety of apps and games, neither the Oculus Quest nor the Oculus Go require a smartphone. This makes them true standalone mobile headsets that can be used anywhere without the need for an external device. There is also a consensus among anyone who is a fan of mobile VR that the Oculus Quest is unarguably the best model currently available on the market. That being said, it can be difficult to get your hands on one, as they are often sold out, so if you just can't wait, you may have to bide your time playing games on the Oculus Go or Samsung Gear VR for now.
Other than the two Oculus devices, the Lenovo Mirage Solo is one of the only other true standalone headsets designed for immersive VR gaming. It features a powerful Snapdragon 835 processor, 5.5-inch high-resolution screen, and full positional tracking. So even though it runs on the discontinued Daydream View platform and you can't expect any updates, it is still one of the better options if you aren't willing to spring for the pricey and hard to find Oculus Quest or simply don't want to use the Oculus platform. As with the Samsung Gear VR, we expect this headset to become harder and hard to find, so we recommend not waiting if you are a fan of the Daydream View platform and want to experience it while you still can.
With the exception of the Avegant Glyph AG101, all of the rest of the options on this list are relatively affordable, phone-powered headsets that can give you a taste of VR, without requiring a big investment. We are the first to admit though, that they do feel a bit like novelty items and, other than kids, many users may quickly lose interest in them.
SideQuest If you are looking to add non-official games and apps to your Oculus Quest, this is your best source. They have a number of titles that are either not currently, or never will be added to the Oculus store. It is also a great place to learn about news and upcoming VR events that they aggregate form various social media outlets, including Twitter and Discord. sidequestvr.com
Oculus This website is the source for all official games, apps, and experiences on the Oculus-powered headsets, including the Samsung Gear VR. Browsing through the titles available for the headset you are considering can be a great way to determine which one is best for you. It also has a link to a community forum where you can interact with other users, whether for troubleshooting or simply getting some good game recommendations. oculus.com
A Brief History Of Mobile VR Headsets
One of the earliest headsets, which made use of the consumer's own phone, was Google Cardboard.
Virtual reality is difficult to define, and for that reason its origins are disputed.
Something close to what we regard today as VR was outlined in Stanley G. Weinbaum's 1935 short story Pygmalion's Spectacles. Weinbaum described a set of goggles that made and replayed holographic recordings of fictional experiences.
The earliest real-world example of a VR predecessor was the Sensorama, built in 1962. This mechanical device offered a seated user what its creator called "experience theater." The Sensorama presented users with a series of short films, and appropriately timed sensory elements -- including scents.
The first true head-mounted display arrived in 1968, when American computer scientist Ivan Sutherland suspended computer screens from the ceiling. Only capable of displaying primitive wire-frame models, Sutherland's creation lacked realism and an effective user interface.
The term virtual reality was popularized by computer philosophy writer Jaron Lanier, and by the 1980s it assumed a prominent place in American culture thanks to films like 1982's Tron. While it was a subject of fascination in 1980s art and films, VR was, for the most part, available only for medical and military training, automobile and airframe design, and flight simulation.
After years of research in college science laboratories, the first major VR consumer product was announced by Sega in 1991. The Sega VR headset, which consisted of a visor containing multiple LCD screens, stereo headphones, and inertial sensors, could be used to play arcade games and alongside the Mega Drive gaming console. The Sega VR project was canceled before release because its users suffered motion sickness and headaches, according to CEO Tom Kalinske.
Later in 1991, the first mass-produced VR entertainment system, known as Virtuality, was released. This multiplayer system, which boasted headsets and interactive gloves, was pricey, costing as much as $73,000 per installation. This expense limited the products' reach to arcades and malls.
Nintendo's foray into VR, the Virtual Boy, rolled out in 1995. Employing stereoscopic 3D graphics, this device sold a mere 770,000 units worldwide, and was panned for its high price, monochrome display, and lack of immersion.
Attempts at similar consumer VR devices also failed, and by the early 2000s interest in VR was on the decline. It wasn't until Oculus founder Palmer Luckey designed and demonstrated the first Oculus Rift in 2010 that consumer interest in virtual reality was renewed. Luckey's Rift prototype featured a previously-unheard-of 90-degree field of view.
Games maker Valve entered the VR space in 2013, publicly sharing their low-persistence display technology, which would become the standard upon which later head-mounted displays were based.
The Oculus Rift received millions of dollars in public support via Kickstarter, and in 2014 the promising company was purchased by Facebook for $2 billion.
By the time the first Oculus Rift was released in March 2016, competing headsets by Sony, Microsoft, HTC, and a number of other manufacturers were either announced or released. The Rift's chief competitor was the HTC Vive, which, like the Rift, relied on powerful consumer PCs to run its virtual reality experience.
As smartphone computing power increased and display quality improved, mobile VR headsets grew in popularity. One of the earliest headsets, which made use of the consumer's own phone, was Google Cardboard. An open standard, Google Cardboard made virtual reality accessible at a far more affordable price than before.
Know The Difference Between VR And AR
Today, there are two technologies competing for your reality-distorting dollar: virtual reality and augmented reality.
Virtual reality employs either video or computer generated graphics to transport users to another place. VR users wear a closed, head-mounted display that completely blocks out the world.
Today, augmented reality is mostly available via smartphones.
Popular head-mounted displays can be either traditional or mobile. Mobile VR headsets often make use of a phone or other portable device to provide a display and the computer power needed to render the VR world. Traditional headsets have their own displays, and rely on computers and gaming consoles for computing muscle. Applications designed for mobile headsets are typically less graphics-intensive than those designed for traditional headsets, due to the limitations of mobile computing.
Instead of sending you to another place, augmented reality projects virtual objects and information into the world around you. These projections can include real-life items, like furniture you're interested in purchasing, or fantasy creatures as part of a gaming experience. Today, augmented reality is mostly available via smartphones.
Overcoming Motion Sickness
For some, even the highest of high-end virtual reality experiences can cause motion sickness.
If you're among the sufferers, take note of these steps which may limit or prevent VR-induced nausea.
Similarly, you may start with brief VR sessions, and work your way up to longer sessions as you learn to tolerate them.
First, remember to start with mild virtual reality experiences. Today most VR applications are rated based on their intensity with respect to motion sensitivity. By starting with milder experiences, and progressively increasing the intensity, you may build a tolerance to VR's effects. Similarly, you may start with brief VR sessions, and work your way up to longer sessions as you learn to tolerate them.
It's also wise to keep air stirring in the room where you're using VR. Little is worse for motion sickness than warm, stale air.
It's also potentially helpful to have someone nearby to reassure you while you're engaging in VR activities, according to a study done on seasick Navy cadets. Those cadets who received verbal support from others got sick at a lower rate than their counterparts.
If all else fails, consult your doctor about trying one of the many available motion sickness remedies. Because VR sickness, like motion sickness, is caused by a disturbance of the inner ear, motion sickness medication should be similarly efficacious in instances of VR sickness.