The world of virtual reality is expanding rapidly, bringing immersive digital experiences to more people than ever before. Leading the charge in VR accessibility are mobile phone VR headsets – innovative devices that utilize a smartphone’s screen and hardware to deliver virtual worlds right from your pocket.
In this guide, we’ll explore the key benefits of mobile VR, survey the top headsets currently available, outline important factors to consider when choosing a viewer, provide tips for getting the best experience, and answer frequently asked questions. If you’re curious about dipping your toes into VR in an easy and affordable way, read on!
Understanding Mobile Phone VR Headsets
Before diving into product recommendations, let’s take a moment to understand what exactly mobile VR headsets are and how they work.
A mobile VR headset is essentially a set of goggles with lenses into which you slot your smartphone in order to view VR content and environments. The lenses focus and reshape the smartphone’s display to create a stereoscopic 3D experience as you move your head. The phone’s accelerometer, gyroscope, and tracking sensors are used to translate your head movements and adjust the field of view accordingly. This allows you to look freely around the virtual environment just as you would in real life.
Compared to higher-end VR systems like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, mobile VR represents a much more accessible and affordable middle ground for casual users. Mobile headsets cost anywhere from $20 to $200, rather than the $400 to $800 for dedicated VR rigs that require an expensive gaming PC. And you already have the smartphone that powers the experience, whether it’s an Android device or an iPhone.
Mobile headsets come in a variety of form factors, from basic enclosures with lenses to padded headgear designs. Most feature adjustable straps to fit your head size, lens adjustment knobs for focusing the display, and built-in controls or buttons on the headset. Higher-end models may have integrated headphones and even motion controllers. While graphics and capabilities may not match computer-connected VR, mobile solutions provide a very compelling entry point for VR newcomers.
Now let’s take a look at the top mobile VR headsets currently available and what each one offers.
Top 5 Mobile Phone VR Headsets
Samsung Gear VR
If you own a recent high-end Samsung phone, the Samsung Gear VR is one of the most polished and feature-rich mobile VR experiences available. Co-developed with Oculus and designed specifically for Samsung Galaxy smartphones, the Gear VR headset delivers excellent image quality and performance by optimizing the integration with Samsung phone displays and processors.
The Gear VR headset is very comfortable to wear for extended use thanks to generous foam padding and an adjustable head strap. It offers a wide field of view through its custom Fresnel lenses. On the headset you’ll find a touchpad for interface navigation as well as back and volume buttons for media control. There’s even a USB-C port for direct wired connection to your phone.
With onboard sensors for orientation tracking and proximity detection, the Gear VR provides an immersive 360 degree environment where you can look around smoothly. There’s also support for wireless Bluetooth gamepads in case you want more control options for gaming.
The Oculus-powered software interface makes finding and launching VR apps and content seamless and intuitive. There’s access to the Oculus Store with hundreds of VR games, videos, and experiences optimized for the Gear VR. Popular apps include Netflix, Hulu, Facebook, and Samsung’s own VR video services.
While the Gear VR delivers a best-in-class experience, it does have some drawbacks. It only supports Samsung’s Galaxy smartphones so you’re out of luck if you have another Android device or an iPhone. It can also cause phones to overheat during extended VR sessions. But for Samsung loyalists seeking a premium and portable VR viewer, the Gear VR is hard to beat.
Google Daydream View
As Google’s flagship mobile VR headset, the Daydream View competes with Gear VR in terms of quality and capabilities while supporting a wider range of Android devices. The headset itself is crafted from soft, breathable fabric that makes it very comfortable to wear. There’s a single adjustment wheel in the back to tighten or loosen the fit.
Included with the Daydream View is a basic motion controller for pointing, selecting, and navigation. While limited compared to higher-end VR controllers, it’s helpful for interacting in VR beyond just head movements and provides an important sense of hand presence. A large window in the front holds your phone while integrated lenses and sensors deliver smooth head tracking.
The Daydream View is designed to work seamlessly with Google’s Daydream VR platform. Compatible Android phones can launch into a Daydream-optimized interface when inserted in the headset. There you have access to Daydream apps on the Google Play Store spanning games, educational content, 360 degree videos, and more. Popular apps include YouTube VR, Street View, Netflix, and HBO Now.
At around $80, the Daydream represents a solid mid-range mobile VR option. It delivers good quality at an affordable price. But it does have some limitations – the content library isn’t as extensive as Gear VR yet, and it only supports a subset of Android phones including Google’s Pixel line. Still, for Android users who want quality mobile VR on a budget, Daydream View is a great choice.
Merge VR Goggles
If you’re looking for an extremely affordable and versatile mobile VR option, the Merge VR Goggles deliver surprisingly decent quality for less than $30. While the build and optics are more basic than premium viewers, Merge VR stands out for its universal smartphone compatibility using a dual adjustable lens design.
The open-sided headset is crafted from soft, lightweight foam and accommodates most phones from iPhone 6 to larger Android models. Two independent eye lenses allow you to adjust focus and positioning, while the headstrap is adjustable to fit both kids and adults comfortably.
On the top panel you’ll find a single button that allows you to navigate and select within VR apps, since there’s no dedicated controller. The Merge VR also lacks built-in audio, so you’ll need to supply your own headphones.
Despite some missing features, the ability to insert practically any smartphone combined with the lower price point makes Merge VR a popular entry-level mobile headset. Through the Merge VR app store you can access a growing catalogue of compatible VR games and 360 videos. While the experience isn’t as advanced as premium viewers, Merge VR is great for VR newbies on a budget.
French startup Homido specializes in mobile VR headsets that deliver premium comfort and optics in a compact design. The Homido V2 stands out for its very immersive experience resulting from a wide 100 degree field of view with optimized lens distance and angling. This allows the visuals to fill your peripheral vision for added realism.
The Homido V2 headset is built from cushioned foam and rubber that molds comfortably around your face. Integrated velcro straps secure it in place on your head. To block out ambient noise and provide spatial audio, the headset has built-in earphones with a microphone for voice input.
The Homido V2 is designed for phones with screens 5 inches or smaller. It’s compatible with both iPhones and Android devices. Users have access to the Homido VR app store which contains over 600 apps and games as well as 360 degree video content.
One downside is the lack of onboard controls – you’ll need a Bluetooth gamepad for interacting within VR. But if you’re looking for an immersive viewing experience for your phone that approaches the quality of higher end mobile VR, the Homido V2 is an appealing choice under $100.
VR Box 2.0
On the super affordable end of the spectrum, the VR Box 2.0 offers very basic entry-level quality for about $20. It may not boast premium materials or finishes, but the VR Box 2.0 is a great starting point for trying mobile VR on a tight budget.
The headset design consists of a plastic enclosure to hold your phone combined with adjustable lenses and a head strap. There are adjustable knobs for pupil distance and focal length. The comfortable padding along the eyes helps block out light. An included headphone jack adapter allows you to plug in your own headphones.
One of the VR Box 2.0’s greatest strengths is near universal compatibility – it can accommodate phones from 4.7 to 6 inches including both Android devices and iPhones. There’s a button on top to interact with the headset but no integrated motion controls. The VR Box 2.0 works best with simple VR viewers and video apps.
While image quality and sensor performance are mediocre, the VR Box 2.0 lets just about anyone experience mobile VR for the cost of lunch. For an ultra-affordable, no-frills entry point into the world of VR, it fits the bill.
Key Buying Considerations for Mobile VR Headsets
Now that we’ve highlighted some top options across the mobile VR landscape, you’re probably eager to pick one and start enjoying virtual worlds. Before making a purchase, here are some key factors to consider as you compare headsets:
- Smartphone compatibility – Most mobile VR headsets are designed for either Android or iPhone. Some are phone or brand specific like the Gear VR. Make sure to choose one that works with the phone you have or plan to buy.
- Design quality and comfort – Look at padding, materials, weight distribution and how adjustable it is to fit your head size. You want something that feels good for extended wear.
- Hardware capabilities – Important features include integrated audio, onboard controls/buttons, focus adjustment, motion sensors, and Bluetooth controller support.
- Content ecosystem – Headsets tie into different content catalogs like Oculus, Daydream or their own app store. The amount and quality of apps, videos, games etc. will impact experience.
- Intended usage – How you plan to use the viewer most – gaming, watching videos, educational apps etc. – can help inform your headset choice. Factor in if it’s mainly for personal use or shared family device.
- Price and overall value – Mobile VR runs the price spectrum from $20 to $200+. Balance your budget with the quality and capabilities that matter most to your needs.
Doing some upfront research around these areas will ensure you select the right mobile VR headset for your ideal experience.
Tips for Using Your New Mobile VR Viewer
You’ve unboxed your shiny new headset – now it’s time for fun! Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Download VR apps – Install VR content from the respective app store whether it’s Oculus, Daydream, or another provider. Also grab essentials like YouTube VR, Within, and smartphone VR platforms.
- Set up phone and headset – Get familiar with how to orient phone in the headset, secure it in place, align the lenses over your eyes, and plug in any headphones or controllers. Make adjustments for sharp focus.
- Adjust for comfort – Experiment with tightening and positioning the headstraps, setting screen brightness, and enabling ventilation or anti-fog features. Get the fit dialed in so it feels good.
- Learn controller basics – Pair any Bluetooth gamepads or required motion remote and practice navigating, selecting, pointing, and clicking on interface elements.
- Explore motion tracking – Move your head around naturally and look in all directions. Take advantage of spatial audio cues coming from different directions.
- Take breaks – Avoid eye fatigue and motion sickness by taking short breaks every 15-30 minutes, even if you don’t think you need to!
Following these tips will have you roaming through virtual worlds in no time! Be sure to ease into VR rather than marathon a bunch of intense games on day one.
Frequently Asked Questions and Troubleshooting
Still have some nagging questions about getting started with mobile VR? Here are answers to some commonly asked questions along with basic troubleshooting advice:
Q: Why is the image blurry even when I adjust the focus wheel?
A: Try cleaning the headset lenses thoroughly with a microfiber cloth and non-abrasive cleaner. Dust, smudges, or oils on the lenses can affect image sharpness and clarity.
Q: I see a ton of visible pixels and screening effect – is that normal?
A: Some amount of detectable pixels (screendoor effect) is common due to magnification, but newer headsets and higher resolution smartphone displays continue improving this issue.
Q: The VR apps I download won’t launch or load properly in the headset – what’s wrong?
A: First, restart both the phone and VR headset if you haven’t already. Check for available software updates and install them. Also disable any battery-saving modes or power optimization that could interfere with VR performance.
Q: My headset doesn’t seem to be tracking my head movements – help!
A: Make sure no hair or clothing is blocking the VR headset sensors. Recalibrate the starting orientation position if needed. If issues persist, contact the headset manufacturer for troubleshooting advice.
Q: Why does my phone get so hot when using VR apps and games?
A: Mobile processors generate significant heat when rendering VR experiences. Remove any phone case, lower screen brightness, take frequent breaks, and use a fan to keep the phone cool.
Q: What’s the safest way to clean the lenses without damaging them?
A: Use a microfiber cloth designed for lens cleaning along with a small amount of non-abrasive cleanser if needed. Avoid liquid sprays or solutions directly on the lenses to prevent moisture damage.
Q: Videos lag and stutter a lot when I move my head – is there any way to fix this?
A: Enable motion smoothing settings in your phone and VR apps to assist with performance. Consider closing other apps running in the background. Upgrading to a phone with a faster processor can also help.
Q: How can I watch 3D or 180/360 degree VR videos on my headset?
A: Apps like Within, YouTube VR, My VR Video, PlayVR and others provide access to immersive 2D, 3D, and 360 VR video content optimized for your headset.
We hope these tips help you overcome any issues you encounter! Don’t hesitate to contact the headset manufacturer as well for technical guidance.
Immerse Yourself in Mobile VR!
Thanks for joining us on this in-depth tour of mobile phone powered virtual reality headsets! With a wide variety of options now available at multiple price points, there’s never been an easier or more affordable way to enjoy immersive VR experiences.
Whether you want a premium mobile headset that rivals desktop VR, or a basic budget-friendly viewer, there’s a solution to spark your imagination without costing an arm and a leg. As smartphone displays and processing power continue to advance, mobile VR will only get better.
We hope our guide gave you a comprehensive overview of the current landscape and key factors to consider. Feel free to refer back as you embark on your VR adventures! The virtual worlds are waiting.