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The 8 best smartphone virtual reality headsets of 2019


 

 

What’s the best mobile VR headset?

 
Smartphone virtual reality headsets (a.k.a. mobile VR, VR viewers) include a number of high profile brands in the VR space, such as the Samsung Gear, Google Daydream, and the Pansonite HMDs. In addition, there are hundreds of other lesser-known mobile VR headsets, VR goggles and handheld VR viewers, most of which are based on the Google Cardboard platform.

Smartphone VR offers a relatively easy and minimal-risk introduction into virtual reality. The devices are by and large compatible with most Android smartphones and iPhones, as long as they fit inside the VR headset. The average screen size range indicated by manufacturers is 4 to 6 inches.

Users also should be aware that this type of VR is considered low-tech and stripped down. Indeed, mobile VR headsets are essentially a plastic casing with a pair of lenses and cushioning for user comfort, mostly relying on the tech of the inserted smartphone to power virtual reality apps. Thus, it results in the mobile VR HMDs being relatively affordable.

There are two main types of devices to experience virtual reality using a smartphone:

  • VR handheld viewers: these basic VR devices don’t offer head straps, so virtual reality is experienced via the mobile device being attached to the VR viewer and held up to the users’ eyes.
  • Wearable mobile VR HMDs: with the smartphone inserted into the headset, these devices offer head strapping in different forms, which creates for a more comfortable VR experience. In addition, these headsets offer additional features to enhance the users VR experience.

Best smartphone VR headsets 2019

Smartphone VR headsetRating*FOVCountryPrice**Buy
BNEXT VR PRO4.3/5-Israel$36Buy
DESTEK V44.0/5103°US$39Buy
Samsung Gear VR3.9/5-South Korea$99Buy
Merge VR Goggles3.9/596°US$39Buy
Homido Grab3.8/5-France$25Buy
Mattel View-Master3.7/598°US$14Buy
iDudu VR3.6/5120°China$19Buy
Google Daydream View 2 (2017)3.4/5100°US$55Buy
This table represents our selection of some of the best smartphone VR headsets available on the market.

*Rating: the ratings displayed are indexed from trusted third-party sources.

**Price: manufacturer's suggested retail price. These prices are subject to change over time and from one country to another.

Methodology/disclaimer: we haven’t tested all of the headsets in this list, but we do take into account overall feedback from specialized, trusted sources as well as crowdsourced user reviews. For a comprehensive overview of the smartphone VR headset market, it is possible to filter through all products currently available using our VR comparison engine.

How do smartphone VR headsets work?

In a nutshell, with mobile VR, users can simply slide their smartphone into the VR headset or attach it via a holding clip. However, a correctly-sized phone must be used for each specific headset so that the phone’s screen appears optimally in front of the user’s eyes. The combination of the smartphone and the set of lenses creates a sense of depth and allows for the VR content to be viewed by the user.

Of all the VR categories (compared to tethered and standalone VR), mobile VR is the easiest for users to use. With tethered VR, there is greater expertise required and a longer setup time, as the VR headset is connected to a PC. Standalone VR, which is more affordable than tethered VR, can’t match mobile VR’s price-point, but it does generally provide a more authentic and immersive VR experience than smartphone VR.

Ideally, for the best VR experience on a mobile device, users want to ensure a resolution that is full HD, with 1920 x 1080 pixels. If a mobile device has a lower resolution, VR will still be accessible, but the virtual reality experience will be less enjoyable.

Other key factors to consider for wearable mobile VR headsets are sensors:

  • Accelerometer: recent smartphones include an accelerometer (or G-sensor) which is used to change the orientation of a smartphone screen from vertical (portrait) or horizontal (landscape).
  • Gyroscope: dictates the mobile device’s orientation in 3D which is used when the phone is tilted in all directions. This is essential for rotating the user’s head within VR.
  • Magnetic sensor: although not as mandatory, this sensor assists in detecting if the VR headset cover is opened or closed and activates the screen accordingly.

How does Google Cardboard work?

Source: mrcardboard.eu

The best smartphone virtual reality headsets in 2019

BNEXT VR PRO best mobile VR headset

BNEXT VR PRO

  • Rating: 4.3/5
  • FOV:
  • OS: Android, iOS
  • Country: Israe
  • VR headset price: $36

Buy on Amazon

The BNEXT VR PRO is a VR smartphone headset made of a high-quality plastic and features large lenses which are easy to adjust for user comfort. The HMD is not the most affordable but users complimented the build quality and customer service.

Pros:

  • Compatible with iOS, Android, and Windows smartphones
  • Positive user feedback on build quality and comfort

Cons:

  • Expensive price in this VR category

Find out more: BNEXT VR PRO

DESTEK V4 best smartphone VR

DESTEK V4

  • Rating: 4.0/5
  • FOV: 109°
  • OS: Android, iOS
  • Country: US
  • VR headset price: $39

Buy on Amazon

The DESTEK V4 is compatible with a wide range of smartphones and users praise the comfortable design and fit. In addition, a touch button/trigger on the HMD allows for better VR interaction, but controllers are also available for purchase.

Pros:

  • Anti-blue light lenses help prevent user eye strain
  • Optional Bluetooth or Daydream remote controller for better VR interaction

Cons:

  • Not the most affordable VR smartphone headset available

Find out more: DESTEK V4

Samsung Gear VR best smartphone VR

Samsung Gear VR

  • Rating: 3.9/5
  • FOV: 101°
  • OS: Android
  • Country: South Korea
  • VR headset price: $99

Buy on Amazon

By far one of the most well-known VR HMDs available, this VR headset has seen some regular updates over the years. The controller is considered one of the best available in this VR category and the connectivity options are better than most smartphone VR headsets (USB, micro USB and Bluetooth).

Pros:

  • Quality of the HMD’s build and comfort
  • Controller is well regarded by users

Cons:

  • Limited compatibility to a range of Galaxy smartphones
  • High price point compared to other mobile VR HMDs

Find out more: Samsung Gear VR

Merge VR Goggles best mobile VR

Merge VR Goggles

  • Rating: 3.9/5
  • FOV: 96°
  • OS: Android, iOS
  • Country: US
  • VR headset price: $39

Buy on Amazon

This mobile VR headset is aimed at kids and includes some great child-friendly features as well as a comfortable user experience. The HMD is award-winning and the manufacturer app offers curated child-friendly content.

Pros:

  • Water and shock resistant mobile VR HMD
  • Two control buttons enable for better VR interaction

Cons:

  • Some user complaints about the difficulty to slide the smartphone into the VR goggles

Find out more: Merge VR Goggles

Homido Grab best smartphone VR

Homido Grab

  • Rating: 3.8/5
  • FOV: 100°
  • OS: Android, iOS
  • Country: France
  • VR headset price: $25

Buy on Amazon

The handheld VR HMD is lightweight (240g) and users compliment the ease of use and professional build quality. The action button enables users to easily interact with the VR content.

Pros:

  • Lightweight headset makes it easy for prolonged use
  • Action button allows for easy engagement with content
  • Homido VR Center allows for access to a large range of VR content

Cons:

  • No headstraps as it is a handheld VR viewer

Find out more: Homido Grab

Mattel View-Master best smartphone VR headset

Mattel View-Master

  • Rating: 3.7/5
  • FOV: 98°
  • OS: Android, iOS
  • Country: US
  • VR headset price: $14

Buy on Amazon

Another affordable smartphone VR headset designed with kids in mind, the View-Master is durable and designed to withstand accidental falls. Tailor-made content is also available.

Pros:

  • Sturdy design and build, aimed at being child-friendly
  • Tailored content for an optimal VR experience

Cons:

  • There are user complaints about the quality of the images in VR

Find out more: Mattel View-Master

iDudu VR best mobile virtual reality HMD

iDudu VR

  • Metascore: 3.6/5
  • FOV: 120°
  • OS: Android, iOS
  • Country: US
  • VR headset price: $19

Buy on Amazon

The iDudu smartphone VR headset features built-in headphones, a wide FOV of 120°, a touch screen button as well as a voice button so users can interrupt the VR experience to answer a call.

Pros:

  • Built-in stretchable headphones
  • Wide FOV of 120°

Cons:

  • Users reported having difficulty to adjust the focus

Find out more: iDudu VR

Google Daydream View 2 (2017) best mobile VR headset

Google Daydream View 2 (2017)

  • Rating: 3.4/5
  • FOV: 100°
  • OS: Android
  • Country: US
  • VR headset price: $56

Buy on Amazon

Another popular smartphone VR HMD which offers a number of features such as TV streaming, additional storage and access to the Daydream platform. However, the price point is higher than most mobile VR headsets.

Pros:

  • TV streaming allows others to see the user’s VR experience
  • Controllers add to the VR content interaction
  • Tailored VR content on the Daydream platform

Cons:

  • Compatible with a limited number of Android mobile phones
  • High price point compared to other VR smartphone HMDs

Find out more: Google Daydream View 2 (2017)

Smartphone VR headset: pros and cons

Pros of mobile VR:

  • Easy to use and ease of access to a smartphone
  • An affordable introduction to VR
  • A wide variety of content easily downloaded as apps

Cons of mobile VR:

  • May quickly drain the smartphone’s battery
  • Concerns of the mobile or HMD overheating
  • Limited immersion compared to PC VR and standalone VR
  • A number of poor-quality headsets with low-quality hardware are available, thus offering poor VR experiences

Best OS for mobile VR compatibility

Most smartphone VR headsets are compatible with iPhones and Android phones, whilst some HMDs specifically target iPhones or Android users only. This can be further complicated by some VR headsets only being compatible with a restricted list of phones, as is the case for the Google Daydream and the popular Samsung Gear which only work with a short list of Android phones.

The main difference between iOS and Android smartphone VR is with the product build size which may be designed to fit specifically one kind of phone (or a series), or the HMD may have a universal phone tray (like the ZEISS VR ONE Plus) to suit most models. Most Android and iOS phones support VR, but they don’t all do it the same way, or equally well, and there is a definite bias towards Android being better supported in the market.

Google Cardboard

Still one of the most popular platforms and mobile HMDs, Google Cardboard was released on June 25, 2014, and is designed as an entry-level smartphone VR viewer. Therefore, it enables users to have a basic experience with virtual reality. In addition, it can support Android smartphones and iPhones.

Best VR headsets for Android

Samsung Gear VR is one of the most popular VR mobile headsets and has seen regular updated versions since its release in 2013. However, it is limited to the Samsung Galaxy flagship smartphones range: Galaxy S9, S9+, S8, S8+, Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy Note 5, Galaxy S6, etc. In addition, the mobile VR headset includes a set of sensors (accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer) to offer a more immersive VR experience.

Google Daydream View is also a very popular mobile VR headset but is also restricted to a certain number of Android-powered smartphones such as: Pixel, Pixel XL, Samsung Galaxy S8/+, S9/ +, Moto Z/ Force, Huawei Mate 9 Pro/Porsche Design Mate 9, and ZTE Axon 7.

Best VR headsets for iPhone

As seen by our list, most smartphone virtual reality headsets can work on both Android smartphones and iPhones, but very few HMDs have been produced specifically for iPhones. Even Apple has not produced a VR headset tailored for iPhones. There are also fewer apps for VR available in the App Store compared to Google Play.

Wearable mobile VR headsets and handheld VR viewers

Handheld VR viewers

These offer the most basic and least immersive VR for users who have to hold the viewer up to their eyes with their hands (handheld VR), as there are no head straps. These are suitable for affordable, albeit limited, VR experiences via a smartphone. The viewer is often in the form of VR goggles or a Google Cardboard variant and either clips on to the phone or has a basic holding slot on the viewer for the smartphone. Handheld VR viewers are predominantly limited to watching 360-degree videos or VR images.

Examples: Mattel View-Master, Homido Grab

Wearable smartphone VR HMD

These types of mobile VR headsets offer a great range of options and immersion for VR compared to the handheld viewers. In addition, most wearable mobile VR headsets offer additional sensors (discussed above), as well as better comfort options and additional functionality such as:

  • buttons/dials to optimize lens focus and IPD adjustment
  • belts/straps/padding for fixing the entire VR headset to the user’s head
  • built-in speakers

Examples: SYTROS PREMIUM VR HEADSET, BlitzWolf BW-VR3

Smartphone VR headset buying guide: how to choose the best mobile VR headset

Other factors for users to consider when buying a mobile virtual reality headset include:

  • Optional controller or headset button: headsets could include a built-in button on the outside of the HMD which acts like a mouse-click. Ideally, a controller is available for a much improved VR experience.
  • FOV: this is dependent on the VR HMD and the size of the smartphone being used.
  • Comfort: a range of types of head support and strapping to assist user comfort is available (or none in the case of a handheld viewer).
  • Audio: some devices offer built-in headphones while most smartphone VR headsets rely on the audio being generated by the smartphone via an audio jack. This is also a reason for some limitations with newer iPhones as the jack may not be compatible but this can be fixed with an adaptor.
  • IPD adjustment and lens focus: this is becoming increasingly standard on most VR mobile HMDs but definitely improves the user VR experience.

There is speculation that mobile VR headsets could eventually use a smartphone’s internal camera to use inside-out tracking, but there is nothing available on the market at present.

Smartphone VR FAQ

What is a virtual reality smartphone headset?

Smartphone VR headsets make use of smartphones to provide a virtual reality experience. Users slide their smartphones into the headset for a wearable HMD; the screen will be right in front of the user’s eyes, with a set of lenses that create a sense of depth.

It is better to use recently released smartphones, which tend to be the most powerful. Read more in our Types of VR Headsets Guide.

Smartphone VR price: how much does a virtual reality headset for smartphone cost?

The best quality mobile VR headsets can cost over a hundred US dollars, but there are cheaper solutions, like handheld VR viewers and Google Cardboard-compatible devices. Our list includes a price range between $8 and- $130 (USD). In addition, there are hundreds of other low-priced Google Cardboard viewers and headsets available in a very fast changing VR market.

Which phones are compatible with VR?

A variety of Android, iPhone and Windows mobile phones are compatible with virtual reality. Users should check on the screen size and operating system (OS) for a headset before buying the smartphone VR HMD.

Is there VR for iPhone?

Yes, there are VR apps for iPhones on the Apple App Store. However, Android is more popular than iOS for smartphone VR and, therefore, grants access to more content.

What is a cardboard app?

Cardboard apps are applications that are compatible with Google Cardboard, which users can download for Android, iOS, and Windows smartphones. Various games, experiences and other apps are cardboard apps.

Which phones are compatible with Google daydream?

Compatible mobile phones include: Pixel, Pixel XL, Samsung Galaxy S8/+, S9/+, Moto Z/Force, Huawei Mate 9 Pro/Porsche Design Mate 9 and ZTE Axon 7. Check the official Google Daydream website for updates.

More VR/AR resources

About this author

Steve Noble

Steve worked as Head of Content at Aniwaa in 2018. After studying journalism at Rhodes University, South Africa, Steve went on to work for startups and large corporations in several countries, writing on a variety of topics including sports, emerging technologies and business, before joining Aniwaa.