Top 5 Best Mobile Virtual Reality Headsets
The easiest access you have to VR technology is through an Android-powered smart phone. Using the powerful hardware of Android phones, you can begin immersing yourself in VR much sooner than expected, and with a level of investment varying from full developer kits to simple DIY kits based on the Google Cardboard paradigm. Thanks to Google’s release of the Cardboard SDK, Android app developers can now program apps that respond to head tracking, 3D calibration, and user input event handling through headsets that require as little as a cardboard frame. This means that content for these simple headsets will be coming out faster than that for full-on headsets, and that the time to get involved in this project is now.
1. Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition
Those who are looking for the premium mobile VR experience will want to pay special attention to coming developments on the Samsung Gear VR. This Oculus-powered headset is currently available in its Innovator Edition, which though light on content, offers an impressive and immersive VR experience. The downside of the Gear VR is that you must have a Samsung Note 4 phone, and although this decision severely limits usage of the Gear VR, the Note 4’s large, high resolution (2560×1440) AMOLED screen is an ideal mobile screen for the Gear VR to use. The controls are a combination of a touch pad on the side of the headset and a centered cursor that responds to head tracking.
The Gear VR has a growing amount of content available on the Oculus VR app store, which includes serveral virtual environment tours, a cinema realm, a See Through feature, and a couple of games that demonstrate the 3D tracking capabilities. The Oculus team describes the available game library as a collection of high-quality sample experiences, in which “You can swim with blue whales; pilot arcade fighters through asteroid fields; dungeon crawl; use extrasensory abilities to solve puzzles; collect swirling, 16-bit minotaurs; and a lot more with these first experiences.” The equally cool See Through mode allows you to see your current environment through the headset without removing it, and has high potential for future use in 3D recording and VR games.
The Gear VR includes a carrying case, replacement face cushioning, lens cloth, 16GB microSD card loaded with starter content, and an SD card adapter. The mask is somewhat bulky on the head, but do keep in mind that this is an early release edition, and as new versions are available to the public, this list will be updated accordingly. Even though this headset will see vast improvements throughout the year, the Innovator Edition is a complete and unique experience that is ready to change the public’s idea of VR. The only obstacle is its price tag, which isn’t so bad compared to stand alone VR headsets, but certainly does not compare to the affordable experiences of simplified VR boxes down the list. Check out this YouTube video before you scroll on to get a peek at the Oculus content inside the headset.
2. ColorCross Universal VR Plastic Version
The ColorCross Universal VR headset is modeled to the specifications of Google Cardboard, but distinguishes itself with its plastic body. The front end of the headset is expandable on all sides to accommodate phones up to the size of the Samsung Note, and the position of the internal lenses are adjustable as well for optimum picture quality from any sized phone. It has a full head strap to keep it in place, as well as foam padding for comfort. Note however that the nose support does not have padding, and can be an area of discomfort. Another thing this headset lacks is an NFC tag, so you will have to load the app yourself before inserting the phone into the headset.
There is no control interface either, so using it for Google Cardboard games will mean also connecting a Bluetooth controller of some sort. That said, using this headset with a controller is a great experience, and a lot of the virtual environment content available through the Google Cardboard app does not yet work with controls anyway. For those looking for a simple VR experience made from better material than cardboard, the ColorCross is a solid pick.
3. I AM CARDBOARD EVA Version
I AM CARDBOARD is a growing name in the world of Google Cardboard manufacturers, mainly because of their stylish, high quality kits. While I AM CARDBOARD offers a number of different colored cardboard kits, we opted for the slightly more durable EVA foam model that is about $10 more. Yes, the color scheme makes it look like a Kindergarten play structure, but when you’re wearing it, all you will see is a virtual environment in full viewing range. It may as well be stated now that anyone who is concerned about looking cool is going to have some serious problems with strapping a phone to their face. Plus, in the case of the EVA foam version of this headset, the different colored pieces make this headset as easy to put together as its cardboard counterparts.
Both the foam and cardboard versions of this headset can be assembled in less than a minute thanks to easy to follow numbered tabs. While the cardboard version of this product uses velcro squares to secure the phone, the EVA foam version has strong magnetic buttons, as well as a pad with suction cups to further prevent unwanted movement. This headset does include a head strap as well, though it is somewhat small if you have a larger head. All I AM CARDBOARD kits comes with an NFC tag, which is used to trigger the launch of the Cardboard Android app automatically when the phone is placed on it. And while it lacks the full touch interface of the Gear VR, it does have a responsive magnet selector on the side that can be used in conjunction with head tracking to navigate menus and make selections.
The headset will fit phones up to Samsung Note size, but you may have to remove its case to do so. Some users report a low field of view from the 45 mm lenses, but this is to be expected of any device measuring to Google Cardboard specifications, as that is the focal length they chose to standardize. For the price tag of these headsets, though, it is hard to say that this diminishes the experience, as they give a surprising amount of entertainment for what they are: a pair of box glasses for your phone.
4. Soyan 3D Headset Kit
Soyan is another brand that makes a 3D headset kit that will be a bit more durable than the from-scratch cardboard kits you can make yourself. If your goal is to make a true cardboard heaset, it is possible to make one yourself from a template, but this headset is a more durable product that you can still feel good about assembling yourself. Its semi-plastic material is water resistant, and has additional features like suction cups to hold the phone in place. The headset is designed to fit phones up to 5 inches, which means it will not hold Samsung Note-sized phones. Anything smaller is no problem, however.
There is also a magnet selector on the side, but on the product’s Amazon page, they do have a short list of phones that do not work well with the selector. One common complaint from buyers is that the NFC tag did not come pre-programmed, and therefore requires a little extra setup to make it open the Cardboard App. This does, however, mean that you can program it for other uses, which may have potential for usage with alternative VR apps as they appear.
Price: $19.88 (56 percent off MSRP)
5. NFCGUYZ Google Cardboard Kit
While the other headsets on this list hopefully demonstrate that Google Cardboard can be taken beyond cardboard kits for a more long-lasting and enjoyable experience, there is no better option price-wise than to actually make one from cardboard. If this is your goal, again there is a template out there that makes for a fun build from scratch project, and there are also plenty of manufacturers that make pre-cut cardboard templates that are ready to go out of the box after a couple folds. Since NFCGuyz includes an NFC tag with theirs, they earned a spot on our top list for those who want to take the traditional cardboard option.
Just because it is cardboard does not mean that it is short on quality, though, as it will still have the magnetic selector on the side and the same quality focal lenses. The lenses it comes with are 40 mm instead of 45 mm, which isn’t an issue for some, but for others, causes some blurriness. But again, if cardboard is the way you want to go with your headset, you can probably find an alternative kit out there to build.
Price: $12.99 (52 percent off MSRP)