Several readers have complained that there are too many headsets on my list of virtual reality headsets and that it’s hard to choose.
The following is a list of the ten best, based on what’s readily available on the market today. (And yes, I’ll be updating this list as new headsets come out.)
You might notice that some famous names aren’t on this list, including Merge VR, Freefly VR, Homido, Durovis Dive, and Zeiss One. For the most part, these headsets came out a while ago and haven’t been updated since, lack features, are difficult to use, and are significantly overpriced.
You will also notice an over-representation of Chinese headsets on this list. Aren’t they supposed to be cheap and bad? They used to be. But due to competition and massive — massive! — sales, the manufacturers have been upgrading them like crazy, and their latest versions are darn good. I’ve included purchase links to the major sites that carry them, including affiliate links where available.
1. Cheapest: Cardboard
You can make one of these out of a pizza box and a set of lenses you scrounge up from somewhere — full instructions in the “build it yourself” section here.
Or you can buy one online for around $5. Yes, you can get them as low as $1, but those are the ones with the magnet on the side. Don’t get those — the magnet falls off immediately. Get the ones with the touch button on the top.
2. Best cardboard replacement: Leji VR Mini
But you don’t have to settle for one made out of cardboard. “Google Cardboard” isn’t just a viewer made out of paper, it’s also a virtual reality development platform. There are more than a hundred manufacturers making Google Cardboard-compatible headsets — all the ones on this list, except for the Samsung Gear VR, are compatible. That means that you can run all the Google Cardboard VR apps, of which there are more than one thousand, watch all the VR sports and movies you want, and get your, ahem, adult VR content.
The best low-cost I’ve tried so far is the Leji VR Mini. You can read my review here. If you only have a few bucks, and want something that won’t melt away in the rain or get squished when you sit on it, order this one.
It’s super light-weight, sturdy, has a reasonable field of view, comes with straps, has adjustable lenses and is super easy to use. Plus, it comes in cute colors. The downside is that it doesn’t come with a button or remote controller. If you use apps that require one — most don’t — you will need to buy it separately.
3. Smallest: Homido Mini
At the end of the day, all a Google Cardboard viewer is, is a box with a couple of lenses in it. Several manufacturers do away with the box part altogether, and just give you the lenses.
The smallest of these is the Homido Mini. Read my full review here.
The Homido Mini folds in half, so that the whole thing fits in the palm of your hand. It’s smaller than a Post-It note. If you put it down on the couch, it will immediately slip between the cushions. If you breathe in suddenly you could swallow it. It’s small.
Nothing about it is adjustable.
4. Best for company give-aways: Powis
When companies give away free virtual reality viewers, they tend to gravitate towards the cardboard ones. They’re super-cheap when you buy in bulk, and you can fold them flat and include them in newspapers, cereal boxes, just about anything. If your app doesn’t require a button — and most apps don’t — then the price of the viewer drops even further. Check AliExpress for super-low bulk prices.
But if your company is looking for something classier, then you can get a bulk discount on many of the headsets on this page, including some of the folding viewers above.
And some vendors specifically specialize in custom branding.
One of the ones I like best is the Powis Custom viewer — see my review here. During a demonstration recently of two dozen different Cardboard-compatible viewers I often found myself reaching for the Powis because it was comfortable to hold and easy to use.
Other custom headsets you can get include the Dscvr, the Cobra VR, as well as various takes on the cardboard case, including the ViarBox, and custom viewers from I Am Cardboard, KnoxLabs, Unofficial Cardboard, DodoCase, and Mr. Cardboard.
When working with the supplier to design the case, however, make sure you include a Google Cardboard QR Code on the side of the viewer or on an inside flap, so that users can configure their smartphones.
5. Best for kids: Mattel View-Master
Don’t be fooled by all the marketing hype around the augmented reality “experience reels” — the Mattel View-Master is a fully-functional Google Cardboard headset. The reels are simply a way to package a 99 cent app into a $15 box that grandparents can spend money on.
If you put the experience reel down on a table and look at it through the viewer, holographic 3D images will pop up. Or you could just go to the iPhone or Android app store and download any VR app on there.
I’ve had large groups of people try it out, and most of them loved it. It’s fun to use, and definitely sets off nostalgic vibes for people. However, the lenses are not adjustable, the headset does not fit over glasses, and there are no straps. It’s designed for kids, and Mattel doesn’t want them to spend too much time in virtual reality.
6. Best for movies — Baofeng Mojing XD
When it comes to having the best virtual reality experience, field of view is critical. The bigger, the better. But there is one application where the opposite is actually the case, and that is when you watch traditional movies on a virtual private screen. In that case, a super-wide field of view is just wasted pixels — and if you have an older phone, a small screen, or low resolution, you might not have any pixels to spare.
Again, this is for people with older phones who mostly just want to watch videos.
That’s when you look for a viewer with a narrow field of view, instead, and the best option on the market today is the Baofeng Mojing XD.
Easy to use, light weight, and available in a variety of colors, the XD has a field of view of a movie-friendly 60 degrees. It is available for $36 from Amazon, $20 on GearBest, and $22 on AliExpress.
7. Best for Samsung phone owners: Gear VR
If you have a late-model Samsung smartphone, get the Gear VR. It has extra built-in sensors for better performance and a virtual reality environment that allows you to load, update, and move between applications. By comparison, Google Cardboard sets are dumb boxes, and you have to keep taking the phone out of the case to switch apps or videos.
It also has an exclusive collection of apps in its Oculus store. Read my full review here.
The downside, however, is that you can’t easily play any of the Google Cardboard-compatible apps in it. So if you do get a Gear VR, you might also want to pick up a bare-bones Google Cardboard for the other apps.
8. Best field of view
The BoboVR Z4, has an amazing field of view of 120 degrees, comes with built-in headphones, a volume dial, and a control button.
Plus, it has everything else you want in a headset. It’s light-weight, easy to use, fits over glasses, has a transparent cover for augmented reality, has openings for power and audio cables, adjustable lenses, and fits over smartphone covers.
There are a couple of headsets now on the market with a 120-degree field of view. The BoboVR Z4 is the latest, and also has a built-in control button. You can buy it with and without audio headphones.
9. Runners up
Before I go into what my all-around favorite mobile-based headset is, I wanted to mention some pretty good ones.
At the beginning of this year, the Baofeng Mojing 3 arrived at my house and immediately became my go-to headset. Since then, the manufacturer has also released the Baofeng Mojing 4 and is now working on a fifth-generation set. Read my review here.
Baofeng comes up a lot on this list, but it’s not because I’m in the company’s pocket. Turns out, it’s the best-selling brand on the market, and sold more than one million headsets in the first three months of this year alone.
This week, I tested out the DeePoon V3, which is small, light, with adjustable lenses, and a super-easy drop-in smartphone holder. Its field of view is 96 degrees, or about the same as the Gear VR, and slightly smaller than the FiiT VR below. But the DeePoon is a very, very solid runner-up right now. It’s available for $35 from GeekBuying, $39 from GearBest, $42 from Amazon, and $28 from AliExpress.
The FiiT VR headset is my former top pick because it’s immersive, comfortable, and easy to use — and you can’t beat the $25 price tag. And on my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone, even the movies look sharp and clear. Read my full review here.
It does not come with a built-in button, so if you don’t already have an external controller, pick a bundle that comes with one.
Get it on Amazon without a controller for $25, with a controller for $30, or under the LeNest brand for $27. You can also get it for $27 on GearBest. AliExpress, however, has the widest choice of bundles for this headset with a variety of controllers, starting at under $20.
10. My all-around favorite — FiiT VR 2S
The FiiT VR 2S has a pretty decent 102-degree field of view, is very light weight, is super easy to use, and you adjust the focus of each lens individually.
It’s very comfortable, and even fits over glasses.