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The best cheap VR headsets in 2020

Best cheap VR headsets
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Getting one of the best cheap VR headsets is actually easier than it sounds. Thanks to a range of companies delving into making virtual reality headsets that use Android or iOS smartphones to take care of the heavy-lifting VR needs, you can pick up a VR headset of a bargain bucket price.

We need to caveat that with the disclaimer that you’re not going to get the most truly immersive virtual reality experience with any one of our best cheap VR headsets. For that, you’ll need to be willing to part with a lot more cash and take a look at the likes of the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or if you’re feeling very flush, the Valve Index; you’ll also need a powerful PC to run such virtual reality devices. 

So if you’re looking to take tentative steps into the world of virtual reality, then one of the best cheap VR headsets is the way to go. You won’t break the bank yet you’ll also get a solid taste of what it’s like to experience virtual reality beyond seeing it in Star Trek’s holodeck. 

We've tried out all of these products to assess their comfort, quality, usability and what features they offer. Just be aware that not all of these headsets are well-rounded products; after all, you get what you pay for. But once you've picked out the right headset for you, check out our list of best VR games to play with it. 

What are the best cheap VR headsets?

Our pick for the best cheap VR headset is the Pansonite 3D VR headset. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it’s not up to do doing a good job of being an entry into the world of virtual reality. Rather, the Pansonite 3D VR headset comes reasonably close to delivering a high-quality VR experience without paying a high price, all thanks to its solid construction. 

But it’s not the only decent yet affordable VR headset you can get, as the Topmaxions 3D VR Glasses not only do a good job at VR but can also work with augmented reality apps, facilitated via a removable front cover that lets you see the real world around you through the attached phone’s rear camera. 

If you want a way to easily control VR apps, then the ReTrak Utopia 360 VR headset has a remote and a top-mounted button to provide an easier way to navigate through virtual environments and software. The Taotronics 3D VR Headset has similar control but loses a little when it comes to image quality. 

Finally, Resulzon's 3D VR Headset offers plenty of bang for your buck thanks to the inclusion of a Bluetooth steering wheel. However, it’s the lowest quality product on this list, though it may still be worth looking at if you think you'll make use of its bundled accessory. 

But without further delay, here is the full list of our favorite cheap VR headsets.

The best cheap VR headsets you can buy today

Best cheap VR headsets: Pansonite 3D VR Headset

(Image credit: Pansonite)

1. Pansonite 3D VR Headset

Attractive design and construction
Comfy to wear
Supports wired headphones
High quality lenses
No extra accessories

Pansonite is as close as you can get to a high-end virtual reality headset without paying an exorbitant price. It features a cloth design in front similar to Google's Daydream headsets, along with an adjustable plastic headband that's reminiscent of the PlayStation VR. Pansonite's headset also packs built-in headphones with an aux input — which is great if your phone still sports a headphone jack or if you have an adapter on hand — and a dial on top for adjusting the focus.

Playing Roller Coaster VR on this headset was exhilarating, and this 360-degree shark experience was a blast. Even this knockoff Star Wars VR video on YouTube was fun to watch through the Pansonite. Nothing about the headset detracted from any of these experiences, making the Pansonite one of the best overall VR headsets around at this price.

Best cheap VR headsets: Topmaxions 3D VR Glasses

(Image credit: Topmaxions)

2. Topmaxions 3D VR Glasses

Openable front for AR apps
Good lenses
No focus adjustment
Lacking in face padding

Topmaxions is a no-frills virtual reality headset that works surprisingly well. The design is simple and minimal, with a little foam in front to protect your face, but not enough to make it particularly comfortable to wear. As a bonus, there's a suction-cup panel in front for holding your phone in place, and a section of the outer cover snaps off to uncover the camera for AR apps.

On the downside, there's no way to adjust the focus, but thankfully, the visual quality was actually pretty good during testing with Roller Coaster VR and a few 360-degree YouTube videos. The head strap in the back also needs to be manually attached, but thanks to a Velcro design, that takes only a few seconds to do. Overall, this is a capable little VR headset at a shockingly low price, though it's missing a few frills we saw in other models, like built-in headphones and adjustable focus.

Best cheap VR headsets: ReTrak Utopia 360 VR Headset

(Image credit: Utopia)

3. ReTrak Utopia 360 VR Headset

Easy to set-up
Optional Elite edition with extra accessories
Comfortable padding
Elite model is a significant price jump
Not all accessories are equally useful

The Utopia 360 is simple to operate and equipped with a nice assortment of features found in more expensive VR headsets. The front panel is magnetic and takes little effort to open and slide your smartphone inside the unit. Focusing the headset was easy enough, thanks to the well-placed side mounted rollers. 

If you fancy it, you can spend another $15 and upgrade to the Elite edition of the Utopia 360, which gives you better lenses, a more gaming-focussed controller and the option to add headphones that clip onto the headset, giving it an excellent stand-alone experience.

While using Google Cardboard apps, the top mounted “action” button activated bonus features inside the app quite with ease. Other notable features include adjustable Velcro head straps, soft vented foam face pad and a wide nose indent to help balance the unit. The included remote was nice, but it was rarely used for anything other than menu choices.

Best cheap VR headsets: TaoTronics 3D VR Headset

(Image credit: Taotronics)

4. TaoTronics 3D VR Headset

Light and comfortable to wear
Separately focussed lenses
Size causes compatibility and heat problems
Poor lens quality

They say ‘size doesn’t matter’. But in the case of virtual reality headsets, especially those that don’t require a tethered PC, size very much does matter, as indeed does weight. That why the TaoTronics 3D VR is interesting, as it’s one of the smallest and lightest VR headsets on this list, which will be a boon for people who find wearing VR headsets uncomfortable after any length of time. Despite being a cheap VR headset the TaoTronics 3D VR is actually pretty comfortable. And it also comes with some neat features such as the Google Cardboard magnet ‘button’ that allows you to interact and control apps without needing to go hunting for a separate controller.  

There are a few downsides, however. Most notable is that the headset’s small size means it’ll struggle to fit large phones; bad news for phablet fans. And the headset’s diminutive size means that heat from the smartphone it’s being used with and from the wearer’s face, doesn’t get easily ventilated; there’s a chance this could make the whole virtual reality headset experience feel more claustrophobic. Still, you get separate focus adjustments for each eye, which is a welcome option, particularly since they offer such a large range, helping minimize eye strain for people with different vision needs. Unfortunately, VR content looked slightly distorted and colors were a bit muted through these lenses.

Best cheap VR headsets: Resulzon 3D VR Headset With Steering Wheel

(Image credit: Resulzon)

5. Resulzon 3D VR Headset With Steering Wheel

Steering wheel is a unique extra to include
Simple set-up
Poor viewing experience
Price too high compared to other headsets
Steering wheel is unreliable

The Resulzon’s are similar to those pair of classic 3D viewer glasses stuffed away in your junk drawer. The design is simple, lightweight, easy to use and fit securely on my head. On the downside, they are constructed of hard plastic and lack sufficient padding on the mask, which made them uncomfortable to wear for more than 20 minutes at a time. Finding the focal adjustment was easy enough- since there is only one button on the unit. The facemask did a poor job of blocking light from entering the unit during my VR demos. 

The headset shipped with a poorly constructed Bluetooth-enabled racing wheel (batteries not included). It took me numerous tries to pair the two devices, after which I quickly lost interest in playing the 16-bit racing game it was designed for. Needless to say, there are many other better choices in this price range that are both cheaper and easier to use. 

How to choose the best cheap VR headset for you

There are a few things to consider when deciding which of our best cheap VR headsets suits you best. 

First off, you will need to check what works with the headset you have your eye on. By going to the headset’s website you should be able to get an overview of what the headset works with. You’ll also want to check your phone to make sure it can run the VR apps and games you might be interested in. The last thing you want to do is buy a VR headset and then find out you can’t really use it. 

Speaking of phones, you’ll want to check that your phone is compatible with your headset of choice, as some handsets might be a little too big to fit into certain headsets. Most headset websites should make this clear, but if in doubt look at the dimensions of the headset’s phone holder and then check them against your smartphone.  

After that, you’ll then want to give some consideration to what accessories the VR headset might have, either in the box or separately. Some come with precious little, while others offer neat remote-come-controllers that can make navigating virtual environments that little bit easier. We’d suggest that it’s worth paying a little more to get a VR headset with a dedicated controller, as that will enhance the overall experience from the get-go.