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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

If you want to get a cheap VR headset that gets as close as it can to a high-end virtual reality setup, then the Pansonite 3D VR Headset should be on your gadget radar. It comes with in-built headphones, as well as an aux input for people with smartphones that still have a 3.5mm headphones jack. And it sports a neat adjustable headset band that’s similar in design to the PlayStation VR. It also has a cloth font design, that harks back the now-defunct Google Daydream headset. 

There’s a lot to like here and when it comes to playing games like Roller Coaster VR, the Pansonite 3D VR Headset does a fine job at sucking you into the virtual action.   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
Lightweight
Good lenses
No focus adjustment
Lacking in face padding

If you want a no-frills VR headset then the Topmaxions is a headset to consider. It has a minimal design with neat touches like foam padding to protect your face, yet avoids making your head too hot if you wear it for an extended amount of time. A removable outer cover opens things up for some augmented reality action facilitated through your phone’s camera. And a suction-cup panel will help hold your phone in place. 

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

If you’re after an easy to operate VR headset, the then the ReTrak Utopia 360 VR Headset is the way to go. Its got a top-mounted ‘action’ button that allows you to activate extra features in a VR app with ease. And thanks to the adjustable Velcro straps and a soft foam face pad, which happens to be vented, you get a comfortable as well as simple-to-use headset. 

In the box, you get a remote that is a nice-to-have but not something that gets used a lot outside of a few app menus. But you can add more to the ReTrak Utopia 360 VR Headset, with the $15 option to upgrade to the Elite edition of the headset, which gives you a controller that’s more gaming-orientated. And there’s an option to add in headphones that clip to the headset. 

While the magnetic front panel can take a little bit of effort to open in order to put your phone into the headset, the rest of it is easy to use. Thanks to side-mounted rollers, it’s easy enough to adjust the headset in a position that brings it into focus with your eyes. 

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
Lightweight
Simple set-up
Poor viewing experience
Price too high compared to other headsets
Steering wheel is unreliable

The Resulzon 3D VR headset won’t win any prizes for its design, as it looks somewhat like a pair of old school 3D viewer glasses you might have made use of years upon years ago and then packed away in an attic box. But that’s not to say it’s bad. The simple design lends itself for a lightweight headset that’s easy to use and fits securely on the user's head. The headset isn’t the most comfortable to wear for more than 20 or so minutes, thanks to being made of hard plastic and featuring minimal padding on the mask part of the headset. However, getting the focal point just right is easy enough to do thanks to a single button setup. Rather annoyingly, the headset doesn’t do a great job of blocking out light which isn’t ideal. 

A Bluetooth-enabled plastic racing steering wheel completes the VR headset setup. But it’s made of cheap plastic and doesn’t come with batteries included. And the game you can use with it is just a 16-bit title that probably won’t hold your interest for too long. All in all, this headset isn’t one we’d rush to recommend, but it’s an interesting package if you want to get started with VR and have an extra accessory to play with.  

How to choose the best cheap VR headset for you

Even though buying a cheap VR headset might seem like getting something for what’s essentially throwaway money, you’ll need to take a few things into account when it comes to getting one. 

A priority should be seeing what phone works with your VR headset of choice, as not all Android handsets or iPhones will work with some headsets. Some will be too big and others might not have the right connections or software support. A quick visit to a headset maker’s website and you should be able to get all the information you need. 

It’s also worth considering what you plan to use your cheap VR headset for. Do you want to play VR games? Then you might want to get one with some form of external controller. If not then a simple headset might suffice. That being said, a headset with a few external peripherals might give you more flexibility with what you can do with the headset should you wish to experiment a little. 

It’s also worth looking at the design of the headset, and if you can, find a way to try them on first. A good VR experience is heavily reliant on having a headset that fits comfortably, so that shouldn't be overlooked.