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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?

The top pick off of this list is the Pansonite 3D VR headset, which does a job that is just as good as any other smartphone-based headset, while offering a similarly high build quality to much more expensive products. Another good choice is Topmaxions' 3D VR Glasses, which is handy if you want to try out AR apps as well as just VR, thanks to its removable front cover that lets you see the outside world through your phone's rear camera. 

The ReTrak Utopia 360 VR headset comes with a remote control and a top button, making it nice and simple to navigate apps and menus without having to open up the headset every time you want to change something. Taotronics' headset is also easy to use in this way thanks to its magnetic button, but misses out on some image quality. It also gets pretty warm, which is fine if you have a newer phone with a well designed cooling system, but for older models it may get kind of uncomfortable after a short time.

Resulzon's 3D VR Headset offers a lot for little money thanks to Resulzon's unique decision to include a Bluetooth steering wheel, but it's the lowest quality product on this list. It may still be worth looking at if you think you'll make use of its bundled accessory, but there's a reason we have it at the bottom of our list.

But without further delay, here is our 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
Lightweight
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

One of the smaller and lighter options on this list, the TaoTronics 3D VR headset is really quite comfortable. The downside of this headset’s small size is an increased concentration of heat and the below-average size of the phone holder, so this is a headset that won't suit users with large phones.

The TaoTronics is the only option we tested that features the Google Cardboard magnet “button”, which allows for additional interaction with some apps without the need for a separate controller. Separate focus adjustments for each eye is another 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’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

Before you make your purchasing decision, here are a few things you should consider.

Check what's compatible with your preferred headset by having a look on your phone's app storefront or the headset manufacturer's website before you buy so you know what kind of apps and games will work with it. It'd be a nightmare if you end up buying your headset and can't actually use the apps you want with it.

Also, make sure your phone will fit in your chosen headset. These headsets will fit the majority of smartphones, but if you own a phone with a particularly large display, have a look at the exact dimensions of the headset's phone mount so you know the headset and the phone will work together properly.

Finally, you should pay attention to what accessories come with the headsets. This shouldn't be your first priority, but separate remotes or controllers can be a real benefit depending on what you use your headset for. It might be worth spending a little more money now, particularly at this price range, to get a headset with a controller so your experience is complete from the get-go, rather than having to send off for one separately.