If you're not willing to spend hundreds of dollars for a high-end virtual reality device, you still have options. Skip past tethered headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, keep going past premium mobile designs like Samsung's Gear VR and Google's Daydream View, and you'll find a sea of cheaper models for $45 or less.
We've scoured the internet for some of the best cheap options available. Every product listed here will work with pretty much any iPhone or Android device around. After some extensive testing, we've ranked all these headsets based on design, comfort, visual quality, ease of use and any other special features.
Update 12/21: We've tested six additional low-cost VR headsets to determine which is the best device for the money.
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.
In front, the headset features a small flap for holding your phone in place, leaving the camera uncovered for any AR-based mobile apps. Despite all that open space, the Pansonite manages to block out almost all external light for a pretty immersive experience.
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.
The VRIT V2 sports a surprisingly common popular design — we actually reviewed three other identical headsets, but this is the cheapest of that set, rivalling the Google Cardboard in price. The design is pretty basic: a simple box shape in front, built-in headphones with aux input and a stretchy head strap to keep it all in place. The front cover is also transparent, so it works with AR apps, which is a nice touch. There are multiple knobs for adjusting the focus and lens position.
If you like the idea of built-in headphones and you have a headphone jack (or an adapter), this is a solid choice at a price that can't be beat. Roller Coaster VR, Great White Sharks 360 and that fan-made Star Wars video all worked almost perfectly.
This headset hits it out of the park with a few unique details that many of the alternatives miss. A padded cap on the top strap boosts the comfort level, and a pair of horizontal guides inside the device allows you to set it up for your phone. Focus controls and venting on this headset are fantastic, and the perforated face padding does a great job of keeping you cool. Image quality was clear when watching or playing what?, although colors were slightly more muted than with our top pick. The overall build quality on this headset is second to none in this price range.
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 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 is missing a few frills we saw in other models, like built-in headphones and adjustable focus.
This was the lightest of the full-sized headsets that we tested and that alone bumps up the comfort level quite a bit. The horizontal guides make it a cinch to placer phone in the Pasonomi. If you have a particularly large phone (over 6 inches) this is one of the few headsets that can accommodate that size. Focusing the lenses requires screwing the eyepieces in or out inside the headset, which means you can’t make adjustments while wearing the headset. Colors looked slightly muted on this headset and while a clear image is possible it requires some work given the lens adjustment mechanism. The inability to remove the front visor for AR apps is my only other complaint.
The Sidardoe headset still offers a few nice features that set it apart. For one, the front cover sports a magnetic panel that pops out easily for AR apps that need camera access. This headset also packs a pair of knobs for controlling the focus by either changing your phone's position or tweaking the distance between the two lenses.
On the downside, the Sidardoe is not particularly comfortable to use or nice to look at, and it may be a tight fit for bigger devices like the iPhone 8 Plus or Google Pixel 2 XL. This headset also comes with a Bluetooth remote (disposable batteries not included), but the accessory feels cheap in your hand and it's unclear when you might actually need to use it beyond navigating within an app/s menus. It's definitely not practical for actually playing any VR games.
The VR Elegiant's design is among the best we tested; considerable venting at the front and top of the headset along with perforated face padding kept things cool. Individual focus adjustments for each eye come in handy, and the removable magnetic front panel allows you to explore AR apps.Image quality, clarity and color all proved excellent. VR games felt slightly zoomed in as compared to others, which can be more immersive but also problematic as the view felt off at times.. The elaborate head strap is the most immediately noticeable feature on this headset; it features a padded cap on the top strap and another across the back. This can make for a perfect fit on the right head, but for others it will prove quite uncomfortable, as that rigid section cannot be adjusted.