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.
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.
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 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.
The unique sliding front face panel on the VR Box is a clever touch, allowing for quick, easy access to the camera for AR apps. The phone-loading mechanism is similarly unusual -- you slide out an entire section of the headset and clamp your phone in place before sliding it back in. The headset features a more customizable focus adjustment system than most with separate settings for each eye. VR content looked clear and the color reproduction was faithful. We noticed some slight light leakage from the top left due to the sliding mechanism that reveals the camera. Our one major complaint is the front-mounted top head band, which made for an uncomfortable experience.
This virtual reality headset has some style, thanks the red accents on the device's front panel, but it's far from perfect. The design features a removable tray for holding your smartphone, and sliding it out for the first time is a little difficult. The device weighed down on my nose, creating some discomfort after a few minutes of continuous use.
On the plus side, the Bnext headset does a pretty good job of blocking out external light. It offered a passable VR experience when I was playing Roller Coaster VR, along with a window in front for AR apps. It also sports a pair of toggles for adjusting each lens individually to the left and right or forward and backward. Still, at $40, it's not really worth it when you consider the competition.
One of the smaller and lighter options on this list, the TaoTronics 3D VR headset is quite comfortable. The downside of this headset’s small size is increased concentration of heat; larger phones in particular could present a problem. 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 controller. Separate focus adjustments for each eye is another welcome option. Unfortunately, VR content looked slightly distorted and colors were a bit muted.