The current wave of virtual reality has brought to life several great products, across the popular gaming devices.
The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive deservingly dominate the PC world, while Sony PlayStation VR stands its ground among consoles amid rumors of an impending VR headset release for Xbox by Microsoft. All these gadgets are remarkable in their own right, but they do have one stinging downside: the price tag.
The cheapest of the bunch is the $400 PlayStation VR; $600 if you include the accessories you’ll need to make the headset work. Then there’s the Rift at $600 plus $200 for the controllers, and finally the Vive; an $800 device. And we haven’t even mentioned the money you’ll spend buying a PS4, or building a VR-ready PC. Tethered virtual reality is, therefore, a costly endeavor.
Although mobile VR is limited, it’s your best bet if you’re looking for the least expensive virtual reality experience. Unlike PC or console headsets which have dedicated displays, mobile VR works by placing your handset behind an arrangement of lenses. This significantly reduces the quality you get, and ultimately demands a high-end smartphone with a high-resolution screen. But the overall price is still a lot more affordable.
Currently, your picks for mobile VR are the Google Daydream View, the Samsung Gear VR, and the Google Cardboard. Below, we look at these three headsets in detail, starting with the new king of the bunch: The Daydream View.
Google Daydream View
The $80 Daydream View is the headset to buy if you’re looking for the best mobile VR experience, and have a compatible smartphone. Many users have reported falling in love with the device the first time they wore it. Its design is a simple but brilliant blend of sponge and soft t-shirt like material, which make it light and comfortable to wear, even for long hours.
The interface is clean and uncluttered. You can use the Daydream controller to navigate around and select an icon to launch the game or app you want. And speaking of the controller; although it might not look like much, it’s the best one around because it offers hand tracking. This means you can interact with the virtual environment using your hand as you would in real life.
In Mekorama – a puzzle game where you manipulate building blocks to walk a robot through – you can reach out and virtually change the blocks by hand. Everything is not perfect, however, as the headset tends to lose sync with the controller from time to time. Thankfully, you only need to press a button to recalibrate it.
The Daydream View was only recently released, so you won’t find that many apps for it yet. Moreover, the only handsets that can incorporate the headset at the moment are Google’s two Pixel phones, and Lenovo’s Moto Z and Z Force. Nonetheless, more apps are on the way, and several other smartphone makers have pledged to add Daydream support to their upcoming releases.
Samsung Gear VR
The Gear VR has been around longer than the Daydream, and because it works with the top Samsung phones from the past two years – the S6. S7, and Note 5 – you’re more likely to own a handset that supports it than Daydream.
Design-wise, things are quite different. The Gear VR is significantly heavier and less comfy to wear than the Daydream View, particularly because it’s made of plastic. However, the Gear’s lenses give it a wider field of view, and because the phones it uses have better screens than both the Pixels and the Moto Zs, the viewing experience is finer.
For immersive movie watching, the Gear VR is near-perfect. But if you want to play games, the lack of a dedicated controller means you’d have to purchase a Bluetooth gamepad like the SteelSeries Stratus XL. And even with the external pad, you’ll still be missing out of Daydream’s hand-tracking capabilities.
The biggest advantage the Gear has over the Daydream View is the number of apps and games it supports. Because it’s been around for longer, there’s a lot more stuff you can do with it at the moment.
When Google announced the Cardboard back in 2014, many deemed the idea ludicrous. Surprisingly, however, it works, and not only is it the cheapest VR headset on the market, but it also takes the credit as the pioneer of mobile VR technology.
Compared to the Gear VR and the Daydream View, the Cardboard is designed to introduce anyone into virtual reality as soon as possible. Being able to accommodate almost all phones with screens between five and six inches means it has the widest range of supported handsets. However, because it is primarily just a couple of cleverly-placed lenses, it’s only intended for viewing, and not interacting with the virtual environment.
Regardless, the experience is impressive, and the Google Cardboard app has loads of free content developed for the device.
A better, albeit slightly more expensive headset, is the Mattel View-Master, which offers a worthy upgrade over the official Google Cardboard. It’s made of plastic and offers a good balance between cheap and durable.
Still, if you want to do more than just see virtual reality, you’re better off spending some more for the Daydream View or the Gear VR.
When VR was first introduced to the world, it was a dream that could only be realized by those capable and willing to shell off top dollar for the technology.
But thanks to the innovative devices above, even the average Android gamer can experience virtual reality and the wonders it holds.