The age of virtual reality is nearly upon us, and you can already check out the lite version on your mobile phone. Utilizing GPS and split screen technology, all that’s necessary is a way to attach your phone to your face. Like anything Android, there are quite a few options and some even work for Apple.
Here are the best Android and iPhone Virtual Reality headsets on the market. Throughout each, I interwove the important facts and differentiaters to give the overall picture of the VR industry as it stands.
1. Samsung Gear VR ($99)
Gear VR is Samsung’s virtual reality headset for owners of Samsung smartphones and tablets. Developed in partnership with Oculus, Gear VR is meant to be exactly what it looks like – a lite version of the high-powered Oculus Rift, using a Samsung mobile device for the screen.
Both retailing for $99, there’s a version for the Galaxy S6/S6 Edge and one for the Note 4. The steep price tag is there for a reason – this isn’t just a fancy version of Google Cardboard. Samsung has Android gamers in mind with Gear VR, which is priced reasonably for a mobile video game platform.
When you insert your phone/tablet into Gear VR, Your input is on the headset itself, unlike most other options listed below, which don’t allow for any input while in virtual reality without a separate bluetooth device, thus making them only useful for VR photos and video.
Gear VR is the also the first retail VR headset to hit the market, with the except of Cardboard, which isn’t capable of providing a truly immersive VR experience.
Using Samsung Gear VR kinda feels like you’re Cyclops from the X-Men, tapping your goggles to shoot enemies in one of the many VR shooters already available.
Samsung VR apps are accessed through Milk VR.
2. Zeiss VR One ($160)
Owners of an iPhone 6 or Galaxy s5 can access virtual reality using the Zeiss VR One. Zeiss is a well-known lens maker and their headset easily rivals Samsung Gear, allowing an equitable VR experience for different smartphone models.
In fact, the slot you see on the side of the Zeiss VR headset above holds a plastic tray which holds the actual phone. Different trays can be purchased to accommodate different phones, so you’re not stuck with the same phone just because you dropped $200 on a VR headset for it.
Zeiss VR One can be used while wearing glasses, though it is a little awkward, but one of the more important features is that it actually can mimic augmented reality using a passthru feature. This is as simple as formatting the camera viewscreen for splitscreen VR, then adding a digital overlay, and it’s nice to Zeiss merging virtual and augmented reality into one device that can easily be made compatible with whatever phone you own.
Zeiss VR One can also be used with your DJI drone. The below DJI Drone is from Interdrone 2015 at the Rio in Las Vegas.
3. Wearality Sky (Still on KickStartr)
Newcomer Wearality has introduced it’s Sky headsets. I had a chance to try them out and speak to Wearality CEO Michael Jones at CTIA Super Mobility Week last week in Las Vegas. At first I thought he was just another snake oil salesman (you constantly meet them at trade shows), but it turns out he was actually on to something.
While still not yet on the market, the Wearality Sky VR headset offers a much wider field of vision than Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear, at 150-degrees (as opposed to 110-degrees on Rift/Gear and 90-degrees on Google Cardboard).
This extra wide view comes with drawbacks, as the game I played on Samsung Gear VR the same day looked more crisp, though noticeably smaller. In fact, Wearality developed an app so you can see the difference in views for yourself.
While you can order Wearality Sky for a variety of phone models, the only downside is it’s not ready for the mass market out of the box. It’s difficult to fully immerse yourself in a VR experience using Wearality, because you can still see the real world.
If you’ve ever worn prescription glasses (or are wearing them to read this), basically the VR world is the clear part, and the real world is the fuzzy edges. You don’t focus on this while wearing glasses, but in virtual reality, it’s enough to ruin the experience.
It’s not difficult to block out the light (I’m showing you a bunch of VR headsets that did it right now), but the Apple crowd won’t appreciate the value of the expertly engineered lenses on the Wearility Sky. This is the headset for VR connoisseurs and the 2600 crowd.
4. Homido VR Headset ($79.99)
Homido matches Rift and Gear at a 110-degree field of vision. What sets this VR headset apart is that it is fully adjustable for any phone that can run the Homido App, which is available on the Google Play and Apple App stores.
The adjustable nature of Homido’s VR headset are great, but it does take some work to align everything, especially if you have a really ghetto phone. The headset comes disassembled, and you must install the lenses for your vision. Once you optimize everything, Homido is every bit as good as VR headsets from Oculus, Samsung, and Carl Zeiss.
5. Google Cardboard (<$20)
Clearly the McNugget of VR, Google Cardboard says quite a bit about where virtual reality is headed. It’s a clean design using the cheapest possible materials that are also recyclable. This is what Google thinks of virtual reality and tech in general. It’s all replaceable at this point, and this is the cheapest possible ticket you’re going to get for a virtual experience like nothing you’ve ever experienced before.
Google Cardboard VR apps can be accessed through Cardboard.
And of course, if you want to create content for VR, you’ll need a 360-degree camera like the Kodak PixPro SP360 (Buy on Amazon) or GoPro Hero360, but I haven’t had a chance to play with those yet, despite signing a contract for Kodak’s PR reps. Spherical video and photos are already coming out, though. Check out the Facebook-exclusive, 360-degree VR immersion for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
In September 2015, Disney acquired Jaunt VR, presumably to power its theme parks, though it is another VR platform to consider.
Enjoy virtual reality…
Brian Penny is a former business analyst and operations manager at Bank of America turned whistleblower, troll, and freelance writer. His work has appeared on Huffington Post, Fast Company, BBC, High Times, Hardcore Droid, The Street, and more.