A Quick Guide to The Best VR Headsets Out There for iPhones (2017)
The days of VR are upon us. For decades we have dreamed of entering virtual worlds and adding augmented layers to our existing reality.
Virtual Reality first came to prominence with the holodeck in Star Trek, was expanded upon in Minority Report, and may reach peak popularity with Steven Spielberg’s upcoming READY PLAYER ONE. However, while people may be eager to jump into the possibilities that await us in virtual games and entertainment, deciding what headset to buy can be a tough decision.
Purchasing a VR-ready PC and a premium headset can run into the thousands of dollars. Currently, the mobile options out there are far more cost-effective, but resolution still has some catching up to do.
Still, since most people currently have a smartphone in their pocket, it’s an easier adjustment to sample mobile VR than committing to a bulky, tethered experience.
The big names on the block currently are Oculus, Vive and Samsung VR. The Oculus Rift, which was acquired by Facebook, was the first major VR headset to come into national prominence.
Legend has it that Oculus was first built in a garage and when you first looked through it, everything was blurry and distorted. Oculus is now a force to be reckoned with internationally, with the Oculus store being a major goal for VR developers.
Vive came a little later out of the gate, and prided itself on achieving true “room-scale” VR experience in a way that Oculus cannot. (Room-scale meaning that you can literally travel around your room and your view will change accordingly.)
Oculus and Vive both have external controllers and continue to improve. They are beginning to explore portability, but if you are currently using any headset in a meaningful way, you are tethered to a high powered computer. Playstation VR, which is doing incredibly well on the market right now, has a lower resolution due to the processing power of the PS4 being less than ideal. Likewise, it is also a tethered experience.
Samsung Gear VR, also owned by Oculus, is currently the bestselling mobile headset. You slip in your Samsung phone and are ready to go. Buttons are on the exterior of the device, and so you have a limited amount of interactivity in experiences.
The Gear revolutionized the idea of traveling with VR, and for professionals showing their demos out in the field. Samsung recently released a game changer for its headset by providing a remote, not dissimilar from the Google Daydream.
The Daydream is the most sophisticated mobile headset on the market, hands down. But it only works with the very pricey Pixel phone at the moment. The experience quality is exceptional, the headset comfortable, and the ease of use ideal. But again, this only works with one type of phone, and moving forward, Google has only planned to make the Daydream compatible with other Android phones.
Although the iPhone is one of the most popular phones in the word, it is clear that VR headsets with mobile capabilities skew towards Android phones (Samsung Gear, Google Daydream etc). The focus is really on Android / PC based experiences, which is a shame for iOS users. Luckily, things are beginning to change.
In this article, we’ll review the top VR headsets for iPhones that are available today, as well as give a slight hint at the groundbreakers to come. We will also name the top 5 VR headsets for iPhones currently available and the associated specifications for each.
First, a few notes. Although they may call themselves “VR headsets” all headsets that are currently iPhone compatible (excluding the Occipital Bridge which has its own forward facing cameras) are not really headsets. Instead, they are higher-end versions of the original Google Cardboard that holster the phone and provide lenses. The iPhone (all models) doesn’t have a display that is high resolution enough for truly captivating VR, and due to the CPU, the frame rate will fall below that of tethered headsets (which can cause dizziness). As there is no true VR operating system for iOS – the best apps to use are those designed for Google Cardboard.
Top 5 VR Headsets
Pros: Price can’t be beat, can be ordered/found easily
Cons: Lackluster experience, lacks durability
Pros: Easy to find in stores, sturdy headset, simple to use
Cons: Slight “fishbowl” effect from lenses, no controller
Pros: A lot of bang for your buck, great for kids, easy to find in stores
Cons: Basically just a Cardboard upgrade, no controller
Experience: Very high
Pros: External cameras for merged reality, comfortable, best iOS VR experience hands down.
Cons: Price, not yet available to the public, bugs still being worked out.
Pros: 120-degree field of view, comfortable, has controller
Cons: No focal adjustment makes it frustrating to use at times, lenses can fog up.
A Breakdown of the most Popular VR Products
Fun, lightweight and comfortable. The Merge currently runs around $60 on Amazon. It has two Cardboard Version 2 compatible buttons, and overall provides a good value for the price. The large variety of colors are unnecessary technically, but provide a bit of fun.
With its white coloring and sleek design, the VROne definitely seems to appeal to the Apple consumer. It has the unique feature of allowing its users to wear glasses while operating the device–a big problem that other portable headset companies haven’t fully addressed. It However, it is less comfortable than its counterparts while also having a higher price — $120. What’s more, iPhone 7 users have reported some fit issues with the sliding smartphone tray.
The original VR headset for mobile. Literally made of cardboard and hovering around $15. (There are also instructions that circulate online where you can build your own using hardware-store materials). It does the job, but it might be worth upgrading. Of course, the magic of cardboard is that if you lose or damage your headset, you’re only out $15. Versus an Oculus or Vive where you will really feel that sting!
Apart from Google Cardboard, Homido is the most popular iOS accessible headset on the market right now. It is sturdily built and is priced at $80. It has adjustable focal lengths, but only provides a 100 degree experience and has no controller. What’s more, its lenses cause a bit of a fishbowl effect when viewing videos — not a dealbreaker but not ideal either. Yet, apart from Occipital Bridge, it is our pick for best iOS compatible headset currently on the market.
Per the View-Master website, “Our awesome virtual reality experience requires simply three items: a View-Master® viewer, a View-Master® Experience Pack/App, and your compatible smartphone running on iOS or Android.” The name View-Master will be familiar to anyone growing up in the 80’s, and the company is seeking to become a friendly name once again to kids, but now in VR. At $30 the price is incredibly reasonable and again, if your kid breaks it (or licks it, gets it sticky, puts play-dough in the gears etc) it won’t be the end of the world.
Undoubtedly the most innovative kid on the block, and the one with the most potential for shifting the VR medium forward. The Bridge bills itself as a “mixed reality and positional tracking VR headset for iPhone” and is compatible with iPhone 6, 6s, and 7. The Occipital Bridge features external facing cameras and high-end lenses, providing a truly immersive experience using your iPhone. The cost of $399 is steep, but includes the headset, a structure sensor, and a remote. This is only in developer mode right now and they sell out quickly, so if you want one be sure to pre-order ASAP. Like any new tech, there will surely be bugs with the device, and so it might take a year or two for this to feel as seamless as the Gear or Daydream.
Different, very fun and priced at $20, VR Cups are the most portable VR-viewing solution out there. Basically two cups, you don’t have to support the weight of a headset or worry about adjusting any straps. The experience is less sharp than an enclosed headset, but this clever gizmo does a great job considering its simplicity.
The Freefly made a big splash when it first hit the market. With its lush padding it is the most comfortable headset on our list. However, it has a main flaw that either doesn’t bother users or frustrates them to no end — you can’t adjust the focal length of the lenses. The Freefly has a remote (called the “glide”) which makes it the most like the new Samsung Gear of the bunch. It is currently on sale at Amazon for $42, not too shabby.
Dodocase is a great option if you need to buy a large number of headsets, especially if you want them branded with your company’s logo. Their website has a large variety of options available, and these make impressive giveaways at events. One headset, made of plastic without branding, will run around $40.
A polish company, VRizzmo makes a headset that is one of the coolest looking of the bunch — almost like a futuristic robot. Its innovation comes from two joined together fresnel lenses, which they claim causes less image distortion. It can reach up to 120 Degree field of view which is impressive, and practically any smartphone with the screen in the range from 4.5″ to 5.7″ can work with the headset. The price of $60 is friendly too.
Priced just under $30, the Tepoinn sets itself apart from the pack with dual-lens adjustment and a snug fitting head strap. It is more delicate than the Homido or Freefly but the price is worth it. In terms of aesthetics, if you want something cheap that looks good, the Tepoinn is the way to go.
The Future of Apple VR
While Apple has not yet announced a headset that is native for iPhones, people are guessing they should be releasing some more information as the year goes on. Enthusiasts are pointing to recently filed patents as evidence of Apple’s eventual place in the VR/AR ecosystem. For example, they submitted a mock-up AR headset that builds upon the dual camera sensors of the iPhone 7 Plus. Whatever Apple comes up with, it is clear that they have been annoyingly late to the game for iOS users dying to try VR, and that their tech will have to wow their fan-base in order to replace the existing means of viewership discussed in this article.
Whether you’re a VR pro or just getting used to the concept of using Virtual Reality products, one thing remains the same — although technology may at first seem cold and unwelcoming, it is actually deeply personal. What might matter to one person in their headset choice (being able to wear glasses for example) may not matter at all to another. Apple made itself stand out with the iPhone by creating a smartphone that perhaps wasn’t the most technically impressive, but made their users feel comfortable. VR is extraordinary neurotransmitter inducing sensory magic, but few people playing in VR label it “comfortable”. It will be interesting to see if Apple can strike lightning again and form a bridge between their phones to the next level of reality.