If you want to sample virtual reality without spending loads of cash, a VR headset built for smartphones is the best option. They’re affordable, equipped with a slot to cradle your phone, and support many VR apps and games. Our current pick for the best VR headset for the iPhone is the family-friendly Merge VR, We also list five additional options that may be a better starting point for your mobile VR journey.
Before you embark, be sure to pay attention to device compatibility. Some models only support specific iPhone sizes, while others may require a sensor not included in your phone. To determine if a specific headset supports your device, try VR Test Ninja.
Finally, many headsets listed below rely on Google Cardboard-based apps, ditching proprietary VR-specific app shops. The good news here is that you won’t spend gobs of money to feed your VR appetite.
Top Pick: Merge VR
Merge VR is our top choice for iPhone-based VR experiences. It’s easy to use and offers clever features that support many different VR experiences, especially for families and kids.
The materials consist of a flexible-but-durable foam substance that is both lightweight and resistant to bumps and drops. This friendly design approach influences the Merge’s compatibility, with a generous phone slot that holds most iOS and Android smartphones.
You can adjust the lens-eye distance by sliding two spring-based buttons mounted on top. These same two buttons replace hand controls so you can interact with the experience by pressing down on these buttons. This allows you to hold the headset like binoculars and enjoy dual-controller experiences that so many phone apps require.
Curious about compatible apps? There’s no app-based store. Instead, Merge provides a dedicated website, Merge Miniverse, that lists all compatible apps made available on Apple’s App Store. Most are free or only a couple of bucks, so your risks are fairly low-cost. Miniverse is a strong system that becomes even more involved when you sign up for the newsletter.
Virtual Reality Goggles by VR Wear
This headset is essentially a step up from the original Google Cardboard design. It sports a white plastic shell complemented by a semi-transparent lid so you can still use the phone’s camera. You’ll find small holes to connect headphones or a power cable while the headset cradles your phone. Additional holes provide proper ventilation, so your phone doesn’t overheat.
This model doesn’t ship with a separate controller. Instead, it borrows from Google’s Cardboard design to implement a magnetic button. That means your overall experience relies on Cardboard-compatible apps — including 360-degree videos on YouTube — available on the App Store. Your phone needs a magnetometer to support this feature along with a gyroscope and accelerometer for full mobile VR support.
This headset features a 105-degree field-of-view and the ability to adjust each lens in four directions. It supports phones between 4.5 and 6.5 inches, ranging from the iPhone 6 models to the iPhone 11 Pro Max. It includes two stickers you can apply to the lid’s outer surface: Cat eyes and a winged skull.
DSCVR VR Headset
Here’s a cheap yet durable VR headset based on Google’s second Cardboard design. What makes it interesting is the overall retractable design. The eyeshield retracts back into the chassis when you’re not using the headset. Press two buttons and the shield springs back into position. This comes in handy while traveling, as its halved thickness allows you to easily place it in a purse or pocket.
Designed by I Am Cardboard, Dscvr is certified as a “Works with Google Cardboard” (WWGC) device. It sports two 34mm biconvex lenses and a “grippy” silicone phone strap to hold your device in place. That said, there is no lid or cradle, nor is there a head strap to keep it firmly placed on your noggin. You’ll hold the device to your face throughout your VR journey.
For VR experiences that support input, this headset provides a magnetic button as seen with Cardboard v2 kits. Again, your phone needs a magnetometer to support this feature. It’s built for up to an iPhone 6 Plus and ships in six colors including Blue, Green, and Orange.
Destek V5 VR Headset
Moving up to a more premium offering, the fifth version of Destek’s VR headset for mobile includes a Joy-Con-like one-handed Bluetooth controller. It ups the field of view from the previous model’s 103 degrees to a wider 110 degrees. It also increases the supported phone size along with a wider pupillary distance. You can now remove the spongy face mask for cleaning too.
Desktek boasts that the lenses have anti-blue light and anti-reflective coatings. They’re also aspheric, meaning they have a non-spherical surface to minimize distortion. Complementing these lenses is a pupil distance button so you can tune the headset to match your eyes. Even more, this headset supports most glasses.
The device includes an adjustable head strap to hold it in place, a plastic chassis, and a cradle for your phone. You’ll find slots on each side supporting headphones and to dissipate heat. It weighs a mere 11.3 ounces and supports 5.5 to 6.5-inch phones. It doesn’t offer a proprietary apps store but instead relies on experiences available on the App Store. Simply scan the QR on the lip to customize the experience.
Zeiss VR One Plus
The Zeiss is more of a niche product that is particularly notable for its “eye box.” This space essentially allows people to see the smartphone screen without adjusting for pupil distance. It also allows anyone with glasses to easily use the headset, making it one of the most accessible models on our list. Vents on the side aim to reduce fog formation on the lenses, the screen, and your glasses.
Google Cardboard apps work here, so finding compatible experiences shouldn’t be a problem — just make sure they work for iOS. On the negative side, the Zeiss can only fit smartphones with display sizes between 4.7 and 5.5 inches, so anything larger, like the iPhone X, won’t work.
Homido V2 VR
The Homido is an all-purpose VR headset that does everything pretty well, albeit without much flare. It includes adjustable pupil and object distance to enhance focus. The removable spongy eye rests add extra comfort, which you can wash as needed. There’s also a T-shaped strap for your head, making it a bit more durable than other headsets on our list.
If you can’t decide what to get and like Homido’s headset, it’s worth considering, as is the company’s mini-glasses model. On the downside, you must download apps through the Homido Center store, which could limit your choices.