Augmented reality in Mobile and smartphone devices has taken off exponentially along with mobile technology. With augmented reality having a defined purpose for mobile phone, we are going to look at 3 different mobile VR headsets in the mid-low-tier price range and compare them to see if VR has the same reach and usefulness as augmented reality in mobile devices. Contrasting the features, aesthetic, comfort, ease of use, what sets them apart, and ease of integration with the VR apps is the focus of this article.
The EVO VR is an entry level Mobile headset that retails anywhere between $19.99 - $25.99. It is compatible with iPhones and Android, fits all smartphones up to 6 inches and features a 360-degree panoramic experience and a 90 degree FoV (Field of view). The package comes complete with the headset, removable headband (which is adjustable), lens cloth and Bluetooth controller for the apps that support it.
The EVO VR is a sleek looking piece of hardware in both the white and black variations that are currently available. It is a fairly traditional looking headset, and isn’t overly accented by its branding or design elements. There are sleek front cuts on the visor of the headset that allows your phone to breath when encased in the EVO VR and has a small “EVO VR” logo in the corner. The Bluetooth controller has a Nintendo Wii nun chuck controller feeling, and overall looks pretty sleek and ergonomic. Overall the EVO VR is a fairly stereotypical looking pair of VR goggles.
For a lower end mobile VR headset, the comfort is actually not as bad as expected. It accommodates glass wearers easy, and the padding along the ridges of the eyes whilst not overly plushy and comfy are light and breathable. The way the headset sits on your face, makes it so you aren’t pushed into the faux-leather at the front which can also be a contributing factor in their breathability as your face doesn’t sit firmly against them. The headband is adjustable, and light and the whole piece of hardware doesn’t get sweaty after long periods of use like pricier headsets do.
Setting up the EVO VR was clunky and non-intuitive to say the very least. Whilst the design quality of the headset was fine, the build quality and the quality of the components used in the innards of the headset was cheap, and flimsy. Setting up the bumpers on the inside of the visor to protect my smartphone from jarring movements during use was frustrating, and the top bumper snapped not even 5 minutes into use. Attempts to fix it were futile, and so I got by on using it with my phone rattling around. Not ideal. My first use of the Headset was for the 360-degree music experience featured on The Weeknd’s music video “The Hills”. Starting the video, it took my eyes some time to adjust and properly lock onto the pictures, partially due to the fact that the cheap bumper had initially snapped. Although annoying, my eyes did end up adjusting to the video and was an overall decent experience. Not bad, but not great either.
The controller was a nice addition to the whole package but ended up being pretty useless for games. There are almost no compatible games and setting it up for those that can potentially use it is more of a chore than it is worth. It ended up just being used conveniently to increase or lower the volume on the device.
Insignia VR Viewer + Google Cardboard
Next up is the Insignia VR Viewer with Google Cardboard support, which is a bit of a different beast than the other traditionalist mobile headsets in the market. Google has developed a platform for mobile devices that makes it super easy to experience VR with a mobile phone. You can either build a viewer out of cardboard by yourself based on specifications listed on Google’s site, or you can purchase a VR Viewer (Most are cardboard) that is compatible with Google Cardboard. For the purposes of this review we saved ourselves a bit of time and picked up the Insignia VR Viewer for $19.99 which is compatible with most phones from 4.7” to 6” running Android 4.2+ or iOS7+, is pre-assembled out of the box with foam cushions and can run the thousands of Cardboard apps put out by Google on the app store.
The Insignia Viewer is made almost completely out of cardboard, and looks like a child’s afterschool arts and crafts project. The cool part of it is that makes it pretty customizable. Whether you build your own viewer out of the cardboard blueprints online, or purchase a pre-built you can draw and decorate it how you choose. In almost a child-like way this makes it more open to your creativity. Want to add glitter glue and sparkles? Go for it. Just want the simplicity of your name on the side? Get yourself a sharpie. The idea is pretty unique, but it isn’t for those who appreciate a more futuristic design.
Whilst the padding on the pre-assembled ones aren’t too bad, it is a stretch to call the Insignia viewer comfortable. It isn’t going to withstand longer periods of wear as other mobile goggles are going to, but it can work for those who only use it for shorter periods, to say watch a music video or even Netflix show on. Whilst the latter removes the “360-degree experience”, it still offers a greater amount of immersion.
By downloading the Google Cardboard app, you are opened to a variety of different experiences that are harder to pinpoint with using other Mobile VR viewers or headsets. This completely takes out the work of having to guess if an app is VR compatible or setting up a controller, and makes the process much more streamlined and seamless. Not even a minute after downloading the app and wearing the viewer, I was already enjoying a virtual roller coaster ride. The experience was great, and being backed by something like Google it means that there is an ecosystem of apps and support to make the most out of it. I did however feel a little uneasy about placing my expensive smartphone in a construction made mostly of cardboard, but I didn’t have any negative experience in my time using the Insignia Viewer to question it further.
Merge VR Goggles
Merge VR is the most expensive entry headset coming in at a pricey $89.99. Although it is pricey, it can be found pretty commonly for $39.99 during the frequent sales places like Best Buy and Amazon have. The Headset offers compatibility with most iOS and Android smartphones, has an auxiliary input for headphone use, a pop-out window that allows you to take pictures whilst using (Opening the doors for unique mixed reality experiences), has a 95 degree FoV and is fully compatible with thousands of apps on the Apple and Google app store.
The Merge VR Goggles are by far the coolest looking goggles/headsets on this list, and come in two colours, purple and grey. The Purple pair looks like a futuristic VCR strapped to your forehead and has a ton of clean and unique lines and grooves that make the Merge VR particularly eye catching. Going back to it looking like a futuristic VCR, the way you slide in your phone into the headset is also similar to how you insert a tape into a VCR player, which may or may not be a nod to the 90’s. The build is made of a polyurethane foam, and it is higher quality than the two other headsets on this list. It also has the most branding on the front of the visor, with the merge logo and “360 degree” text standing out quite a bit.
This headset is extremely comfortable, despite its appearance that it might not be. The foam does however get substantially more hot than the other more breathable options. At the end of the day, it is quite comfortable, but not the best for longer periods.
Merge VR, much like Google Cardboard has an online hub featuring a library of free apps and games. Whilst the list is not quite up to par with Cardboard, I decided to jump into some Rollercoaster VR and The Weeknd’s “The Hills” 360-degree music video like I had done with the EVO VR. Whilst similar the Merge VR presented a slightly clearer and less distorted image, possibly due to the fact it has better lenses, or maybe even because the mobile device sits more snug in the visor. Whilst experiencing the headset in much the same way as EVO with added comfort, and better optics I wondered to myself if the price to quality ratio was enough to spend 5-10x as much for Merge as EVO. To me, the answer is a resounding no. Even the top of the line Merge VR can’t combat the fact that VR is in its infancy in terms of hardware and software.