Best Google Cardboard alternatives: how to get VR on the cheap

Ooh! Aah! V! R!

Don't be misled by the headline. We're not suggesting anyone would be looking for a virtual reality headset cheaper than Google's roughly £15 ($20, AU$25) Cardboard. Rather, alternatives to the top end kit like the Oculus Rift at £500 ($599, AU$835), HTC Vive at £690 ($799, AU$899) or Sony PlayStation VR at £35 (/$399, AU$550).

The point of Google Cardboard is to use the intelligent kit already crammed into your smartphone. By adding a head mountable case with lenses the phone's processor, motion sensors, screen and speakers can offer an immersive virtual reality experience. It's not going to be as high resolution or as smooth as one of the previously mentioned headsets, which use full computer or console power, but it's still impressive.

There are now plenty of virtual reality experiences to be had thanks to app developers jumping into the fray and YouTube churning out plenty of new content. Google Cardboard is a universal app that lays out plenty of VR content in an easy to find way. Even smut peddler PornHub now has its own section dedicated to VR.

So if you're interested in taking full advantage of your smartphone for virtual reality videos, games and apps – these are the best VR headset options available right now.

Samsung Gear VR

Gear VR

Price: £79 ($100, AU$150) | Official page | Compatibility: Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, Note 5, S6 and S6 Edge

Samsung has been working with Oculus for over a year now using its developmental headset, setting the Gear VR apart from the rest. Not only is the headset itself light and comfortable, but the software platform is well-developed and stocked with plenty of apps and games to keep you busy.

The catch here is it only works on certain Samsung handsets. So while the headset is affordable, compared to the high-end offerings, it'll mean you need one of the compatible Samsung phones to get use out of it.

If you already own a compatible Samsung handset the Gear VR price is almost worth it for games like Ustwo's magical Land's End or the Gone immersive video experience alone.

LG 360 VR

LG 360 VR

Price: £140 ($200, AU$260) (April release) | Official page | Compatibility: LG G5 only

Unlike Google Cardboard this VR headset requires you to plug a cable into your LG G5 smartphone. Yup, it'll only work with that one handset for now. But using that plug system means you won't have to carry the weight of a phone on your head.

As such, the LG 360 VR features its own dual 1.8-inch IPS displays at 639ppi and with motion sensors to detect head movements. It also includes buttons on the headset for controls and a 3.5mm headphone jack for audio – since it'll just pump out of your phone otherwise.

Mattel View-Master

Mattel View Master

Price: £23 ($30, AU$43) | Official page | Compatibility: iOS and Android

Mattel has done a good job of reinventing itself with its View-Master, which now works just like Google Cardboard. The difference? This is a bit more premium for very little difference in price. We say premium, we mean plastic instead of cardboard.

Retro charm aside, the View-Master will work with Google Cardboard apps, accommodates most phones and offers its own child-friendly Experience Packs content. On the downside it doesn't have a head strap or virtual lobby to help you move between content. But for £23 it's tough to complain.

Homido Virtual Reality Headset

Homido Headset

Price: £55 ($80, AU$103) | Official page | Compatibility: iOS and Android

The Homido Virtual Reality Headset offers a universal platform to enjoy all the offerings of Google Cardboard with a bit more comfort. The headset, for a start, is just that – it's head mountable with straps and comfy padding all included in the lens-laden unit.

Homido is made to house most smartphones, be they Android or iOS, and has a clip to lock your phone safely in place. Ideal when you're going to be swinging about in a virtual environment, right? It even has its own Homido Center app as a starting point to guide you to content.

Zeiss VR ONE GX

Zeiss VR

Price: £91 ($130, AU$170) | Official page | Compatibility: iOS and Android

Zeiss was already halfway to having a headset with all the lenses it specialises in making. So why not add some housing that'll let you turn your smartphone into an immersive VR experience? The result was the VR ONE. Now it's got a newer version with the Zeiss VR ONE GX.

The design is similar to the Samsung Gear VR, as is pricing, but this will play nice with nearly any phone. The difference with the new ONE GX is that it features no strap, so needs to be held, but adds magnet control for greater app access. The idea here is that multiple experiences can be accessed more quickly and the headset can be passed about. Social virtual reality, who knew?

Merge VR

Merge VR

Price: £40 ($99, AU$75) | Official page | Compatibility: iOS and Android

These bright purple goggles will turn most phones between four and seven inches into a VR headset. In fact, Merge reckons anything from the last two years will work with Merge VR.

Sliding top buttons control focus and double, when pressed, as screen controls. Not cutting edge but for £40 what do you expect? It's got a decent lightweight flexible foam build too. If all that wasn't enough there are even plenty of free VR game and promo demos on the Merge website.

Lakento Mobile VR Glasses

Lakento Mobile VR

Price: £40 ($58, AU$75) | Official page | Compatibility: iOS and Android

Spanish company Lakento has created its Mobile VR Glasses to show how easy it can be to control apps from a headset, thanks to built-in buttons.

The headset itself features two 42mm lenses, comfortable padding and straps to hold it in place. But it also has buttons, which allow for controls while gaming. Initially these are designed for bundled games Sharks VR and House of Terror VR. However, they also work on most VR apps found on the Google Play Store or Apple's App Store.

IncrediSonic Vue Series VR

IncrediSonic VR

Price: £33 ($48, AU$62) | Official page | Compatibility: iOS and Android

IncrediSonic has come up with the Vue Series VR headset as a way of offering plenty of bang for your buck. Not only do you get a light and comfortable Google Cardboard alternative, complete with straps, but there's more.

The headset comes with a Bluetooth remote, which is Android only unfortunately, batteries, spare nose pads and a microfibre cloth. It will house handsets between four and six inches, meaning most, but requires the adapter in place for smaller phones.