Review of the Best Smartphones for Virtual Reality in 2019

You don’t necessarily need to spend hundreds of dollars on headsets like Rift and HTC. A smartphone and a mobile headset are all you need to get started on virtual reality at an affordable price.

In this blog post, I am going to share some useful tips on how to choose the best phone for VR!

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HTC U11 Plus (2Q4D100) 6GB / 128GB 6.0-inches LTE Dual SIM Factory Unlocked - International Stock No Warranty (Amazing Silver)
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Last update on 2019-07-20 /  Source: Amazon Affiliates

Benefits of Virtual Reality-Enabled Smartphones

VR ready smartphones are technologically equipped to power your mobile headsets. They enable you to get an exciting experience at a fraction of the cost if compared to tethered headsets which need a pc.

Get set to enjoy gaming and videos on your phone with your mobile headset and a compatible smartphone.

Smartphone & Platform Compatibility

Though most of the high-end iOS and Android phones support vr, the extent of compatibility differs between the models. You will need to check if a particular phone model works with the available platforms.

For example, Gear VR works only with select Samsung smartphones, while Google Daydream can be paired with specific Samsung, Asus, Google Pixel, Motorola, Huawei, and ZTE models.

Here is a short video by Dexteroid showing how to set up your phone:

Before going further into the discussion, you should know about the variety of platforms available. Let’s check them out below:

Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard is compatible with a majority of Android devices. It has the largest app ecosystem, as compared to the other platforms. You may still feel limited by its functionality due to absence of motion controls.

Google Daydream

If you have an Android, Google Daydream with motion controls is your best bet. With a relatively decent app ecosystem, Daydream supports premium android devices as well. It is a tad smaller than Gear though. Many phones are compatible with the Daydream starting with the Google Pixel and XL series, Samsung S8, S8+, S9, S9+, Huawei Mate 9 Pro, ZTE Axon 7, Huawei Porsche Design Mate 9, Asus ZenFone AR.

You will be surprised to know that employing a software program can help you use a smartphone which was not compatible with Daydream.

Once your phone is compatible, just get your hands on the Daydream View headset, and you are good to go.

Samsung Gear VR

Samsung partnered with Oculus to come up with Gear VR which is compatible only with Samsung devices. It allows you to access a wide range of games and videos along with motion controls.

iPhone VR

Google Cardboard is one of your best options for viewing virtual reality content. You can even check out other compatible headsets if you have an iPhone 5S or a higher model.

Windows Phone VR

You can get a windows phone to pair up with the many of the cheaper headsets available in the market. Keep in mind that the range of content available can be limited.

Gear VR and Google Daydream can be your best bet as they come with motion controls. But you may have to choose from a smaller pool of options as a limited number of phones are compatible with them. Many top-end models with similar specifications also fall short and fail to work with them.

When you use mobile headsets, there are two lenses built-in, and the smartphone needs to be fitted in behind the lenses.

The device hardware and resolution have an impact on the quality of your experience. The motion tracking feature is limited in phones as they have three-degrees-of-freedom (3DOF). It allows the device to follow your head movement but fails to track its direction.

Things to Consider when Choosing Smartphones for Virtual Reality

Pair up an affordable mobile headset with a suitable phone to play your content.
With processing technology and graphics accelerators becoming quite affordable in the last few years, you don’t need to spend a bomb on getting a suitable device. Let’s check out the factor you need to keep in mind before you get that phone!

1. Screen Size

You can go with smartphones having a screen size between 4 to 6 inches. Some headsets can also be paired up with 7-inch devices.

2. Screen Resolution

Screen resolution is an important factor. The mobile headsets can pack in quite a punch if enlarged and clear pixels flow on your smartphone screen. A higher pixel makes the picture display more sharp and crisp. You can go with a smartphone having a full HD display and resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels. Lower resolutions on the device can disappoint with blurry images.

3. Accelerometer

An accelerometer or the G-sensor measures the acceleration and enables you to control your movements. It comes into use when you rotate your phone to convert it from portrait to landscape orientation. It is best used while gaming.

4. Gyroscope

Gyroscope works on a similar principle like accelerometer but additionally tracks device orientation in three-dimensional spaces. You will be able to play games if your mobile doesn’t have a gyroscope, but turns and rotations will not be possible.

5. Magnetic Sensor

Magnetic sensors are not essential but help in optimizing the entire experience. They can track if the cover of the headset is present or not, and activate the screen accordingly.

6. Processor

A Snapdragon 650 can run most videos and games though SD 820 or higher is a better choice. Recently Qualcomm released the Snapdragon 835 series that is optimized for virtual reality. The product line comes with low latency, high pixel quality, and precise motion tracking.

Best Smartphones for Virtual Reality

1. Samsung Galaxy S9/S9+

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Samsung Galaxy S9 G960U 64GB Unlocked 4G LTE Phone w/ 12MP Camera - Midnight Black
  • Super Speed Dual Pixel Camera; Music Play Time: AOD off: Up to 90 hours, AOD on: Up to 51 hours
  • Infinity Display: edge-to-edge immersive screen, enhancing your entertainment experience

Last update on 2019-07-20 /  Source: Amazon Affiliates

The Galaxy S9 and S9+ are the newest releases from Samsung’s Galaxy range. Both the models are compatible with Gear and other mobile headsets like Google Daydream.
S9 and S9+ fit the Gear Galaxy S8 version released in September 2017. But trying to plug them
in the Note 8 model can damage your phone!

Both S9 and S9+ come with a resolution of 2960 x 1440 pixels which allows for stunning visuals. But the S9 comes with a 5.8-inch display and 570 pixel density compared to 6.2-inches display with 529 pixel density on the S9+. S9 proves to be a surefire winner in graphics!

S9 and S9+ both feature a 2.8GHz processor. You have the option of selecting from 64GB, 128GB, or 256GB variants. You can even expand the capacity till 400GB with a microSD card.

The Galaxy S9 comes with 3000 mAh battery while the S9+ packs in a 3500 mAh battery.
Go crazy with the extensive range of content from the Oculus Go app. You can also enjoy third-party applications available in Google Play.

Pros
  • Crisp and high-resolution display
  • Decent battery backup
  • 6GB RAM
  • Suitable for most mobile headsets
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not very lightweight

2. HTC U11 Plus

HTC U11 Plus features the Snapdragon 835 Octa-core processor with single-core speeds of
2.45GHz making it an excellent choice for mobile headsets.

HTC is currently testing the HTC Link VR headset in Japan which pairs up with the U11 Plus. The headset will have its display but use the hardware of the phone for content and processing power. If you have the Noon VR or Google Cardboard, you are in luck as they pair well with this model.

It comes with a 6.0-inch display that supports resolutions of 1440 x 2880 pixels with a 537-pixel density. This combination can give you a visual experience quite close to the Galaxy S9 with a 570-pixel density rate.

HTC lets you choose between a 128GB version with 6GB RAM or a 64GB version with 4GB RAM. You can expand the storage up to 512GB with external SD cards. It’s RAM provides enough power to pull through intensive VR applications and high-resolution videos.

HTC provides a 3930 mAh battery which is enough to give you extended hours of gameplay. Though you can’t access HTC content on this mobile, it’s not really a deal breaker. You can take your pick from the freely available online content or the ones those come with the headset app.

Pros
  • Snapdragon 835 is ideal for running games and applications
  • LTE Cat 15 adapter with high internet speeds up to 800Mbps
  • Smart design and superior build quality
Cons
  • Doesn't have a headphone jack
  • Low-resolution front camera

3. Samsung Galaxy S8/S8+

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Samsung Galaxy S8 64GB Factory Unlocked Smartphone - US Version (Midnight Black) - US Warranty - [SM-G950UZKAXAA]
  • Infinity Display: a bezel-less, full-frontal, edge-to-edge screen. Default resolution is Full HD+ and can be changed to Quad HD+ (WQHD+) in Settings
  • Camera resolution - Front: 8 MP AF, Rear: 12 MP OIS AF

Last update on 2019-07-21 /  Source: Amazon Affiliates

Samsung released Gear VR just for Galaxy S8 and S8+ models in 2017. These devices are highly recommended by Google as part of their Daydream Project.
They can also be paired with many other mobile headsets.

Both the models feature a Snapdragon 835 processor (2.3GHz Quad + 1.7GHz Quad). The S8 comes with 5.8-inch AMOLED display while the S8+ has a 6.2-inch screen. Though both models support resolutions of 2960 x 1440 pixels, the S8 has a higher pixel density of 570 ppi compared to 529 ppi in S8+.

The Galaxy S8 comes only with 64GB storage while S8+ has a 128GB variant. S8+ features a 6GB RAM while the S8 comes with a 4GB RAM.

Enjoy extended hours with the S8+ that comes with a 3500 mAh battery. You will get a 3000 mAh battery on the S8. You can enjoy content from both Samsung Gear apps and Google Play Store.

If you wish to keep the budget in check, the S8 series is a great alternative.

Pros
  • High-end specifications at an affordable price
  • Supported apps and VR content
  • Wireless charging available
  • Edge-to-edge display
Cons
  • Inconveniently placed fingerprint sensor
  • Contains pre-loaded bloatware

4. Google Pixel 3/3 XL

Google Pixel 3 XL Unlocked GSM/CDMA - US Warranty (Clearly White, 64GB)
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  • 6.3 inch Amoled screen. Direct from Google

Last update on 2019-07-20 /  Source: Amazon Affiliates

Google Pixel 3 and 3 XL support Google Daydream right out of the box. Apart from design, there are a couple of features which are different and can impact your viewing experience.

Both the models have 2960 x 1440 pixels. While the Pixel 3 has a Full HD + OLED screen, you will only get an OLED display on the Pixel 3 XL. The Pixel 3 comes with a pixel density of 443 ppi over a 5.5-inch screen while the XL comes with 523 ppi and a 6.3-inch display. The XL promises an enjoyable watch with its high pixel density.

Snapdragon 845 is ideal for applications providing an immersive experience and comes in both the models. A 4GB RAM is another common feature in the Google twins.

Both phones have variants of 64GB and 128GB. The Pixel 3 sports a 2915 mAh battery while the XL packs a more powerful 3430 mAh battery.
You have a wide range of content from the Google ecosystem and compatible headset brands.

Pros
  • Designed especially for Google Daydream
  • Powerful processor
  • Fast charging
Cons
  • Low pixel density
  • The battery is not very powerful
  • Low RAM of 4GB

5. Google Pixel 2/2 XL

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  • Fullscreen 6.0 in (152 mm) display QHD+ (2880 x 1440) pOLED at 538ppi
  • 12.2MP 1.4μm Autofocus with laser + dual pixel phase detection Optical + electronic image stabilization

Last update on 2019-07-21 /  Source: Amazon Affiliates

If you wish to spend fewer bucks, the Google Pixel 2 series is a good bet. Available at a lower
price range than Pixel 3, it comes packed with the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor. Enjoy fast processing power on both phones with a speed of 2.45 GHz!

The Pixel 2 comes with a 5-inch screen with 1920 x 1080 resolution and 441-pixel density. The Pixel 2 XL is bigger with a 6-inch display, 2880 x 1440 resolution and pixel density of 538 ppi. Pixel 2 XL scores in graphics!

Both devices are available in 64GB and 128GB variants and have a 4GB RAM. The Pixel 2 XL has a strong 3520 mAh battery compared to the 2700 mAh battery on the Pixel 2.

Pair up the Pixel 2 series with Google Daydream or other compatible mobile headsets. Choose your games and applications from the app store or the preloaded content on the Daydream app.

Pros
  • Virtual reality compatible processor
  • Dust and water-resistant body
  • Neat and crisp visuals with AMOLED/OLED screen
  • Fast charging battery
  • Unlimited storage accessible on Google cloud
Cons
  • Low pixel density
  • Doesn't have wireless charging

6. Samsung Galaxy Note 8

Last update on 2019-07-21 /  Source: Amazon Affiliates

Samsung Galaxy Note 8 pairs well with Google Daydream and Gear. It allows you to access the wide range of virtual reality content from Samsung and Google. If you have the Merge Goggle or the Noon, you can use them with Note 8.

The Snapdragon 835 processor allows you to run the most demanding applications quite easily.

Pros
  • Supports both Google Daydream and Gear VR
  • Wireless charging available
  • Durable aluminum frame
  • Crisp display with optimum brightness, black levels, and contrast
Cons
  • Not very lightweight
  • Low volume mono speaker

7. Huawei P20 Pro

Huawei P20 Pro is on the list thanks to its specifications. Though it doesn’t feature on the
recommended list of phones for Gear or Daydream, you can hook it up with many cheap mobile headsets.

It comes with a Kirin 970 octa-core processor (4×2.4 GHz & 4×1.8 GHz) which is new on our list. It’s quite powerful and comfortably runs your games and applications.

You can either choose the 256GB model with 8GB RAM or go for the 128GB one with 6GB RAM. Even though it has a 6.1-inch AMOLED screen and resolution of 1080 x 2240 pixels, it’s
low 408-pixel density is not impressive.

Gameplay can last long with the robust 4000 mAh battery. It comes with a quick charge feature which can give you a super-fast 58 percent charge in just 30 minutes!
Google Play is your choice for content as the Pro does not work with the Daydream or Gear.

Pros
  • Slim and lightweight design
  • Suitable hardware specifications
  • Robust battery of 4000 mAh
  • Strong rear camera with 40 MP resolution
Cons
  • Low pixel density
  • Relatively expensive
  • No Headphone Jack

8. LG V40

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LG Electronics LG V40 Factory Unlocked Phone - 6.4Inch Screen - 64GB - Black (U.S. Warranty)
  • Triple rear cameras (standard, super wide-angle & 2X zoom telephoto)
  • Dual front cameras (standard, wide-angle)

Last update on 2019-07-21 /  Source: Amazon Affiliates

LG V40 is a bit pricey but it’s solid hardware more than makes up for it. You can use it to run games and videos right out of the box. The Snapdragon 845 processor (4×2.7 GHz & 4×1.7 GHz) makes the LG V40 a good choice.

Enhance your visual quality with the massive 6.4-inch screen that supports resolutions up to 1440 x 3120. A high quality 537-pixel density and a strong 6GB RAM provide good support for your needs.

Pick from 64GB and 128GB variants or expand the storage to 512GB with an external SD card. Enjoy wireless charging with the 3300 mAh battery.

LG V40 is compatible with Google Daydream and other mobile headsets. You can access videos and games on the Daydream app and enjoy other free or paid apps on Google Play. Why not check out 360-degree content on YouTube! You can even check out LG V30 if you want a cheaper Daydream compatible LG phone.

Pros
  • Smart design and lightweight phone
  • Good display quality
  • Features five different cameras
  • Big screen with vibrant and rich images
  • Wireless charging available
Cons
  • The battery doesn't last long
  • Contains some bloatware
  • You can easily scratch the all-glass design

Well, you don’t have to spend dollars on a new smartphone. You can watch virtual reality with the smartphone you have right now. Getting Google Cardboard is one easy way of watching any light vr application or even a 360 degree video. Though you will not have motion control, the experience will be decent if not fascinating.

In such a scenario, having a smartphone with a minimum display resolution of 1080p or 1440p or higher is preferable. It will allow you to immerse yourself into the content and keep any distractions at bay. Just remember to get a Cardboard headset that fits your phone.

For a riveting vr experience, nothing can beat having a compatible smartphone and a GearVR or a Google Daydream headset.

Conclusion:

I choose to go with the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 as I found it’s hardware to be robust for running virtual reality applications. The fact that it pairs up with Gear and Daydream adds to my content options. Samsung devices do hold an edge over the other brands as they are compatible with Gear and other headsets.

Note 8 offers you the same resolution as Galaxy S9 and Pixel 3, but at a much lower price. As I like gaming for extended hours, its 3300 mAh battery is a distinct advantage.

The Snapdragon 835 chipset is ideal to run applications, and the phone satisfies the minimum screen size and resolution requirements as well! If you want a good VR phone that doesn’t cost much, go for Note 8.

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