Best Smartphone for Virtual Reality (VR): what you need to know

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Which smartphones are VR compatible? Well there are two answers to this: short and long. Short answer: Any, really. As long as they have a gyroscope and a decent size screen. 4.7” and above should do just fine.
However, for all those who have actually tasted Virtual Reality just any smartphone won’t be enough. So if you really want to get closer to Oculus or HTC Vive experience, continue reading to find out what smartphones are capable of delivering a VR experience that you can actually call a reality.

Requirements of a VR-ready smartphone

Let me get this straight guys, VR experience using a smartphone by no means can be compared to the actual Virtual Reality via Oculus or HTC Vive. However, if you cannot afford the dedicated equipment – VR compatible smartphone is a decent workaround. Here’s what you need to look in a phone in order to enjoy the world of augmented reality.

VR optimal Screen

Resolution, resolution, resolution. Quad HD is ideal, however it is not necessary. If your phone has full HD and a good size screen it is still perfectly fit to do the VR job.
Now talking about the size you will want to go for at least 4.7” screen. Not only because size matters. The VR headsets are simply designed for this size smartphones. Most of them will be able to accommodate iPhones from 6 and above. Most of the recent Android screens do not come below 5” anyway, so no concerns in the droid department.

Processor and GPU that is capable to create VR

The internals are very important for a smooth Virtual Reality experience. I’d even say equally important as a good display is. A combo of a powerful processor and a great graphics card will enable you to enjoy the VR to its fullest.
Choosing this combo is rather simple – it all comes down to the chipset. And where can we find the best and most powerful chipsets? Correct, flagship smartphones. Even though one could get away with a mid-range chipset I do not recommend it. I cannot overemphasize the importance of smooth experience there – it really makes a difference.
Suggested chipsets are Qualcomm Snapdragon 820(821) and the latest Snapdragon 835 (Snapdragons also known for best GPS performance). From MediaTek range – also latest top performers such as Helio P25 or Helio X27 (X Series). Exynos 8 is also a reliable choice – also lookout for the upcoming Exynos 9 release.
Good news is that it really narrows the list of choices to just the top flagships. Choosing from less options is always easier. However, definitely not cheaper in this case of Virtual Reality smartphone.

Battery and cooling

Not essential, but undoubtedly value adding qualities in a best VR smartphone are good battery and ability not to get too hot quickly. Having a decent size battery is important as you will not be able to have your smartphone plugged in while it is in the VR headset. The aim here is to have battery large enough to allow you to enjoy at least an hours of uninterrupted VR experience.
Looking at battery capacity helps. I suggest going for something above 3000mAh, unless it is an Apple device. For one – you cannot really choose your battery size when it comes to iPhones. Second, iOS appears to be more energy efficient software.
Keep in mind that because VR requires a lot of resources and sweat off your smartphone, it tends to get really hot. In some cases it can even be dangerous. Not to be pointing fingers here, but if you have a Galaxy Note 7 please consider not using it for VR needs.
The ability to maintain a reasonable temperature is a tricky spec. Other than rugged smartphone tests- you will not find any information on the official websites. However, instead of looking for the smartphone with the best temperature management abilities – just avoid the ones that have a reputation of overheating. Note 7 is one of them. Some iPhone 7 smartphones have been reported to light on fire as well, but it must have been just an unsuccessful batch. Tech forums and word of mouth is your most reliable source here.

The Choices for the Best Smartphone for VR

Samsung Galaxy S7 or Galaxy S7 Edge with Gear VR

best smartphone for vr choosebest

Samsung have definitely one of the best smartphones for VR. For obvious reasons, going for the latest model here. After all, it is not random that Samsung actually started selling their Gear VR bundled with S7 smartphones (although, compatible with other models too).
Here you have two options – go with the standard S7 or choose the curvier S7 Edge version. Let me get this straight, no matter which you choose, you will be left happy. The advantage S7 Edge has over the S7 is larger battery. 20% larger. When you are in virtual reality environment every extra minute counts. Especially knowing at what rate VR apps tend to drain the juice.
Even though I found some people stating that there is a risk of having “unintended negative consequences” due to its curved edges of the display – it has been tested and proven to be VR-safe. Sometimes I wonder, where such false information is coming from…

Google Pixel or Google Pixel XL with DayDream VR

best vr capable smartphone pixel xl choosebest

Another super powerful smartphone that has its own dedicated Virtual Reality headset is the controversial Google Pixel. I’d totally go for the XL version if Virtual Reality is your thing.
Overall Pixel provides an exceptional experience especially XL having the sharp Quad HD display. They definitely deserve the label of “one of the nicest displays”. Of course Snapdragon 821 plays a part in making this smartphone so suitable for VR apps.
In general, the only downside to Google Pixel as a VR device I see is relatively small number of apps available that are compatible with the Daydream headset. There are still plenty of them to explore the full potential of virtual reality and Google are working on making it even more accessible.

MOTO Z with DayDream virtual reality headset

moto z one of the best smartphones for virtual reality

Another device that is intended to be used with Google’s Daydream, but will work perfectly with others as well. Moto Z is a cheaper option, but no worse than others on this list. All the bits are there Snapdragon 820, 1440×2560 5.5” display, and powerful Adreno GPU. The only concern here is in the battery department, where we see only a 2600mAh. However, lower price tag has to come at a price of something. That something clearly is only average battery life.

Xiaomi Mi 5 Pro: the VR capable underdog

xiaomi-mi5-pro-best-for virtual reality

Hands down my favorite on this list. Not because it is the best of most popular. Not at all. I just love underdogs. Especially if they are playing on par with the top performers and is offered at a discount. This is exactly what Xiaomi MI 5 Pro offers. Good specs at unbelievable price. Ok, the only disappointing point is the lack of Quad HD, but at this size 5.15” it does not really make a huge difference.
Plus the design of the phone is amazing in my opinion. No wonder Xiaomi are registering numerous patents in technology every year. Guys over there working for it.

iPhone 7 Plus

smartphone for virtual reality iphone 7 plus

Not to leave out the apple fans – you can also go with iPhone. 5.5” version (Plus) preferably in this case. They will fit in most of the VR headsets and iPhone smartphones are known for the good graphics and sharp views. In short, green light for VR-use.

Have some more suggestions to make the list? Leave a comment below and I will add the most worthy VR ready candidates.

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