Virtual reality is taking off in a big way. However, it is still a very young industry. There are several VR platforms, including three mobile platforms with Google Cardboard, Google Daydream, and Gear VR. Of course, Google Cardboard is also compatible with other simple, third party VR headsets.
These represent the three mobile VR platforms. All you need is a phone and the headset and you can get VR with these. The HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, etc are more stationary VR experiences since they require a tether to a computer. In any case, here are the best mobile VR apps for Google Cardboard, Google Daydream, and Gear VR. For now, the majority of VR experiences involve entertainment. We didn’t observe many productivity apps or anything like that yet. Click here if you want to check out the best VR games!
- Google Daydream is Google’s official VR platform and the newest VR platform on the list. Click here to check out all of our picks for the top Google Daydream VR apps!
Daydream is the first app you install for Google Daydream headsets. However, it also functions as a hub of sorts for all kinds of VR content. Additionally, the app functions as a launcher for all of your existing Daydream apps and games. The includes a library of VR apps and Chromecast support as well. The app is still quite buggy, but Google releases updates on a consistent basis. You need this to pair your Daydream headset to your phone anyway, but it does a lot more than that. The app is entirely free with no in-app purchases, although some of the VR apps it recommends may have a price tag or in-app purchases.
Firefox Reality Browser is what the name says. It’s a version of Firefox specifically for Google Daydream. It features support for 2D websites as well as 180-degree and 360-degree content. The UI is your standard 2D-turned-3D style of a window in an environment that lets you do stuff. The app could use some improvements such as allowing users to move the window within the VR environment. Additionally, it’s missing some super basic browser features. However, other than that, it’s a solid browsing experience and a good competitor to Google Chrome.
There are a variety of video streaming VR apps on Google Daydream already. You have the big guns like Netflix VR and Hulu VR along with a good number of additional services like AMC VR, Discovery VR, HBO GO VR, and many others. It’s encouraging to see these types of apps because watching video content is among the most popular things to do on a VR headset. The prices for these apps are the same as they are in non-VR land. Most of them are also available on Samsung’s Gear VR in the Oculus Store. Most of these apps provide decent experiences and even some exclusive VR content.
Plex VR is another outstanding choice for video content. Plex lets you set up a home server on your computer and view video files from your computer to your smartphone. By extension, Plex VR adds that functionality to your Daydream headset. The setup, functionality, and features are basically the same as the non-VR version. However, this one does support 180-degree and 360-degree video content, 3D videos, and simulated 5.1 surround sound audio. The UI features three interactive screens for more control and organization. The subscription service is for a bunch of add-ons and it is entirely optional.
YouTube VR is a fairly obvious choice for a list like this. You can watch all of the videos on YouTube straight from your Daydream headset. The app includes support for 180-degree and 360-degree videos although the stock version of YouTube does as well. There really isn’t much new about YouTube VR from its regular, 2D counterpart. You can log into your account, watch your subscriptions, watch VR content, and enjoy yourself. This is also available on the Oculus Store for the Samsung Gear VR so we won’t include it on the Gear VR part of the list either. The regular, 2D version of the app also works with Google Cardboard (and similar VR headsets) natively, so this is one of the rare apps that work with everything.
Samsung Gear VR
- The Samsung Gear VR works a lot like Google Daydream, but has apps in the Oculus Store instead of Google Play. You can check out our full list of the best Gear VR apps here!
Facebook 360 is Facebook’s official Gear VR app and it also works on the Oculus devices. You know what this does for the most part. You can view your news feed, add reactions to posts, and view photo and video content as you normally would. However, Facebook 360 has stronger support for video and photo content in this version of its app, especially with 360-degree video content. It doesn’t feel quite like the mobile apps do, but that’s kind of a good thing. It’s a full VR Facebook experience and, of course, the app is free.
Oculus Rooms is a bit of a hybrid between an app and a game. Its strongest features are its social elements. You can invite friends into your room, play mini-games, watch video content, and hang out. Some other features include various customization options for your little Oculus Room and some other small things as well. This is an excellent introduction into the VR space for new Gear VR owners and a fun little way to hang out a little bit. It didn’t have any major problems during our testing, but we did get the occasional frame drop.
Paint VR is one of only a few VR drawing apps for the Gear VR. You have a paintbrush in your vision and you use it to paint stuff. There are some additional options like background color, brush type, and stuff like that. Additionally, there are some other small settings. Some user reviews complained about the controls and we totally see where they’re coming from. The controls are a tad clunky, but it worked okay in our testing. Some other good drawing app options for the Gear VR include Paint42 and GoPaint. Paint VR runs for $4.99 in the Oculus Store. It’s also compatible with Google Daydream headsets on Google Play
PhoneCast VR is one of our favorite Gear VR apps. It basically lets you use any Android app on your Gear VR headset. It works by giving you a basic window. The apps run inside of that window. Your results will definitely vary. This is a beta application after all. Additionally, some apps (and games) work better than others because of the nature of the Gear VR control schemes. Still, with a little optimization, this could be the best Gear VR app available in the Oculus Store. As it stands, we consider it a top five at least. This is a great way to get more productivity stuff like email, messages, and similar stuff in VR.
Wander is technically a game, but it has educational purposes and we consider it more of an app. Wander uses Google Street Map data to let you walk around the world, literally. That includes visiting monuments and landmarks along with other potentially educational content. There is Wikipedia integration so you can get some interesting facts about the various places you visit. You can even go underwater in some cases. This is a great app to just chill and look at stuff. It’s also fantastic as a learning tool for younger kids. It runs for $4.99 and it worked just fine in our testing.
Google Cardboard (and compatible VR headsets)
- Google Cardboard was the first VR platform on Android. It’s not the go-to VR platform for developers anymore, but it has some fascinating VR apps. Click here to check out the full list of the best Google Cardboard apps!
Cardboard Theater is a video player app for files already on your device. It works with most popular video codecs, has a simple and minimal UI, and support for 180-degree and 360-degree video content. It actually works pretty well, despite what the developer might say in the Google Play Store description. The app is entirely free with no in-app purchases or advertisements and it’s under active development as of the last time we checked. That’s a rarity for video players on Google Cardboard in 2018-19. It’s not perfect, but it could definitely be worse.
FullDive VR is kind of a social platform for Cardboard and similar VR headset owners. It provides quick access to a metric ton of video content. Some of the features include a VR video player, YouTube integration, and a VR web browser, a camera, a VR gallery, and even a VR market place to find other VR apps. That makes it a pretty powerful hub for Google Cardboard enthusiasts, especially these days when Cardboard isn’t the most popular kid on the block anymore and finding new content is a little difficult. The full version goes for $0.99 and we think that’s perfectly acceptable.
Cardboard Camera is a fun little Google Cardboard app. It takes virtual reality pictures and then shows them to you. That’s about all it does really. We think it was originally a proof-of-concept idea from Google, but it’s better than most other Google Cardboard apps anyway. It’s basically a glorified panorama camera mode with an option to view in VR. Still, it’s easy to use and it works pretty well. Plus, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a good way to show off VR capabilities to people who don’t know what they’re like. The app is entirely free with no ads or in-app purchases.
Sketchfab is a repository for 2D and 3D models. It doesn’t serve any functional or productive purpose. However, it gives Google Cardboard owners the ability to look at over two million objects in virtual reality. The app also supports augmented reality. It also doubles as a social network of sorts for 3D model creators and you can follow the creators you like the most. Again, it’s not the most functional app ever, but it’s actually pretty fun to use from time to time, especially for kids. The app is also entirely free with no in-app purchases. There are a few bugs here and there, but nothing too serious.
Trinus Cardboard VR is one of the most interesting VR apps on the list for any platform. It connects your VR headset to your computer and lets you play computer games in a VR space. It’s rather complicated to set up and it only works as well as your gaming rig and smartphone. Thus, your mileage may vary if you have a lower end device or gaming computer. In any case, the app supports controllers and most cardboard-style VR headsets. There are some bugs, but the app gets better with each update. It’s also fairly expensive so do attempt to try it out inside of the refund period. It’s worth noting that the VR headset doesn’t play the games. Your computer does and Trinus kind of streams it to your VR headset.
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If we missed any great VR apps, tell us about them in the comments! You can also click here to check out our latest Android app and game lists!