PC-dedicated virtual reality headsets can be daunting to get into, you need a desktop PC with the right internals, a decent amount of space to play in, and you have cables everywhere, and with smartphones being so powerful nowadays, you have probably thought about getting into VR that way.
And you can.
There are already a number of headsets on the market already that have been designed to work with smartphones, the best known of all of those is the Samsung Gear VR, which does its job well but on works with Android devices, specifically Samsung’s own devices.
The Merge VR is a different option that works with both iOS and Android based smartphones.
This headset has also been designed to be a bit more interesting and fun than devices like the Gear VR, right from the purple finish on the headset, Merge VR has been designed to be fun, entertaining and above all, it’s designed to provide you with an experience.
To top that off, because it is made with foam, it is stiff enough to be durable while being squeezable enough to make it soft to wear and use. That also makes it a pretty great option for kids to use.
There are also no sharp corners or hard elements in sight, and the material is antimicrobial, which means that it should stay pretty clean, and it’s also pretty easy to clean on top.
On the top and bottom of Merge VR you will find a pair of adjusters that can be used to position the lenses and the bumpers on the sides of the headset, which sit just in front of the main large gap that can be used to slide in the smartphone that you want to use for consuming VR content.
There are also two slots along the sides of this main slot that allow you to use the ports and buttons at the top and bottom of your smartphone will it is in the Merge VR headset.
There are another two holes behind both of these at the top which provide circulation to the headset to prevent fogging.
The front of the headset is pretty simple with just the Merge VR logo and a 360 icon, however, it does hide one other important feature and that is a cutout. This cutout is there to future proof the headset and allows for your smartphone’s camera to still be used for the purposes of augmented reality.
That’s pretty cool future-thinking from Merge.
All of this can be secured to your head via a pair of black bands that use Velcro to attach to each other, both of these have enough stretch and are long enough to fit a wide range of heads from kids all the way up to heads like my own.
Sadly, it is quite large at 8.3 x 4.8 x 6.5 inches, and it’s also pretty heavy, which can result in some slight discomfort when using the headset for some time, to top this off, the foam body of the Merge VR doesn’t move as much as you want it to and so it does press in a little bit.
Of course, to use the Merge VR headset you are going to need some apps and games to use it with, for which there are a number of items that you can download on both iOS and Android. Merge VR has also suggested a selection of apps and games that you can use on their Merge Start website, which is just a small selection right now, however, the headset will work with pretty much any VR app on smartphones.
However, Merge Start have sorted them pretty well with VR ratings that range from mild to intense in order to let you know about how strong the VR effect of the app will be, as well as some age ratings for the application, including ratings for a range of ages from 7+ to 13+.
To get these applications working, you will need to get it set up in a similar way to how you would set it up for pretty much any smartphone VR use, follow the instructions, stick your phone into the headset and you are good to go. Some apps might ask you to scan a QR code to identify your headset, which you will find on the back of the headset’s horizontal strap.
In use, the headset works with these headsets just as you would expect, with a smooth graphics response in applications as well as the ability to control the game with the dual buttons on the top of the headset.
Due to the fact that these buttons also control the adjustment, sometimes the lenses will move out of position slightly, which did cause some blur, so if you want to use these then you should make note of that. It would have been nice to see some sort of a lock on top of these buttons.
Sadly, it does have a similar problem with other smartphone-based virtual reality headsets and that is that you have to take the headset off and then remove the phone to switch apps, it would be nice to have integration like Samsung’s, however, that’s what you get when you have a headset that requires a certain handset.
On top of that, because of a smartphone being needed to use the virtual reality headset, the Merge VR Goggles will get slightly warm in use, as the smartphone also gets hot.
As mentioned before, the Merge VR Goggles come with support for both iOS and Android, with the ability to accommodate phones from those areas from the last two years, with a comfortable fit for phones as small as the iPhone 5 or as lard as an iPhone 6s Plus.
Personally, I tested it with an iPhone 6 and I found that the fit was pretty snug and I would expect similar for most smartphones that are currently available.
To conclude, the Merge VR is a pretty good option if you want to experience VR on the go, or just don’t want to invest in a full desktop VR solution due to low amounts of use, however, so is the Gear VR.
But the Merge VR does have a couple of fantastic advantages over the Gear VR and although it might be a bit heavy and it doesn’t feature the integration that you get with a Samsung device combined with a Gear VR headset, Merge VR Goggles are a great way to provide your kids with a way into VR, at not much cost.
Add the low cost to the fact that this headset is built with durable and cleanable foam and this becomes a pretty great option for the kids.
On top of that, the Merge VR works with iOS and other Android devices, whereas Gear VR only works with Samsung devices.
That all said, you can go with Google Cardboard for the price of a piece of cardboard, so…
If you are interested in getting into VR, but don’t want to put down the investment then I would definitely recommend giving Merge VR a go, you can pick one up for around £69 today.
Disclosure: Merge VR sent us a sample headset for the purpose of this review.