From the Cheapskate: If you own a compatible phone, I'm going to have to insist you grab one of these.
Rick BroidaSenior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
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Whew! After yesterday's orgy of Prime Day deals, I need a break from all things Amazon.
In fact, I need a break from life, making this the perfect time to strap on the ol' virtual reality headset. Think today I'll go for a stroll in the soothing, puzzle-enriched landscape that is Land's End.
Yep, I'm going to once again devote an entire post to one of my favorite products in recent memory, the Samsung Gear VR. Because it's once again on sale for half price: Today only, and while supplies last, A4C has the refurbished Gear VR for $49.95 shipped. (Best Buy is close at $56.99, but there you're on the hook for sales tax -- so more like $60.) List price for a new one: $99.99.
This is not just a branded Google Cardboard -- far from it. The Gear VR relies on Oculus-powered software, meaning you can enjoy at least some of the same apps and games as owners of a $600 Oculus Rift. And the core experience is way better as well, starting with a gorgeous UI that appears the moment you dock your phone in the headset and place it on your head. (Sensors make everything pause when you remove the headset.)
There's a touchpad built into the side of the Gear VR, and while it can be cumbersome for certain activities, at least it's there; Google Cardboard, for some apps at least, requires some kind of external controller. And even with one, there's no way to switch between apps without taking off the headset, taking out the phone, running the new app, putting the phone back in, etc. Hassle city.
Of course, you also have the option of pairing a gamepad to the Gear VR if you decide you want one.
For the life of me, I can't understand why this isn't a more popular product. Everyone who tries it, loves it. (Well, in my circle of friends and family, anyway.)
Actually, I can understand: The Gear VR has one fairly significant limitation, and that's compatibility. It works with only half a dozen Samsung phones. That leaves out iPhone owners (where's your VR gear, Apple?) and plenty of Android users.
But if you own a compatible phone, I really must insist you grab one of these. I paid full price for mine and don't regret it one bit. At $50 out the door, it's a steal -- and a great way to get started in the wonderful world of VR.
Bonus deal: It seems only fitting to help you find a Gear VR-compatible phone. Like this one: TextNow has the refurbished Samsung Galaxy S6 (32GB) for $229.99, the lowest price I've seen. You do have to choose a service plan, starting at $18.99 per month, but you can cancel after the first month if you just want to use the phone for VR. Unfortunately, you can't take the phone to another carrier, not unless you're willing to restore the stock Samsung firmware. (TextNow installs special firmware to enable Wi-Fi calling.) Might be worth the hassle, though, as most other S6 refurbs sell for at least $300.