From the Cheapskate: If you own a compatible Samsung phone, you're in for an amazing virtual reality experience. Plus: bonus deals for the non-Samsung crowd.
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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Ready to take your VR experience to the next level? By which I mean leaving behind Google Cardboard and stepping up to something way better? If you own a Samsung smartphone, do not...miss...this deal.
For a limited time, and while supplies last, TechRabbit has the refurbished Samsung Gear VR Innovator Edition headset for $71.99 shipped. That's after applying coupon code GEARVR70 at checkout. Originally $200, its slightly newer counterpart sells for $99.99. Oh, and don't worry about the refurbished part: TechRabbit provides a one-year warranty.
I'm a big, big fan of VR, which I think is on the cusp of becoming the Next Big Thing. Demos I saw at this year's CES absolutely blew me away, though most of those were based on $600-$800 gear from HTC and Oculus.
At the other end, dirt-cheap Google Cardboard headsets afford some pretty sweet VR via your smartphone, but with some definite limitations.
When I first encountered the Gear VR, I thought it was just a Samsung-branded version of the cheap Cardboard-style headsets I've seen selling for around $15. Wrong. The headset itself is large and comfortable, with adjustable lenses so those who wear glasses don't have to wear their glasses. (I'm able to leave mine off and still see a sharp picture.)
What's more, it sports a navigation touchpad so you can swipe and tap your way through menus without having to take the headset off and the phone out. And perhaps best of all is the software that drives the whole experience. With just a spin and a tap, you can jump into a VR video, play a game, watch Netflix in a virtual theater(!) and lots more.
I seriously dig this thing, and it doesn't surprise me in the least that CNET called it "the best virtual reality gadget you can buy right now."
Now for the bad news: this particular Gear VR is compatible with just two Samsung phones, the Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge. (The current retail version adds compatibility for the larger S6 Edge+ and Galaxy Note 5.) If you have one, I really can't recommend this highly enough.
If you don't, or you're an iPhone owner, sit tight. I suspect we'll be seeing a lot more smartphone-oriented VR products this year, including something from Apple. (Tim Cook would be nuts not to get into this space, and fast.) For now, there's no better VR experience to be had for under $100 -- in this case, well under!
Bonus deal: Holy dirt-cheap PCs, Batman! Walmart has the Nextbook Flexx 8.9-inch Windows convertible for $69.99 shipped (plus tax). Similar in design to Lenovo's Yoga series, it features a 360-degree hinge for working in tablet mode, laptop mode and anything in between. Sure, it's on the small and slow side, but it could be perfect for kids or just basic couch-top computing. And it comes in your choice of black, blue or purple. Seventy bucks!
Bonus deal No. 2: Looking for a smartphone that's not like any other smartphone? The Siam 7x was an Indiegogo project that sounded like all hat, no cattle -- dual screens, dual SIM-card slots, ear-recognition security and other unlikely features. But dang if it didn't just start shipping! It's available from Siam's website (and Amazon) for $549.
Forget that. StackSocial has the Siam 7x dual-screen smartphone (black) for $399 shipped. Still a bit pricey, yes, and still a lot of unknowns. But just imagine the look on your friends' faces when you show them the standard Android interface on one side and then flip it over to reveal a big ol' e-ink screen on the other! Plan on 2-3 weeks for delivery.