Last updated: September 6, 2016
Pro: Widely available, great price, easy to use
Con: No head-strap, lenses not adjustable
Despite made by one of the biggest toymakers in the world, and its kid-friendly styling, the Mattel View-Master VR is a solid virtual reality headset for anyone to use. And at a retail price of $29.99, the device is an easy entry point for anyone looking for a VR headset for their children. (You can also check out GearBrain's Best Smart Toys For Kids and Best VR headsets for iPhones to get more updated information on Mattel View-Master VR.)
The headset is made of bright, sturdy plastic and the front cover opens easily with a simple latch. A spring-based smartphone holder can fit any phone with screen sizes between 5 and 6 inches, including iPhones 5, 5s, 5c, 6 or 6 plus, and Samsung Galaxy s4, s5, s6, or Galaxy Note 4. It also works with late-model Motorola, LG, HTC, Nexus and other Android phones.
Now, don't be fooled by the $15 augmented reality "experience reels" that Mattel is trying to sell you with this headset. You don't need them to experience virtual reality. Instead, just install the free Google Cardboard app on any late-model smartphone, calibrate by pointing the phone at the QR code under the front cover of the headset, then download to play any virtual reality app or video.
Then, to find games and apps, just search for "VR" in the app stores. Fun games to try out include the Fibrum Roller Coaster VR (or, frankly, any other Fibrum game), Lamper VR, which turns you into a firefly fleeing through tunnels, or other games from Archiact, which develops VR games for kids.
In addition, if your phone is an Android, then YouTube will have built-in virtual reality support. To activate, click on the little cardboard logo at the bottom right of the screen to see any 360-degree or virtual reality video in VR mode. If you want to watch a traditional video on a large virtual movie screen, just click on the three dots at the top right, and finally on the cardboard logo once that comes into view.
So what about that "Preview Reel" that comes with the headset, and the $15 "Experience Packs," sold separately? Think of them as a cute add-on for the kids. If you look at the reel through the headset, which has a clear front faceplate, you will see a hologram effect with your phone will launching the appropriate app. They're sold in nice glossy packages, and yes, make for great stocking stuffers. There are space-related packs, a wildlife one from National Geographic, and virtual tours of foreign destinations.
However, bear in mind that many similar applications are available in app stores for free, or for only 99 cents. The Experience Packs? You're basically just paying for the packaging.
The headset weights just 13 ounces, plus the weight of the phone, and has a field of view of 98 degrees, which is actually slightly better than the Gear VR. It's recommended for ages 7 and up.
(Still not sure which is the best family VR Headset for you and your family, check out GearBrain's 10 Questions About Virtual Reality Headsets Before You Buy.)