Are you looking for the best VR apps? This guide rounds up top options for experiencing virtual reality on your mobile device, and for creating VR yourself. Yup, you can now utilise your smartphone or tablet to view or create virtual experiences, so you no longer need to spend buckets on a VR headset to try it out. There are a lot of apps available, both for viewing or playing with VR and for designing your own.
VR experiences and games are now a mainstay of any platform, and the future on Web 3 will make more use of virtual reality. If you're a UX/UI designer, now more than ever you need to learn how to create content for VR. Our new UX Design Foundations course will teach everything you need to know.
In this piece, we'll start with some free apps you can download right now for experiencing VR in a range of contexts – including games, news and more. Then we move onto listing the best VR apps for creating your own work, which can be pricier (jump straight to the VR creative tools section here). If you need a new headset, then don't miss our best VR headsets guide, and if you'd like to browse a wider range of iPad apps, check out our pick of the best iPad apps for designers.
The best viewing VR apps
Space Explorers is an intimate VR app like no other. This app consists of actual International Space Station footage, as opposed to being rendered like other VR apps. Shot over two years, this four-part series enables you to mix and mingle with the astronauts. It claims to be the largest production filmed in space, and we can believe it.
As well as the ISS footage, this app features interviews with the astronauts, so you'll learn something, too. The final episode is due this spring and it's exclusive to Oculus Quest.
Yes, really. The world’s most famous video app has a ton of original VR content from a bunch of top-notch providers. YouTube's own virtual reality channel hosts videos from creators like National Geographic, Discovery, the NBA, and more. Get up close and personal with sports stars, tour stunning locations the world over, and try out new experiences in this app for all tastes.
Just as with YouTube itself you may need to trawl through many types of content to discover something that appeals, but there will be an experience in here you’ll love. It may not cover everything perfectly, but YouTube’s VR apps does cover everything.
There's no doubt that VR can enable some absolutely stunning experiences, and Within VR is a great example of that. It’s a platform for high-quality videos from pro creators, including documentaries, music, horror, mindfulness, and fitness.
Within VR works with all major VR devices and headsets, so you can immerse yourself no matter what output you want to use. It's less an app and more a fully featured VR platform that hosts all manner of excellent, high-quality experiences.
Consider this like YouTube but tailored more towards VR aficionados where every video and piece of content has been refined and developed to make it as immersive as possible. You’ll also discover content from mainstream brands such as Vice and Lego.
- Download Within VR on Android for free
- Download Within VR on iOS for free
- Download Within VR on Oculus for free
Hard-hitting journalism and storytelling merge in The Guardian VR app, from the daily UK newspaper of the same name. There's a wide variety of innovative content in here that plays into the newspapers left-leaning political view.
Whether you're following in the footsteps of asylum seekers and discovering the struggles some in society go through, or experiencing the world through the eyes of a baby, The Guardian VR app offers thoughtful content.
While it doesn't have the same depth of content as some VR viewing apps, The Guardian VR app is updated regularly with new and timely content. If you buy the newspaper or follow the news website, there's no better way to get closer to the issues close to this media outlet's heart.
Where The Guardian VR app is concerned with your social health, the Provata VR app focuses on your mental and physical wellbeing. Provata VR is a meditation app that aims to promote calmness and better health.
Using the app, you can travel to a range of relaxing locales, from coral reefs and breathtaking waterfalls to the majestic northern lights. You choose a guided meditation exercise and then track your progress with the Health app.
The Provata VR app can be connected to a number of devices to improve the results, for example connecting an Apple Watch will enable the app to measure your heart rate. Such like this biofeedback features mean this really is a clever use of VR.
The best creative VR tools
Designed for use on PlayStation 4 (but also backwards compatible on PS5), Dreams is limited to use with Sony's PSVR headset. But this is the only limitation to what amounts to a deep set of game and film developer tools.
Dreams' developer tools are fantastic. Don't let the cute and colourful design lull your expectations. You can create most game types, including VR experiences, in Dreams. The UX design and overall user experience is superb, and a masterclass in ease of use.
The key feature of Dreams is its community support. The app enables users to share their games, movies and experiences with other Dreams, and they can adapt and reuse elements in their projects. Each Dreams creation offers a full user list, to show where ideas and elements came from.
To learn how you can create UX to the same standard as Dreams, take a look at our UX Design Foundations Course.
Quill by Smoothstep feels more like a traditional painting app but is in fact full 3D animation studio, inside VR. Many fantastic animated shorts and experiences have been created using Quill, including Day of the Dead by Mi Concept + Design. Artistic brush strokes live in 3D and can be fully animated.
Stay in VR space to view your masterpiece or export to your chosen 3D software to light and render. Quill films can be watched on the Quill Theater app. Note: the old Quill app is no longer on the Oculus app store, as it's been returned its creator Inigo Quilez. Instead search for Quill by Smoothstep on the Oculus store.
Gravity Sketch is a full-on VR content creation app, but it has some really cool and intuitive tools for creating shapes, using splines and curves. It's great for product visualisation, modelling vehicles and the like. Comparison has been made to Adobe Illustrator and we think that’s fair.
Gravity Sketch is a pro level set of tools, so as well as the free to try edition there's a feature-packed version aimed at enabling teams to work collaboratively across projects. Choose the edition that best fits you needs, but note that the free edition has limited cloud storage (but three people can work together on one project).
- Download Gravity Sketch on iOS for free,
- Download Gravity Sketch on Oculus for free
- Download Gravity Sketch on Steam for free
Tilt Brush was one of the earlier art apps in VR to make a big splash and it’s still an enjoyable experience now. This is despite Google dropping support for what is still one of VR's best and easiest to use creative tools. Luckily the community loves it and has continued to support the now free-to-access code.
It features some interesting animated brushes, a pro mode for the more advanced user and a superb UI. It may be a little more casual than others on this list, but it’s a fun way to rough out ideas or to simply doodle in VR. While Google has now stopped development support for Tilt Brush, it's made the code freely available and the community is keeping it alive.
- Download Tilt Brush on Oculus for £14.99
- Download Tilt Brush on PSVR for £15.99
- Download Tilt Brush on PC for £14.99
The unusual UX design goes all-in on the graffiti theme in an app that enables you to channel your inner-Banksy and spray art on realistic locations. Kingspray Graffiti features a fantastic simulation of spray paint, that drips and spatters realistically.
The act of spraying your designs onto the in-app photo real walls feels great to use and helps sell the idea you're living the life of a graffiti artist. You can also storyboard, animate and rig your assets in VR, and export your movies and projects to view.
Tvori is a professional animation and prototyping app designed for previz and animatics. The simple controls enable you to create, build and explore animation and designs at scale. You can collaborate with friends on designs, and offer reviewable layouts to clients.
The app features a whole suite of real time animation tools that are good for shorts and demos, too. This is a high-level professional app that is perfectly designed to aid the development of projects from pitch assets to final shorts and previz.
AnimVR brings the passion of hand-drawn animation to VR. It's an app that marries the best parts of traditional and digital animation into one package, so you can mix frame-by-frame techniques with advanced import and export features, and the ease of VR.
You can create everything from storyboards to full animated shorts, and AnimVR is compatible with Maya, Houdini, Blender and Unity. Used by leading studios such as Aardman and Nexus, this is a good pro-level app that is also highly accessible.
Formerly Oculus Medium, Adobe's Substance is now entering the VR space, and it's doing it in a groundbreaking way – take your 3D models from your desktop and into VR and back again seamlessly.
Substance 3D modeller could be one of the best VR apps around for creatives, but it just needs to get out of its closed beta before we can make a full judgement. It's currently invite only, and you need to head over to the Adobe site and sign up to stand a chance of getting on board.
This all-inclusive studio is designed to give indie creators every tool they could need to create content in VR; whether it's games, animation, digital art, VFX, industrial design or 3D printing MasterPiece Studio Pro has you covered.
MasterpieceVR can be quite overwhelming as it lacks the easy of approach and closed system of Dreams (Sony's app can only be used on PlayStation), but the features of MasterpieceVR are no less expensive. And this lets you export files useful for all manner of projects and portfolio sites.
Best VR apps for workouts
FitXR is to VR what Peloton is to exercise bikes, but not as expensive. The FitXR pitch is a subscription service of classes and workouts, with an associated community to offer support. This app offers a wealth of workouts, for a price.
The workouts are based on simple game mechanics and the UX design and menus are fantastic for broad appeal to users who may not be devote VR users but want to exercise. It's a great example of a UX designed for people who don't want to think they're playing a game. A good one for Oculus developers and designers to study.
While FitXR is for the exercise lovers who know they want to get fit, Knockout League is a game that cons you into thinking you're playing. You're not, you're exercising. Hard.
Don't be taken in by the colourful cartoon visuals and accessible menus, this boxing sim is a true fitness workout. The movement controls are geared around performing lunges, squats and pumping those arms. You will build-up a sweat playing Knockout League.
A series of fun mini-games take you through the exercises without realising you're getting a workout. The Story mode pits you against a series of opponents who all need to be defeated with particular movements – read exercises. Knockout League is shows a great approach to UX design.
Take on over 35 maze-like obstacle course that demand you run, scramble and climb all manner of colourful blocks and walls. Like Knockout League, To The Top lulls you into thinking this is just a game but is in fact a good fitness workout.
The colourful design and bold, graphic choices hide a game that will get the blood pumping and the muscles aching. There's a lot of content in here, and some of the later courses act as giant puzzles you need to scramble around – and it's all against the clock.
Best VR games
PC gamers have demanded a new Half-Life for years, and Valve delivered. Kind of. Half-Life: Alyx is a VR exclusive new chapter in the icon game series, and makes spectacular use of VR to bring this sci-fi world to life.
We particularly love the dev's use of the famous gravity gloves that enable you to pick up and interact with nearly anything in the world. Fans of the series will feel right at home, newcomers can just enjoy throwing stuff around.
You will need a good PC and VR headset to get the most from this one though, as it's state-of-the-art VR gaming at its best and while need a high-end headset and hardware to work properly.
We've had boxing and rock climbing, and Beat Saber brings music rhythm antics to the VR party. This game is a joy. Get your groove on and spend some time moving to the beat and using a pair of sabres to chop those flying bricks. For the Jedi Master that enjoys Tetris.
Oculus you're in good hands as the headset comes with its own controllers, on PSVR you will need two Move controller batons. These are incredibly hard to find, and can actually now cost you more than a PSVR headset.
- Download Beat Saber on Steam for £23.79
- Download Beat Saber on PSVR for £24.99
- Download Beat Saber on Oculus for £24.99
If you grew up wafting around imagined lightsabers making schwoom-schwoom noises then this is the game for you. Not only does the lightsaber swinging feel great, you can 'use the Force' to push, pull and throw objects around.
All this and you get to take on Darth Vader. This three series adventure is great fun, and on PSVR you can get the whole package for one price. The story can be over in a three-to-four hours but a challenging combat mode enables long term light saber schwoom-schwooming.
• Download Vader Immortal on Oculus for £7.99 (episode)
• Download Vader Immortal on PSVR for £24.99 (series)
The best VR developer tools
Unreal Engine 5 is the industry-standard set of developer tools that can be used to create almost anything. Unreal calls its VR tools 'XR', which includes augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (MR).
The tools are so deep creators from games, filmmaking, and photo real visualisation - everything is possible. It comes at a price, the workflow can be complex and you will need a high-PC to handle the assets.
Like Unreal Engine, Unity is a set of professional developer tools designed to be used for all types of creative projects, from games to films. Unity can be a little easier to use than Unreal Engine, and it's not quite as tech-intensive.
This is a developer platform picked-up by many in the indie space, and is great for mobile VR games and experiences. Its VR tools are great and some of the best indie VR games were built from it, such as Beat Saber.