VR is very much considered a gaming platform for us PC enthusiasts, but extending beyond the borders of pure interactive entertainment, you’ll stumble across a rich catalog of virtual reality apps that prove that VR can be so much more.
VR developers are creating apps as diverse as poignant visits to the hidden rooms of Anne Frank’s house and breathtaking 360-degree ascents of Mount Everest. And, then there are VR versions of popular apps such as YouTube and Google Earth and countless educational tools and even VR experiences designed to add a new immersive layer to online socializing.
Should cynical prognostics of VR gaming’s steady demise in the years ahead turn out to be true, VR won’t be going anywhere thanks to the rapid proliferation of these unique and engaging experiences.
We’ve regrouped our top picks for the best VR apps you can experience right now in this guide.
We prioritized VR apps that step back from the high-octane, immersive gameplay of VR games for a more measured experience, whether educational or straight entertainment. But, of course, apps that add something meaningful and valuable to the VR experience had a larger sway. And, because everyone likes a freebie, we’ve thrown in a few free VR apps for good measure.
For the purposes of this article, we’ve limited ourselves to five of what we consider the best VR apps out there. So read on to find out why each is worth your time and attention. From entertainment to online virtual worlds through to health and educational tools, we’ve included a broad range of recommendations.
As is often the case with ‘best’ guides, ours is spiced with a sprinkle of subjectivity. So if we’ve missed out on some killer VR apps that have your stamp of approval, please do share them in the comments section at the end.
Best VR Apps in 2021
All the functionality of Google Earth and more
Broad headset compatibility
Great educational tool
Most, if not all of us, have at least heard of the mesmerizing experience of using Google Earth. The VR version serves the same experience but spruced up with the help of a VR headset, which brings distant corners of the world to your living room in surprisingly decent detail. With travel restrictions and the pandemic still running its course, such an experience is as valuable as it’s ever been right now.
From the Matterhorn to the Taj Mahal by way of Australia’s Uluru, Google Earth VR gives users the entire globe to discover and explore, whether that’s flying at breakneck speed across continents, honing in on specific landmarks, or strolling through the busy streets of a teeming megalopolis. Self-guided exploration is one thing, but Google Earth VR also earmarks some must-see landmarks and landscapes you can quickly jump between for a more streamlined experience.
Budding geographers will find their fill here, but Google Earth VR offers enough of a spectacle to draw in anyone with just a modicum of curiosity about the varied topography and climes of our blue planet. And, if you have school-aged little ones running around, it’s a fun way to brush up on their geography knowledge through the novel lens of a VR headset.
Conveniently, Google Earth VR offers broad headset compatibility via Steam or the Oculus Store, including the Valve Index, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and Google Rift S. You can even fire it up using a smartphone and Google Cardboard. On top of this, the app is 100% free to download and enjoy.
VR illustration and animation tool
Intuitive VR controls
Easy export to traditional graphics editor
Only compatible with Oculus Rift/S
Quill VR is an app designed to bring creativity to the VR platform by handing users the keys to a suite of powerful paint and animation tools.
With a blank, virtual 3D canvas at their finger types, Quill VR users are only limited by their own creativity. Tools range from watercolors, pencils, oils, layers, puppeteering, keyframes, colorizers, and adjustment tools. You can even add in spatial audio, export to other graphic software or animation suites such as Maya or Photoshop, and even Unreal Engine.
While this rich tool set is one thing, where Quill VR truly shines is how it mimics the sensation of having a paintbrush or pencil in hand in a VR setting. The experience feels responsive, expressive, and accurate with huge scalability from minute details to large works, which lends itself to everything from doodling and experimentation to fully-fledged final products. Whether you are a seasoned artist or an amateur doodler, Quill VR is the perfect tool to try something a little different from traditional analog and digital art tools.
The proof is in the pudding, with no shortage of incredible works of arts and animation experiences constructed with Quill VR. The app also has its own upload/distribution management tool to share your work on the Oculus Media Store. It goes both ways, too, as there’s no shortage of creations to explore from artists from around the world via the add-on app Quill Theater.
Where Quill VR does fall short is compatibility. The app is only available via the Oculus Store and only works when paired with an Oculus Rift or Oculus Rift S headset. However, if you own one of these, you are in luck as Quill VR is available for free.
MMO-style virtual reality playground
Loads of content to experience and discover
Highly social aspect
Decent headset compatibility
Borrowing the format of massively multiplayer online games and online virtual worlds like Second Life, Sinespace is best seen as a collection of multiplayer virtual worlds, where players create and design their own 3D avatars to socialize with others while experiencing a rich catalog of 3D content. It has the added benefit of being a free-to-play deal as long as you steer clear of the paid user-generated content.
Virtual social apps are a hit-or-miss affair when it comes to the quality and type of interactions and activities you’ll come across. Fortunately, Sinespace is packed to the rafters with hours of fun, whether that’s conversing with others as your 3D avatar or sampling all the regions, clothing, vehicles, gestures, and other content lovingly made by others.
As a player, you can have your own home to deck out, regions to explore, events to attend, and, of course, plenty of opportunities to interact with friends and other players from all over the world. Much like Roblox, creators can earn money by selling their creations in Sinespace with even private servers and custom viewers for more serious projects.
Alongside, Sinespace boasts an impressive range of games, music-based experiences, live events and interviews, educational tools, and even a smattering of business-geared features such as virtual showrooms.
Although playable on a ‘flat’ PC, Sinespace comes to life with VR, and compatibility extends to the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift headsets. Due to the nature of the experience, mobile users are out of luck for this one, though.
Works with all YouTube content
Lots of VR-specific content
Compatible with loads of headsets
Everyone’s go-to video content platform is available in VR, but before you get excited and expect your favorite music videos and YouTubers to come to life in a glorious VR world where you have free reign to explore every nook and cranny, the reality is a little more modest.
YouTube VR allows you to view every video on the platform as a VR experience, but with varying degrees of immersion. Regular videos remain more or less the same, albeit a tad more immersive through a headset, while the actual VR content – 360-degree and 180-degree video – offers a genuinely thrilling experience. These remain very much videos rather than bonafide crafted VR worlds to explore, though.
Nevertheless, it’s a new way to sample everything from visiting Machu Picchu, catching a performance by Cirque du Soleil, or experiencing what it feels like to surf a towering wave. There’s also great content from respected media outlets such as National Geographic and the BBC and live performances from famous musicians, aerial visits of national parks, music videos, and so much more. It’s as much an entertainment app as a great educational tool that covers everything from science to geography, and the range of content is ever-growing.
YouTube VR does win points for broad compatibility with smartphones, desktop PCs, Google Cardboard, Oculus Quest, Oculus Go, PlayStation VR, Lenovo Mirage Solo, Daydream View, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Gear VR. And, of course, as with the standard version of the platform, YouTube VR is free for anyone to use as long as you have the right gear and don’t mind the occasional advert.
Immersive meditation app
Numerous soothing locations
Guided meditation sessions
Requires wearable device for progress tracking
Most of our recommendations center on entertainment and education. Provata VR is a little different: a VR meditation app designed to ease stress, anxiety and help those struggling with sleep find some much-needed respite. It’s an interesting twist on what we’ve come to expect from VR experiences and one of the more compelling meditation apps out there, whether on a flat screen or in VR.
In Provata VR, you’re transported to various soothing locations, including stunning beaches, colorful coral reefs, coastal ponds, lush forests, and mesmerizing northern lights. These are presented as high-quality 360-degree videos that truly come to life when viewed through a VR headset; the optimal way to experience Provata. Sit back, take in the sights, listen to the sound of waves gently lapping the shoreline, and, hopefully, find some inner peace along the way.
Additionally, Provata VR also tracks your progress through meditation biofeedback by linking the app to wearable devices to track your heart rate to ensure you get the most out of each meditation session. The guided meditation sessions are a great feature that offers a guiding hand to those unaccustomed to meditation techniques while still allowing for plenty of freedom for more seasoned users. These target specific techniques or areas of concern such as a body scan, breathing, anxiety, focus, or general calm.
Provata VR is compatible with Android and iOS smartphones, although you’ll need a headset to house your phone to get the full VR experience. Otherwise, it’s compatible with the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets.
Things To Consider
As with any VR game, we suggest checking that your VR headset or even mobile phone is indeed compatible with the app you plan to try out.
Apps such as YouTube VR and Google Earth VR are 360-degree video experiences rather than genuine VR. You can navigate locations and videos as you would in any normal VR world, but it’s a more clever use of video than a rendered game world. It does have its benefits, not least because you can use these apps with any compatible smartphone and any low-budget VR headset such as the Daydream View or Google Cardboard.
As for full-fat headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 and Valve Index, many of these types of apps do work. For example, Google Earth VR has its own store listing on Steam, granting compatibility with all SteamVR compatible headsets. Quill VR, on the other hand, only works with the Oculus Rift and Oculus Rift S.
Other apps are a little trickier to get up and running with headsets, often requiring user-generated workarounds. For example, YouTube VR is a real headache to use for everyone other than those on platforms that support the app, who can simply fire it up from the Oculus Store listing. Unfortunately, there’s no equivalent Steam app, forcing users to download videos from YouTube, fire browser VR apps, and turn to other third-party apps like OVR toolkit and Virtual Desktop.
Downloading and Using VR Apps
A simple Google search generally leads you to the right place alongside instructions to get the app up and running. But, failing that, Steam and the Oculus Store are great sources for the best VR apps, as are the official web sites for the apps themselves. Sinespace falls into the latter and requires a visit to the official site to sign up, download, and fire up the app.
Inputs and controllers are worth considering as well. Using a smartphone while convenient can severely hamper how you navigate through the apps, especially experiences like Google Earth VR, which allow the user to dictate where and what they see.
A favorite of budding Geographers and the plain curious, Google’s world-viewing app ports beautifully to VR in Google Earth VR. Travel the world, visit landmarks, and learn along the way in a VR app that’s easily one of the most compelling out there. Broad compatibility for smartphones and most headsets should see most able to jump in quickly.
Quill VR proposes a blank 3D canvas for budding artists and seasoned professionals to step into their work, thanks to a robust 3D painting and animation tool kit. Quill’s interface and hands-on feel do wonders to promote experimentation and creativity. Unfortunately, it’s only let down by limited Oculus headset compatibility.
Offering users an MMO-style virtual reality playground to socialize and play, Sinespace brings hit social worlds like Second Life to the world of VR. There’s plenty to see and do with a VR headset upping the immersion levels for a genuinely unique experience.
YouTube VR pretty much does what it says on the tin, offering a new, immersive way to experience the billions of videos on the platform. But, of course, it’s video at its core. Still, the authentic VR content is certainly a novel experience and guaranteed to provide hours of entertainment whether you want to be distracted or learn something along the way.
Provata VR uses VR for a far more noble aim: offer the stressed and anxious a tool to find some respite by dropping them into various gentle locales across the globe for a fully immersive meditation experience. Guided sessions and biofeedback inject a sense of progress, and broad compatibility means Provata VR works just as well on a smartphone or an expensive VR headset.
With that, we’ll wrap up our guide to the best VR apps. If we missed any of your favorites, please let us know in the comments section below, where you can also drop in with any questions or concerns you may have.