Google Cardboard: A low-priced virtual reality experience (review)

With Google I/O 2016 getting closer and closer, we wanted to take a look back to I/O 2015. Or more specifically, we wanted to take a look back at something Google introduced and gave away to attendees in 2015. That item was Google Cardboard, and while many took it as nothing more than a novelty item worth a few minutes of fun — we feel there is a bit more to Cardboard. We’ve seen plenty of virtual reality announcements in recent months, and those announcements are the reason we decided to take a look back at Cardboard.

You see, Google Cardboard is a solid introduction to virtual reality. We aren’t saying the experience is perfect, but there are some key selling points for Cardboard. For one, there are several companies offering a Google Cardboard headset. Perhaps even more important is the price point. You can easily find a Cardboard headset (all linked from the official Google Cardboard site) with prices ranging from $15 to $25. But you can also do a bit of Google searching and find simpler unbranded options for as little as a few dollars.

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Personally, I paid roughly $15 for a handful of headsets (that were shipped out of China) so I could share with friends and family. There is nothing special about the model I picked up, and honestly, I don’t even remember the specific shop where I made the purchase. But that is not the real point here. With the $15 I spent I was able to do a bit of playing, and also allow some friends and family members to do the same.

Basically, those few Google Cardboard units allowed people to get a taste of virtual reality. And what I found isn’t all that surprising. Some people really enjoyed the experience and were excited to use a higher quality viewer, and some were completely turned off by the experience. Anyway, once you receive your Cardboard, you’ll likely have to put it together. That was a simple process, and also a fun process as it turned into some quality time with my 7 year old (who also seemed to enjoy the virtual reality experience).

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Along with the Cardboard viewer, you’ll also need to download and install the Cardboard app on your smartphone. Google is offering the Cardboard app in the Play Store. The app is free to download, free to use, and will run on devices with Android 4.1 or later. I’ve used it on several devices including a Samsung Galaxy S III and a OnePlus One. That brings another item worth considering — some of these Cardboard viewers are available in different sizes, so make sure you order a viewer that will fit your particular smartphone.

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The app itself is pretty basic and easy to use. By default you have the standard Cardboard demos to get you started. Those include a Tutorial, Tour Guide, Exhibit, Windy Day, Earth, YouTube, and Photo Sphere. And once you get through those, you can tap the “Get Cardboard apps” option for more fun. A tap of that link includes a few more Cardboard apps with options ranging from a VR Cosmic Roller Coaster, to a virtual tour of the Google Shop at Currys, to a Paul McCartney concert. Nicely, these other Cardboard apps are available for free. And if I can give just one tip — plug in some headphones when you are using Cardboard.

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What We Liked

  • You will not have to spend very much money to enjoy Cardboard.
  • Can be a fun project and experience for those with children.

Room For Improvement

  • This is a case of getting what you pay for. Some of the lower cost viewers will have lower quality lenses and parts.
  • Seems to be a good introduction, but then stops short for those really enjoying the experience.

Overall I’ve enjoyed my time with Google Cardboard. My family (and friends) have had their viewers for about a month now, and while they don’t seem to get as much use as when they first arrived, I cannot say I regret making the purchase. Well, maybe I regret the purchase just a little bit because it showed me how much fun virtual reality can be and has me itching to buy something more professional to get a better experience.

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