What we think
Virtual Reality, or VR, is arguably the next biggest thing in tech, and it is exceptionally cool. Thanks to Google, everyone can access it with just a smartphone, some apps, and a few pieces of cardboard too. Here, we review Google Cardboard, a cheap virtual reality headset produced by the technology giant.
- Great fun for all ages
- Can be personalised
- Quality isn’t amazing
- Functionality is a bit limited
We received this cardboard headset (pictured) for free while we were at the Gadget Show Live 2016 event.
The design of Google Cardboard is very simple, which has led to many companies copying the design to create their own cheap VR headsets. Google is by no means the only company going down the VR route – with Facebook having invested $2bn in VR development, for example – but it is definitely leading the way for cheap headsets available to the masses.
You can either get yourself a cardboard cut-out version, and put the pieces together, or buy one which is already assembled by the manufacturer. If you assemble it yourself you will need to buy lenses and other small parts, which Google lists in its download instructions.
The headset is not too dissimilar to a pair of binoculars. However, you can attach a headband to secure the headset firmly as you wear it, freeing up your hands. In very simple terms, it is a box with lenses and your phone is placed very close to your face, with the screen facing you.
Unfortunately I did find the Google Cardboard to be a bit uncomfortable, as the weight of my phone causes the cardboard to dig down into the bridge of my nose a bit, even resulting in a red mark after a while. This is where Google Cardboard suffers compared to the more expensive VR headsets available, which are much more comfortable to wear.
So how does it work?
You have to open up the headset’s large flap, and place your phone down on it, having the screen facing upwards. Then, load up a VR app or a 360 degree YouTube video, and close up the flap, securing your phone inside.
You then, quite simply, put the headset on, and look all around. Literally all around, 360 degrees, and up and down.
Depending on the app being used, or if you are watching a video, you may just end up looking around you, but certain apps do allow for interactions either through looking at a certain object in the app, for a given time, or by pressing the ‘button’ located at the top right of the headset. This button is made up of a magnet, which is what makes your phone detect that you are pressing it down, translating your action onto the screen.
For example, on one app, I was in outer space, turning round constantly to look at enemy spaceships, and pressing the button repeatedly to shoot them down when my eyes were locked onto the enemies. It’s very simple, yet very fun.
The lenses manage to create a 3D effect right in front of your eyes when you wear the headset, and as you turn your head, the phone screen responds just as if you are really in the place being shown on the screen.
If VR apps aren’t your thing, you can try out a range of YouTube videos, which have had people film 360 degrees in a range of locations. You can ride a rollercoaster, and actually feel the same sensations in your stomach as when riding a real rollercoaster, or you can even pretend you’re base jumping off the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world.
Alternatively, you can delve into Google Earth or Google Street View, and explore loads of places around the whole world. Some images are courtesy of Google, whilst others are submitted online by users. One highly recommended location was a view from right above Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This image was submitted by a user, and allowed me to get a great 360 degree view of the whole of Rio – it was astonishingly good.
Buying a VR headset
There are a range of options available to you if you want a VR headset. Certain companies such as Samsung are selling high-end, high-quality VR headsets, but these will set you back at least £60 generally.
For a cheaper alternative, you can select one of the offerings from Google Cardboard. These vary in size and design, so you should make sure you choose the best one for your phone’s screen size. Generally prices will range from $10 to $40.
Build it yourself
If you choose to get the kit and build your VR headset yourself, you can follow the instructions provided by Google to fold it up. You can download and print out the kit for free, but you will most likely need to buy a few parts, such as the lenses.
Therefore, you will need to decide if you would rather spend a little more money and go for a pre-assembled headset, to save yourself some time, or whether you want to gather the different pieces that you need and put it all together yourself.
If you’re a picky tech enthusiast, you might be a bit annoyed at the quality of the Google Cardboard. However, for everyone else it will act as a brilliantly cheap way to try out Virtual Reality for the first time, and the quality isn’t that bad at all.
I really enjoyed being able to completely immerse myself in a new world, trying out a range of fun apps and YouTube videos. My 90 year old grandma even used it, and was completely amazed at the technological development we are witnessing.
It’s clear that Google Cardboard won’t be the one to bring us stunning VR, but it is definitely capable of bringing it to the masses. It’s safe to say VR is definitely set for a very strong future though.