I’ll admit it – the first time I saw Google’s first public entry into the VR space with Google Cardboard, I laughed. The demo, while really cool for showing potential, was buggy and I quickly felt dizzy trying out the sample applications they had. Only a couple of days after Google I/O, Cardboard felt a little gimmicky, albeit fun. Several weeks ago, I switched over to my first Android phone and this weekend, I decided to pick up one of the third party Cardboard viewers and give it a test run.
I purchased a kit on Amazon, because I wanted something that was going to be here quickly and I didn’t have any of the supplies on hand.
Kit: I AM CARDBOARD, $19.99 on Amazon
The I AM CARDBOARD model that I got was the non-NFC one and I got it in plain cardboard (but I appreciated the color options they had – I plan on customizing mine at some point). The lens included are 45mm, and it came with the sticky adhesive, velcro, and magnet slider already assembled. Everything is self-contained in the package, which is awesome, and it was just a matter of tearing off the instructional piece and folding it into place.
I found that I didn’t need to follow the instructions – each of the tabs and slots were numbered and if you’ve ever used a Cardboard viewer, it’s pretty clear what needs to go where. I recommend working slowly, which helps with the stability of the viewer, and while you’re putting the viewer together, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not supposed to be difficult to fit together, so if you find yourself bending the cardboard in strange ways, it’s probably not the correct way.
Although the magnet side comes with adhesive on the cardboard, I added a thin layer of superglue for additional stability, which I repeated on the top of the viewer as well. The result was an incredibly solid-feeling viewer that didn’t feel on the verge of unfolding.
The first thing that I tried out was the Google Cardboard app, the official app that Google released to demo the capabilities of the Cardboard viewer. With the app, you can try several cool demos, including a YouTube theatre and PhotoSphere viewer. Navigation was simple – tilt your head and use the magnet slider to confirm your selection – but I had some trouble figuring out how to get YouTube to play videos that I was looking for with the voice search. When I did find one, though, the experience was pretty cool – especially with headphones.
The second app I took for a spin is an AR application called Glitcher VR. Glitcher is different from the Cardboard app in that it’s a pseudo-VR, because it uses your camera phone to display back your surroundings to you (slightly off-center, so be warned) with different filters. Most of the filters were entertaining but difficult to see details with, but I can see a lot of really cool applications for this as camera phones get better. Better lighting would have helped my case – my apartment has hopelessly little lighting, even in the middle of the day – but it was still a ton of fun to see my apartment with terminator lens.
If apps aren’t your style, the Chrome Experiments page has a lot of web-based demos for the Cardboard as well.
Hands down the most fun $20 I ever spent – and things are just getting started. While most of the buzz around VR is still in the Oculus camp, I think that it’s awesome that companies like Google are investing in making the technology accessible. I will probably still buy an Oculus DK 2, but for the lukewarm VR enthusiasts, it’s hard to beat something like Cardboard (and you can make your own!)
Bonus pic. Kitty is not amused: