Google is a company that has long been at the forefront of technology. Although they started out primarily as a search engine, they soon expanded into many new and exciting areas. One such new tech is virtual reality. The company has branched out to different levels of this new technology, offering entry-level tech, development kits, and more advanced levels of VR. Google Cardboard, their entry-level VR headset, was designed as an affordable way to bring the VR experience to a broad audience. The device is designed around ideas of simplicity and accessibility; almost anyone with a smartphone can use one to explore a virtual setting.
The Cardboard has been on the market for a few years now, yet it’s still available to buy. Google recently released a more advanced headset, the Daydream View, but there is still a case to be made for the Cardboard. In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the device. We’ll detail how the system works, how much it costs, how it compares to other devices in the market, and what you can use it for.
What is the Google Cardboard?
As the name suggests, Google Cardboard is a cardboard-based VR headset. Strange as that sounds, it’s actually rather ingenious. There are many mobile VR headsets, such as the Samsung Gear VR, that require a smartphone to power the experience. This is precisely the approach that Google has taken with the Cardboard. However, it’s a much simpler (and cheaper) version than Samsung’s. Their goal was to create a platform that would enable general consumers to experience the possibilities that VR presents. This platform would also allow businesses to develop their own cardboard-based headset too. The focus is not on delivering the best, most immersive experience on offer. Instead, it’s a cheap and easy way to get a glimpse of virtual reality.
The headset is simple to the highest degree. With Google’s base version, you simply fold it together, insert your compatible smartphone, and hold the device to your face. Other more advanced versions have added straps and controllers, but it’s all based on the same simple design. There is an app that is used to access content, and it’s available for both Android and iOS devices. As far as cheap VR headsets go, there aren’t any that cost less than Google’s.
How the Google Cardboard Works
The mechanism behind the Cardboard is pretty simple. All you need to do is place your phone in the holder at the front. The lenses are an optimal distance from the device’s screen, so when you open a compatible app, they combine to create a stereoscopic 3D image. By moving your head around, you will adjust the images that are shown in front of you. This simple head tracking means that you can look in a 360-degree space and have your viewpoint adjust accordingly. There is an NFC chip in the headset that detects when you place your phone into the headset. This chip will automatically launch the Google Cardboard app when you’re using it.
Google addressed the issue of interacting with your phone while it’s in use. Many of the best VR headsets include a controller; however, the Cardboard uses a magnet. This magnet acts as a button. When you move it, the magnet interacts with your screen and utilises your phone’s inbuilt magnetometer. It’s a rather ingenious solution, and it means you can interact with your handset whilst it’s in your headset. There is also an SDK available, so if you want to make your own headset, this gives you the ability to do so.
Google Cardboard Requirements
Unsurprisingly, the requirements to power the Google Cardboard are quite straightforward. Unlike many other VR headsets that require a powerful PC, the Cardboard makes use of your phone. Your smartphone needs to have a gyroscope for the motion tracking, which most modern phones do. You’ll also need to assemble the device yourself. Although this sounds complicated, in reality, it couldn’t be easier. The instructions are clear, and the parts fit together almost effortlessly.
Regarding operating systems, both Android and iOS are supported. You’ll need Android 4.1 or higher, or iOS 8.0 or higher. One final requirement is that your phone screen size is between 4 and 6 inches wide. With these specs, all you’ll need to do is download the Google Cardboard app and slot your smartphone into the front of the device.
How Much Does the Google Cardboard Cost?
Remarkably, Google’s entry VR experience can cost as little as £7/$12. This is insanely low when you compare the price to other headsets that require smartphones to power them. The Gear VR, for example, costs around £100/$100. Admittedly Samsung’s headset is far superior, but if you’re just looking to dip your toe into the world of VR, the Cardboard is more than affordable. Of course, you get pretty much nothing else other than some cardboard and lenses. You don’t get a strap, or any accelerometer sensors, or a controller.
Of course, to use the Cardboard VR headset, you’ll need a phone that will run the app. Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be a particularly high-end phone, but it’s still an extra cost to consider. Finally, it’s worth noting that there are many different iterations of the device available from other manufacturers. These can range from as cheap as the base version, up to the £60/$70 range.
Google Cardboard vs Google Daydream View
The step up from the Cardboard is the Daydream View, another Google VR headset. There are many differences between the two, even at first glance. The Daydream View is covered in plush fabric, has a head strap, and generally looks a lot more like a VR device. In terms of price, the Daydream is going to set you back considerably more than the base Cardboard model, around £75/$99. The View also only works with high-end Android phones, meaning that you’re going to have to spend more on one of those if you don’t have one already.
Despite the higher cost, the jump in quality is easy to see. The more powerful smartphones can run a more immersive VR experience. Not only this, but the Google Daydream View feels like a quality piece of hardware. The fabric is comfortable, it comes bundled with a useful controller, and it fits well on your head.
Google Cardboard vs Samsung Gear VR
We’ve already mentioned the Gear VR as a popular handset that also integrates mobile phones. It’s one of the better headsets out there in this niche and is in direct competition with the Daydream View. When compared to the Cardboard, Samsung’s headset again represents an advancement in the technology. You’ll need one of the better Samsung devices to run it, but in doing so, you’ll get a superior VR experience to that offered by Google’s entry-level headset. The head tracking alone makes the Gear VR worth a look, even though its price tag is similar to that of the Daydream. The only way the Cardboard can compete is in terms of cost.
Google Cardboard vs Oculus Go
A relatively new addition to the world of VR is the Oculus Go. From the makers of the popular Oculus Rift headset, the Go brings one of the first standalone virtual reality devices. Unlike the Cardboard, you don’t need to attach your smartphone to the front of the Go. Everything you need to get enveloped in a virtual world comes right out of the box.
The Oculus Go is much more expensive than the Google Cardboard. However, if you take into account the cost of a smartphone needed to power Google’s device, then the prices are much similar. The Go costs around £200/$200, but you won’t need to spend any more on it than that, aside from the apps you buy for it. It comes bundled with a controller and has much better head tracking technology. If you were thinking of upgrading your phone and getting the Cardboard to experience VR, the Oculus Go could well be the better option.
Google Cardboard for Entertainment
Along with gaming, the Cardboard is primarily an entertainment device. It’s the perfect thing to pick up and play with for a few minutes at a time. Those looking for a more engaging VR experience should look to a more high-end device. However, there’s still plenty that the Cardboard has to offer. One of the best activities you can apply the device to is watching 360-degree videos on YouTube. The amount of content on there is steadily growing, and as more people purchase 360-degree cameras, it will continue to do so.
One of the most useful apps to go with Google’s headset is the VR Cinema app. This app allows you to convert any MP4 file into a stereoscopic 3D experience. You can then view it to have a more VR focused experience. There are plenty of developers working on VR apps nowadays, so there’s always something new coming out.
Google Cardboard for Gaming
Despite only being a piece of cardboard attached to your phone, this headset is still a great entry point into the world of VR gaming. You’re not going to get the full-scale room tracking of the HTC Vive, nor will you be able to achieve arcade-style shooting like you can with the PlayStation VR, but you can still experience some fun games. The whole point of the Google Cardboard is to act as an entry point to the world of virtual reality. Hopefully, with the taster that it gives you, you’ll want to experience the next level up.
Serious gamers will maybe be a little disappointed with the capabilities of the apps on this system. However, if you’re looking for some casual entertainment, then it’s more than worth the few pounds/dollars the Cardboard will cost you.
Google Cardboard Top Games
As we mentioned above, the library of Cardboard apps is growing steadily. With that in mind, it’s hard to determine the best Google Cardboard games. Instead, we’ve picked out a few that are worthy of note:
The title alone is amusing enough, but this is a game developed specifically for the Cardboard from a game called AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA! The basics of the game see you freefalling, trying to avoid obstacles and go through gates to get points. It’s fun and made all the more exhilarating when played with the Cardboard.
End Space VR
VR was pretty much designed for space games. It brings the out-of-this-world directly to your smartphone. End Space VR allows you to explore the depths of space, shoot enemy ships, and bask in the glory of zero gravity.
Hidden Temple is a point-and-click style adventure game. It brings beautiful environments to life, as you explore the temple and solve various puzzles.
There are plenty of other games and experiences on offer, but the above is a good and varied selection to get you started.
Google Cardboard Review
So, the Google Cardboard may not be the best VR headset out there, far from it in fact. However, it is a fantastic entry point to the technology. If you’re unsure about the whole virtual reality concept, Google offers a no-risk way of trying it out. For the sake of a few pounds or dollars, you may as well give it a go. The chances are that you already have a smartphone that’s powerful enough to run the software.
It is important that VR gets into as many hands as possible, and that’s exactly what Google is trying to do. The technology is still in its infancy, so it needs some mainstream momentum to push it forward. Even with this in mind, there’s a lot that the Cardboard has to offer. Many of the apps and games are engaging and immersive, so for the cost, you can’t go far wrong. There are plenty of better headsets out there, but the Google Cardboard is perhaps the best entry-level option.