For years, gamers everywhere have let their heads run wild with possibilities of virtual reality. As it currently stands, VR gaming is still very much in it’s imaginative prenatal phase. While the first big commercial projects are imminent, the majority of virtual and augmented reality experiences are still out of the public’s reach. If you are one of the millions of people with a smartphone, Google Cardboard is your chance to get a peak at what’s to come. Available as both DIY projects and pre-assembled configurations, Cardboard is a novel yet interesting look at the long term potential of VR.
As far as consumer friendliness goes, you won’t find a lower cost VR option (assuming you own a smartphone) than Cardboard. Recently, looming VR giant Oculus Rift announced the required specs to use their headset, and the overall cost ( roughly $1,600 minimum) seems daunting for most. Sony’s Project Morpheus has yet to reveal their price point, but will require the use of an already $400 system. While obviously a much different breed of animal, Cardboard exists on the opposite end of the investment spectrum and serves to pique the interest of a skeptical party. While it does offer a small slice of the mysterious VR pie, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander with the possibilities of a more powerful machine. Still, Google Cardboard does a good job of taking an expensive form of entertainment and making it accessible, and for that I commend them.
As far as design is concerned, you get what you pay for. Cardboard is after all, constructed from cardboard. A few plastic lenses, velcro, and a small magnetic ring are the only things that separate it from your average box, which make it both simple and easy to customize. The build of Cardboard I used did not house my phone properly, but does accommodate phones roughly under six inches. The standard version of Cardboard does not play with headphones or power hungry users well, and can’t strap to your head like the majority of headsets out there. However, a bit of ingenuity could easily remedy those misgivings which allow for more of a streamlined design. Cardboard is largely what you make of it and the quality of compatible apps relies solely on the community.
Official Google Cardboard companion apps are available for multiple operating systems, but only offer a glimpse of what you can do. Interested parties can expect to do a bit of hunting for quality experiences, but unique and inventive uses of the technology are out there and worth the trouble. Still, you should expect little more than conceptual pieces, and slideshow style tours similar to what you may have seen on a View-Master growing up. Your only form of controls are peering around like a weirdo and a solitary magnet which can be used as a button of sorts. I wouldn’t wholly expect to be blown away by what you see and do on Cardboard, but it could very well trigger a sense of wonder and excitement that’s worth sharing with others.
Overall, I give Google Cardboard a Milds Davis on the Game Awry Review Scale. As a low end piece of technology, Cardboard is basically what you’d expect. It’s greater goal is spreading the word of virtual reality by providing a simple proof of concept, and in that Cardboard succeeds. It’s worth checking out despite it’s rudimentary nature, and is both easily attainable and quick to assemble.