Google Cardboard first came on the scene in 2014, but didn’t gain much traction until the following year. In November 2015, I saw that The New York Times was including a Google Cardboard viewer with all home newspaper deliveries and really hoped a British newspaper might offer something similar. That didn’t happen, so a couple of weeks ago I gave in and bought my own. I was surprised to see how inexpensive it is, but then, it is only cardboard :)
I was pretty astonished by it. Not only can you get an incredible virtual reality experience with a simple cardboard box and a smartphone, but it’s also really easy to make your own VR movies too – just install the Google Cardboard Camera app and start filming. We experimented with making a movie of my sitting room then traversed the real space whilst also experiencing it in VR. Strange but fun.
We also flicked through a lot of the sample movies that come with the numerous VR apps. The Google cardboard app itself contains some, and you can find many more on YouTube. I was keen to see the New York Times app which features, among other things, the chance to walk through a herd of powerful American Bison, some of whom seem to advance right up and peer into your face. You can almost smell them. (But you can’t, not yet, VR hasn’t figured out how to do odour.)
To make life a little easier, I put my old Samsung Galaxy S4 inside the viewer so I can keep my current phone free for everything else. The S4 is off the phone network but works fine with wifi, which is all you need.
Which Google Cardboard should you buy?
My main problem when ordering a Google Cardboard was knowing which one to purchase. There are lots of different types but they all look much the same. I’d read that you should buy one with a strap, but in the end I got so confused that I chose one without. However, we found that for the most part we didn’t need it. We just held up the box to our eyes as we stumbled around oohing and ahhing at the amazing effects. You’d probably need a strap for watching longer viewing periods though.
I was also concerned about getting the right one to fit the size of my phone. Until you’ve actually held a Cardboard in your hands it’s quite hard to grasp how it actually works, but once you have it you’ll know right away if it fits or if you have to start over. Fortunately I had chosen right and it fitted fine.
At an average price either side of £12 or so, Google Cardboard is so cheap you will spend more money taking the family to the movies than you will creating your own virtual reality classic. To help you choose one, here are some of the best-sellers. Check out the comments on each page too because they contain useful information such as how to put the thing together (much easier than you might imagine.) This is the one I got. It’s by far the most popular, but you need to buy the strap separately.