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Google Cardboard: Which VR experiences are worth your time?

Posted on Apr 26, 2016 by David

Google Cardboard: Which VR experiences are worth your time?

The Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are incredible devices, but they’re far out of the range of an impulse purchase for most of us. We’re talking about spending $600 to $800 on a headset and accessories while dropping upwards of a thousand dollars for a capable gaming PC. And even if we’re generous with our PlayStation VR price estimates, we’re still talking about spending between $600 and $700 for the whole shebang. However, provided that you already have a smartphone, there’s a less expensive way to get a taste of VR.

Back in 2014, Google Cardboard made its debut at Google I/O. By using low-cost materials for the headset, and giving developers an easy-to use SDK, this strange little box allowed for many Android users to try out VR for the first time without making a big investment. While it’s only capable of delivering a low-fi virtual reality experience, it’s still quirky enough on its own to provide plenty of entertainment while we wait for the big girl helmets to make their way downmarket.

Because Cardboard is a Google initiative, and it originally launched exclusively withAndroid support, most of the attention it’s received is on the Android side. That’s perfectly reasonable, but let’s not forget that the iOS support has been in place since May of last year. There’s an ever-growing number of VR apps available right now, and as an iPhone user myself, that intrigued me.

Starting late last year, I began poking around the app store, trying everything I could find, and picking out the most interesting VR experiences on iOS. Today, I get to share those with you. Want in on the fun? Just grab a Google Cardboard headset for about 20 bucks, grab your iPhone, and check out the following VR experiences for yourself.

Google Cardboard demos

If you’ve never used a VR headset before, the official Google Cardboard app is the perfect place to start. While it’s a bit more limited in scope than I’d like it to be, it serves well as an introduction to the strong non-gaming value of virtual reality headsets.

In “Explorer” mode, you can look around the American Museum of Natural History, an Icelandic hot spring, Puerto Rican prehistoric art, and even the face of Mars. “Exhibit” mode lets you view every angle of six different 3D models — including a Google Cardboard viewer. “Urban Hike” takes you to well known locations like Paris, Tokyo, Venice, New York City, and even the Great Barrier Reef. And “Kaleidoscope” mode? That’s the perfect entertainment device for children and inebriated adults alike.

This app offers around fifteen to thirty minutes worth of novelty, and then highlights a few other VR apps like SistersProton Pulse, and Google’s own Street View app. Speaking of which…

Street View

When I first showed off the Google Cardboard experience to my family, Google’s Street View was what really blew them away. That might seem kind of silly at first, but seeing familiar places in VR helped ground the tech for them.

While seeing your house or workplace from the road is a nice novelty, Google’s photo sphere functionality is much more impressive. By taking multiple pictures inside the app, you can automatically stitch together a VR experience of your back yard, living room, or favorite landmark. And since you can export the spheres as regular ol’ JPEGs, the archival aspects are exciting in and of themselves.

I love the idea of being able to keep visual representations of important places. Regular snapshots are nice, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to give your grandkids an immersive experience of what it was like standing in your kitchen? What about the experience of being at your wedding? Or maybe even a photosphere of a presidential inauguration. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in documenting the world around us, Street View and photo spheres are reason enough to give Google Cardboard a go.