What is Google Cardboard?

Chris Torney / 14 July 2016

For virtual reality gadgets, Google Cardboard is very affordable indeed, provided you already own the right kind of smartphone…

Over the last year or so, a number of companies have introduced virtual-reality systems aimed at the general public. A number of these devices are fairly expensive, as you might expect.

But one option – the rather low-tech sounding “Google Cardboard” – is very affordable indeed, provided you already own the right kind of smartphone.

As the name suggests, the Google gadget is a headset, rather like a chunky pair of goggles, made of cardboard. Your smartphone slots inside the headset, projecting images from specially designed games or videos into your eyes.

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Getting started with Google Cardboard

The first thing to do is check whether your smartphone is compatible with Google Cardboard. If your phone runs the Android operating system 4.1 or higher, or is an iPhone 5 or higher (running at least the iOS 8.0 operating system), you should be ok.

The next step is to buy your headset. The simplest option is to get it for £15 from the Google Store. Google also publishes instructions for how to make your own headset, while there are a number of other companies selling their own versions online for just a few pounds.

Download the Google Cardboard app

The next step is to download the Google Cardboard app for your phone – it is free. This app – and others like it, as explained below – reconfigures your phone’s display so that, when it is viewed through the lenses in the headset, you get the feeling you are inside whatever scene you’re looking at.

The Google Cardboard app has some demonstration videos and 360-degree photos as well as some simple games to play.

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Exploring virtual reality

Since Google Cardboard was introduced in the United States last year, a number of developers have come up with their own apps, many of them free, to use on phones fitted into the device.

To find an app, go to the App Store (for iPhones) or the Google Play store (Android devices) and search for “Google Cardboard”.  This should bring up a list of other apps which are designed to be used with your goggles.

For example, there is a Cardboard Camera app which lets you take panoramic photos with your phone (not using the headset). These can then be viewed immersively using the Google Cardboard set-up.

Other apps let you explore famous buildings or locations (the moon, for example), and you can also get apps that simulate a ride on a rollercoaster or the experience of hang-gliding.

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