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Google Developers

Can you really create a VR experience out of a smartphone and cardboard?

Provided you have a decent smartphone, then yes.

WHEN YOU THINK about the advances virtual reality has made over the past year, it’s amazing how much progress it has made.

This time last year, many would have dismissed it as an industry full of broken promises, ones that claimed to throw you into immersive worlds that would wow you yet the technology never really lived up to this.

Now four major companies have thrown their hats into the ring: Facebook (through its purchase of Oculus VR), Sony, Google and Samsung, the latter revealing the Gear VR this week, which is powered by a smartphone.

While it’s difficult to judge Samsung’s effort from previews (although initial reception has been positive), the fact that you need to purchase both a Galaxy Note 4 and the headset (the price and release date for both weren’t revealed) means that it will only apply to those with deep pockets.

However, those wanting to get their hands on a similar device now can opt for a cheaper method.

Google Cardboard was mostly released as a joke during the company’s developer conference back in June. The idea was to see if you could create a VR device using a smartphone and cheap materials, but there’s more to it than that.

cardboard-gif Google Developers Google Developers

For one, putting the official Cardboard piece together is quite easy. While it’s entirely possible to create one from scratch (and there are instructions for doing this), it’s not the easiest since you need magnets, velcro and lenses for it to work.

Once it’s ready, it’s a matter of opening up the cardboard app – or any VR enabled app – and slotting the phone into it. It’s won’t close perfectly – you will be able to see the ends of the phone before you put it on – but it holds firm.

cardboard close up

Also, there’s no strap for it so using it is like looking through a pair of binoculars. The only way to activate it is to flick down a magnet switch located on the left-hand side (the phone is able to sense its movement) while tilting Cardboard to its side allows you to return to the previous menu.

Wearing Google Glass

While it doesn’t look impressive on screen, it works well when the different factors are combined. There are two factors that are going to determine whether an idea like this takes off: the screen resolution (the sharper, the better) and the lenses used.

The resulting effect is a device that is simply able to track your head movements, which is impressive considering the materials used. The resolution will depend on the type of phone you’re using – preferably one that’s 5-inches – but the Nexus 5 screen was good enough to complete the VR effect.

The demos are rather simplistic. Alongside accessing traditional Google products like Streetview and YouTube, others like viewing artwork, 3D statues and travelling through the streets of Paris via hyperlapse can also be accessed.

Although practically all the demos created by Google and third-party developers are all on-rails. In short, there’s very little interaction apart from looking around and maybe using the magnet switch as a button.

Google VR cardobard

As an experiment, it’s fun to use, but it’s not really designed for long-term use. Instead, it’s to show that VR experiences are possible with (relatively) cheap tools and for that alone, it’s incredibly clever.

There’s nothing here that makes it an essential item to have, but if you have an Android device and are quite handy with arts and crafts, it’s worth putting one together just for the sheer novelty of it.

Read: Apple vows to tighten up security after iCloud celebrity hack >

Read: Samsung makes its entry into virtual reality official with Gear VR launch >

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