Review: Google Cardboard

Design, display and compatibility

Fancy getting yourself a virtual reality headset but not sure which one? It’s a bit early to actually buy one right now: most headsets, like the Oculus Rift, are developer’s kits that cost a pretty penny. Others, like the Samsung Gear VR, don’t have enough content and are pricey, too.

But there’s one headset out there that is easily the most accessible, and also an arguably fun DIY project: Google Cardboard.

Because all you’re paying for is cardboard, a couple of lenses and maybe tape or velcro, the device barely makes a dent in your wallet. Google isn’t selling kits anymore, but you can pick one up online for $20 (around £15, AU$25) or less from a variety of vendors. You can even download instructions to make your headset entirely from scratch.

Cardboard isn’t for die-hard fans of VR. If you want to simply show people what the fuss is all about with virtual reality, Google provides a viable solution in the form of a cheap and portable product.


I’ve seen the DIY VR headset around, but they were already pre-built. I got my hands on one wondering how a piece of cardboard could deliver a “fun” experience, so I decided to try it out by building one myself.

Google Cardboard

I didn’t use the Cardboard that comes in little pieces, so it wasn’t be as labor intensive, but it did require about five minutes of folding and following directions. Yes, you read that correctly. Making a virtual reality viewer only took five minutes. In my book, that’s pretty awesome.

Google Cardboard

The cardboard is pre-creased and labeled with numbers. Each piece has a corresponding number, telling you exactly where a certain tab needs to be fitted.

Google Cardboard

Most Cardboards come with two lenses already intact as well as double stick tape, velcro and a rubber band.

The rubber band is supposed to secure the phone in place, but I rarely used it – the velcro seemed to do a decent job. More intense games might require the extra hold, though.

Google Cardboard

There’s also a strong magnet with a washer on the side that allows you to control the phone. It’s limited to pressing the screen by using the phone’s magnetometer (which is normally used for the compass) but gets the job done; it must be mentioned that the magnet only works for certain phones.

Google Cardboard

If your phone has NFC enabled, the Cardboard app should also launch automatically once the DIY headset is inserted.

There is no way to have a hands-free experience with the kits, but I’ve seen people create their own versions of Cardboard where velcro pieces have been attached making the little headset stay on without needing to hold it.

Display and compatibility

The display of Google Cardboard depends on whichever phone you own.

Typically, smaller Android handsets work best with the little viewer. Fully compatible devices include the Google Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Moto X, Samsung Galaxy S4, Galaxy S5 and Samsung Galaxy Nexus.

Google Cardboard

Phones that don’t function with the magnet but can still run the apps are partially compatible phones. The HTC One and Moto G fall under this category.

There are also larger Cardboards that fit the Nexus 6, Samsung Note 2, Note 3, Note 4, Oneplus One and iPhone 6 Plus.

The Android handsets also require Jelly Bean 4.1 to give the best experience.

Despite being a Google-funded venture, the Cardboard is actually also compatible with iPhones. It simply depends on the availability of apps on the platform.

Features, apps and final verdict

Google has developed Cardboard with its own Android operating system in mind and you’ll find over 30 compatible apps in the Play Store to mess around with.

Google Cardboard

I decided to use my iPhone 5S and try out the app VRSE, a photo-realistic, CGI film that immerses you in a short series of weird virtual reality experiences.

It worked well enough, though the field of view isn’t as wide as a larger handset’s would be – which even then is cutting it close.

Google Cardboard

The iPhone 5S’s 4-inches, or 5.7-square inches, isn’t as immersive as the Oculus Rift, of course, but even the Gear VR does a better job – which is to be expected.

Still, there are plenty of apps that work decently enough with Cardboard. Most are games that use Android devices, but more are being released for both Android and iOS.

There are also VRSE-esque experiences like Google Earth or Photo Sphere, in which you are simply plopped into scenery much like a virtual tour guide.

We liked

Google Cardboard is wonderfully cheap and fun to play with, if you want to dip your feet into virtual reality but don’t want to spend $199 (about £126, AU$228) for a Samsung Gear VR. You’ll barely make a dent in your wallet if you’re simply curious about the weird contraption. There’s also a decent amount of apps for you to use it with.

Google Cardboard

We disliked

Since Cardboard costs so little, there’s little to dislike aside from the obvious. Regardless of how accessible, Cardboard is still not the immersive virtual reality experience you’re looking for.

Final verdict

Google’s ingenious, little do-it-yourself project works better than I expected, considering it’s just a piece of cardboard with two lenses attached, and then some.

This may be basic virtual reality “tech,” but there’s definitely a certain appeal. The novelty of building your own VR device is a brilliant move. Coupled with cheap parts and untethered mobility, Cardboard is a great introduction for those skeptical about VR.

That said, do not expect the mind blowing experience of Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or Project Morpheus. Then again, it’s not as if Cardboard is trying to be any of those. Rather, Google has cooked up an accessible piece of virtual reality that nearly everyone can enjoy. If you’re on the fence about this whole “VR thing,” then you have little excuse not to dive in.