Best VR Apps To Try With Google Cardboard
Virtual reality helmets are real now, but still we doubt you’ll see them all around in the nearest decade. It’s like stationary video phones all around the sci-fi writers and directors have been predicting until reality voted for simple cellular ones.
It's the same with expensive and massive helmets: a simple DIY 5-dollar form made of cardboard, a couple of lenses and a couple of magnets turned out much fitter than monsters stuffed with screens, wires and chips. Now you can easily put your phone into Google Cardboard and enjoy virtual reality at home at the modest price.
Maybe you’ll have to buy a Bluetooth joystick to control your movements as it’s impossible to touch the screen while your phone is stuck in Cardboard. But all other controls are available. You can use the gyroscope, drag a magnet used as a button, and even use your camera to integrate outside reality with VR.
By the way, as we think, Google Cardboard is the only rational reason to buy a QHD phone. Today we see much more good and interesting apps and games made specifically for VR. Most of them are free, though they may contain paid extras.
We recommend you fix your Cardboard on your head with a rubber band or something like that, turn off the lights, and put your best headphones on. The sound combines with image and creates a great experience. And yes, you better stand in the middle of the room so a step forward or back causes no collision with a wall or a furniture item. In fact, it applies to all VR apps so it's better said now.
Virtual Reality Apps By Google: Cardboard
The app that shares the name with the device was developed as a general hub for VR apps, a kind of what Start menu is for Windows. All the compatible apps you have installed are available from Cardboard app. A menu gives you the first experience in dealing with VR controls - as well as Microsoft solitaires and Minesweeper were meant to teach users to handle a mouse. Cardboard also has its own exclusive demo content, and it’s impressive enough to get you hooked on virtual reality.
There’s a simple Google Earth demo with lo-fi textures but easy to use.
The Earth looks a kind of cartoonish but it brings some magic into the representation. Exhibit is a virtual museum shelf with some artifacts from all over the world. One of the most useful apps preinstalled is the video player that allows you to watch your local videos as if you were in a cinema theater. But the most impressing one is a virtual tour through Versailles.
Although the app is only available with English sound, we think it’s already good enough to show what VR is about.
We’re 99% sure you already have this app on your phone unless you removed it yourself for some reason or bought a Chinese phone with no Google apps preinstalled. It’s not known widely but now it also supports Cardboard and shows 3D videos. And yes, there is some decent content worth watching.
Of course, it requires special 360-degree videos that can be watched “from the inside”. Look left, right, up and down to see the whole picture around you, and don’t forget the headphones!
To experience this magic around you just search for “360 Video” on YouTube by search words or the hashtag #360video. After starting the video go to Menu and select Cardboard view. Then install the smartphone into your Cardboard and enjoy watching.
YouTube has tons of VR content: nature, sports, Mythbusters videos, 3D animation, and even mild adult content (to the extent YouTube allows it). And there will be much more each day, so once you got hooked on 3D you won’t get off.
Look left, right, up and down to see the whole picture around you!
There are also 3D videos not supporting 360video. Watching them will be similar to 3D cinema: they have depth added, but still are limited by the screen you’re looking at. Usual videos will look like regular 2D films in the cinema.
Google Street View
One of the most impressive 360-video projects by Google looks great even while you’re looking at it on a regular screen. It’s useful to spot the destination you have found on Google Maps and make sure you will recognize the place when you get there. But in a 3D version with Google Cardboard the Street View experience gets quite different.
The selected 360 view places are available by selecting the spot on the map or by viewing Collections with the most famous and spectacular places are available for virtual traveling without leaving your armchair. There are all sorts of views from all over the world. To activate the 360-degree view just tap the Cardboard icon in the upper right corner and put your phone into its place.
If you have your own equipment for creating photo spheres, you can upload them to Google Street View with embedded location data. These spheres will be available for all users worldwide.
It shouldn’t have been anyone else but Google to create the app allowing users to generate their own content. Cardboard Camera is a noticeably different app for that reason. This app allows you to catch the moment as a panorama around you. And then it transforms your captured images into a 360 viewable sphere you can enjoy via your Cardboard.
The app works incredibly fast even on relatively slow devices. And you even have some tools for editing the image! Of course, it’s far from Photoshop and even from Picasa, but you can add some 360 filter-like noise or narration. The resulting sphere will be the most three-dimensional memory of the moment you’d like to save for your and someone else’s memory. It may be the place of your most romantic dates, the old house you will hardly ever visit again, a beautiful place you happened to only once, or your everyday place you want to share with someone far away.
The app contains the viewer for images you have shot. So if you feel like diving into the sweet nostalgia, just put on your Cardboard, turn off the lights, take a deep breath and get into your past moments head deep.
Tilt Brush Gallery
In fact, it’s not strictly a Google app, but still it’s based on Google’s Tilt Brush, the app the company developed for HTC Vive, a promising VR headset that never got into production. First of all, it’s meant to work for the artists and creative people exploring the VR frontier. And in the meantime, others can enjoy the beautiful 360 sketches and drawings in the Tilt Brush Gallery. This app may be not that advanced but, on the other hand, it doesn’t require a special headset and works with usual phones and Cardboard.
With this app, you can view 3D paintings created in Tilt Brush by pros and talented amateurs. The viewing app has some examples that come with it as you install it. There’s much more to wish so far; for example, the gallery could have been richer. But let’s wait until Vive or something similar becomes available, and then we’ll never find where to hide from those online 3D galleries created in Tilt Brush.
Real World Apps
When talking about third-party VR apps, we must say there’s much more of apps available than apps worth discussing. Most of them are so far designed for consuming information, as its generating requires more powerful tools. Even gaming industry suffers from a lack of VR control methods. Of course, there are Bluetooth joysticks and gamepads, but they’re not as popular as developers would like, and not unified yet. We’re still mastering one of the most popular models developed by Chinese manufacturers.
So there are two kinds of apps: reality-based and virtuality-based. Let’s start with the first kind.
The New York Times seems to have always been around and to be there forever. At least, now it does its best to remain on the cutting edge of technologies. The New York Times’ VR app brings you a totally new experience of watching the news like it’s all happening around you.
The 360 videos are rather heavy so it takes some time to download them before you can start watching. But the video quality is beyond any praise. It seems that you’re in Paris still burning and smoking after the terrorist attack, or following a retro story by Carol, or watching the story of three little refugee kids driven away from their homes by war.
Of course, it wouldn’t be that impressing without professional writing, editing and other technical work usual video stories require as well. But in 360Video, these NYT stories look especially touching.
If you didn’t get your Cardboard yet, there's no reason to beat around the bush with installing the app. Just select Smartphone mode before launching videos.
Inside Syria VR
The ancient Syria, one of the countries with the longest and most dramatic history, is going through some hard times now. More than that, it has become a chessboard the entire world’s players are concentrated on. The USA is (up) there. Russia is there. Turkey is there. ISIS is there. Is there a little place for Syria itself?
The Inside Syria app is an ABC News’ project lead by Alexander Marquardt. The journalist tells his VR stories directly from the famous Damascus, starting with the history of this old city and then to its today’s reality. It will be interesting for anyone who’d like to know more about this mysterious country.
Some users already call Inside Syria the best VR app. Though we wish there were less sad reasons for all of us to care about beautiful houses, palaces and mosques of Damascus.
Well, the first one to impress newbies with VR power should be Google’s Cardboard, but the second position truly belongs to VRSE app. This one is made to make your head spin! No half-measures and hand-drawn textures, this virtual reality is true as the flesh and impressive like a sunrise.
The app contains links to several VR 360 videos you need to download in order to watch. Some of these are available in other sources as well, like the movie about refugee children we already mentioned while talking of NYT app. Some others are exclusive, like “The Evolution of VERSE”, full of impressive surrealistic images. There are also 3D music videos that will provide you a free entrance to rock star concerts.
If you didn’t get your Cardboard yet, there’s no reason to beat around the bush!
The videos are rather large so make sure you’re connected via Wi-Fi or your data plan is far from maxing. All of VRSE content is available for free unless you're being charged for data. The only issue noticed was the magnet trigger. The app doesn’t react when it’s pulled while other apps worked well on the same devices set.
Disney of XXI century is more than just cartoons. It’s an aggressive attacking corporation that invades full-meter cinema and video games industries. The Star Wars official app is a real gift for all franchise fans ready to catch every piece of info from the galaxy far, far away.
So the app brings some 360 videos inspired by The Force Awakens. You can enjoy 360-degree views of the famous Millennium Falcon, the cutest droid BB-8, some scenes inspired by the original action. As if it were happening around you.
Not that those videos would add something significant to The Force Awakens plot or pictures if they were not 360. And the way they are, these videos can serve as teasers of future full-meter experience of Star Wars (when? when?)
Jack White: THIRD-D
Modern musicians are always fond of using a new trick to get some attention drawn to their new projects. Even Sir Paul McCartney has released a fragment of his concert in 3D! But Jack White has overplayed McCartney and released three tracks shot and recorded at his live performances. One of them was recorded in Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and the weather adds more reality.
You can see the singer slip and fall on the stage while singing “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground”, and there’s no better light effect than a real lightning behind. The other two songs are taken from the concert in the magic environment of Fenway Park in Boston.
Well, you may be not that much of a Jack White fan and only know him by his 007 duo with Alicia Keys. But his video app demonstrates the power of virtual reality combined with music. You will experience the concert atmosphere like on no other video, and even cinema shows will not bring this insider feeling.
Titans of Space
If you have ever wanted to become an astronaut but your life has turned some other way, don’t worry. Too late to become a space explorer, too early to go into space tourism, but it's the right time for Titans of Space. It’s a virtual reality guide through the Solar system and some brightest stars seen from the Earth. See the celestial bodies as if you were watching them from an orbital station!
There is a brief info for each object:
- its name,
- distance from the Sun,
- sometimes, an ironic comment.
The comparative size of planets can also be understood as you will look at them in front of each other, with its satellites circling around.
There is also beautiful space music surrounding you with myriads of sound particles. And for speakers of other languages, it’s precious to have the app’s text translated into most popular languages.
The app is extremely easy to navigate. In Autopilot mode, you just need to select the button with your virtual pointer and hold it for a second. And if you have a Bluetooth joystick or gamepad you can enjoy manual controls.
The app is free but there’s an optional narration you can purchase additionally.
The Bottom Line
Stay with us! The second part of our VR tour will cover some of the most interesting free games for VR, so don’t hide away your headsets and earphones!