Google Cardboard turns your smartphone into a full-on virtual reality device without the high price tag. It's made out of exactly what you'd expect, but its pieces come together to hold your smartphone in front of your face for use with VR apps.
With your phone acting as the display and your homemade headset holding it in the right place, Google Cardboard presents itself as a lower-impact Oculus Rift. There are a variety of Cardboard-style headsets available for purchase from the official Google Cardboard website. Some are fancier than others, but you can expect to pay $20–$30 for your own. (May we recommend the Star Wars-themed Cardboard?) After punching out the pieces and putting it all together, there are a number of apps to use that respond to head motions, immersing the wearer in a virtual reality landscape. These apps feature a designated "Works With Google Cardboard" logo so you know that they are specialized.
The Cardboard-compatible apps are cataloged on this page of the Google Play store, and they run the gamut. Titans of Space is a virtual reality tour of our solar system and outer space. A game called WAA! immerses you in a field of asteroids. Sisters presents itself as a terrifying ghost story game, and for the more utility-minded, an app called Tilt Brush Gallery lets you view sketches in 3D. This only scratches the surface, but they all serve the same purpose: to transport the app's user to some place that is otherwise completely impossible to get to. With that in mind, here are five cool things you can do with Google Cardboard.
Take 360-degree photos and send them to friends.
The camera in your smartphone is all you need to generate an immersive virtual reality-style photograph that someone can pan and scan through from their own Cardboard setup. Google's proprietary photo app will stitch together the many photos required to make an entirely 360-degree experience, and it will even record live audio from the scene you're capturing.
Read the paper in an entirely new way.
The NYT VR app provides users with news stories in virtual reality format "every month or so." Content is one of the most obvious things to be reinvented by virtual reality technology, and the New York Times is one of the first media companies to get serious about being ready to have serious offerings when VR proliferates.
Disappear inside virtual game worlds.
Whether you're investigating the spooky scenes of Insidious Chapter 3 or falling out of the sky in Caaaaardboard!, Cardboard can embed you in a daydream escape fantasy taking place on your smartphone screen. Just don't let your boss catch you using it at work.
Explore the real world.
Browsing Google Street View through virtual reality goggles is sure to be nostalgic or adventurous depending on where you decide to "go." Tour your old hometown, or brave the freezing temps of Antarctica from the comfort of your current home. An app called Orbulus zooms in on destinations of note, allowing you to explore everything from the Sydney Opera House to Paris at night.
Watch regular media in a new way.
An app called VR Cinema renders your stored video into split-screen format compatible for VR hardware, like Cardboard.