Google Cardboard 2: Hands-on

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The second-generation version of the cheap-as-hell Google Cardboard virtual reality dev kit(Credit: Will Shanklin/Gizmag)

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Today Google dished out a second-generation version of Google Cardboard to Google I/O attendees. We took ours for a spin and tried its new support for 6-inch phones the only way we knew how: by popping the Nexus 6 inside this bad boy.

The first version of the official Google Cardboard kit didn't support huge phones, but the new version works great with our Nexus 6. It fit with no problems, and its huge Quad HD display makes for a terrific window into Cardboard's virtual worlds. Though it's missing lots of bells & whistles that you'll find on the Gear VR for Note 4, the visual effect is similar.

Another big difference with the new model is that setup is easier. While it was a somewhat cumbersome process to put together the original, the new model only requires three folds (along with pressing some velcro together). It took me all of 20 seconds, if that.

The last big change is that the troublesome magnet on the first official template (it worked by disrupting the phone's compass, and wasn't compatible with all phones) is gone. Replacing it is a cardboard button, which is a little work of genius.

Pressing the button triggers a lever inside the headset that comes down and presses the screen (see below). Cardboard apps register this touch as an action, giving you a perfectly serviceable controller (albeit a one-button one) on the corner of your cheapo headset.

Google Cardboard is 100 percent aimed at developers, but if you want a glimpse into the world of VR without buying new gear, this is your best bet right now. You'll soon be able to order ready-made kits from third-party vendors that mimic Google's latest prototype for around US$15-20, if not less.

Many of them should include headbands, which Google's version doesn't have (or you could just stick with Google's theme and staple a rubber band to it). Insert your smartphone (Google just opened an iOS SDK, so this isn't just Android) and enjoy the Play Store's decent selection – or the App Store's scant selection – of Cardboard VR apps.

Virtual reality is a fascinating new frontier, and Google's approach is, well, classic Google. Instead of pushing the throttle as fast as possible into consumer territory, the company is getting better and better at making dirt-cheap developer kits and helping people create more 360-degree content. Hell, it's even trying to transform education in the process.

This deceptively low-key approach is getting VR headsets into app-makers' hands – along with the hands of curious people who'd rather not shell out $200 – for just a few bucks.

For more on today's Cardboard announcements, you can read Gizmag's initial announcement post, along with our impressions of Google Cardboard for classrooms ("Expeditions") demo.

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