Field Test: The Google Cardboard Experience

By Veronica Wheelock

I had three subjects test out Google Cardboard, which neither of them had heard of before, to test how realistic the VR experience was for them.

I asked each of them to look through the Cardboard and Littlstar apps to find an experience that they have had in real life. Then they put on the headset and were taken into the VR scene. I then asked them to tell me how the VR experience matched up with their actual experience. The goal was to find out what improvements could be made in the future.

I was anticipating a couple obvious differences. The headset is not capable of producing wind or snow or the smell of the ocean. There are a couple senses that Google Cardboard cannot stimulate. Two of the participants made comments about this, but all had a lot more to say about the visual aspect.

The first person to try Cardboard was my grandmother (she did not want her picture posted to the Internet). She tried out a Scuba Diving virtual experience.

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Photo was taken from the Littlestar website.


This is one of the more realistic looking videos. A 360° camera was most likely used, which makes the experience move believable.

A long time ago, she went scuba diving in Jamaica. She really seemed to enjoy using the headset. She was laughing at times and frequently looking around.

“It definitely brings back the memories,” she said, “But it was much more colorful in Jamaica.”

So maybe her real life experience looked different than this one, but she did say that it helped her to better remember what it was like. A major problem that she had was that she could not make herself move the way she wanted to. At one point, one of the fellow scuba divers waves you over, but there is no way to swim over to him. When this happened in the video, she leaned forward in her seat, which I thought was interesting. She is horrible with most technology, but this came intuitively to her. This movement, however, did nothing. Once she found out that she could not control where she was going, she seemed much less excited about the whole thing.

The second person who I asked to try Cardboard laughed when he saw the headset.


“What IS that!?”, he said with a look of confusion. After joking about how primitive the cardboard box looked, he decided he wanted to do view the roller coaster experience.

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He was laughing and making noises like he was actually on a roller coaster the whole time. When he put the headset down, however, he said he felt a little sick. He said he never gets sick on roller coasters.

He also seemed to struggle with the movement commands. For example, he wanted to look over his right shoulder and behind him and he was moving his entire body in his chair to do it.

IMG_0970This is how he would move in real life, but turning his body did not necessarily move the camera around the scene. He had to turn in his chair and also turn his head again to get the image to show further right. Again, the lack of movement control lessened the VR experience for him.

When I initially asked him how real it felt, he commented on the visuals.

“The virtual part is there, but I don’t know about reality,” he said. “They should just use real videos.”

He also said he would not buy the product because it is not interactive enough. After a minute of looking around, there is not much else to do. He said he would be interested in buying it if he could watch movies or something with the headset to make it seem like he was in an IMAX theater. If that wish comes true, the headset would definitely need a head band so that you would not have to hold it up to your face for two hours.

The third person had very similar things to say. She tried out Ice Skating at Bryant Park in New York City.

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This footage again looks like it was taken with a 360° camera. She did not say anything about the graphics being poor. The main problem with this experience is that you do not move around the rink at all. It is as if your feet are glued to one spot and you can only rotate your body to look around.

“So… what do I do?”, she said after looking around for a couple seconds.

Since she could not move, she did not feel like she was actually among the people ice skating.

“I’m pretty much just watching a video through a headset,” she said.

I showed her a couple of the other videos to show her that some do actually move you through a scene, but she still was hung up on the fact that she could not control anything other than her virtual head.

Although I am mainly discussing their criticism, all three of the people seemed to enjoy Google Cardboard. They all seemed surprised that the experience was made with just a phone and cardboard box.

None of them, however, truly felt like they left reality. Problems with graphics and lack of control once in the VR world made it difficult for them to fully relive their past experiences. I believe Google will continue to address these problems while aiming to maintain their low cost model.





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