With 2016 gearing up to be the year that virtual reality (VR) headsets really take off, we take a look at a basic and cheaper option, the iCandy VR goggles, which give you a lot of bang for your buck.
The iCandy VR, in essence, is a reaction to us moving on from a time when VR technology was limited to science fiction and multi-millionaires, to one where soon we can go to the nearest retailer and dive into a totally different world.
In 2016, we will finally see the release of the first commercial Oculus Rift headset, despite it being around for years for developers to tinker around with, as well as HTC’s Vive, otherwise known as the Steam VR headset, which is set for release in the first quarter of 2016.
But the question that has yet to be answered by the industry is how to make the VR headset a viable commercial success, given that they will be priced in the hundreds of euro price range.
That is why Google capitalised on this concern by making VR tech an open source project with Google Cardboard.
With some cardboard, string and a mobile phone, you can make your own VR headset for practically nothing, which will hopefully help the entire industry, as well as expanding its applications to education and everyday use.
But what if you don’t want to tinker around with making your own case that you could break just by sitting on it? Well, that’s where the iCandy VR goggles come in.
Design – cheap, simple and to the point
The simplicity of the design and concept knows no bounds. That’s not a criticism by the way, it’s a compliment showing how accessible VR can be.
The black plastic mould looks identical to many of its dedicated VR relations and is easily placed onto your head, with a few minor adjustments with the help of some straps.
It’s padded around the eyes too to make it that bit more comfortable, rather than some uncomfortable cardboard like a DIY example.
It’s best to keep it tight though as the tighter it is – within reason – the more immersive the experience will be.
At the front of the headset you’ll find a button to press that opens the slot where you put your phone in, with it having two spring-loaded edges to make it adjustable to different-sized phones.
From my testing, it doesn’t fit all phones though, as while it was perfect for my iPhone 6’s 4.7in screen, it couldn’t handle the larger OnePlus One 5.5in, so around a 5in screen is probably your limit, even though it says that it can take up to 5.7in.
One bit that is a bit finicky, and no doubt makes it a lot cheaper to produce, is the space for the headphone jack.
By plugging in a pair of headphones, it obviously makes it more of an immersive experience, but in order to do that, you have to snap off a piece of the headset to allow for the jack to get in the headset.
I was a bit worried about snapping the piece off as it was properly stuck onto the headset, but once done it definitely helps.
Also, inside the case are two adjustable lenses, which can be moved to allow better focus, depending on how far your eyes are apart, basically; nothing fancy.
The experience – a 360 view of the world
It doesn’t take long to do a quick search on the Google Play Store or the App Store to find a whole range of compatible VR apps that are either free or a few quid.
The one I would wholeheartedly recommend is Vrze, which has already signed deals with U2, Muse and The New York Times to create and share VR content.
Once the file’s downloaded, you can hop straight into it once the phone is inserted in the case and let yourself look around.
For anyone who has used a dedicated VR helmet before, it will hardly look out of place.
And yet, you’re aware you’re working with a VR-light product here. If you wanted to break it down into semantics, it’s not technically a VR headset as, with a VR headset, you can move around a location.
With this, it’s more like you’re being brought on a tour on a railroad, but you can look around in 360 degrees.
It’s still really good for what you’ve paid for the headset, and the experience with apps like Vrze is seamless on the iPhone 6.
Of course, it will vary depending on the app and power of the phone you have, but my experience with a few different apps that ranged from visual spectacles to look-and-aim games were all good fun.
Price – Cheap as chips for what you get
It’s cheap, simple as. Websites that deal with the Google Cardboard headset are offering a built Cardboard for as little as €20, but this fully plastic and arguably more immersive iCandy VR headset costs just €29.99.
Sure, it won’t compete with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive for true VR power, but you can get a lot of enjoyment from this.
News outlets and musicians are only going to ramp up their VR content over the coming year through apps and other online content, so before long you’ll likely have a catalogue of content to check out with a cheap plastic headset you have in your drawer.
Given Christmas is around the corner, I can imagine this being a great reasonably-priced gift for that person who it’s impossible to buy for.
All images in this article via Luke Maxwell