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Low Cost Virtual Reality Headsets with Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

You might think virtual reality (VR) headsets costs hundreds of dollars. But you’d be wrong. The Google Cardboard project offers free VR headset plans you can build yourself, or pay $20+ for a pre-made certified headset that works with your Android or iPhone smartphone.

It’s called the Google Cardboard project. You can download for free a to scale design pattern to cut out your own headset from cardboard you have. Or buy one pre-made. In either case, you can download apps that give your smartphone and VR headset a real virtual experience of roller coasters, Google Street View, or other fun things. The virtual reality effects are amazing.

If you do buy a Google Cardboard headset, it needs to say Works With Google Cardboard (WWGC) to meet their standards and work with VR apps.

Google Cardboard Materials

  • You’ll need to download the headset plans from Google or buy a Google Cardboard headset from https://www.google.com/get/cardboard/get-cardboard/
  • Search the iTunes and/or Google Play stores for the term, ‘Google Cardboard apps.’ At the least, download the Google Cardboard app. There are other VR apps to download, as well.
  • An Android or iPhone phone.

The quickest and easiest way to experience Google Cardboard is to buy an approved headset. I bought an I AM CARDBOARD model for $19.99 USD.

If you download the plans to build your own headset, you’ll need to find or buy cardboard as well as two biconvex 34 mm aspherical singlet lenses; four velcro strips; one neodymium ring magnet and one ceramic disk magnet of approximate size: 0.75in (19mm) diameter and 0.12in (3mm) thickness; and a rubber band. The plans include details and suggested sources.


If you buy a cardboard headset, as I did:

  1. Follow instructions to build the headset. Headsets are simple in design: a box that holds your smartphone securely in an enclosed area in front with two clear lenses positioned in front of the phone.
  2. Open the Google Cardboard app and follow instructions to identify your headset type. In my case, the app asked me to capture a QR code on the side of the headset.
  3. Place the phone in the enclosed area at the front of your headset with the screen facing the two clear lenses and your head.

Using VR apps like Google Street View involves pulling the phone out of the headset, opening the app, then replacing the phone in your headset with the screen facing you. Apps might ask you to complete a few steps to calibrate them for optimal viewing.

Also note the Works with Google Cardboard headsets include a brace that runs from the lenses to your phone screen, to keep the screen a set distance from the two lenses. This ensures you can view the VR apps clearly with full effect. There’s also a side metal round magnet on the headset you can pull down to pause the VR app and/or switch to the next scene.

For $19.99, I bought the I AM CARDBOARD v2 headset in yellow. Building the headset involved matching numbered tabs with numbered holes. My iPhone 5S fit tightly in the phone area at the front of the headset.

While I wear glasses, it was not difficult to get an incredibly immersive experience. Google Street View showed the Eiffel Tower and I could look up at the top as well as side to side to see the heavy tower footings and behind to see the park nearby. It’s a stunning life like experience.

While Google Cardboard cannot replace elaborate state of the art virtual reality headsets, these low cost headsets are a fun, do it yourself way to experience virtual reality. It’s an easy project to do by yourself or in groups. Plus cardboard headsets are easy to decorate and personalize.

Learn More

Google Cardboard


Google Cardboard Apps