If you are a certain age, as the team at J4G are, you will remember the joy of using a viewmaster, with its clicky button and views of far off places you never knew existed. This new generation of children are now getting to feel that joy using VR apps through the updated Viewmaster from Mattel.
To the review!
There a lot of choices for you to use a VR headset in conjunction with your phone these days and they range from the very very cheap like Google Cardboard, to the device exclusive and pricey range like the Gear VR. Each has its benefits and pitfalls and the Viewmaster fits neatly between the two.
Unlike the Cardboard or some Chinese imports that try to improve the Cardboard the Viewmaster is beautifully constructed. The casing itself is made of what can only be described as “Fire Truck” red with pure white accents. If remember the original Viewmaster you will see many design elements in this iteration although this is clearly a more modern well thought out design.
The tinted plastic front panel also adds to the modern, space age look while allowing the smartphone camera to be used by the app. We did have some issues with the smartphone camera not picking up things however, which we can only assume comes from the tint in the plastic. It looks good but may reduce performance. The lack of slots for power and sound is also a detriment as VR apps can really suck up the juice. The Viewmaster does have slots to allow sound to escape but for a truly immersive experience bluetooth headphones are really the way to go.
Internally the clamping system for the smartphone is just great all over. We have used it with 5 different devices of varying sizes and thickness’ and all seem to fit with ease. The Spring loaded action is very secure and the rubber stoppers cushion your phone nicely. The lenses are as far as we can tell, great. The clarity is superb and the focal length seems to be good. Of course they are a set focal length which means your eyes may have trouble adjusting if you don’t have 20/20 vision and if you are a wearer of glasses I’m afraid you are out of luck. The thick rubber around the eyes is not wide enough to allow viewing with glass on. J4G has been reliably informed by our good friend Russell Holly over at Android Central that the new Gear VR from Samsung is big enough for all our glasses needs although you will need a Samsung device and $99 to have one of those!
The last points to mention when talking about build is the button and strap. Made to feel like the Viewmaster of old the button has a wonderful mechanical feel when it is pressed. All the button really does is tap the screen but it is a much more pleasant experience than the magnet from Cardboards past. The lack of headstrap is annoying more than a deal breaker but it would make the whole unit much more diverse. As it is right now it would be impossible to play games on the Viewmaster using anything but the single button on the device. There are VR games out now that use controllers that you wouldn’t be able to use with the Viewmaster as it is.
Mattel have released special VR software for the Viewmaster and the starter pack comes with a demo reel reminiscent of the original picture wheels. It really is nothing more than a 3D QR code for the VR software to recognise but it adds a cup more nostalgia to the already heady brew. You can purchase Viewmaster Reels from Amazon for around $15 that work with the three different apps, Destinations, Space, and wildlife. It’s important to note the demo reel will allow you to view one part of each of those apps and that. With the demo reel we were able to tour the Acropolis in Athens and find out snippets of information that appear as glowing halo’s on the ground. Seeing ancient monuments may not be as awe inspiring as actually being there but for those of us who will never have chance to go this is a very close second. Being able to turn in a circle and see Athens spread out below really is a treat. In theory you don’t need any of the Mattel apps to enjoy the Viewmaster. Virtual Reality apps are becoming more widely available each day and most are very good fun and often free!
The Viewmaster from Mattel is an excellent first foray into smartphone powered VR. It’s robust design makes it good for adults and kids and although it suffers from no head strap and cable slots, at $24.99 it’s as close to the perfect starting point as you could wish. Remember though you may have to use contact lenses!
Buy one, you won’t regret it.