Mattel’s re-launch of the View-Master for the digital age has brought the venerated plastic viewer into the 21st century in partnership with Google’s Cardboard platform.
Announced at Google I/O in 2014, Google’s Cardboard program lets you use your phone as the screen in a head mounted augmented or virtual reality world, depending on the apps you use. It’s grown over the last two years to incorporate a gen-2 model which has been developed into a full platform with big name hardware and software partners which has firmly cemented Google in the growing VR industry.
The View-Master relaunch is part of Google’s ‘Works with Cardboard’ initiative which lets you ‘tune’ your phone to your viewer using the Google ‘ Cardboard app, which is available from Google Play and a special barcode included on the headset. It’s a good idea and tends to sort out any inconsistencies with various focal lengths you encounter with various different lenses on the ultra-cheap viewers available on the market.
The View-Master however, is anything but ultra-cheap. At $49.99 it’s one of the more premium options available in Cardboard viewers. There’s definitely a reason for paying a little more for you headset.
The iconic look and feel of the View-Master has been retained with the familiar orange shutter lever replacing the magnet on Google Cardboard and the familiar red coloured plastic making up the headset, but it also accommodates the function of Google Cardboard and the need to mount a phone into the unit.
The centre of the headset has a rounded plastic bump where a cardboard reel would sit in the old-school View Master, this bump acts as a latch to open the headset, and in a nod to that design, the bump looks like a reel is sitting in the headset.
The hinge system to open and close the unit is fantastic and chunky enough, like the rest of the headset which is held together with good solid screws, to take a hammering from the younger users – and have no fear because younger kids will want to play with it. The View-Master is aimed at ages 7+ but my 4.5 year old took to it like a duck to water – as this younger generation tend to with all technology.
The View-Master is a very comfortable headset to wear for an extended period of time, with a rubberised seal around the eye-pieces ensuring you get a good fit when blocking out all other visual input giving you a truly immersive experience. There’s no head strap, indeed Cardboard is really designed as a handheld system on purpose. There is a wrist strap to make sure you or those younger users don’t drop it accidentally.
Internally, the mounting system is spectacular with a spring mounted mechanism inside for accommodating various sized handsets, right up to the Nexus 6P. iPhone owners will have to use the provided plastic mount to get their phone in, but all the Android phones I tried had no problems fitting into the bracket. The headset is designed to be used by devices with screens between 5″ and 6″, with Mattel specifically listing:
- 5, 5C, 5S, 6 & 6Plus
- Galaxy S4, S5, S6
- Galaxy Note 4
- Droid Turbo
- Moto X (2014)
- G3 & G4
- One (no specific model)
- Nexus 5, Nexus 6
One thing we noted after extended use – and you’ll probably use the View-Master quite a lot especially if you pull it out at a party or even just with a group of interested people – the phone you’re using gets rather warm. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of ventilation inside the unit so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on that.
There’s a good reason why the View-Master costs $50, it’s well built and sturdy enough to last as long as the decades old model you probably still have lurking in an attic or toybox somewhere.
View-Master does indeed operate as a Cardboard viewer, allowing you to use YouTube 360° videos as well as any of the various Cardboard apps available from Google Play.
Mattel however has spent years refining their View Master experience and has again done so with this next-gen View Master. Mattel is offering up three initial titles for the View Master titled: Wildlife, Space and Destinations, though based on Mattel’s prolific offerings of View Master reels in the past you can expect there will be more content coming along soon enough.
Of the three titles, Wildlife seems the most polished, but that’s to be expected with National Geographic involved in the production of the content. The Space and Destinations packages have their own charms however, offering up quite educational information in a fun and interesting new way for kids to experience the information being presented.
The actual content for the View-Master comes from Google Play regardless of whether you buy a ‘Reel’ or purchase the content through In-App Purchase. You will save some money buying the physical disc with reels costing $18.99 at retail, while In-App Purchase costs just over $21.
The apps themselves are pretty large, so it’s something to be mindful of when downloading from the Play Store – basically you may want to make sure you’re on Wi-Fi before forging ahead:
Once you have one of the three View-Master experiences installed, you load it and then follow on-screen instructions, which include telling you to mount the phone in the headset. If you purchased the physical reels, there’s various cards inside you use to unlock content. If you’re trying out the demo reel though, there’s some neat effects which you can get with an Augmented Reality style visual happening on the disc in your hand. If you have no reels, then you can jump straight into the app.
The experiences themselves are great, but the design of the apps reflects the dual release format of the apps and headset with what can only be described as a very much iOS design to them. For a start there’s a dedicated ‘Back’ button in the app rather than just relying on the native Back button in Android – in fact the back button doesn’t actually work, and a reliance on big menu buttons rather than overflow menus. It’s not bad design actually when it comes to Cardboard apps, it’s rather decent.
I’ve purchased all three experiences through Google Play and played with them all and they’re pretty decent. I’d recommend trying out the different titles in their demo mode before deciding to part with your cash (or Google Play Credit) though.
I’ve tried a lot of Google Cardboard headsets, from flimsy $4 jobs from DealExtreme, right up through the official Google I/O released Cardboard and into the plastic version from Kmart and the LG G3 specific model (it’s quite well done too), but the View-Master is the best so far. At $50 it’s quite expensive, but if you’re into cardboard viewing for YouTube or various other apps, this is the king.
The View-Master is well constructed, comfortable to use and takes a wide array of phones. There’s not much more to say about the headset except it’s very much recommended if you’re into Google Cardboard.
Software wise, I would love to see more produced content from View-Master. There’s currently very few downloads of them, relatively speaking, with stats listing somewhere between 1,000-5,000 downloads of each experience. Those stats don’t immediately scream success, but the content is high quality so whether View-Master wants to continue creating content at the current pricing structure or bring it down to make up for it in volume.
I’ll be taking the View-Master along to my family reunion next week to gauge reactions from iOS and Android users in that group, but I`ll be very much interested in getting the feedback from the teachers in the group, as my son loves the View-Master.
Going into the Christmas season, the View-Master starter pack makes for a great gift idea, at $50 it fills that gap for tech and toy lovers alike, so head into your local Target, Big W, Kmart or Toys R Us to check it out.