What's changed? From a does-this-advance-the-state-of-virtual-reality perspective, not a whole heck of a lot. It's still just a chunk of cardboard with no fancy cameras, positional trackers, or even a headstrap to keep it on.
What it does have now is a bigger, thicker cardboard frame that's far more durable, and holds phones up to six inches in size — with way larger lenses to compensate for the bigger screen. Oh, and it's got a button made of cardboard too. No need for finnicky magnets or a metal washer.
How the heck does a cardboard button work? It's pretty cool: You're actually pressing down on a cardboard flap that's linked to a conductive pad, which makes contact with your phone's touchscreen when you press it down. The conductive material stretches all the way to your fingertip, so you're basically completing the circuit the same way you would if you actually touched the screen.
You can put the new Cardboard away and protect its lenses when it's not in use. The sides that cover your face can fold away to protect one side of the lenses, and the cardboard slip cover takes care of the other.
Oh, and there's a QR code on the bottom of this unit, too, so that virtual reality experiences built with the Cardboard SDK can automatically adjust for the new optics.
So, is it any different to use? My buddy Brent Rose was wearing his headset while I dissected mine, and here are his thoughts.
Using the new version of Cardboard is much like the original, and that's mostly a good thing. If you've already used the app with a previous version of Cardboard, you just have to go into the settings and scan the QR code on the new version. Just drop your phone in, line it up properly, and you're off to the races. I found that it fit both my Nexus 6 and Sean's 4.7-inch first generation Moto X, no problem. The previous version of Cardboard was definitely too small to hold the Nexus 6.
There's nothing here that feels all that revolutionary. The lenses are larger and seem to be slightly higher quality than on the previous version, but practically speaking it doesn't make too big of a difference in terms of how things actually look. The biggest difference is that the new capacitive button works far more consistently than the magnetic system on the previous version. I'm a little worried that the mechanism may weaken over time (we're talking about a cardboard hinge) and that eventually it might not have as much travel, but so far so good!
There are definitely some things that need to be improved, though. For instance, there has to be a way to switch between third-party made apps without pulling your phone out of the Cardboard, manually closing out of one app (which is often a pain), and then finding and opening another app, and then putting the phone back into Cardboard. The Cardboard app lists the apps you have available, but you can't access those within the app while you're wearing it. Really annoying.
Also, some apps, it seems, have not adjusted for the new viewer and I had double vision. The game Lamper-Dive, for instance, produced double-vision so bad that it was totally unplayable. Apps like that were in the minority, though. The trippy-as-hell Adult Swim app looked great, as did the scary-as-hell Insidious 3 app. I might've peed a little.
We're really glad to see Google continuing to support Cardboard, but frankly, we want more. I want to see that awesome Justin Lin Spotlight Story in Cardboard. I want it to be easier to switch between apps. And yeah, I want to be able to strap it to my damn face. But it's still very exciting, and Google's Cardboard in the Classroom program (aka Expeditions) looks amazing. Any improvement is good, but we want more.
Find more pictures of the new Cardboard (and some comparison shots with last year's version of Cardboard) immediately below.