The Best Google Cardboard Apps of 2019

The best VR apps for your entertainment

Google Cardboard unit on a tabletop.

 Joseph Okpako/Getty Images

Virtual reality is the wave of the future, and has been since the idea first originated in 1957 with the Sensorama. While the technology has come a long way since then, most virtual reality headsets remain outside the affordable price range for consumers. However, there are some affordable, low-price options for headsets — and none are more affordable than the Google Cardboard.

At around $15, the Google Cardboard headset is actually made of cardboard and is powered by your phone. Just fold the box into the proper shape, fire up an app, and slide your phone into the designated slot. It's that simple.

Of course, to truly make the most of virtual reality, you'll want to use it with some of the best VR apps for Google Cardboard.

01
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Best App for Socializing in VR: vTime XR

vTime XR is one of the best apps for socialization in virtual reality.

 vTime

What We Like

  • vTime XR is cross-platform.

  • There are a lot of different locales to visit.

What We Don't Like

  • The more vibrant character animations require a controller, which the Google Cardboard doesn't have.

Imagine Facebook in virtual reality and you'll start to understand exactly what vTime XR is. This is a virtual social network that allows users to create their own, unique avatars and chat with friends and strangers from all over the world. The "XR" tag on the name is new and designates cross-platform compatibility. While this app works great with Google Cardboard, users can also chat with people using an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and many other types of headsets.

vTime XR places users in a virtualized environment, but there are dozens of destinations. Sit at a swanky hotel bar, camp in the middle of a forest, and much more. You can even take a virtual selfie if you want to. vTime XR works with both iOS and Android and is totally free.

02
of 10

Best App for Culture: Google Arts and Culture

Google Arts and Culture lets you explore museums and art galleries.

Google 

What We Like

  • The hundreds of museum options will keep you entertained for hours.

  • The ability to see van Gogh's Starry Night at will is nothing short of amazing.

What We Don't Like

  • Controlling the app without a controller can be a bit clunky.

If you love exploring museums, then the Google Arts and Culture app is one of those rare can't-miss downloads. Google partnered with hundreds of museums and art galleries from more than 70 countries to allow people to see the exhibits online. While there is a non-virtual reality mode for this app, the fact that users can take a virtual tour of most of the museums really sets it apart.

If you see an installation or exhibit that interests you, you can zoom in for a closer look. You can even sort by time periods. The personal collections option lets you save your favorite pieces of art to share with friends later, and the "On This Day" feature lets you explore history that happened on whatever that current day is. It's a great way to visit museums in other countries that you might be able to afford to visit otherwise. Google Arts and Culture works with both iOS and Android for zero cost.

03
of 10

Best for 3D Modeling: Sketchfab

Sketchfab is a great way to get up close and personal with 3D models.

Sketchfab

What We Like

  • Sketchfab is an amazing introduction to 3D modeling.

  • There are a lot of models to examine and inspect.

What We Don't Like

  • Some models are not available without payment.

3D models are always interesting whether you create them yourself or not, but Sketchfab takes it to a different level. The community around this app has uploaded a massive number of models online that users can view and explore in both AR and VR. Something as simple as a couch to as complex as the interior of a castle. Many of the models are completely free to download and explore, and you can always examine a model for free.

Sketchfab was designed as a sort of marketplace for 3D modelers to sell their work, and as a result you can sort by a few different categories—including low-poly models and game-ready models. One of the best ways to check out the coolest models is to sort by what's popular and take a closer look at all of the interesting creations. A quick browse showed everything from anime-inspired models to Stranger Things homages. Sketchfab works with both iOS and Android and is free to download.

04
of 10

Best App for News: NYT VR

NYT VR is a great way to connect with the news.

New York Times 

What We Like

  • NYT VR lets users see the news in a totally different way.

  • 360 degree documentary experiences.

What We Don't Like

  • Content selection can be limited.

  • Rarely includes breaking news.

If you like to keep an ear to the ground for the latest and greatest news stories, the New York Times is likely your go-to choice. Even for those that don't live in New York, the world-renowned newspaper is famous for a reason. Now that same newspaper has made its way to virtual reality, where users can watch news stories, documentaries, and much more with nothing but the Google Cardboard and their phones.

The ability to dive into a documentary and get a 360-degree view of the action creates an immersive experience that drives home the storytelling in a way just reading about it cannot. Whether it's a shark cage or a dog show, the experiences are nearly endless. NYT VR is available for Android and is free to download. 

05
of 10

Best App for Photos: Google Cardboard Camera

The Google Cardboard Camera lets you make your own VR experiences.

Google 

What We Like

  • Easy to create a 3D photo and capture a moment like never before.

  • Acceptable alternative to a VR camera.

  • Free.

What We Don't Like

  • The spinning motion required to take the photograph requires a degree of precision and finesse that can be hard to master.

If you enjoy the experiences you have in virtual reality and want to try your hand at creating a few of them yourself, check out the Google Cardboard Camera. This app lets you take 360-degree photos and view them through Google Cardboard. It's a great way to allow friends and family to experience moments just as you did: totally immersed. The way the app works is a lot like taking a panorama. Open the camera and follow the onscreen instructions. It will have you turn slowly in a circle.

The app does the hard work of stitching the photos together. It also grabs audio from around you so that you're appealing to multiple senses at once. It also works with Google Street View VR. Google Cardboard Camera works with both Android and iOS and is totally free. It's one of the easiest ways to create virtual reality photographs without investing in a budget-busting VR camera. 

06
of 10

Best App for Travel: Google Earth VR

Google Earth VR is a great way to explore new places.

Google

What We Like

  • Fascinating to look at.

  • Ability to view a location without visiting it.

  • For entertainment, it's nearly flawless.

What We Don't Like

  • It's hard to find anything to complain about with this app.

If there's a destination or locale you'd like to experience further but you haven't had the opportunity to travel there, Google Earth VR lets you check out the spot without ever leaving your home. There is street view imagery from more than 85 countries across the globe, and you can explore each and every one of them in virtual reality. You can visit places like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or even famous filming locations, like the site used for Game of Throne's King's Landing.

There are other uses for the app, too. Planning to move to a new neighborhood and want a ground-level look at the surrounding area? There's no better way to check it out than to slip on a VR headset and stroll through the city. You can use your headset to plan vacations this way, too. Google Earth VR is available for Android and is totally free — and it's one of the best ways to feel the true potential and power of virtual reality.

07
of 10

Best App for Content Discovery: Fulldive VR

Fulldive VR is a great way to find new content.

Google 

What We Like

  • Great way to find new VR content to watch.

  • Includes YouTube-compatible player.

What We Don't Like

  • Not all available content is free.

The great thing about virtual reality is that there is no end to the amount of content available to watch. Discovering that content, on the other hand, can be a bit of a hassle. That's where Fulldive VR comes in. The app calls itself a VR navigation platform, which translates to an all-in-one solution for finding more things to watch with your Google Cardboard headset. Fulldive VR includes a YouTube-compatible VR player (and yes, there are VR videos on YouTube), a VR video player, and a browser for viewing online content.

Fulldive VR is available for both Android and iOS and is totally free, although some of the services that offer VR content might require payment. It's definitely one of the best apps to check out.

08
of 10

Best App for Netflix: Netflix VR

Netflix in VR is a better way to binge-watch.

Google

What We Like

  • VR makes binge watching even better.

  • A great way to avoid the distractions of a crowded house.

What We Don't Like

  • No matter how immersive, this sometimes still feels like watching Netflix on a phone screen.

Sometimes you just want to watch Netflix in peace away from the distractions of a home full of people. What better way than in your own private theater? The Netflix VR app places the user in a cozy, plush living space with a television placed on the fireplace. If you look to the side, you can see out a set of massive windows to a beautiful mountain vista. In short, it's the ultimate escape for when you just want to unwind and sink into a fictonal world for a few minutes (or hours.)

You can also swap to Void Mode, which puts the screen in front of you without the distractions of the faux-room. All of Netfix's programming is available. While there aren't any special functions to watching in VR, the illusion of a much larger screen makes you forget you're watching on a phone screen and makes you feel like you're actually in the room itself. Netflix VR is available for iOS and Android.

09
of 10

Best App for Education: Google Expeditions

Google Expeditions is a great educational tool.

Google

What We Like

  • There are more than 200 destinations.

  • Very educational.

What We Don't Like

  • Many of the spots are not true VR experiences, but rather up-close slides.

The Google Expeditions app was designed to be used in a classroom environment, so education is embedded in its very code. That said, there are more than 200 different experiences users can immerse themselves in. Famous landmarks, the site of historic battles, and many more destinations are potential options. The scenes are presented in a way that helps you understand the significance of each location and leaves you with an experience you won't soon forget.

Google Expeditions is available for both Android and iOS for free. It is a sort of a companion to the Arts and Culture app mentioned before, but while that one allows you to visit museum exhibits, Google Expeditions takes you to far-flung locales that you may not be interested in visiting otherwise. 

10
of 10

Best App for Aviation Fans: VR Hangar

VR Hangar is a great way to see aviation history for yourself.

Smithsonian Institute

What We Like

  • Virtual reality is a great way to experience aviation history.

  • Includes aviation experiences not available today.

What We Don't Like

  • Given the breadth of the subject matter, there doesn't seem like there's enough content.

In the modern world, airlines are a daily occurrence — but it's only once you've been up close and personal with an aircraft that you truly understand the immense size of these machines. VR Hangar makes that possible by taking users on a hands-on experience of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. It brings some of the coolest exhibits to life in a way that a flat experience cannot.

You can experience everything from the boarding and launch of the Apollo 11 command module, the first flight of the Wright Brothers Flyer, and much more. The app is available for iOS and Android and is completely, totally free. It's the perfect way to introduce curious young minds to the world of aviation.