The best Google Cardboard VR apps

Games, concerts, and other immersive virtual reality experiences—and many are available for free.

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Don't be Card-bored

Cardboard is Google’s do-it-yourself gateway into virtual reality, letting you strap your Android phone into a cardboard shell (with a couple of lenses) and immerse yourself in 3D worlds. It’s pretty cheap and easy to get started, and there are many dozens of apps to download.

The selection has grown significantly since we first assembled this list in early 2015, so we’ve expanded and improved our picks. Whether you want games, 3D video content, or other fun curiosities to dig into, these apps should amuse you for some time. And nearly all of them are free, to boot. (Remember: the split left/right images merge into one 3D experience when you use the headset.)

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Cardboard

Google's Cardboard starter app serves as a nice hub for the overall experience, collecting the compatible apps you've downloaded and pushing you towards others, even giving you a little taste of the 360-degree experience within the menu. But it also has fun demo experiences that aren't found elsewhere.

The Google Earth demo is especially neat, although very lo-fi: you can fly around cities, which are roughly rendered and have flickering textures, making it unintentionally dreamlike. Tour Guide lets you view Versailles with narration, Exhibit shows off cultural artifacts that you can see from all over, plus you can view any videos or photospheres you have saved locally.

Cardboard (Free)

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Cardboard Camera

Google’s own Cardboard Camera is an anomaly on this list: while most Cardboard apps simply want you to experience their VR creations, this app lets you build your own. The easy-to-use app uses your phone’s camera to quickly capture a moment via a panoramic circle around you, and then turns it into a 3D experience viewable with Cardboard.

It’s kind of amazing, given how speedy and straightforward the process is, plus you can add a little bit of narration or background noise for atmosphere. Imagine capturing an immersive look at an old home before moving, a beautiful vacation locale, or an event you never want to forget—simply fire up Cardboard Camera and relive it all over again whenever you please.

Cardboard Camera (Free)

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VRSE

Among VR apps designed to dazzle, VRSE is one of the best around. Evolution of Verse, the star attraction, is a short film full of surreal imagery: a train chugs through a lake until it smashes into your position, and then bursts into thousands of winged creatures that again transform into confetti. It takes a weird twist at the end, and the video is just a few minutes long, but it’s worth watching a couple times and sharing with friends.

And the app has added a fair bit more since being one of the earliest Cardboard standouts: there's a mini-documentary about a Syrian refugee camp, a VICE News doc about the Millions March in New York City, U2 and Muse music videos, and more. All of it is free, too.

VRSE (Free)

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Proton Pulse

Easily the most fun I’ve had with a Cardboard game, Proton Pulse essentially puts a 3D spin on Breakout—or “one-player Pong” if you haven’t played the old classic. In this case, you’ll move your head to shift the translucent paddle in front of you, and use it to bat a bouncing ball to clear the blocks floating around the play field.

It’s a simple concept, but for a game that relies entirely on head movements, it’s a lot of fun. Credit that in part to the super crisp, vibrant graphics, which expertly depict the depth of each stage and really show the benefit of gaming in VR. But mainly, Proton Pulse is just a classic, tried-and-true gaming premise that’s smartly tuned for headset play. And it’s a blast.

Proton Pulse ($1.99)

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Star Wars

With the success of The Force Awakens under Disney’s command, Star Wars is utterly inescapable again—and if you consider that a very good thing, then you’ve got some Cardboard action to look forward to. Simply fire up the official Star Wars app and hit the Jakku Spy menu for some brief, Force Awakens-inspired immersion.

You’ll find a handful of clips inspired from the film, including sights of rolling droid BB-8 and the Millennium Falcon, all viewable in 360 degrees by looking all around you. They’re very short and don’t really serve an important narrative purpose within the film or universe, but it’s a neat way for fans to get a first taste of Star Wars in VR. 

Star Wars (Free)

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YouTube

Nearly everyone with an Android phone has YouTube installed, but did you know that the video giant also now has proper Cardboard support? Google recently updated the service with full Cardboard functionality for 360-degree videos, which means you can view a video, look freely in all directions, and see the footage with added depth.

Granted, only supported videos have the free-look and depth, and it’s a rather select few videos that are compatible at this time. But there’s really interesting stuff on there, and the list is only going to expand—and anything that isn’t specially encoded can still be viewed in Cardboard via a digital wall projected into your makeshift headset. 

YouTube (Free)

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NYT VR

The New York Times clearly sees a future with immersive storytelling, as the company sent out more than a million Cardboard viewers to subscribers—and launched its own VR app at the same time. NYT VR still tells the kinds of enrapturing stories the newspaper is known for, but does it primarily by letting the subjects tell their own tales as you soak in the surroundings.

For example, you’ll see the Paris vigil to the November 2015 terrorist attacks that gripped the city, as citizens describe why they visited; or follow three refugee children in a documentary about the worldwide crisis. It’s not always “fun” subject matter, like most VR stuff tends to be; but with content this powerful, you won’t want to look away.

NYT VR (Free)

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Caaaaardboard

Not to be confused with Google’s Cardboard app, Caaaaardboard is a VR conversion of the entertaining AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!!, an awkwardly titled indie game about freefalling through score gates while spray-painting the buildings on the way down. 

It’s easy to see why it makes for an engaging VR experience, and it truly is effortlessly entertaining. You don’t have to tap anything or use a controller: it’s all about subtly shifting your gaze as you fall, which you’ll do to avoid smashing into buildings or try to rack up a chain of score boosts. It looks great, it’s a lot of fun, and it’ll also test your balance if you opt to play standing up. Bonus!

Caaaaardboard ($2.99)

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Titans of Space

Virtual reality is an amazing tool for experiencing things we may never easily see with our own eyes—and what’s more unlikely than a trip into the outer reaches of the solar system? Titans of Space kicks your planetarium’s stiff models to the curb, delivering a guided tour that zips you between planets and moons.

The pulsing, slightly haunting music adds drama to this quick quest, which looks great and helps you not only learn about the configuration of the solar system, but also the comparative sizes of each planet and/or moon. You can even purchase optional narration, if you please, which can only make this star cruise even more appealing. 

Titans of Space (Free)

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Google Street View

Most of us know Street View as the best way to scope out a Maps destination from eye level, but Google has expanded the feature to become something akin to virtual tourism—and it has its own Android app. With Google Street View, you can pull up tours of all sorts of worldwide locales and view them as 360-degree photospheres with Cardboard. 

The sights are often spectacular, whether it’s exploring Yosemite, scoping out the Miniatur Wonderland model railway in Germany, or viewing other famous and familiar sights from all around the world. You can even share your own photo sphere captured in the moment, and check out other user creations around the map.

Google Street View (Free)

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Jack White: THIRD-D

Jaunt is making its case for VR with concert footage from notable acts, and if Jack White isn’t your thing, then perhaps Paul McCartney will do the trick. But while Macca’s app just has one song for now, White’s free THIRD-D offering has three tracks shot in a couple different locations, providing much more to see.

And the locations help make the performances memorable. White and his band perform “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground” in the outdoors Red Rocks Amphitheatre while a thunderstorm pummels the stage, with lightning in the background and White even slipping and falling in the rain. The other songs were shot at Fenway Park in Boston, which itself proves a majestic setting to look around freely while lights flash and raucous music plays.

Jack White: THIRD-D (Free)

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Vanguard V

Here's another VR game that's fantastic for the mere minutes it lasts, as it's simply a demo for a still-in-development project. From the same developer of Proton Pulse comes a space shooter akin to Star Fox and others of its ilk, only now you're controlling the armored heroine by subtly moving your head.

Visually, it's the best thing I've played in VR: everything moves fluidly, with lots of effects and pulsing lights hooking you into the world. There isn't much to the gameplay here, however, as you're simply staring at threats to shoot them out of space—and even then, it didn't feel like the shots always came when I expected them to. But it's an enrapturing demo that I'll play again and again until the full version eventually releases.

Vanguard V (Free)

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Tilt Brush Gallery

Google’s Tilt Brush is a 3D painting app designed for the HTC Vive, a high-end, PC-based virtual reality headset that isn't yet released—and it looks and seems truly fantastic. Tilt Brush Gallery, on the other hand, is a much simpler affair designed for your phone and Cardboard: it lets you watch those 3D paintings being made, digital brushstroke by digital brushstroke. 

While surely much less creative and immersive, it’s still really neat to see 3D paintings come to life in front of you and have the ability to view them from any angle. For now, the viewer app just has examples, but it looks like you’ll be able to tap into online galleries for user-created works once the Vive is released. 

Tilt Brush Gallery (Free)

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Sisters

Well, this is unsettling. If you’re fond of shock-value horror films, then you’ll surely get a kick out of Sisters. It’s a brief experience set in a room during a thunderstorm, and the pair of young girl dolls might grab your attention. Especially when one disappears and the door opens. And then the other goes missing. And then surely when… look, I’m not going to ruin it for you. 

It’s designed to freak you out, and you better believe that having a headset on your face amplifies the effect—even when you’re expecting an eerie surprise. Based on how effective Sisters is, you can bet that the Play Store will have many more lightly interactive VR scare sessions like this in the future.

Sisters (Free)

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War of Words VR

Many of the VR apps available for Cardboard right now are more demos of what could be rather than full-fledged experiences, and that’s definitely the case with War of Words VR. It’s also the shortest of the immersive worlds showcased here, but it makes a strong impression within just a minute of your time.

War of Words builds a small scene around “The Kiss,” a Siegfried Sassoon poem written during World War I, and acts out the floating text’s grim subject with a rifle and a few soldier silhouettes. Watching the bullet whiz from the chamber to its target as you spin around helps drive home the message in a very visible way, and the app shows a lot of promise for what could be done with more elaborate works.

War of Words VR (Free)