The View-Master has been a classic childhood toy since the 1940s. In reality, it's a low-tech little gadget—pop in a photo disc, look through the lenses, and get a glimpse of travel destinations, cartoons, or even dinosaurs, all with the pull of an orange lever. Seventy years later, Mattel is releasing a 21st century update on the classic toy in the form of the View-Master Virtual Reality.
Instead of static pictures, the View-Master uses smartphones to display interactive educational VR experiences on topics like space, wildlife, and destinations.
Dimensions: 9.5 x 3.2 x 5.5 inches
Weight: 1.5 pounds
Who is it for?
With the push toward STEM education, the View-Master Virtual Reality is a neat way to combine tech and some light science education. As kids relate more and more to smartphones and tablets, the View-Master VR is an easy step from there to VR. And because the HMD will work with any Google Cardboard app, (because much like Cardboard, it's basically plastic lenses and a lever) users aren't confined to View-Master content, they're free to use any educational apps based on Cardboard. So, this is a kids product in terms of marketing, but if you want to snag it and explore the Cardboard universe when they're not using it, you can do that too.
What problems does it solve?
In the quest to make STEM more interesting and more engaging, adding a VR element could be a useful tack.
Also, whatever you put into a kid's hands is going to have to be sturdy. Sure, you could buy a Google Cardboard for a few bucks less, but it's going to get torn up. Or covered in juice or something. The View-Master, being made of plastic, will be far more durable.
Even though, as mentioned, the VR View-Master can access Cardboard apps, using the reels to access content could be a good way to keep the kids on educational material, and not stray over into more mature content.
Durability - Again, little kids and plastic are made for each other.
Interactive content - The experience packs feature interactive content. In the space pack, for example, the viewer can not only tour the solar system, but go from planet to planet, manipulate planets, pull up facts, and even play a mini-game that demonstrates the varying gravities of different celestial bodies.
Works with many smartphones - The VR View-Master is compatible with a whole list of Android and iPhones, even older models like the iPhone 5, and it comes with an adapter to make those smaller phones work. The good thing about that is if you've got an older phone you're not using, you can just use it for the display. Also, that means if you buy the View-Master this year, it won't be totally useless next year.
Brief introduction to augmented reality - To access the experiences, the user has to place a reel on a well-lit, flat surface and look at it through the HMD. What pops up is a little bit of augmented reality. So, for the destination reel featuring Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty floats above the reel. After the user is inside the experience, he or she won't have to back out and look at the reel again, so in that regard it feels a bit unnecessary, but it is a nice introduction to AR.
Multiple apps - Each experience pack has its own app, which feels inefficient, versus having one app for the whole product. That means if a user wants to go from the space pack to the destinations pack, they'll have to exit, open the front of the HMD, open the destinations app, and close the front again.
Experience packs are extra - Anyone who buys toys knows knows that there's always a catch—there's always some extra accessory to buy. In this case, it's the experience packs. While the starter kit comes with one sampler reel, it's not enough to support a worthwhile experience. The packs are $14.99 each, and while that's basically half the cost of the viewer, they're necessary because there's nothing to look at otherwise (other than using it as a Google Cardboard viewer).
Latch - The packaging in the box suggests the View-Master is for ages 7 and up, but the latch that keeps the front closed takes some maneuvering to open. It's not super obvious how it works, initially.
The View-Master is really a souped up Google Cardboard. It's an HMD without the sensors of a mobile-driven HMD like the Samsung Gear VR. So, if you don't specifically want the View-Master, you can still find versions of Cardboard that are made from other materials aside from cardboard that are also similarly priced.
Where to get more info
It's a relatively cheap, fun way to introduce the kids to virtual reality and augmented reality, and make the experience of learning about topics like important destinations, wildlife, and space more engaging and interactive. Plus, the view isn't totally closed off to the older crowd as it's compatible with Google Cardboard apps.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.