The soft and squishy foam in the Merge VR headset provides comfortable VR and AR viewing - with 2-axis control of each individual lens. The best VR you can get on a small-ish budget...
Merge VR Goggles Review
Value For Money
Great squidgy fun, with some flaws
From its distinctive purple colour to its soft and squeezable texture, the Merge VR offers an alternative vision to the hordes of Chinese smartphone holders flooding the market. We like it a lot.
The current wave of ‘VR headsets’ for iOS and Android devices should really be relabelled ‘smartphone holders’. The Merge VR has no electronics or sensors of its own (unlike the more expensive Samsung Gear VR) and the fully tethered VR peripherals offered by Oculus Rift and HTC Vice.
All the Merge does is provide a reasonably comfortable way of viewing a stereoscopic image on your iOS or Android smartphone close up – in order to provide virtual reality and augmented reality experiences. All the heavy lifting – the dual video streams, movement sensing, collision detection etc. – is handled by the smartphone.
Out of the box, our first impression of the Merge VR goggles is that they are bright purple (think Barney the dinosaur) and are made out of soft, squeezable foam. The combination of cute colour and tactile feel makes you warm to the Merge VR in a friendly way. It’s – dare we say it – a cuddly gadget.
The combination of cute colour and tactile feel makes you warm to the Merge VR in a friendly way. It’s a cuddly gadget.
The foam material also has the benefit of being relatively lightweight – the Merge VR goggles weigh in at just 340 grams. And the soft material helps the goggle feel more comfortable when worn – especially around the nose and eye areas, where we’ve found other VR headsets can become painful after extended use.
Merge claims that these VR headsets can accomodate any smartphone made in the past 2 years – and certainly it had no problems with the iPhone 5, iPhone 6 and Nexus 6P that we used for testing.
Incidentally there are no tray or clasps on the Merge VR, you simply slide the smartphone into the open slot at the front of the case and the soft foam holds the precious device safely in place.
Setting up the Merge VR goggles involves visiting the well curated Merge VR Start site and downloading the starter pack of VR software that includes the Google Cardboard app. Launch this then scan the QR code on the back of the headstrap to set up the phone with the configuration details for the Merge headset.
Then the headsets are ready for action. We picked a variety of games and ‘experiences’ to throw at the Merge including the bio-tech racing game InCell VR, Vanguard V, Google Street View and Zombie (insert).
It was the best of features, it was the worst of features
Which brings us immediately to one of the best and the worst features of the Merge VR. The twin lenses are mounted on adjustable levers that can move independently in and out to change the distance between them. This tilting movement is crucial to getting the best possible viewing position – and provides a wide variety of options to fit everyone’s particular eye location and angle.
Unfortunately once you’ve achieved the ideal setting – and you will recognise it immediately because the field of view rushes into focus – it’s immensely difficult to keep the levers in place without holding them in both hands. The softness of the foam allows the levers to ‘drift’ back into their default position, causing your view to become blurred and prone to double-vision.
This would have been a dealbreaker but for the fact that the levers also serve another purpose – they act as dual action buttons which can ‘press’ the screen to trigger an event such as a gunshot or a ‘movement’ in Street View. In this case it is natural to have your hands in a position to hold the levers to press them when required.
So for any VR titles that require user input, you’ll have your Merge VR goggles with your hands on the levers to keep them in place and the screen in focus – and so you’re ready to press the action buttons. Of course, if you do push one or both of the button too vigorously you can move them away from the sweet spot of clarity, but hey – at least at least your hands are nearby to move them back.
As we said, this isn’t a dealbreaker, although we hope the next headset Merge brings out will have some facility to lock the levers in place to avoid this issue recurring.
We don’t want to dwell on the negatives when there are so many positives to the Merge VR experience. The main one being just how comfortable these VR goggles are to wear. The twin straps keep the Merge VR headset securely in position and as mentioned the pliant foam keeps chafing and soreness to a minimum.
with the Merge VR, comfort is the gift that keeps on giving
We can’t stress just how much important comfort is to the whole VR experience – and with the Merge VR comfort is the gift that keeps on giving. The lack of hard or rough edges, the lightweight breathable foam, all help to keep sweatiness, discomfort and neckstrain to a minimum. Then there’s the quality of the dual lenses which offer excellent clarity and a wide field of view, especially if you use a larger screened smartphone.
The last – and quite possibly least important – factor in the Merge VR’s favour is the overall coherence of the Merge platform. From its packaging, to its PR, to its well curated website, everything about Merge suggests that the brand is in this for the long haul – that it isn’t a here today, gone tomorrow Chinese importer.
If you’re spending the best part of £50 [$99] on a piece of kit it’s good to know that your customer service emails are being read, and that your 1-year guarantee has some chance of being honoured in 11 months time.
It’s still early days as far as consumer VR headsets are concerned, and no one want to rush out and buy a doomed platform like a Betamax. But the clever thing about the Merge VR is that it gets an upgrade when your smartphone gets an upgrade – so as long as phones can fit inside it, it won’t become obsolete in the near future.
Although it’s on the pricier side of the Google cardboard family of VR headsets, the Merge VR Goggles delivers in terms of comfort and long-term usability. Yes these are interim pieces of hardware – a stepping stone on the way to fully fledged immersive virtual reality that is a truly transformative experience – but there’s no better way to enjoy virtual reality on a realistic budget with today’s mobile technology.
- Comfortable to wear
- Secure, dual straps
- Endlessly configurable lenses
- Well-organised platform
- Lens levers don’t stay in place
- Cutaway for AV viewing is easily lost
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