Virtual Reality -- AKA VR -- is getting a lot of press this year thanks to the overpriced and non-Mac-compatible Oculus Rift VR headset. But many other manufacturers are bringing VR devices to market as well, and it's looking like the VR boom may finally be happening after decades of wishful thinking. If you have an iPhone 6 or 6s and want to see for yourself what all the hype is about, consider getting the new Speck Pocket VR with CandyShell Grip iPhone Case (US$69.95).
First, a bit of a backgrounder on how this device works. The Pocket VR is designed to work with the Google Cardboard VR standard. With apps varying from Google Street View to YouTube's iPhone app, you can now pop your iPhone into a VR viewer like Pocket VR and see an amazingly realistic 360° surround video scene. Photos that work with Google Cardboard VR can be created with several iPhone apps, while VR videos require a special camera like the $350 Ricoh Theta S.
The original Google Cardboard VR viewer was, unsurprisingly, made of cardboard! A pair of lenses provide a wider angle view of a half-screen image, so by holding the viewer containing your iPhone up to your eyes, you see an image that you can literally move around by moving your body and the viewer. So now let's talk about the Pocket VR case.
Pocket VR is really two products in one box; a Speck CandyShell Grip protective case and the Pocket VR viewer. Most of the time, you'll carry your iPhone around in the case and gain excellent protection. But when you want to get into watching VR movies or would like to scan Google Street View images, you unfold the Pocket VR viewer, and put the case into it. Voila! You have a VR viewer!
Unlike the Google Cardboard VR viewer and the many Cardboard-compatible viewers like the one made by DODOcase, the Pocket VR viewer is made of tough polycarbonate so it won't crush. It's definitely going to last longer than the ones made of cardboard! The case itself is drop-tested and meets MIL-STD specs.
Pocket VR works in tandem with the CandyShell Grip case; when you want to view a VR image or movie, you pull on the sides and flip them up vertically. The case then fits between the two "arms" with the iPhone screen facing the lenses on the viewer. Between those lenses and facing the iPhone screen is a small QR code, which is used by Google Cardboard-compatible apps to calibrate them for best viewing.
Sadly, Pocket VR only works with the iPhone 6 and 6s -- there's no way to use it with the larger iPhone 6 Plus or 6s Plus, nor with the smaller iPhone 5/5s/SE. However, I was able to get my monster iPhone 6s Plus wedged between the two arms long enough to try out the device and it worked as expected with both YouTube and the Google Street View app. It's much sturdier than the cardboard viewer I have from DODOcase, but at least that viewer works with phones other than the iPhone 6 and 6s.
I like the sturdiness of the Pocket VR, but there are two things that keep it from being a highly-rated case/VR viewer solution for iPhone; the price tag and the lack of support for other phones. $70 is a bit much for an iPhone case and a Google Cardboard viewer when someone can buy one from Google for $15 or even go cheap with a $3 eBay version. If Speck can drop the price tag down to about $25 - $30 for a version without a case that could work with any size of iPhone, I'd have a much better opinion of this product.