The $30 ZapBox has the chance to do for mixed reality what Google Cardboard did for VR

There are probably quite a few things 2016 is going to be remembered for when the history books are written — and one of them will be as the year when augmented reality truly hit the mainstream, thanks to the ultra-successful Pokémon Go, and when we were properly introduced to mixed reality through Microsoft’s HoloLens.

If you’re done with Pokémon Go, like the idea of mixed reality but can’t stretch to the thousands of dollars it costs to secure a HoloLens; then try Zappar’s ZapBox, which is available through a Kickstarter campaign.  ZapBox styles itself as an affordable way to experience mixed reality and room-scale virtual reality using your smartphone. It gives you a Google Cardboard-style solution for, quite literally, a hundredth of the cost. It’s just $30.

The concept relies on you slotting your existing smartphone into a low-cost headset, before activating a ZapBox app which lets user dive into a “world of interactive content.”

We try out ZapBox

Although still in its early stages, we had the chance to try out the ZapBox, and are pleased to report it has considerable potential for the future. If you’ve used Google Cardboard, you’ll know what to expect here. The headset looks very similar, and can either be held up to your eyes, or used with a basic velcro strap around your head for apps that require you hands to use controllers.

An iPhone 6 was inside the headset, and because it was used without a wide-angle lens attachment, the view through the screen was letterboxed, but still usable. The phone recognizes special point codes, which look like circular QR codes, all set out on a table in front of it to map the mixed reality world. The first demo eased us in gently, showing a cartoon rabbit pop out of a hole in the table, before moving on to a virtual representation of a building, where daylight and nighttime modes could be activated using the controller.

The controller is actually a self-assembly item made out of cardboard, and it slips over your finger for in-app use. It also has point codes around it, allowing the phone to track it in the mixed reality world. Finally, we tried out a painting app, where the controller painted colourful lines in 3D space. It worked surprisingly well, and had the same “wow” effect as the HTC Vive’s Tilt Brush demo, where you can walk around your creation and see it from all angles. The demos, while rough around the edges, were engaging, fun, and made us smile. That’s pretty important, and crucial if we’re to return to it after the first try.

Considerable potential for the future

ZapBox is to Microsoft’s HoloLens what Google Cardboard is to HTC Vive or PlayStation VR; but this isn’t a bad thing. Google Cardboard is the port of entry to VR for many people, thanks to the variety of fun apps and 360 degree video available for it. ZapBox has the potential to introduce many to mixed reality in the same way. No, it’s not a tech powerhouse like HoloLens, but it cost $30. “The experience is way better than it has any right to be for something that costs so little,” Zappar co-founder Simon Taylor joked to Digital Trends, and in a very exciting way, he’s right.

While ZapBox plays and looks like a development tool at the moment, and arguably is best suited for someone planning to create apps around it, tech fans shouldn’t dismiss it. There’s way more than $30 of fun here now, and if the hundreds of developers that have opted for early access to ZapBox work hard, there should be a few more apps and games to try when the final consumer version ships out.


“At launch, we’ve created several demos,” Caspar Thykier, Zappar CEO and co-founder, told Digital Trends. “There’s a xylophone you can play, a crazy golf course you can have a go at, a recreation of Mars you can explore, a painting app, and more. All of these, you can interact with using the two cardboard controllers.”

The apps it comes packaged with are only the beginning, and backers who spend that little more get access to Zappar’s SDK, ZapWorks, which lets them create their own augmented reality apps.

“This is great for the community of developers, who want to try and make their own experiences,” Thykier said. “This gives them the opportunity to quickly and easily prototype their ideas. People don’t need to publish their own apps, they can do it using a tool we’ve already created. It just takes away a bit of the complication, friction, and cost for anyone wanting to create something in mixed reality.”

When we tried out ZapBox, the Kickstarter campaign was close to its goal, and the team is confident that not only will be funded, but delivery dates will be met. Should you get in on the action? Provided you expect Google Cardboard and not HoloLens, yes, you should, and we think you’ll be very happy with your ZapBox.

Article originally published on 11-17-2016 by Luke Dormehl. Updated on 11-24-2016 by Andy Boxall: Added in our hands-on experience with ZapBox

Product Review

The Ace 2 kids fitness tracker brings the Fitbit experience to the whole family

Fitbit's Ace 2 fitness tracker encourages kids to get fit and stay fit. The affordable price tag and kid-centric design make the Ace 2 a must-have -- especially if you're already a part of the Fitbit family.

This 65-inch LG 4K ultra HD smart TV is down to only $580 on Walmart today

LG is the maker of our pick for the best TV in 2019. If you want the same picture performance at an affordable price, check out the 65-inch LG UM6900 4K UHD smart TV. You can get it from Walmart at only $580 today.

If Core i5 CPUs are great for most people, do you really need a Core i7?

This guide is designed to help you decide whether you need the extra technological enhancements provided by the i7 core, or if the more affordable Core i5 will suit your needs. In the i5 vs. i7 battle, which is best for you?

Get your kid the 8-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab A for $150 less on Amazon

Looking for an 8-inch tablet that your child can use? The first thing that popped in your head is probably the iPad Mini, which is great but expensive. For something more affordable, check out the Samsung Galaxy Tab A, now $148 on Amazon.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: iPhone 11 and Nintendo Switch leaks, insect meat, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we discuss the biggest trending stories in tech, including leaks of an iPhone 11 case and the Nintendo Switch mini console, Samsung’s roll-up display, virtual reality massage, insect meat, and more.

Apple reportedly canceled development of its augmented reality glasses

Reports have surfaced over the last few months that Apple was working on a pair of augmented reality glasses, but a report from DigiTimes suggests that Apple may have canceled, or at least temporarily suspended, the project.
Emerging Tech

Trippy VR demo reads your brain waves to create sleep-inducing visuals

Struggle to get to sleep? Researchers in Australia have been experimenting with ways to combine a person’s brain activity with virtual reality to create a kind of VR lullaby machine.

Shoot, dance, box, and escape reality with the very best Oculus Quest games

The Oculus Quest offers a fantastic virtual reality experience without the need for a PC or console tethered to your headset. These are the best Oculus Quest games available right now.

Take a trip to a new virtual world with one of these awesome HTC Vive games

So you’re considering buying an HTC Vive, but don't know which games to get? Our list of 30 of the best HTC Vive games will help you out, whether you're into rhythm-based gaming, interstellar dogfights, or something else entirely.

From controllers to the cameras, here's what we know about the HTC Vive Cosmos

The HTC Vive Cosmos headset is a premium VR device equipped with a modular design and ease-of-use when setting up. Here is everything we know about the headset, including its cameras and controllers.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Antitrust review of big tech, UPS goes drone, and more

On this episode of DT Live, we cover the biggest news stories in tech, including the Justice Department’s antitrust review of big tech, UPS' foray into drones, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch, and more.

The Oculus Go, our favorite budget VR headset, is now on sale for even cheaper

Virtual reality has come into its own in recent years, and you no longer have to spend $500 to get a good VR headset. Our favorite budget-friendly unit, the Oculus Go, is now on sale for even cheaper.

Dive into the best VR experiences available now on the Oculus Rift

The Oculus Rift brought back virtual reality and put a modern twist on it. Grab your Touch Controllers, put on your VR headset, and jump into the fun with some of the best Oculus Rift games available now.

Immerse yourself in a new universe with these incredible PSVR games

The PSVR surpassed expectations and it comes with an incredible catalog of games. There's plenty of amazing experiences to be had so we've put together a list of the best PSVR games available today.