The Merge Cube is the first holographic object you can hold in the palm of your hand.

I have been and will continue to be a lifelong student.  I have a knack for burying my nose in a book and maintaining course until my task is complete.  I enjoy learning and growing and this may be why I enjoy research   Additionally, this may be why I truly enjoy the Consumer Electronics Show every year.  I have been a little bit leery of the VR/AR industry, as it seemed like such an isolated niche and gimmick.  My initial exposure to VR tech was with the vertigo-inducing Virtual Boy from Nintendo.  After an eight-year hiatus, I decided to try again and purchased a 3DS XL.  The 3D features of the 3DS were neat and worked well with games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Kid Icarus: Uprising and Super Mario 3D Land.  However, the 3D effect was terrible on New Super Brother Mario bros. 2,  Dead or Alive: Dimensions and Sonic: Generations.  Personally, the AR cards were the most underrated inclusion in the box.  I wish that there was a Tamagotchi-like game that made the AR cards come to life.  Although this never came to fruition, the Merge Cube seems to have grabbed the AR/VR baton and ran with it.

Merge VR stand
Packaging:
The 2 3/4 inch foam cube arrived in a rather busy 7 5/16 inches tall by 4 1/2 inches wide by 3 5/16 inches retail package.  The front face of the packaging had an open window, allowing you to directly visualize the Augmented Reality (AR) cube.  I enjoyed the iridescent purple hue that surrounded the cube and the powerful image of the world in your hand.  I have dreamt of AR tech since learning about the Holodeck on “Star Trek The Next Generation” and the Merge cube promised to provide a taste of amazing.  The right side of the packaging detailed the ability to touch and play with holograms, the VR/AR & Mixed Reality actions, the phone enhanced activity, and the ability to use VR glasses to “super-power” the experience.  The product has won some impressive awards, Wired Best New Gadgets Mobile World Congress 2017, BuzzFeed 20 Products You Need 2017 Feature, Most Unique Product CES 2017 TechRadar and Fresh Award Distree 2017 Distree EMEA.  The opposing side showed a few of the amazing games that you can enjoy with the Merge cube, The Free Dig the Mining and Building Game, Galactic Explorer, Merge Pets, etc.  The back of the packaging provided the three steps detailing “How it works.”

To start, use your smartphone or tablet and visit www.MERGECUBE.com to peruse the apps.   The website proved to be well designed and was easy to navigate. As you scroll down, you will see a plethora of options and their prices: Party games, Dig (Minecraft-esque Free Game), Tricky Temple, Things, Cube Conquest (My favorite App), Ask Kranky, Blockar, TiltBall, Snake Attack, Mr. Body, CyberCube, Galactic Explorer, Invasion, Elemental Order, Anatomy AR+, AR Kitten, Hangry Herb, Defused, Munch, Cubepain AR, Operation Zombie Annihilation and a $49.99 app called Color Black Moment (which I did not download).  I was impressed with the variety of options and downloaded most of the free apps and actually splurged for a few of the paid ones (Invasion and Cube Conquest). Once you have the apps on your smart device, launch any one of the apps and point it at the cube.  You can use the phone or you can enter into Merge VR mode and use the Merge VR goggles.  Within the packaging, the cube was served within its own pedestal/trophy display case.  Make sure that you do not throw away the shell as you will need the activation code located on the purple square, just beneath the cube.  The 2.6-ounce squishy foam cube has six unique sets of artwork, which helps the app to identify the orientation of the Merge cube.

Merge VR App
Outside of the apps, the cube is not even heavy enough to be a paperweight.  However, it has served as an interesting conversational piece atop my desk at work.  When I show off the ability to manipulate a digital planet or a heart/lung/brain, people have the same initial impression that I did, a gaping maw.  It is a very powerful testament to the technology to see what can be done and likely what will be done. Imagine operating theaters or planetariums where your Intel Glasses bring the world around you to life.  Imagine a “Minority Report” interactive environment that we can manipulate.  I may be dreaming a little, but my eyes opened to a whole new realm of possibilities after playing with the device.  Watching my eight and six-year-old sons rotate a 3D object in space to learn about our solar system was truly breathtaking.  For a moment, I realized that everything we knew, all the ways that we have been taught, flat books, boring lectures can be so much more.  Of the items I have reviewed so far, few have continued to impress me the more that I utilized them.  The phone mode was fun, enjoyable and likely the most popular mode that my family and I tried.  However, holding the cube and the phone was cumbersome and clunky.  I found that the overall experience was improved with the phone storage shelf that was built into the plastic packaging.  The Merge VR glasses further enhanced the experience, eliminating the need to hold the phone.

Merge VR/AR AppMerge has done a great job visually matching the Merge cube with the Merge VR glasses and this pairing was more than just coincidence.  Once I became phone hands-free, I wanted to interact more and see what else the cube could do.  I downloaded the two anatomy apps, both the free and the paid and played with the features.  I used the discovery app to see the planets and I played games, solved cubes, cut explosive wires and did not realize how long I had been up until my wife said “You do realize that you have to work tomorrow” and I realized that my iPhone X was on 10%.  My biggest complaint of the review revolves around the app logon.  Each time you open any of the apps, you have to select that you already have a cube and then re-enter your email, select phone/VR mode and then allow permissions.  It did not make any sense that I had to tell the app that I already had a cube.  Alas, this was not enough of a problem to tarnish my opinion of the device.  I only regret not being able to find a good way to capture the magic of the VR glasses/cube combination

Merge Cube AnatomyI would recommend that you give this cube at least a second look and consider picking one at your local Walmart.  I would rate the cube at 4/5 stars without the glasses and 5/5 with the glasses.  The tech feels so much bigger than just a cube.  I wish that the apps were bigger and more involved.  However, the ability to interact with virtual objects in a 3D world will revolutionize our ability to learn and understand.
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