Combined with your smartphone, Merge VR Goggles will virtually upgrade your reality.

My first experience with Virtual Reality was a nausea invoking tennis match with the Virtual Boy from Nintendo.  Thinking this was a game-specific effect, I tried an amazing shooter “Red Alarm,” and then a platformer game “Wario World.”  Unfortunately, after about 10-15 minutes of gameplay, I had to do something different.  Hampered with medical concerns of eye-strain and blindness if used by children under the age of 7, the stereoscopic 3D technology limped along. Other than a few 3D arcade games, I was grounded in the 2D world until the Nintendo 3DS was released.  The 3D technology picked up steam with AR cards, and VR goggles for our smartphones.  Now there are a variety of options, for a variety of budgets.

The Merge Virtual Reality headset arrived in a vibrant 7 1/2 inches long by 5 3/4 inches wide by 4 1/8 inches thick purple retail package.  My children and I fell in love with the metallic “Merge” logo and the Wall-E-esque main image.  I believe the idea behind the image was to give the user a feel of looking into the goggles, but instead, it seems as if the goggles were looking outward at us.  Located along the bottom of the cover, the company provided six icons detailing the features of the virtual reality goggles: marshmallow soft, ages 10+, easy to clean & share, drop tested, glasses friendly, dual trigger buttons.  The top of the box showed five possible color schemes (blue, black, purple, silver, pink) and provided the contents of the box (Goggles, top and side straps, lens cleaning cloth and instruction guide.  If you navigate to the website, there are 10 color choices, many of them with vibrant names (pulsar purple, solar orange, rocket red, starship grey, to name a few).  The bottom of the packaging promotes both the App Store and the Google play store and details two awards that the Merge has acquired, Academics Choice Smart Media Award Winner and Parent Tested Parent Approved Winner.  The reverse face of the packaging recommends that you navigate to VRSTART.COM to access numerous VR options and provides the phone compatibility list (iPhone 6 and newer, Galaxy S5 and newer, HTC M8 and newer, LG G4 and newer).  Essentially, the device needs to fit the maximum size of 123 mm by 158mm.

Merge VR top
Once the clear plastic shell was removed, the product was easily accessible.  Within the box, I found the 13.68-ounce purple VR goggles, a getting started guide, a 5 3/4 inch square Lens cloth, a health and safety guide and a customer support card.  The purple foam viewer measured 6 7/8 inches wide by 3 5/8 inches thick by 5 3/8 inches deep.  Along the bottom left of the front, you will find an odd shaped octagonal foam cutout, which is designed to allow the camera of the phone to be utilized.  Located 1/2 inch behind the front of the VR goggles, you will find the phone port, which houses a pull-tab cardboard instruction board.  Remove the board, insert your phone with the camera down, download compatible apps and enjoy the product.  Behind the phone port (1 3/4 inches from the front), you will find the two adjustment/input buttons. Each of the buttons will slide left and right, to allow you to obtain a clear view.  The multingual instruction manual recommends that you remove the clear plastic lens covers, insert your phone, assume a seated position and then enjoy the downloaded apps.  To remove your phone, push upward from the bottom of the goggles.  You can adjust the side and top straps to your liking. Sticking with the face theme, looking at the goggles from the top down, will give you a Legends of the Hidden Temple, Olmec vibe.  The nostalgia hidden within the device did not go overlooked.

The VR headset was lightweight, weighing in at under a pound, and was comfortable to wear.  Comprised of soft foam, the shell provided both a protective cocoon for my iPhone X (inside of a Catalyst Impact Case) and also a soft surface to rest above and below my eyes.   I was incredibly pleased that I did not have to take my phone out of the bumper style case to use the device.  Some of the more rigid VR units require your phone to be out of its case to use their system.  When you navigate to the VRSTART.COM site, you will be redirected to https://miniverse.io/home site.   Along the top of the app, you could swipe left and select between multiple apps: BLOCKAR, TRICKY TEMPLE, LIONS, ROMANS FROM MARS, DREAMS OF DALÍ, INVASION FOR MERGE CUBE (Review coming soon), and Bandit Six.  Unfortunately, most of these apps were paid apps, and I did not want to pay for them until I knew that they were worth purchasing.  Beneath the featured row, the miniverse.io had a nice selection of recently added apps: EXPLORING THE DOLOMITES (YouTube), Expeditions, Military Radio, 3D painting: Phelps Vs. Shark, SOLVE (Merge cube puzzle), Party Games for Merge cube.  Further down the page, you will find “Welcome to VR” options to include Google Street View, The Launch, Age of Diamonds Quest for the 7 Elements, Smart 2 VR cities, Ascape.  There are also more options available within the Educational category: Buzz Aldrin, Random 42, Be a T-Rex, Juno: Mission to Jupiter.  The app will allow you to access YouTube 360 Videos, but you will need to add the QR code at the back of the book.  Learn about the body, learn about the universe, and or download the Google Cardboard experience. By creating an image for each eye, the viewer allows you to experience more than either eye can see alone and provides more depth.

Merge VR goggles
I probably spent the most time on the ROMANS FROM MARS APP.  The app was available for free from the App store and is a VR fortress defense game.  Hordes of ever-increasing enemies attack you, while you get to enhance your magic power and your crossbow.  As you kill monsters, you gain coins which can be used to enhance your rate of speed, your area of effect and your critical chance.  Advance through weapons, encounter new monsters and try to survive.  The game was really fun to play but caused some motion induced fatigue after about 15-20 minutes.  This was not a limitation of the VR headset, rather the game itself.  I have played multiple games like the Romans from Mars app, and the repetitive gameplay felt boring.  The Merge VR headset enhanced the experience.  The arrows will shoot where you look, and the experience was more enjoyable than a virtual thumbstick.  I would rate the game at 4/5 stars, losing a point as I did not feel that there were enough options to spend my coins.  I proceeded to level 5 of the game and then decided to move on.  I had an entirely positive experience with this game and would definitely consider this a must-have game for the VR MERGE goggles.

Unlike the positive aspects of the Romans from Mars App, I did not have the same experience with VR-X racer.   One of the limitations of the MERGE VR goggles is the slider.  I wish that the function buttons were not connected to the eye sliders, as this caused viewing distortion.  Having the ability to move the lenses allows the user to improve their viewing experience.  VR-X racer, a spaceship racing game requires you to rock your head back and forth to avoid buildings.  After a few movements, the lenses would shift and cause me to be slightly more dizzy.  Using the buttons on the Google Cardboard app showed this limitation even further.  Every time that you try to press the button, it pushes down on the slider and the image changes.  I constantly felt like I was pushing up and down in order to get an optimal viewing angle.  The experience overall was interesting, but it was not one that I would like to experience long-term.

Merge VR Front
It is unknown whether the VR goggles are a short-term gimmick or are here to stay.  This kit is a definite step up from the actual cardboard present in Google Cardboard.  Still fitting into the same genre of phone enhancing peripheral, Merge does provide a more comfortable/enjoyable experience.  Being a little on the bulky side, I do not see this as a take-anywhere style device, however.  I have read many of the reviews of this device, #and multiple groups complained about the difficulty getting the phone into and out of the slot.  Personally, this was not a challenge for me.  I found it simple to press the phone down into the slot and then to press up from below to remove the phone.  Perhaps the phone being in a Catalyst case helped to create a better fit.  I played most of the games and watched most of the videos on the miniverse site.  I have placed my phone into the slot and removed it at least 25 times over the past two weeks.  The viewer was more comfortable than Omoton VR goggles that I previously reviewed.  Additionally, after wearing the Merge, I would not go back to simple cardboard devices.  I felt my phone was secure, and the foam was soft and pleasing to the skin.  As an added bonus, the QR code is hidden along the back headrest (junction of the side and headrest).   In summary, the device is really only as good as the apps that are available.  I have obtained a merge cube and look forward to testing the Merge glasses with the merge cube.  I would rate the current VR goggles at 4/5 stars, a rating that may increase when I try the Merge cube.  Remember that this device is not intended for children under the age of 7 for risks of eye damage.
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