Trying to decide whether Augmented Reality is for you or not can be pesky if you don't want to pay up front for top of the line headsets. That is until recently when we began to see awesome new cardboard kits start to hit the market. Zapbox is exactly that, except that they go one step further by delivering a cardboard Augmented Reality headset fully equipped with point codes to map out your play space, and controllers to interact with the experiences that it has to offer.
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What's in the box!?
Zapbox comes packaged in a single self-contained box that has a few pieces other than the preassembled headset. To begin with, you'll find two cardboard controllers that look like wands, as well as the point codes used to create a play area, an attachable lens with a cap, and a grid printed on the inside of the box everything is packaged inside for calibrating your headset.
The only other things you need to take advantage of everything Zapbox has to offer is a phone and the Zapbox app. This app is absolutely free and is available for both Android and iOS. The headset and controller are both made out of cardboard, but they're definitely sturdy and feel comfortable both in your hand and on your face.
The small lens that comes with the headset isn't mandatory to use, but it does make focusing on point codes easier.
The headset is equipped with a small foam facepad, but it definitely wasn't able to let me wear my glasses while wearing it. When you insert your phone into the headset, it's held in place with velcro straps, and there are foam inserts so that the back of your phone won't accidentally get scratched up. It's also got a half circle cut out to allow you to use the lens that comes with the headset, and a cutout on the bottom left so that you can interact with your phone while in an experience.
The small lens that comes with the headset isn't mandatory to use, but it does make focusing on point codes a bit easier. It's a small lens with a screw on cap that sits onto a vinyl clip where it can slide up and down. You slip it over your phone so that your camera uses the extra lens for a larger magnifying factor. I was using a Pixel 2 with Zapbox and didn't need the lens, but older phones may find taking advantage of it to be quite helpful for picking up point codes where you have placed them.
Point Codes create your play area
In a pocket of the box, you'll find an envelope with ten punch out circles, one side has numbers listed and the other side has geometric symbols on it. These are the point codes used to map out your play area, and you'll need to set them out and map them before you are able to jump into any of the experiences available on Zapbox.
You can lay them out on the floor, or using sticky adhesive you can attach them to walls or tables to outline your play space. This is minimally important when you are playing the Xylophone since it's just an instrument that sits in front of you.
However, having an adequate play area for mini golf is absolutely integral. That's because your controller will turn into a golf club, and a tiny course will pop up inside of your mapped area. Since point codes dictate the size of the area you can explore, this makes it easy to bring Zapbox just about anywhere or adjust your playspace on the fly.
Zapbox comes with two onboard experiences and a third that is still in development. You can opt to play the xylophone, go golfing, and at some point, in the future, there will be a mission to mars experience to check out as well.
While it is to be expected that the experiences would be less than polished since Zapbox is still in beta, it was still very disorienting when I put on the headset. I'm guessing that it was the way that the lens that comes in the box magnifies everything. Even so, it definitely took me a few minutes to get acquainted with the way it looked and felt and found myself dizzy more than once.
I got just enugh of a taste to want more.
With the Xylophone experience, I had issues getting my controllers to sync up properly. It would look like I was hitting the keys, but I wasn't getting the sound of it. At one point the Xylophone itself even jumped into the air and was above my head. When I could get it to work though, it was a plenty of fun and a neat way to take advantage of Augmented Reality.
In comparison, the golfing experience was a lot easier to use and was fun, although it did require me to set up a larger map for play. Neither of these experiences really blew me away or captivated my interest for particularly long, but they were a fun and easy way to check out Augmented Reality. I got just enough of a taste to want more, which will hopefully be delivered in later app updates.
A fun but wonky experience
Zapbox is still early in it's development, and as such it definitely isn't a polished experience. For only about $30 you get a pretty solid headset, and the only cardboard Mixed Reality headset that has controllers for really interacting with experiences. While it isn't as stable as other Mixed Reality kits, it's still worth what you are paying for it in order to give Mixed Reality a real try, without having to go all in.