MERGE Cube and Goggles | SLJ Tech Review

MERGE is on a mission to make virtual reality "easy, safe, and fun for everyone” and offers an array of experiences to kids 10 and up.

MERGE is on a mission to make virtual reality "easy, safe, and fun for everyone." The toy company’s two newest products, the MERGE Goggles ($29.99) and the MERGE Cube ($14.99), work separately or together to put virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) into the hands of kids 10 and older.

The MERGE Cube is essentially the backdrop for a holographic object that you can hold and manipulate. The black, three-inch Cube is made from the same squishy foam rubber as the MERGE Goggles, and each side is covered in a unique set of silver hieroglyphic-like images. To use the Cube as an interactive hologram, you open a MERGE Cube app and view the Cube through the phone’s camera. Once the app reads the Cube, the holographic display appears over the Cube, creating the effect that you are holding something else entirely in your hands. The MERGE Cube can be used in "mobile mode," in which you hold the phone, and "MERGE mode," in which the phone is placed in the Goggles and the user holds the Cube.

The MERGE Goggles are a VR headset, compatible with most iOS and Android phones. The light foam rubber makes them surprisingly comfortable to wear. The material also serves to protect the device inside from impact—which might make parents a little less squeamish about handing their phone to a 10-year-old who is going to walk around unable to see their surroundings. Adjustable straps help the MERGE Goggles fit most heads, and adjustable lenses on the inside allow users to focus the image they see. The goggles’ two buttons on top enable users to interact with the game or app playing on the screen.

Apps for these devices can be found on the MERGE Miniverse, which is sorted into categories such as music, games, and essential experiences. Each app is marked with symbols designating it for Cube, smartphone, Goggles, or any combination of the three. Many apps for both devices are free, including most educational apps. Paid apps range from $.99 to $49.99—only one is this pricey, Q Moment AR, which is designed to aid mental health professionals in helping their young patients identify emotions.

Cube apps mainly offer some kind of AR experience. It can be educational, such as Anatomy AR+ ($.99), which allows users to hold a virtual model of the human heart with interactive labels. Or it can just be fun, as in AR Kitten ($4.99), which lets users play with a kitten who is clinging to the Cube. Mystical Moon Oracle (free) turns the Cube into the moon—ask it a question on the light side and flip to the dark side of the moon for a Magic 8 Ball–like message. Games played on the Cube can involve finding or moving objects on its surface. For example, Tiltball (free) requires the player to manipulate a ball through a maze that winds around all sides of the Cube.

Goggles apps bring interactive VR experiences in real and fictional worlds, from actual footage in National Geographic: Lions to the animated fun of Romans from Mars. Star Wars (free) is likely to be a big hit. The Goggles are compatible with other VR apps and programs, such as Google Cardboard, making them quite versatile. Goggles apps are also marked with motion levels from mild to intense, for those who are prone to motion sickness. Heed the warnings—apps with an intense motion level can be a little gut-churning. Do not try Cedar Point VR (free) if you are not prepared for the heart-stopping drops and loop-the-loops of the roller coaster Valravn.

The MERGE Cube and Goggles are a lot of fun, but they are not perfect. The Goggles are awkward (but doable) for people with glasses, and the foam construction is likely to crack and wear with use (not to mention be tempting for pets who love to chew).

Also, both devices are designed and marketed as toys. As such, they are simply less practical for classroom use. The Goggles work exclusively with smartphones, making them much more suited to home play. The Cube works with a tablet, which is more school-friendly.

Finally, the available apps, while engaging and a lot of fun, are limited, rarely providing a truly transformative learning experience. As an educator, I’ve learned that the flashy content kids consume is entertaining and educational to a point, but the ed tech that affords kids the opportunity to create something new, giving them a vehicle for expressing or utilizing their own learning, has no limit.

I love that the Goggles give kids a chance to experience Mars and the Arctic, places they are unlikely to visit in person, but consuming content is passive, and creating is active. The difference between the cartoon hologram of a human heart in the Mr. Body app and an image of a heart is largely cosmetic. And eventually, the student will run out of new content (at least new free content) that MERGE provides. With the tools to create holograms for the Cube or virtual spaces for the Goggles, students could transform these toys into vehicles for displaying their own learning and teaching others, taking the growth potential much higher.

VERDICT The MERGE Cube and Goggles, with their durable, kid-friendly design, quick and easy setup, and affordable price, make for a winning combination—at home if not in the classroom. Parents nationwide may never get their phones back.

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Addie Matteson

Addie Matteson is a middle school librarian at the Westminster Schools in Atlanta, GA.

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