I’ve been reviewing Augmented Reality apps for a few months now. Most of them were ARKit apps but I didn’t restrict myself to those solely. I wanted to experience whatever augmented reality technology has to offer.
A few days ago I’ve received my Merge Cube. The reason I purchased it because I felt that it can deliver a distinct experience, and I’ve seen some AR games that I wanted to play but the only way to play them was with the Merge Cube.
Unboxing the Merge Cube was a fun experience. I felt like a kid again, unboxing a brand new toy. The Merge Cube itself isn’t exciting at all, a soft rubbery black cube with some gray marks on them, nothing to be excited about. Of course, I knew that the fun will begin once I launch one of the supported apps.
First Time User Experience
I went to the App Store to search for some Merge Cube apps. It wasn’t hard because there is actually a category dedicated to apps which are only compatible with the Merge Cube. I’ve downloaded a Snake game because it was free and I just needed to choose something. When I start using the Merge Cube I didn’t know what type of apps work best for the Merge Cube, but after spending many hours with it, I think I know what works best.
I’ve set up the Merge Cube on the supplied plastic stand that came in the box (see the image above). I first thought that it might be too heavy for the iPad but I had no problem with it, worked just fine.
After a short activation and login process, I was in. I positioned the cube in front of my iPad and BOOM—The Magic happened. This little boring black cube in front of me turned into a virtual game board, illuminating my view with beautiful bright colors and animations. It was a magical moment, but the fun has just begun.
What is so exciting about the Merge Cube?
Now, you might ask yourself, why I was so thrilled, after all, I’ve been using hundred of AR apps, AR is nothing new to me?
There are several reasons that the Magic Cube was able to impress me even though I am not new to the Augmented Reality (AR) technology?
The main reason I was so excited because it was the first time that I could physically touch and feel the virtual for the first time and manipulate it using hand movements.
Furthermore, I am used to holding the iPad (the device that I use for reviewing the AR apps). This is the first time that I actually experienced AR without holding my iPad (it was attached to the plastic stand). It’s worth mentioning that some of the games and apps that I’ve tried due require tapping on the mobile device’s display, so the iPhone or iPad aren’t there just to serve as a viewer for the Merge Cube holographic visual experience. It’s important to add that the Merge Cube can be experienced using the Merge AR/VR headset which gives a more a comfortable and natural viewing experience because your phone sits inside the headset and served as the screen from which you observe the AR experience.
The third thing which I discovered later after playing Dig! for Merge Cube, is that when you hold the cube with a protruding virtual content, you get that feeling of holding something bigger than the cube itself.
Just to give you an example. I’ve loaded a scene with a long sword stuck in the middle of the facet of the Merge Cube. When I hold it in my hand, it felt like I am holding a long sword. Now, this is something that VR players are familiar with when using motion controllers to control a gun, a sword, or other objects. So the same thing happened here. That physical secure hold of the cube and the AR scene viewed from the iPad’s display delivered a visual interpretation that leads to a realization that I was actually holding a long sword in my hand.
The other reason related to accuracy. Accuracy is very important for AR. I’ve been testing many apps. For ARKit to work well, you need to scan for a surface in a well-lit environment and better off scanning a textured high-contrast surface. I’ve been experiencing jittering many times due to those reasons. I found that some AR frameworks are more prone to jittering. Even Apple’s advanced ARKit isn’t perfect and jittering can occur for different reasons. My Merge Cube experience was flawless without any jittering.
I assume that one of the main reasons for this is the high-contrast surface with the different shapes and the fact that you use the cube very close to the mobile device’s camera for accurate reading of those painted slightly protruding gray shapes. This design helps the AR software to precisely position the 3D content on on the cube and deliver a smooth and jitter-free AR experience. There were times where the software lost tracking of the cube, but it was because I was either positioned the cube too close to the camera or moving it outside the field of view of the camera.
These are the reasons why the experience was so profounding, exciting and unprecedented for me.
Before we move on, here is a gameplay video that shows one of the games that are available for the Merge Cube, it’s called Tiltable, a short but a fantastic game. You have to give it a try once you get your Merge Cube.
Mobile Device Compatability
It’s important to note that the Merge Cube is compatible with a wide range of phones and tablets, less restricted compared to Apple’s ARKit. You can find the list of compatible devices here. Also from what I’ve seen, all apps are compatible with iOS 9.0 or later not like ARKit which is restricted to iOS 11.0 or later.
That page that I linked to in the paragraph above also have answers to many of the frequently asked questions that people have. I recommend visiting this page if you have some questions that you want to get answered prior to ordering the Merge Cube.
Build Quality & Usability
The Merge Cube is a family-friendly device, it’s soft and rubbery. I don’t need to worry about it breaking as it’s not made of a breakable material.
Today my niece came to visit so I wanted to let her enjoy the Merge Cube for the first time. She was very excited and just couldn’t understand how can things appear on the cube, it was a magical moment for her.
However, she wasn’t able to comfortably hold the cube in her hand, it was too big. I mean, she was able to hold it, but it wasn’t comfortable and rotating the cube was out of the question. I told her to hold it with her two hands, but she has short hands and it wasn’t comfortable hugging the iPad and holding the Merge Cube as her hands were to close to the camera.
So this one-size-fits-all doesn’t really fit everyone. The only way she can enjoy this experience is wearing the Merge VR/AR Goggles. So my recommendation to you is that if you want to but the Merge Cube for your kids, you might as well buy the Merge VR/AR Goggles as well. I eventually held the cube with her and help her enjoy the experience with me, we had a great time together. I am an adult and I find the Merge Cube to be the perfect size for my large hands. It would be nice to have a smaller cube for kids and make the software adapt to its smaller size.
Interacting with the cube in Phone mode (AR mode) is not that convenient using some apps. The problem is that in some apps you need to align the cube with a dot on the screen and tap on the screen to trigger an action. This is not a comfortable and precise way to interact with the UI or elements in the game. I actually don’t like having one hand holding the cube and the second tapping on the screen it just feels awkward and not comfortable. I’ve tried it with Dig! and Defused! it wasn’t a good experience. Apps like Tiltball and 57° North that don’t require screen-touch interaction for gameplay felt more natural and convenient and lead to an overall better AR experience.
You can find Merge Cube apps on the App Store or through browsing the list of Merge Cube experienced through miniverse.io. Both the free and paid Merge Cube apps are linked to their location in the App Store.
As of the time of writing, there are 28 apps and games listed on the miniverse.io website. It’s not a big selection but more apps are being added over time. This is of the Merge company interest encourage developers to develop more experiences to keep the appeal of the Merge Cube. The cube is only worth as its experiences, it’s obviously worthless without them.
Another thing that might be a problem for some users is that a large bunch of the Merge Cube apps are not free. I definitely can understand the need to make some of these apps paid apps because the market share is much smaller than the device that the Merge Cube is compatible with due to the requirement of a proprietary accessory which is required to make those app work.
Merge CUbe is a one of a kind Augmented Reality accessory that delivers a unique AR experience like no other. I am actually a good test subject. It’s because I am a person who tried out many other AR apps and it was interesting to see if the Merge Cube could deliver an experience that excites me all over again. Re-leave that excitement of trying something that looks similar but feels entirely new.
The short answer for this is that the Merge Cube “magic” did its job surprisingly well. In fact, it created such a profoundly distinctive AR experience, that I found myself spending more time with it every day and wanting to share that experience with close friends, family members and of course you guys.
The Merge Cube now costs only $8.10 (price as of the time of writing via Amazon.com), so it’s a very cheap price considering the amazing experience this cube delivers. It’s definitely a very original gift to give to someone that has almost everything and you want to surprise him with something really cool (just make sure he or she has a compatible device).
The main downside of the Merge Cube is that there aren’t many apps available for it and it’s not that you are going to enjoy every single one of them either. Having said that, I would have paid $20 any day for the Cube and a few paid apps to have the option to enjoy such a great AR experience. This is also my way to support the platform and help make it more attractive to developers to develop apps for. I am proud of being a part of the Merge Cube family and can’t way to see what developers are going to develop for it next.
My experience with the Merge Cube was amazing. It doesn’t mean that I enjoyed every app, I find some faults in some apps that I’ve reviewed. However, The Merge Cube as a whole is an innovative platform that ignites the imagination of developers to deliver unique AR experience like no other. The platform definitely needs more apps, but seeing what it can do, I feel confident that more developers will find it as an attractive platform and we get to see more great apps in the near future.
Click here to buy the Merge Cube from Amazon.com.