How to play Cardboard apps on Gear VR

Update: I was doing a demo yesterday and the Cardboard Enabler app I reviewed below mysteriously stopped working. I could no longer switch to the Gear VR view. Deleting the app forced me to reinstall the Gear VR applications and reboot my phone several times. Then my phone died for several minutes — black screen, not reacting to anything — and I almost had a heart attack. Then it mysteriously come back to life again. I’ve stuck with Gear VR apps for the Gear VR since, and used Google Cardboard headsets for Cardboard apps.

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If you have a Samsung Gear VR headset, you might have noticed that the app store that comes with it has nice high-end games and applications, including Netflix and Hulu, EVE: Gunjack and Ocean Rift. But not very many, and the prices are high compared to the mobile apps available on the Google Cardboard platform.

Gear VR in-world user interface normally loads automatically.

The Gear VR in-world user interface normally loads automatically.

There are also more than a thousand Cardboard apps, including such must-haves as YouTube, which are not available for Gear VR.

If you’re like me, you’ve Googled around, and may have found a workaround. In my experience, however, that workaround was difficult to use, hard to configure, and actually resulted in lower quality than what I saw when I simply took out my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone and put it into any Google Cardboard headset I had lying around.

Samsung Gear VR.

Samsung Gear VR.

So I gave up on trying to use Gear VR for both — until this week. Because I found the 99-cent Cardboard Enabler app for Android. (Thanks to Road to VR for the heads up!)

You load and run the app. Approve the configuration step by clicking on the “Enable Device Administration” button and approving.Screenshot_2016-03-27-14-46-03

Then press on the image of the platform that you want to use.Screenshot_2016-03-27-14-46-24

Here it is in Gear VR mode. Now when you put your phone into the Gear VR headset, no matter what app is currently playing, it will switch you into the Gear VR starting space, the giant living room with the app selection screen.

Screenshot_2016-03-27-14-46-45

When in Google Cardboard mode, simply load up the app the way you normally do and put the phone in the headset. But now, instead of it switching into Gear VR mode, the app continues to run and you can play it. You can even use the trackpad for your button — very convenient.

You will need a Google Cardboard QR code for the Gear VR for it to work well:

Samsung Gear VR QR code

Gear VR QR Code

If you have another QR Code to suggest, please let me know!

The Cardboard Enabler app is very easy to use, does not seem to otherwise interfere with the Gear VR functionality at all, and seems to work with every Google Cardboard I’ve tried. For example, if you have YouTube pulled up, you’ll now be able to watch 360-degree videos in virtual reality and traditional videos on a giant virtual screen.

To find more Google Cardboard apps, search for “VR” in the Google Play store, or check out the WeAreVR site for some suggestions.

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Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • Bruce Wayne

    Pretty sure those 2 QR codes are identical… Where do you use the QR code anyway? I just installed the Cardboard Enabler, selected cardboard, ran an app I downloaded, and put it in the Gear VR, Didn’t see any place to use a QR code.

    • You’re right — and that makes sense, since the QR Code depends on the device, not the phone.

      You would use this in the Google Cardboard app if you see too much distortion in your apps. Download Google Cardboard from the app store, then go to Settings — Switch Viewer.

      • Rab

        Hi. How would I scan it if I am in camera mode. The qr code is on this website. Will I be able to scan it off another handset with this page open. Also will the code be OK if I use a s7? Thanks so much.

  • BobbyWong

    Rr don’t plug the phone into the Gear jack; flip the jack out and wedge the phone behind it.

  • Ed Altounian

    So here’s a reverse question… anyone know if you can enable the Samsung VR app to work with NON-samsung VR goggles? The app is supposed to just work in VR (split screen) mode when you plug it in to their goggles. Any way to do that without them? I have some I bought about 4 months ago and they work so well with the cardboard app and youtube. I’d love to see more VR content, but can’t figure out a way to make the Samsung VR app work with them.

    • Do you mean that you want the Gear VR apps that you download from the Oculus store to work with other headsets?

      Unfortunately, the apps are designed to work with the special sensors and controls that are embedded in the Gear VR headset. Other headsets typically have no built-in electronics at all, or, if they do, use a different, proprietary system to access them (such as the Pico 1 viewer).

      You will have to wait for the app developers to port their apps to the Cardboard platform (or the new Daydream platform) in order for them to work with other headsets.

      • Ed Altounian

        No, just the Samsung VR app that came on my S7. Apparently plugging it in to the gear vr activates split screen view.

        • Yes, one of the unique sensors that the Gear VR has is that it knows when the phone is plugged in. (Other mobile headsets do not have this feature.) I have not heard of anyone who has been able to bypass it — but then again, I’m not sure why you would want to, since the rest of the app also depends on unique Gear VR sensors and interfaces.

  • Jerrard Je

    Is it normal that i will need to plug out the phone…re-select another app and plug in again for viewing? Even it’s in the Google Cardboard App VR viewing mode, pressing back/home button will just lead to exit app and back to phone screen.

    This actually bring harm to eyes as the vision suddenly turn to normal view

    Any recommendation?

    • Yes, this was a huge inconvenience in the Google Cardboard setup! It looks like it’s going to be addressed in the Daydream platform — my phone is scheduled to arrive within the next couple of weeks, and the headset next month. I’ll be testing it out then!