Is your school looking to build its own VR kit? Not too sure which device to go for? I’ve worked in over 100 schools and this is what I would recommend…

The case for Apple

One of the benefits of going with Apple products is that a large proportion of schools already have IPads and they use Apple’s Mobile Device Management (MDM) system to manage these devices. That way schools can change the account settings and apps for each device from one central access point. Another benefit of using Apple products is the familiarity with the user interface; schools that use IPads will easily be able to navigate an IPhone or IPod touch (it also helps that Apple have 49% of the UK smartphone market).

What Apple devices are available?

The IPhone 6 plus and 7 plus are going to provide the best VR experience with 5.5 inch screens and retina display. However, it’s not realistic or cost effective for a school to invest in a classroom set of IPhone 6 and 7s. Not only would it be hugely expensive but also a majority of the features in the phone are unnecessary. Another option would be to look out for a refurbished IPhone 5 that you can pick up for around £120 from various websites. The only problem with this however is that you don’t usually have any warranty should something go wrong and with the smartphone devices being the most considerable investment in a VR kit, this could be a costly risk.

The main Apple device that schools seem to be investing in is the IPod touch. The 16GB version sells for £179.99 (exc VAT) on the official Apple website. Of course, buying through the official Apple website will give you warranty and you will be able to choose from a range of colours. The device comes with the two sensors that are required to run the Expeditions app and the resolution of the screen is fantastic. There is just one problem… the screen is only 4-inches. This is on the cusp of the minimum requirement for a lot of VR headsets and some VR headsets will not even accommodate this (for example, the Mattel View Master and the Homido Grab). With the IPod having such a small screen, the VR experience can feel less immersive as the sides of the screen can be cut away.

Another drawback to using the IPod and iOS version is that so far, the initial releases of the app and the subsequent updates have been later than its Android counterpart. A final note in regards to the iOS version is that from experience the iOS Google Expeditions that I’ve run on IPads has been slower and subject to more freezing/the app closing down (again, this is not a fact and is only based on my experience).

The case for Android

One drawback of going with Android is that a lot of schools are less familiar with the Android operating system. However, you shouldn’t let this put you off; there is a lot more choice with Android and if you do enough digging, it will be cheaper than the Apple route.

Firstly, larger screens of 5 inches plus are much more common in Android devices and so you will have a much wider choice with VR headsets, as all of them will be compatible. If you are looking for a compatible VR headset, check out this blog article for the basics. I would recommend looking for devices that have a screen size of 5 to 5.5 inches. You can check out the recommended device specifications here.

The main specifications you need to check for are the sensors that are included in the device. The device MUST have a gyroscope and accelerometer. A lot of devices have an accelerometer but not a gyroscope. You need BOTH to be able to run Google Expeditions. One important thing to watch out for when checking the device specifications is the term G-Sensor. This is NOT a gyroscope but is industry jargon for an accelerometer.

What would I recommend?

For me, Android is a no-brainer. There is a greater choice of devices, they are cheaper, they are compatible with all VR headsets and the Google Expeditions app was first released on the Play Store. By going Android, you are only sacrificing the use of Apple’s MDM system and the familiarity of the Apple user interface.

The thought of building your own VR kit can be daunting. There are a lot of factors to consider and there is an element of risk if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Furthermore, kits can be expensive. Whether that’s building your own kit or buying through an established company. If you want to avoid the complexities of building your own kit or the high initial cost of buying one, why don’t you look into VR subscriptions?

After finishing a contract on the Google Expeditions Programme, I set up my own company called PrimeVR. We aim to make VR more accessible for schools through our VR learning subscriptions. Subscriptions include staff training and a PrimeVR kit couriered to your school for as little as £149/mo.

For more information, feel free to email me at stuart@primevr.co.uk.