Sarconi: Google Cardboard is best bang-for-buck virtual reality device for college students

UPDATED: Jan. 21, 2016 at 2:31 p.m.

If you are a college student interested in owning a virtual reality device, you may be feeling a little priced out right now.

With Facebook-owned Oculus’ new VR device, the Rift, costing $599 without factoring the $1,000 computer powerful enough to run its graphics, the glamour child of VR may have just put a dent in your hopes of owning the most hyped VR device to hit the market.

Don’t worry, though: Google just made its own announcement that could be just as important to you.

Often lost in the shuffle of other VR devices like the Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive, Google Cardboard disclosed that it is making the product compatible with spatial audio. That means when you’re in an experience, you can hear if a noise is on your left, your right or even in front of you. It’s a critical part of creating the most immersive experience possible and it shows that the $5 headset may in fact be the best bang-for-buck product on the market.

First things first, the Cardboard is in no way a better experience than the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive or the Samsung Gear VR.

It’s like comparing a remote-controlled airplane to a paper one. The Cardboard is made from, well, cardboard, and uses a phone and two lenses to create the experience. These other devices have touch pads, a micro USB connection, focal lenses and all other sorts of crazy electrical stuff. They are expensive for a reason.

But, when it comes to overall experience, there isn’t quite as much of a difference between the Cardboard and the others. And that’s without factoring in spatial audio.

Just for reference, here’s a quick breakdown of what the Cardboard is going up against.

The Rift

The graphics on the Oculus are great, but the limiting nature of being attached to a computer actually works against it. Even if I can’t walk around in a virtual space, I’ve found that I want the ability to walk or move around in real life while I use it. To be fair, I’ve only tried the developer kit, but it was enough to for me to consider that the Oculus might be a little overrated.

Grade: 7/10


Gear VR

The graphics are less immersive than the Rift, but it’s mobility compensates for it. The Gear is simple to put on and relatively easy to transport. The major caveat with it is that you need a Samsung phone to use it. But I would say given its price — about $100 without the phone — and quality, the Gear is the second best VR device for college students.

Grade: 6.5/10


HTC Vive

This is as immersive as it gets. You have hand controllers and can move around a little bit in your new reality. It’s so convincing that taking the headset off is like entering a new world. Even though it’s really the old world.

*Projected for market release in April 2016. Price is TBD.

Grade: 8/10


In comparison to these three technologies, I would give the Cardboard a five — not too shabby considering the Rift is 300 times the cost.

What it really boils down to is this: Virtual reality is in its infancy stage right now. It’s a fast-growing baby, and anything you purchase right now might be considered archaic in as little as five years. Given that fact, it might be wise to go with the Cardboard if you can’t splurge on any of the other options.

That’s what Google is betting on. While Oculus, Samsung and HTC are driving in the fast lane, the search engine giant is in the slow lane, likely waiting for some more technological advancements to take place before putting it in gear — pun intended  — and joining the others.

At least, I assume that’s the company’s plan.

As for right now, Google has become the poor man’s, or college student’s, virtual reality company. They are keeping the price low while improving the product, which is an extremely important development for a VR industry that needs the simple and understated Cardboard just as badly as it needs a star like Oculus.

Google isn’t going to be paraded through the streets or anything for it, but they are providing a critical component to any emerging technology: parity.

Paul Sarconi is a senior broadcast and digital journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @paulsarconi.

CORRECTION: In a previous version of this article, the amount Google invested in Magic Leap was misstated. While Google led the round in October 2014, there were other investors and none of the investors disclosed their investment amounts. The Daily Orange regrets this error. 


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