The minimalistic Google Cardboard earned our Best Buy award for being the best VR headset on a tight budget. This product isn't the most comfortable or immersive of the bunch, but it is a fantastic value, offering a decent introduction to VR at a fraction of the price of the other models. For those on the smallest of budgets or want to try out VR without a huge investment, the Cardboard is a clear choice.
Google Cardboard Review
Pros: Inexpensive, easy to setup
Cons: Uncomfortable, not as immersive or interactive
Bottom line: This bare-bones headset is the best way to experience VR on a budget
Adjustable Lenses: No, need to move the headset around
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Though the Cardboard lacks the level of interactiveness that other models have and is not at all comfortable to wear for long periods of time, it gets the job done and delivers a decent VR experience. It's a great value at $10-$15 and is the clear choice for an introductory VR setup that won't cost a ton of cash and won't be a huge investment in time to set up. It is also compatible with iPhones — a bit of a rarity for VR headsets. However, the lack of a head strap makes this product somewhat uncomfortable to wear for prolonged periods. If you are planning on a frequently using your VR headset, you may be better served by upgrading to a more comfortable model, like the Merge VR.
To see which VR headset is the clear winner, we bought the best and tested them head-to-head to find out which one came out on top. These side-by-side evaluations were grouped into five weighted metrics — Comfort, Ease of Setup, Interactiveness, User Friendliness, and Visual Immersiveness — with our findings detailed in the following sections.
Taking credit for the largest portion of the overall score at 35%, our Interactiveness metric assessed how easy it is to interact with each headset and how accurate the motion tracking of both the headset and the remote is, if there is a handheld remote. The Cardboard didn't do particularly well, meriting a subpar score of 2 out of 10 for its performance, as shown in the graphic below.
There is only a single button on the headset itself, placed on the top and reminiscent of a camera shutter button.
This offers limited control, but it did work reliably. This headset can track your motion as you look around in all directions, but won't monitor any motion as you walk around. The motion tracking as you looked around seemed reasonably accurate. However, this headset also lacks a handheld remote, so no method of interacting with it there.
Next up, we had our Visual Immersiveness set of tests. These tests took credit for 25% of the total score for the Cardboard, based on the sharpness, resolution, and overall image quality for each headset, as well as if it sufficiently blocked out ambient light. The Cardboard scored alright in this metric, earning a 6 out of 10 and comparing somewhat favorably with the rest of the pack, as shown below.
The Cardboard does not have any form-fitting material around the area your face contacts, so it does let in a decent amount of ambient light — enough where it could be distracting. The resolution and sharpness of the image are dependent on the phone used, but we found that it was quite good when using a Google Pixel XL phone. The overall image quality is quite good, though the field of view is a little on the narrow side, about 90°.
Next up in our testing process is our Comfort metric, comprising 20% of the overall score as well. We evaluated the level of ventilation present, whether or not you could wear glasses when using the headset, and how comfortable it is to wear the headset for a long period of time. The Cardboard didn't do amazingly well in this metric, meriting a 4 out of 10 for its performance, comparing somewhat unfavorably with the rest of the headsets in the group.
The Cardboard isn't terribly comfortable to wear, as you have to hold it against your face and the edges of the cardboard will press into the sides of your face in an uncomfortable manner.
However, there is a reasonable amount of room for glasses and more than adequate ventilation to keep the lenses fog-free.
This next metric assessed how much work it was to get the headset ready for use, whether or not you needed to take your phone out of the case to use the headset or if it is easy to inadvertently hit a button on the phone, as well as the difficulty in getting headphones hooked up. The Google Cardboard scored alright in this group of tests, meriting a 7 out of 10 for its performance. The following chart shows how this score stacked up against the rest of the headsets of the group in this metric, worth 15% of the overall score.
It was quite easy to hook up headphones to your smartphone when using the Cardboard, as it did not obstruct the audio port at all. The cover folds out, making it a snap to insert your smartphone, but the phone does rest on its side, making it possible to press one of the side buttons accidentally while in use.
However, this never happened to us throughout our course of testing. The Cardboard also allows you to leave most cases on your phone, though it is a little snug for some of the more rugged cases.
Ease of Setup
Our final metric accounts for the remaining 10% of the total score, taking into account the difficulty of installing hardware, configuring the software, and the amount of required hardware to run the system properly to determine the scores. The Google Cardboard finished out our test with a decently high score, earning a 9 out of 10. This compares very favorably with the rest of the group, as highlighted by the following graphic.
There is practically no assembly required with the Cardboard, essentially ready to go right out of the box.
The only software install required is downloading the Google Cardboard app, though it isn't necessary to do this to start watching YouTube videos in VR. The Cardboard is compatible with a decently wide range of phones, with more being added all the time.
The Cardboard is an exceptional value, offering decent VR performance at a price that can't be beaten.
For those searching for an acceptable VR experience and don't want to spend a ton of their hard-earned money, the Google Cardboard is a clear choice.