Google Daydream View review


WhistleOut
11 November 2016

Verdict:
Daydream View is the most polished smartphone-powered virtual reality experience we've seen to date. If you own a Google Pixel and want a comparatively affordable taste of the future, pick up a Daydream View.

Like:

Dislike:

  • Polished VR experience
  • Nifty controller
  • Light and comfortable fit
  • Affordable
  • Unproven ecosystem
  • Chews through the Pixel's battery
  • Smartphone VR doesn't nail "presence" yet
  • Only works with two phones at the moment

Score: 80/100

Cost: $79

What Is It?

Daydream View is Google's new take on a smartphone-driven virtual reality solution. Succeeding Google Cardboard, Daydream is meant to a provide high-end virtual reality experience.

While the idea behind Cardboard was that any Android phone can be used for VR, Daydream is much more exclusive; at the moment, it only works with the Pixel and Pixel XL. As a result, Daydream apps offer better immersion are less likely to make you feel nauseous or motion sick.

Daydream View specifically refers to the two device bundle consisting of a headset that you can dock your Daydream-certified phone in, and a Wiimote like controller.

It's important to note that the Daydream View does nothing without a compatible smartphone.

What's Good?

The Daydream View is easily the most comfortable virtual reality headset I've worn. It's comfortable and light; well, as light as a headset can be when there's a phone strapped to the front of your face. The headset is also compact enough to easily throw in a bag.

You get a tiny bit of light bleeding in through the nose hole, but this is a problem with most virtual reality headsets. And hey, breathing is pretty useful.

Notably, the Daydream View is one of the few virtual reality headsets that you can wear glasses under. You're also able to detach the face pad, just in case you feel like giving it a wash (by hand).

Setting up the Daydream View is easy; it's mostly a case of downloading an app and following the prompts. There might be a few other updates you need to download as part of the installation, such as new firmware for the Daydream View controller or an update to some behind the scenes software on your phone, but these don't impede on the process' simplicity. 

One of the nice little touches with the Daydream View is that you don’t actually have to "connect" anything. Simply open the hinge, pop your Pixel in, strap it in, and you're good to go. The View uses NFC to pair with your phone, so unless you want to use headphones, there's no wires to connect.

The Daydream View's wand-like controller genuinely helps improve VR immersion. While inputs are sparse - it can track basic motion, has a circular trackpad, two buttons, and a volume rocker - it's more than enough to make the virtual reality experience a little more engaging. At the very least, it's a much more natural solution than the side-facing touchpad found on Samsung's Gear VR.

For the most part, I've found the Daydream View's controller to be quite reliable when it comes to general motion tracking, but it struggles with depth. Given that there's no external peripheral for Daydream like the Wii's sensor bar or HTC Vive's Lighthouses, this is understandable, but it can nonetheless be frustrating when using apps where you're interacting with a 3D space.

When you're not using the Daydream View, the headset has a small space for storing the controller. All in all it's an elegant solution

The Daydream View's best "feature" would however be its price tag. At $79, it's the cheapest high-end virtual reality solution on the market, undercutting the aforementioned Gear VR. If you've already got a Pixel, Daydream View is a reasonably affordable way to get a taste of the future.

What's Not So Good?

As comfortable as Google's active-wear like material is, the use of fabric means the Daydream View smells a bit funky - almost like new car smell - when you first take it out of the box. The scent goes away when you give the headset some time to breath, but it can be a bit hard to handle during your initial wear. 

At the moment, the Daydream View is only compatible with the Pixel and Pixel XL. While Google says more phones will be compatible with the headset in the future, you've only got two options right now. If you don't have a Pixel, the actual cost of a Daydream VR setup becomes a minimum of almost $850.

Then there's the fact that Daydream is still powered by a smartphone. While Google requires "Daydream certified" devices to meet fairly beefy minimum specifications, they still won't compare to dedicated virtual reality solutions such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. 

Smartphone-powered virtual reality is typically held back by the phone's processing power, lower refresh rates, and a smaller field of view. The last two factors in particular are seen as being detrimental to "presence", industry short hand for how immersive the virtual reality experience is. Low refresh rates can also cause some users to feel nausea and disorientation when using a virtual reality headset.

While I found most Daydream View content easy on the stomach, one of my colleagues felt unwell after the first half of the "welcome" tutorial". That being said, I found Hunters Gate - a top-down shooter - quite disorienting. Your mileage may vary, so if you're at all concerned about motion sickness, it's probably better to try a demo unit first.

Daydream View is a first-generation product, and while it may be a polished device, the ecosystem situation is currently a little bare. You've got apps from Google (YouTube, Street View, Google Play Movies), a few games, and a couple of "educational" experience. While there's more due out in the next couple of weeks - Netflix, for example - we don't know what Daydream's developer support will end up looking like. For what it's worth, over 1,000 apps were published for Google's Cardboard platform.

As you might expect, powering virtual reality content isn't exactly an easy feat; after a 15 or so minute VR sesh, I found the Pixel XL I was testing with ran really hot. Fortunately, the Daydream View headset is well insulated, so it never feels like your face is on fire. You'll also find that using Daydream will burn through your Pixel's battery pretty quickly; as a rule of thumb, I found every 10 minutes of Daydream usage would sap about 5% of the Pixel XL's battery life. 

Who's It For?

Given that there's only two smartphones compatible with Daydream View at the moment, the answer to "who's it for" is a little obvious: Pixel owners. If you've got a Pixel or Pixel XL, you're part of the exclusive club that can use the Daydream View as more than a VR headset-shaped paperweight.

Even if you have a Pixel, Daydream View is first generation product for a new ecosystem. By becoming an early adopter, you're taking a gamble. While I want to be optimistic, we're still not sure what developer support will look like in the long run. 

Daydream View isn't a must have, but it's a fun experience. Everyone I've shared a VR headset with has loved it. Very few rushed out to buy one, but everyone has had that "wow" moment.  At the moment, virtual reality - and by extension, the Daydream View - teeters the fine line between novelty and gimmick, but it's easy to see it becoming so much more as the app selection (hopefully) increases.

If you're curious about the future, Daydream View is something you have to try for yourself. Virtual reality is one of the few recent technologies that has made me feel like we're living in "the future". It elicits that same childlike wonder I experienced when I first tried a Game Boy; of the impossible being possible.

But is it worth buying a Pixel or Pixel XL so you can use Daydream View? No, not yet. Sure, the Pixel is a great phone and the best high-end Android phone available at the moment, but I wouldn't recommend buying one for the sake of virtual reality alone. Daydream is a very promising platform, but it's currently unproven.


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