Virtual reality on mobile is cake. Headsets run relatively cheap, and the smartphones that power it are good enough to justify their flagship-level prices sans VR capabilities.
Google Daydream View
At launch, the Google Daydream platform continues the trend. Think of it as Google Cardboard 2.0 for high-end Android smartphones running Nougat and beyond, with better viewers and more sophisticated VR.
The Google Pixel XLand Pixel smartphones are the first to ship with Daydream (Lenovo is updating the Moto Z devicesto Android Nougat with Daydream support as of this writing), and those pair with Google’s Daydream View, a $79 VR headset and controller combo — the first for Daydream.
Is this cake rich and tasty, or is it just stale and bland? We took a Google Daydream View review unit for a spin with a Google Pixel XL to find out.
Google Daydream View Build & Design
The Daydream View is a dumb viewer in that it’s all cloth, padding, plastic, and glass. There are no wires or sensors. The exterior is covered with a fine cloth, which Google warns should avoid contact with Velcro lest it pull and ball up. There’s plenty of padding around the eyes, with a single adjustable strap along the back, lenses in the middle, and a hinged flap in the front, used for holding the phone.
The Google Daydream View secures smartphones with a simple compartment.
The flap secures via a small loop and tab on the Daydream View, and it hides capacitive rubber bumpers for protecting the phone and initiating the Daydream apps, and a notch for holding the Daydream remote when not in use.
The Daydream View is pleasant to hold and touch, thanks to the cloth exterior. It’s also hand washable with removable internal padding (don’t throw it in the washing machine!), light, and Google claims it breathes well. We believe it. Other viewers we’ve tested have problems with lens fog, while we never had that problem it with our Google Daydream View review unit.
The large gap around the nose indent could be the reason the lens remain fog free, and it comes at a cost. This the Google Daydream View’s biggest design flaw. Look down while wearing it, and you can clearly see out from Daydream View. Not only is this distracting, it allows light to pour in, which reflects off the lenses. Light streams in off gaps on the sides, too. Even when tightly strapped on, there’s no way to block the Daydream View’s light leak short of pulling up a hoodie and tightening its strings.
We can’t stress enough how bad this is. Every VR headset we’ve tested has some light leak. It’s multiple degrees worse on the Daydream View.
But at least it’s comfortable to wear, right? Sure it is; no more than any other headset, however. The Samsung Gear VR, for example, is bulkier with its plastic build, and it secures with two straps. Wearing it for a half hour is no more uncomfortable than wearing the Daydream View. In fact, we prefer the Gear VR’s straps, as having one on top keeps the viewer in place. The Daydream View, with its single strap, requires frequent adjustments as it loosens and slips down.
Google Daydream View Performance & Operation
Light pours in around the Google Daydream View’s sides and nose notch.
The Google Daydream View couldn’t be easier to use. Simply turn on the phone and plop it in the viewer. Securing the phone in launches Google Daydream. It won’t launch from a sleeping display or the lock screen, and at least the Pixel XL, which we used to test our Google Daydream View review unit, must be placed with the power button and volume rocker face up.
The Google Daydream platform is very stable, and runs well on the Pixel XL. Google has minimum specs for future smartphones that hope to run it, so there’s a good chance this will be case for all Google Daydream handsets. It responds appropriately enough to head movements to blunt motion sickness, even though it’s not one-to-one on the X and Y axes. Given that the smartphone is doing all the processing, this should get better with future generations of Android smartphone. At the very least, future smartphones won’t heat up as much running Daydream and VR apps as our Pixel did during testing, or consume battery — expect major battery drain while playing in VR.
At least the Google Daydream View is easy to use.
On the plus side, Daydream is intuitive, with all navigation controlled by the wireless Daydream View remote (more on that below). Google wants to bring VR to the masses, and it succeeded in creating a pick-up-and-play viewer, controller, and platform.
With that simplicity also come limitations, however. The dumb Daydream View has no moving parts. To focus, you simply adjust the Daydream View up or down on your face. We had trouble finding the perfect spot with our Google Daydream View review unit, with blurry imaging particularly pronounced on the edges.
Finally, it has a limited field of view. Even with the 5.5-inch Pixel XL, it’s narrower than the 110 degree FOV of the latest Samsung Gear VR. Expect FOV to be even more limited with smaller phones, like the 5-inch Pixel.
Google Daydream View Remote
The Google Daydream View remote is excellent.
This thing is the reason to pick up a Daydream View. It’s basically a mini Wiimote, with a clickable touchpad, two buttons, and a volume rocker. It connect via Bluetooth, and charges via USB Type-C. Google included a small wrist strap for those worried about tossing it across the room during VR sessions.
It’s small, and comfortable to hold, measuring 4 x .8 x .25 inches, and weighing 1.5 ounces. In a nice design touch, it snugly slots into the Daydream View phone compartment for storage. Oddly, it doesn’t ship with a charging cable, so you’ll have to use the charger that came with the Pixel XL, or other appropriate Type-C charger. That’s lame, especially given that Google charges $35 for its USB C power adapters.
Outside of that, we love everything else about the remote. Other VR viewers rely on a viewer-mounted touchpad, external gamepads, or users simply staring at a particular area; all of these detract from the VR experience. The Daydream View remote adds to it, allowing for an additional level of interaction. Like a Wiimote, it’s versatile. You can point and click, which proves very useful for recentering Daydream and apps; swipe the touchpad to move; or turn it sideways to function as a steering wheel. One full charge was enough to keep it powered through two weeks of moderate use during testing It connected quickly to the Pixel XL, and stayed connected — no buggy Bluetooth here.
Good news lefties, buried in the settings, you can change the handedness from the default right handed.
Google Daydream Apps
Google Daydream launches with a few dozen apps, mostly centered around experiences and simple games. There are plenty of free offerings to show off Google Daydream, and paid apps are relatively expensive, ranging from $3 to $10.
Again, Daydream is powered completely by the smartphone, so apps are limited by the hardware. Most of the experience apps, including the WSJ VR and USA Today apps, feature grainy 360-degree video of exotic locations and events. It’s the same with YouTube VR. Most of the video packages are interesting and professionally made, but the video quality takes you out of the effect.
Google Play Movieslook a lot better, with VR limited to watching flicks on a flat screen in virtual settings. Perhaps there’s appeal here for travelers stuck on an airplane as an alternative to squinting at a small display, though we can imagine two hours of Daydream VR causing major eye strain.
Most games take the form of stationary shooters, platformers, tower defense, and endless runner variants, with a few sports titles thrown in. The innovative and multiplayer Keep Talking & Nobody Explodesis the highlight, but most games lack its imagination. The selection is very limited as of this writing, too. Minecraftis sorely missing, as is Dreadhalls, Proton Pulse, Eve Gunjack, and Hitman Go: VR Edition. All of these are available for Samsung Gear VR, and some are Google Cardboard titles, so it’s only a matter of time before they come to Daydream (we hope).
Google’s own Arts & Culture app is really good. It tours famous artworks, with audio commentary and analysis. It’s a great example of VR’s educational potential. We also like the Fantastic Beasts movie tie-in. Even though it’s just a demo with about 10 minutes of content, it’s slick, immersive, and a treat for Harry Potter fans.
Google Daydream View Review Conclusion
First, the good: the Google Daydream View remote is great and adds so much to the VR experience. The Daydream apps show potential, and Daydream’s open nature portends great things in the future..
Now the bad: the Daydream View is lousy. Light leak and the limited FOV kill the VR effect. It’s a design flaw that’s severe enough to recommend avoiding the Daydream View.
Bottom line: Want good mobile VR? Go with the Samsung Gear VR. It’s way ahead as a viewer, even without a remote. Its platform is also more developed, with better apps and games. Otherwise, wait for the next-generation Daydream View. If Google fixes this viewer’s major flaws, it will be a much better piece of cake.
- Daydream View remote is excellent
- Simple, easy to use
- Light leak a MAJOR problem
- Limited field of view
- Headset slips too easily when worn
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