Here is what the critics are saying about the Google Daydream so far.
The Google Daydream View isn’t ground-breaking in the realm of mobile VR, but it has a lot going for it. While it doesn’t compare with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, at the price point of $119, the Daydream View is extremely well-made and allows people on a budget to get a taste of VR, not to mention it’s nice and comfy to wear.
One problem is that its closest competitor, the Samsung Gear VR, already has a lot of content available and is only slightly more expensive at $159. There is no ‘killer app’ to speak of on Daydream, but what really sets the headset apart from Gear VR is the included controller. It brings a whole new dimension to navigating in VR. It’s minimalistic and simple to use, integrating beautifully with Daydream.
Sure a lot of content is geared towards the younger generations with a range of games and educational apps, but grown-ups will get a kick out of things like Google Maps, YouTube and news sites in VR.
One thing working against it now is handset compatibility: Only the Google Pixel and the Pixel XL are Daydream-ready at this stage. Despite promises that other manufacturers will make Daydream-ready phones, we don’t know how long that’s going to take. Hopefully the new handsets will resolve the overheating issue as well.
The Pixel is currently exclusive to Telstra and buying it outright would cost over a grand, so if you don’t already have the Google-made handset it may not be worth buying the Daydream View just yet, no matter how cheap it is.
For those who do already have a Pixel or a Pixel XL, you’re in for a treat with the Daydream View.
I’m not sure how well my experience generalizes, though, because the things I find innovative about the View have confused most of the colleagues I’ve tested it on. It doesn’t have an overhead strap like most VR headsets, so people tend to pull its headband too tight to compensate, causing a headache and tilting the body in a way that lets light in. Without a focus wheel, they’ve had trouble moving it around to get the best-quality image. And I’ve had to explain the slider system to almost everyone who’s seen it. Once you’ve found the perfect View adjustment, it feels great — or at least, it does for me. But if you let a friend try one for a few minutes, they might just think it’s ill-fitting.
The Pixel and Pixel XL also don’t provide the exact same experience. Both phones are equally powerful, and the displays are highly responsive, albeit as grainy as every other headset. I’ve gotten a roughly similar three to four hours of solid use out of both — and the USB-C charging port is unobstructed, so they’re not difficult to plug in and keep using. But compared to the 5.5-inch XL, the 5-inch Pixel distinctly narrows your field of view by a few degrees, leaving slim vertical bars around the edge of your vision.
Daydream, at its core, is a software platform for virtual reality — think of it as common ground for app developers and Google’s hardware partners. It’s the spiritual successor to Google’s debut VR effort, Google Cardboard, but far more holistic in scope — Cardboard supports both iOS and Android devices, primarily delivers low-resolution apps and videos, and is largely intended for use with an inexpensive plastic or cardboard headset. Daydream, by contrast, is targeting the enthusiast market.
Fundamentally, Daydream consists of three components: a headset, a controller, and software like apps and games.
The standardized remote control bares a passing resemblance to a Nintendo Wii remote, and that’s no accident — motion controls are the highlight here. It’s relatively simple hardware by all appearances: the Daydream remote sports a few buttons, a touchpad, and a basic motion sensor. But it’s immensely powerful in the virtual world, providing the primary means of navigation in menus. Moving about lists and carousels is accomplished with an intuitive combination of flicks, swipes, and taps, mechanics that extend to Daydream apps and games. At Google’s developer conference in May, the company demonstrated a “breakfast simulator” that tasked players with flipping virtual pancakes and casting a fishing rod.
- Design and comfort: The Daydream View headset is without a doubt the cuddliest VR headset you can get. The soft fabric covering is pleasant to the touch, and the flexible rubber frame keeps it from being too heavy or awkward. Compare that the the Gear VR which is a hulking monstrosity of plastic—something you never forget when it’s strapped to your face. The simple hinged flap that holds the phone in place is also makes it quick and easy to go into Daydream VR mode (it uses NFC to launch the VR interface). Daydream View might look a little bit like a shoe, but it’s a very nice shoe.
- Device support: The Pixel and Pixel XL are currently the only devices that work with Daydream View, but that won’t be the case for long. Unlike Samsung’s Gear VR, Google isn’t keeping all the VR goodies to itself. Android 7.1 enables Daydream VR on any phone that meets certain requirements. They need to have a sifficiently powerful SoC to render two 60fps videos simultaneously, a display resolution of at least 1080p with 3ms or less latency and 5ms or less persistence, and Bluetooth 4.2 LE. So, we’re talking upper mid-range to high-end phones. Give it a year and I’d expect all flagship Android phones to support Daydream VR.
- The controller: Google’s Daydream View headset comes with a Bluetooth motion controller, which pairs quickly with your phone as soon as you enter VR mode. You can think of it as a virtual laser pointer that lets you highlight and interact with objects in VR. There’s also a trackpad on the controller, giving you two ways to interact. It’s much more immersive than the Gear VR, which uses a clumsy trackpad on the side of the headset. I’m interested to see how game developers take advantage of the native motion controls in Daydream VR.
- Narrow field of view: The field of view (FOV) is one of the most factors affecting VR’s immersiveness. Unfortunately, Daydream View doesn’t have very good FOV. It’s about 90-degrees, so it won’t fill as much of your vision as other systems. For example, Gear VR is about 100-degrees in the latest version. More advanced VR systems like the Vive and Oculus are noticeably better at 110-degrees. You can forgive Daydream a little, seeing as it’s deisgned to work with phones of many different sizes. That necessarily comes with some compromises.
- Lack of content: The content available in at launch in Google’s VR store is… disappointing. All the apps and games together probably number just a couple dozen, and some of those aren’t worth using. Some of the nicer apps include Washington Post VR, YouTube VR, and Fantastic Beasts, but there’s no Netflix or Hulu yet. On the game side, there are a handful of fun titles like Everybody Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and EarthShape. Some of the games at launch are just demos with full versions coming later. More apps and games are supposed to be arriving by year’s end.
- “Screen door” effect: When you look at the screen in your VR headset, you will often see a regular grid of lines. These are the spaces between the pixels, which you can only see because the screen is magnified and several inches away from your face. This is not unique to Daydream View, but it’s something to be aware of. Even a 1440p display has this, and 1080p ones will be worse. There’s not currently a viable way to do 4K on a phone (Sony tried, and it didn’t go well), so for now you’ll just have to live with this foible.