Ever Since Clay Bavor took to the stage at Google IO this year and announced Daydream VR, we’ve been anxiously awaiting all of the required hardware to try it out. First Google ‘gave’ (and by gave we mean charged $1,419) us the Pixel, Phone by Google, and yes we love it, despite its price. Now Google has released the the Daydream View for sale, and a bunch of apps to go along with it.
I’ve been using the Daydream View for a little under a week now, and so far I’ve really enjoyed it. Admittedly, the app catalogue pre-launch was not extensive. However, what apps I did have access to really gave me a sense of what Daydream was capable off. So the real question is how did Google do with Daydream VR? Is the Daydream platform worth your time and money?
Read on to find out.
Daydream View Hardware
This review really has two components, the Google-made Daydream View Headset and Controller (Daydream Controller) and the Daydream VR platform, so let’s take an up close look at the hardware first. I’ve used Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and of course various Cardboard viewers, how does the View stack up? Overall, it stacks up rather well. The soft, but stiff, fabric construction just feels like the right approach for VR and the simple operation of both the headset and controller makes it a breeze to use.
In the box, you get the fabric-coated Daydream View, your Daydream Controller , a wrist strap (that I gave up on trying to push through the canal) and a rather thick Safety, Regulatory and Warranty Guide. As you would expect the View is delightfully packaged with a great unboxing experience with things folding and sliding out to reveal your View headset sitting on a pedestal.
Daydream View Headset
The Soft covering of the headset is silky to hold and the foam “face bit” is more comfortable that another VR headset I’ve tried. The big news here is it fits over glasses, seamlessly, or should I say it fits over my glasses seamlessly. If you’re rocking some Dame Edna style eyewear I’m not guaranteeing you anything!
The View feels light on the face, however, whilst I didn’t find it “heavy” I did find I had to tighten the head strap more than I would have liked to get it to stay in place. This made it less comfortable than it could have been, it seems this is caused by the asymmetrical placement of the strap attachments.
The strap actually attaches to the top 1/2 of the side of the View and not in the middle and many other units do. This means you get uneven pressure on your face and it’s only really ‘gripping’ to your forehead, something that is obvious when you take it off and you’ve got a temporary red VR mark across your forehead. It makes it hard to hide what you’ve been doing!
This strapping location also resulted in more light bleed through the bottom of the View than I would have liked. On several occasions, I actually choose to turn off the lights (thanks, Google Assistant, IFTTT and Philips Hue). It wasn’t a major issue but with having both glasses and the lenses and a source of light it occasionally caused a bit of wonk.
The elephant in the VR room is a bit of a sticky one: sweat and condensation. Often whilst using VR I find that the viewer fogs up, my glasses fog up and my forehead becomes a little moister than I would like. Unfortunately, this happened with the View. Now, I live in Queensland and the room I was testing in had poor A/C, add to that I’m a bit of a sweater and your experience may vary.
I was hoping the cloth design and spongy face bit would prevent this, but it feels as if the cloth material is actually coated around a thin plastic intershell that obviously won’t breathe like even an artificial fabric could. If you’re in good a good climate/control or you’re not one to perspire then this may not be an issue for you.
Of course, some other units on the market suffer from this much worse. Samsung’s Gear VR was a notorious sweatbox, with or without glasses.
I found ‘focusing’ on the sweet spot of the Pixel XL fairly easy, although for me that required me to wear it a little high on my head. When focusing on the screen, not the images, I was able to see the pixels, even on the Pixels QHD display. However , if I simply looked at the content I rarely noticed it. So when playing I had basically no screen door effect.
Not having adjustable lenses as some headsets do, didn’t seem to be a big detractor, now I can’t compare a Daydream headset with and without this yet so perhaps in time I will adjust this position, but for now, I was happy with the ‘default’ setting.
The Daydream Controller makes a huge difference over systems like Google Cardboard or Gear VR that require you to interact almost completely via head movement. The additional of another control/ aiming mechanic along with a reduction in nausea were greatly appreciated and made gameplay/ interaction both richer and actually easier.
It is nothing short of cool to raise your hand and see a wand raise up in the VR world. This sort of real-world to VR connection makes the experience so much more immersive it made me want 2 controllers, I really hope that becomes an option in the future.
The physical controller itself is light, charges via USB-C connects via Bluetooth, and thanks to Google VR Services pairing was simple and easy, and includes a wrist strap. Perhaps I need some remedial needle threading practice, but I could not for the life of me get the wrist strap anchor cord threaded through the receptacle on the controller. After 5 minutes of “shooting pool with a rope” I simply gave up, not a biggie but perhaps a little detail missed.
Overall I found the Daydream View hardware as good as any I have used. If I’m looking to be critical, and that’s partly my job when reviewing devices it’s best to make mention of little things people can dismiss than ignore things entirely, perhaps the head strap placement isn’t ideal. I will say, however, having the strap higher does stop it ‘pinning your ears, and allows headphones to be worn easily, but it did feel a little ‘top tight’.
This is where it gets hard to separate “hardware” and software. The Pixel is an essential component of the overall VR experience; Google has put significant effort into ensuring that the hardware is capable of running Daydream. For this exact reason, we are going to currently connect on Daydream as if the software is hardware independent. If Google’s plans for minimum hardware specifications for Daydream compliance works then the Daydream experience should be equivalent across all devices.
When you first load up Daydream VR you’re walked through a small onboarding experience introducing you to the headset and controller. Each subsequent time you ‘go in’ you simply recalibrate the controller and you’re in. The Daydream Launcher, for lack of a better description, is exactly as we’ve seen it demoed before. Your home is a stream overlooking an incredibly cartoony landscape, but it’s a good introduction to your new VR World.
The interface felt barren, but I think that was because during the review period I only had nine apps to choose from, as more came online, and I got used to the interface, it felt richer and navigating to content became easier. Jumping in and out of VR experiences is seamless and you’re rarely ‘taken out of the experience’.
When using other VR systems I have experienced nausea, and I have to admit I did with the Daydream as well. Now, this nausea was less severe than it has been with other mobile platforms. That said I have been susceptible to motion sickness in other situations and I am having to face the reality that I may not be able to enjoy VR for long stints.
I did let other people close to me experience the device and none of them reported nausea and all had a genuinely fantastic time with the experience.
Now this doesn’t mean I didn’t use the View, nausea be damned I was going to experience everything. I’m not going to review specific games or experience per se, instead, I’ll talk about what it was like to use different types of experiences, and how the Daydream handled those.
Before we get started: one thing I will say, every Daydream experience was better with headphones, not only was the sound quality better and louder but it also gave you proper stereo sound which was often necessary for the experience.
Video on Daydream falls into two categories, 360 videos and ‘traditional’ video. With the 360 video, it was a very similar experience that I’ve had with other platforms, you get to see the video all around you and choose what to look at. Some experiences use light or sound to direct your attention to the correct spot others just let you take in the video however you like.
There was a particularly good Spotlight Stories experience that showed off the promise of storytelling in 3D where you had to keep moving your point of view to “follow the action”. I don’t think 360 images are a “gimmick” and they do offer a genuinely different experience to anything else. As content creators get better at using the 360 environments to tell stories I can imagine a rich and enjoyable ecosystem of 360 video storytelling.
Watching ‘traditional’ content on the View was interesting. YouTube VR for instance, gives you a control panel in the middle of your field of view. You can move this control panel where ever you like in 360 with the controller, repositioning it on the roof whilst you lay in bed. You can also move how far away from you it is so you can get the perfect balance between field of view and the big screen experience. It was a lot of fun laying back in bed watching videos on my ceiling, a lot of fun.
The other video experience I tried was Google Play Movies. Initially, I had some issues getting it to work, but Google was aware of the issues and it should be working now, however, if Google Movies isn’t showing up for you here’s the trick that got it working for me. Start a video in the normal app, pause the video, start Google Play Movies. That was all it took for it to appear in my menu. Or it was not that and it was a complete coincidence.
Unfortunately, Google Play Movies lacked the responsive viewer so I could only watch it in a sitting position. Not a huge deal but I noticed the difference, and I prefer the YouTube implementation. Overall Video on the Daydream was a fantastic experience and I can definitely see myself playing with that format a lot more.
I played a fair few games in my few days, too many to list, but my favourite by far was not the Fantastical Beasts experience I had been so looking forward to (it was a bit of a let down); it was a game called Hunters Gate. Despite feeling a little nauseated a bit into the gameplay I just had to play one more level. I played one more level about 5 times. The game was fun, intuitive and showed me that VR gaming and specifically VR gaming on the Daydream was something that was going to work and work well.
I’m bundling everything else into experiences, this includes things like Street View, Google Arts & Culture, News organisation (which cross over into video) and well everything else. Google is listing 26 launch titles for the platform which will provide plenty of free and paid content for most users, at least to begin with.
Just like with Video, I see the immediate appeal of these experiences. I stood at the base of the Taj Mahal, I may not have been there but between the awful Queensland weather and the Daydream View it sure felt like I was, tonight I’m heading to Egypt, and I’m not even leaving my house!
The depth and market for experiences will only grow over time. Even in this first iteration of Daydream the level of immersion is fantastic, for the form-factor.
Daydream View Conclusion
So Daydream View is here, Daydream VR is here and we’ve got to spend a couple of days with it. Overall I found that Daydream is the best Mobile VR experience I have had. The Hardware is great (despite my earlier quibbles), the UI model works well and the overall feeling of the Daydream platform is cohesive and immersive. I entered this review with no preconceived ideas; sure I want to like VR, despite my motion sickness issues, and there was nothing about Daydream that made me feel any different. In fact, Daydream makes me hopeful for the present, as well as the future, of Mobile VR.
With Daydream VR, I think Google has achieved exactly what they set out to do. Daydream delivers a quality experience that while it may be limited by the current state of technology, it does not let that show in any major way. Daydream is not half done, this is ready for market, Daydream is a consumer-ready package. Is it as good as some people WANT it to be, no it won’t be, is it as good as I think Google can make it in November of 2016, yes I think it is!
Having used an Oculus Rift running on a GTX 1080 meatbox of a PC, let me assure you the distance between some of those experiences and Daydream VR is not that far apart, in fact, I’m hoping a great deal many of those experiences get ported over.
Would I spend my hard earned dollars on this (all $119 of them)? If I had a Pixel, and I was interested in VR, and I didn’t suffer from motion sickness, yes I would in half a heart beat. In fact, even with my motion sickness I will own a Daydream View by the end of Christmas, one way or the other. Unfortunately, the price for entry to the Daydream club is not just $119, it’s $119 + a Pixel. If you can afford that or you’re getting a Pixel anyway then I would suggest you pick up a Daydream View, it’s a lot of fun and not a lot of money.
I truly hope we see more daydream hardware, both phones and headsets, as well as affordable hardware soon. Daydream will not be in your $299 phone for years to come, the platform just requires too much raw power that those budget devices just can’t handle. With the Axon 7 maybe being Daydream compatible and coming in at only $699 that’s a lot more affordable than other options. There will, of course, be more coming very soon.
Daydream, it’s finally here and it is the VR headset I’ve been dreaming of, it may be what you’ve been dreaming of as well.