Virtual reality has well and truly arrived this year, and the latest product to touch down is the Google Daydream View. It follows hot on the heels of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and Sony PlayStation VR; even Samsung has thrown its hat into the ring with the phone-based Gear VR, but can it keep up?
Following on from its cheap and cheerful Cardboard initiative, Daydream View has been built to work hand-in-hand with Android 7.0 Nougat and Google’s new Pixel phones. At £69, it’s a touch cheaper than the Samsung Gear VR, but you still need one of those aforementioned Pixel phones in order to use it, as the headset itself doesn’t contain any kind of display or electronics. Instead, everything is handled by the phone, so you’ll still need to spend a fair amount of cash before you get round to buying the headset.
This may change in the future, though, since Daydream View isn’t only a one-shot product: it’s also a template for other manufacturers to use as part of its wider Daydream VR platform. Along with the Daydream View itself, Google released a whole series of reference designs and specifications for VR devices earlier in the year, potentially paving the way for other Daydream rivals in the future.
Indeed, the likes of Samsung, HTC, LG, Huawei, ZTE and Asus are already hard at work creating their own Daydream-compatible phones, so it’s likely that a lot of next year’s flagships running Android Nougat will also be able to work with either their own Daydream-ready headset or the Daydream View on test here.
Right now, though, only Google’s new Pixel phones work with the Daydream View, so its appeal is rather limited. In its defence, Samsung’s Gear VR has the same problem. That headset is only compatible with its Galaxy S6 and S7 families of smartphones. However, Samsung’s phones are a lot more popular than Google’s Pixel Phones in the UK, and the Gear VR also had the added benefit of being bundled in for free during the S7’s pre-order period, making it much more of an enticing buy.
Google has a tough road ahead of it, then, but one thing it has got right is the overall look of the thing. As an object, Daydream View is highly approachable. It feels beautifully made, and its soft, stretchy fabric makes you immediately want to pick it up and stretch it over your head. The grey “slate” model I was sent for review looks way more comfy and homely than the stark white plastic of Samsung’s Gear VR headset. If there’s one pair of VR goggles that isn’t going to look out of place lying on your sofa, it’s Google’s Daydream View.
In practice, I think Google’s design is perhaps a little too simplistic, as the actual act of putting it on and getting the screen in focus is surprisingly fiddly. The rear elastic headband is quite tricky to adjust once it’s actually on your head, and the weight of the phone often pulled the headset down over my nose, forcing me to rest the belly of the headset on top of my cheekbones. I’d like to have seen another strap coming out of the top of the headset to help make it more secure.
Slotting the phone in is simple. Just unlatch the front of the headset, place your phone inside and it will automatically switch to VR mode (provided it’s turned on and unlocked, of course). Then all you need do is pop the catch back in place and you’re ready to go. It doesn’t look hugely elegant once the phone’s inside it, though, as the Pixel XL is really a bit too tall to be completely contained within. I can also see the elastic catch wearing out with extended use.
Still, once you’ve got the headset sitting correctly on your face, it’s immediately impressive. The optics are a clear step up from the Google Cardboard headset, and the 2,560 x 1,440 AMOLED display on the Pixel XL I was sent along with the headset looked superb, delivering rich, vibrant scenes that were crisp and sharp. There’s some noticeable motion blur when you move your head from side to side, but nothing that will make you feel nauseous.
The really clever thing about Daydream View is its bundled remote. Again, this is a huge step forward from Cardboard and it’s also an improvement over the Samsung Gear VR’s side control panel, which quickly became tiring to use.
With the Daydream View remote, however, you can simply hold it in your lap and use its variety of motion sensors and touchpad to navigate your virtual worlds in much the same way as you’d use a Wii Remote on your TV. It even comes with a wrist strap so you don’t lose it or accidentally hurl it across the room.
The remote has three buttons on it: a home button, a menu button and a large, circular touchpad for clicking, scrolling and interacting with apps and games, but it works supremely well and can be set for right or left-handed use. You needn’t worry about losing the Daydream View remote, either, as you’ll find a small recess and elastic band in the main flap of the headset in which to store it.
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