Google Daydream View First Impressions

Posted on December 2, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Mobile with 12 Comments

Google Daydream View First Impressions

Google’s new Daydream View offers an interactive step up from basic virtual reality experiences like Cardboard. But because it’s limited to Google’s own Pixel phones, for now, its appeal is limited.

As you may recall, Daydream View was announced with some fanfare atGoogle’s October hardware event alongside the Pixel and Pixel XL handsets, the 4K/UHD-capable Chromecast Ultra, Google Wi-Fi, and Google Home. It’s been shipping since November 10, but since my own unit was a gift for customers who pre-ordered a Pixel, I had to wait a bit longer for it to arrive.

Daydream View costs $80, and judging from the quality of the device and the advantages it provides over its Cardboard siblings, I think it warrants that price. Cardboard and Daydream collectively make up most of what we might now consider the entry-level and mobile-based VR markets, and both offer a similar visual experience. Where Daydream exceeds Cardboard is in the quality of the device and the addition of a simple hand-controller that makes the immersive VR experiences more interactive.

(The next logical step-up from this, from a quality, functional, and performance perspective, is most likely the PlayStation VR, which costs $400 and requires a $300 PS4 video game console. By this time next year, we should have similar Windows 10-based solutions at $300 and up as well.)

Setup is surprisingly easy: After removing the headset and controller from the box, you install and run the Daydream app, pair the Daydream controller to your phone (via Bluetooth, but using a single button-press), and then place the phone into the headset and get started with a nice software utility.

headset-control

The headset itself is the most comfortable VR headset I’ve worn so far—off the top of my head, I’m comparing it here to various versions of Cardboard (which you can’t “wear”), Galaxy Gear VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and that Windows phone-based IDOL 4S VR headset—thanks to its soft, breathable fabrics. The headset is a pleasant gray color, but I understand that it reminds some people of sweatpants. It’s of higher quality in person. The latch the closes the front over the phone, with its stretchy pull, is particularly well done.

During the software setup, you learn how to use the controller and, in doing so, learn why the interactivity it provides is so crucial to the experience. With Cardboard, there is a single button built into each headset, and then some goofy turning gestures you can do with your head. But the Daydream View controller provides a clickable touchpad plus app, and home buttons. And home pulls double-duty too: When you long-press it, it auto-aligns—re-centers, essentially—the view. Very nice.

open

The controller also understands movements and gestures, including aiming and throwing, and it can be used like a laser pointer of sorts. It’s particularly good for typing on a virtual keyboard, something that cannot be said of any of remote control ever made. The controller even includes volume controls, which is a nice touch. Somewhat killing the experience, alas, is that the Pixel handsets only have a mono speaker. So all the sounds come from one side of your face.

menu

That you can store the controller inside the headset when it’s not in use is just one of many thoughtful touches. Google really seems to have thought this one through.

Visually, I don’t see any difference between the VR experiences offered by Cardboard and those offered by Daydream View, which makes sense since they’re the same apps. Too, there’s nothing particularly special about a Pixel or other Daydream-compatible phone that would make these apps and games all that much more impressive. That said, some apps are Daydream View-specific, or have been tailored specifically so that they provided additional features with Daydream. Mostly to accommodate the additional navigation and interaction that’s possible with the controller.

paris

I haven’t played any games yet, but I did tool around with some apps I’m familiar with from Cardboard. Mostly, it was familiar, but Google Street View—a personal favorite—really comes to life on Daydream View with a neat gallery starting point listing famous locations and a unique navigation style in which the controller lets you jump to navigation points in the street in a more natural way than is possible with Cardboard.

In-app menu with laser pointer-like control.

In-app menu with laser pointer-like control.

It’s not perfect: There’s that mono sound issue with Pixel, plus the phone getsreally hot when using Daydream View, a problem that is apparently common with phone-based VR solutions. (This also happens with the Samsung VR solution.) In fact, you’re warned that performance will decline when this happens, and I found myself unwilling to leave it in the headset with this warning popping up repeatedly.

But coming as it does from the Android platform maker, Daydream View is quite interesting. I’ll report back again if there’s anything more to say.

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