Google Daydream View review
Alongside its new Pixel phones, Google Home and the Chromecast Ultra, Google announced its first Daydream VR headset at its 4 October London event. We were there to check it out and we've tested it fully since so here's our Google Daydream View review. Also see: The complete guide to VR.
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Google Daydream View review: Price and release date
Rather than a fully-fledged VR headset like the HTC Vive, the Daydream View is one by which you, er, view a smartphone through built-in lenses. It's a step up from Google's popular Cardboard VR and makes it a rival to the likes of Samsung's Gear VR.
Because the Daydream View VR headset doesn't contain a huge amount of tech, relying on the phone for most, its price is relatively cheap. You can get it for just £69 and it was released in the UK on 10 November 2016. However, cost of the phone adds a lot to the overall price with the cheaper Pixel starting at £599.
Google Daydream View review: Design and build
The Daydream View VR headset is one of the most attractive we've seen with its fabric covering on the outside. It's available in three colours: Slate (as photographed), Snow and Crimson.
Google said it's worked hard on creating a cosy feel and it's certainly done this with the 'jersey fabric' finish. It's a comfortable and fairly light weight VR headset at 220g (around 30 percent lighter than the average). The adjustable strap just goes round your head rather than over it, too, which slightly restricts how quickly you can move your head without fear of it falling off.
Inserting the phone is easy via the hinged flap at the front which is held in place with an elastic catch (hopefully that doesn't wear out over time). Thanks to NFC, the phone and headset know what's happening so by the time you put the Daydream View headset on, the app has already launched.
The breathable fabric covered foam which makes contact with your face is soft and comfy and we were able to use the headset with glasses without any trouble.
The main downside is that the Daydream View allows some light leakage, mainly through the sides as it's quite a wide headset. This isn't the end of the world but makes the experience less immersive as you're more aware of your surroundings.
We discussed the Google event right after it happened on our podcast. Listen here:
Google Daydream compatible phones
The Pixel phones are the first which are compatible and Google said a handful of major phone makers have committed to produce Daydream-compatible phones by the end of the year.
It's still early days so there are very few Daydream-enabled smartphones, although the Moto Z will be upgraded to be compatible once its get the update to Android 7.0 Nougat (rolling out late November) - this is namely the hold up with other devices if they have good enough hardware.
Google Daydream View review: Specs and apps
Since the Daydream View is a 'viewer' VR headset, the specs largely depend on which phone you put in it. When it comes to the Pixel phones, you're best off taking advantage of the Pixel XL's Quad HD resolution for a sharper image.
We've found performance to be very good with smooth head tracking and the image quality is also good using the Pixel XL.This also extends to the controller (see below), although not to the same extent as it did drop out occasionally. The XL sticks out a little bit and gets quite hot during use.
You will need to make sure you get the headset in the right postion to ensure the image is in focus - this is made a little harder by the lack of a strap going over the top of your head.
An interesting and useful feature of the Daydream View is that it comes with a wireless controller. It's very small, maybe a little too small for some, and while you might lose it, the remote fits inside the headset when there isn't a phone inserted. It connects over Bluetooth LE and charges via USB-C offering 12 hours battery life, according to Google.
When you first put on the headset you'll see a floating menu in front of you (below). Using the controller as a pointing device, you can navigate around and also use it to interact with experiences or play games. For example, we played a mini-game in Wonderglade which used the remote as a motion controller to tilt a virtual 'Labyrinth' style race circuit. We found the tracking, via 9-axis IMUs, smooth and accurate, although the tracking isn't quite 1:1.
Google has also teamed up with J.K. Rowling for an exclusive Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them experience. Even a short play on this was pretty immersive and the controller becomes your wand – a nice touch, providing an experience that cannot be matched by any other mobile headset.
You'll be able to do other stuff too like watch YouTube (watch the video for the app below) and Netflix videos in a virtual theatre and Google is planning to add support for Google Play Movies, too. You'll also want to check out Street View which includes prepared guides of attractions such as the Taj Mahal.
Other Daydream VR apps include Guardian VR, New York Times VR, WSJ VR and Lego. More will arrive over time with Google touting 50+ by the end of the year. Now it's on sale, Google has alerted us to new VR experiences for the headset including Danger Goat, VR Karts, Hunters Gate, Mekorama, MLB - Home Run Derby and Polyrunner VR.
It would be better if there was more but we hope that this will increase a lot once there is a wider range of compatible phones.
SHOULD I BUY GOOGLE DAYDREAM VIEW?
You'll need a Daydream VR compatible phone but the Daydream View VR headset is certainly an accomplished device. Its attractive style is complimented by a comfortable fit, although an over the top strap might be an oversight for more energetic tasks. The NFC and wireless experience is great and the simple yet effective motion controller is a real bonus. A no brainer if you have a compatible phone and want to try VR.