Google released their Daydream View VR headset in late 2016, and I picked one up to go along with my Google Pixel XL for a bit of fun.
I’ll note that I’m still reasonably happy with the Pixel XL and my opinion hasn’t changed from that review. It’s still going pretty strong, and a good but expensive all-rounder.
Google says “Daydream takes you on incredible adventures in virtual reality. Get ready to immerse yourself in all the things you love.” I say “Don’t get your hopes up”. Going on from the general success of Google Cardboard, it seems they thought there was a market in VR, going along the media successes of Microsoft Hololens, HTC Vive and Sony Playstations VR. Don’t mistake this device on being in the same playing field, it’s a lot worse.
AU$119 for the Google Daydream View
If you’ve already tried Google Cardboard (I hadn’t) then you’ve got a reasonable idea already. Your phone slips into this headset, which instead of being folded cardboard, is now lovely breathable fabric with a head strap and cushions for your face. Inside the headset are two lenses that magnify the phone screen, and a front flap that has a NFC chip to tell the phone that it’s inserted.
The phone itself has the Daydream app, which is a wrapper to a Daydream App Store as well as giving you a platform to get to all VR things, along with a tutorial.
This is what the phone displays inside the Daydream
The real difference between Google Cardboard and Google Daydream, is that you’ll also get a remote. This is a very light and small remote. that charges via USB-C. There’s 3 buttons, with the top also being a trackpad. There’s also volume up/down buttons on the right hand side.
Think of it as a more basic Nintendo Wii remote, without as many sensors (it still seems to have gyro). This remote lets you control a cursor on screen, or a wand if you’re playing that Harry Potter game that doesn’t have Harry Potter in it.
I mentioned the Daydream demo – that was the most fun I had with the kit, and it wend downhill from there. The demo is fun and well designed; it teaches you how to use all the controls and look around in a 3D world. Anyone watching you do this however, will think you look silly – everyone looks silly doing this. Android Authority have a great clip on using Daydream:
Going beyond the demo, I started to realise the picture actually wasn’t that great. Unless the headset was in the absolute most perfect spot, I had blurryness around the edges of my vision. Watching YouTube through this sounds cool, but all you really get is a 3D room where you can zoom in, out and around a video. You also can’t use this lying down, orientation can be reset on an X axis, but not a Y if you’re thinking about lying in bed to watch a movie. The graphics a game will show are rather low end too, because you’re using a super thin device that’s never going to get close to what a PC or console can do.
Also, you can watch 360 degree videos on YouTube with this, or use Google Street View to pretend you’re walking down a street – but to me, moving your head around to see in a full 360 degrees gets tiring quickly.
Even more worrying, is the Google Pixel XL’s extreme heat generated by running this. We’ve got a top end, brand new phone that can barely run Daydream; and when I say barely run, on more than 1 occasion the device has given a warning that it’s too hot and has to stop operating. This was widely reported and doesn’t seem to be fixed yet.
There’s very few apps which I’ll assume is due to the limited customer base who have both a Pixel phone, and then a Daydream View. A few are free, enough to play around with different things. There’s a racer game that lets you use the remote like a steering wheel (again, think Nintendo Wii) but when are you really going to sit there with a headset on, closing yourself off to the world, to focus on playing a few low end games that require you to move your head instead of your eyes? Maybe that’s part of the problem where it feels unnatural, a glance changes to a more tedious head and neck movement with this device.
As you can probably tell, I don’t recommend buying one. It is a fun novelty for a short time, so try one if you can to see what VR is about, but the experience is just that average. This recent reddit thread asks “Those of you who have a daydream headset, what do you think of it after a few months?” and you can see the general consensus there.
I think VR/AR (Augmented Reality) itself is still taking off and will do well, but these lower end experiences won’t and it’ll be another abandoned Google idea. However, if they worked out how to do AR with the inbuilt camera, that’s a different story…