Google Daydream View VR Headset: Australian Review

Image: Google

Google seems to have solved every issue I had with an entry-level VR headset. It still worked with your smartphone (well, if you had a Pixel, for now) but it was, well... beautiful.

Its strikingly clever, lightweight, fabric-based design and fancy-looking controller had me making grabby hands during the Google event when it was announced. Well, now I have had it in said hands, strapped firmly to my face, did it live up to expectations?

What Is It?

Let's start with the $119 Daydream VR's design. Look, I know this is weird — but it feels like a shoe.

Not a cheap Kmart special, but a fancy sneaker engineered by scientists wearing labcoats and worn by Kanye West in a motivational 360 interactive video. If the Gear VR is a Dunlop, the Daydream VR is one of those Nikes made from cork. It even comes in fancy sounding colours. "Slate", "Snow" and "Crimson" certainly beat out "Dark grey", "Light grey" and "Red with grey flecks in it."

Image: Supplied

It is light, soft, breathable, flexible and adjustable. The elastic strap around your head has a rubber interior over your temples to avoid slippage. And the part that touches your face is stuck on with velcro - so you can remove it and wash it. Handy if you want to avoid conjunctivitis and face herpes* from sharing your headset.

Despite becoming used to VR units like PlayStation VR - which has multiple bands to hold it in place - the single strap on the Daydream VR feels secure. In order to get the focus right I had to wear it quite high on my head, and it did feel a little unbalanced as a result - most of the pressure was on my forehead, while under the eye area felt a little loose. That could just be my tiny head and required line of sight, though - your experience may differ.

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The controller - a very cool touch that makes the experience feel more high-end - slides right into the visor cover when not in use, so you never lose it. This definitely came in handy. And the controller itself is simple to use. A brief calibration exercise as you for up Daydream gets you acquainted with how it works, and away you go.

You can swipe across the screen, select items, go back home and re-calibrate your curser or view as needed. I needed to calibrate the curser quite a few times, but the process was simple and non-obtrusive - especially since it only really happened when moving to a new activity or in a menu screen.

You can use it as a pointer, a bat, a wand, tilt it to navigate a maze - whatever the program you're using requires. I spend far too long than I like to admit using it to play fetch with an Arctic Fox. I have no regrets.

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I used the Google Pixel XL with the Daydream. It slides in the front, then is secured with an elastic catch at the top. The XL seemed a touch large for the space provided, but the regular Pixel would be a perfect fit. One thing of serious note - the Pixel XL heated up significantly while using it in the Daydream VR - fast.

After 15 minutes of use it was like trying to touch a hot steering wheel in a car on a 40 degree day. The heat made the unit warmer on my face and meant that longer viewing times became pretty much impossible for me to enjoy without the distraction.

That being said, the screen on the Pixel is stunning. The graphics and tracking are a lot more advanced than I've experienced with a smartphone-driven VR set before. We're not looking at Vive framerates here, but it's still a smooth ride.

I tried both the audio from the phone speakers (turned up with the volume buttons on the controller) and a headset. Both worked perfectly fine, but obviously a headset provides a far more immersive experience.

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So what can you actually watch and play with the Daydream? YouTube, for starters. After accessing the YouTube VR app, I promptly went skydiving. There are a number of creators you can access on the app - PrankVsPrank, Meredith Foster, ColleeHumour, Tastemade and UnboxTherapy are among them.

So it's not all diving with CGI sharks. Google are pushing this as a general entertainment headset, especially with a dedicated Play Movies app - plus Netflix coming soon. While we wait for Netflix, every film and TV show in the Play Movies catalogue is available right now to watch in VR, right in your face. It's simultaneously amazing, and a bit much.

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Then there's VR while touring the Taj Mahal. Yes, seriously. This is Google, so Google Maps' Street View is available in VR now. It's beyond awesome. There's also a bunch of apps on the way offering "experiences" like swimming with dolphins and visiting Pluto. We're talking New York Times VR, Wall Street Journal VR and Guardian VR as well.

Image: Supplied
Google Daydream VR

Price: $119

Like
  • Comfortable and well designed
  • Responsive controller
  • Great price point
  • Huge amount of content
Don't Like
  • Will only work with the Pixel - for now
  • Issues with ventilation - it can get hot to wear

Games get a look in, too. Playing on the Daydream feels intuitive, it's genuinely a lovely experience - and the controller is great. Fantastic Beasts and Need for Speed are among the titles coming soon.

Early reviews of Fantastic Beasts paint it as a classic Harry Potter-style game, with the controller acting as a wand and you exploring fantastical environments. I'm a little more curious as to how Need for Speed will work.

Should You Buy It?

I'm genuinely excited for what the future holds with this headset. It's comparatively a joy to wear — heat aside — and the sheer amount of content Google have access to make this for me the most significant step towards VR becoming "mainstream" since the super accessible cardboard. Provided they open up access to other models on smartphone reasonably soon, that is.

At $119 Google's Daydream VR is affordable, comfortable, high-quality, well-designed and a whole lot of fun. Cool the Pixel down a little, and Google have pretty much nailed it. It's a clear step up from the Samsung Gear VR, but don't go in expecting the experience of a HTC Vive or Occulus Rift. Bottom line: you get what you pay for. But the Daydream VR is a bargain.

*may not be a real thing.

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Comments

    Good review, thanks. I'm bummed that Daydream is not compatible with my Nexus 6P. Google should have made it compatible to increase immediate adoption rates - I would have bought one asap if it was compatible, but now I'll be waiting a few years until I buy my next Google phone which means I won't be investing in daydream for just as long.

      I've got one, and have a 6p. I sideloaded the Daydream APK and the keyboard APK. It works fine for a few minutes, then seems to throttle, meaning reduced framerate, meaning sick times ahead if you keep it on. Cardboard app support is coming too apparently.

        On further use, it seems fine for longer periods too on the 6p. It does occasionally get "in a rut" for a few seconds, and on first use, I thought this was the start of the end, but got about 2 hours use out of it today (on and off), and if you push through the occasional rut, it performs fine. Will try with a Pixel XL tomorrow, will report on the differences.

        Also, it's not 100% cardboard compatible, as it doesn't have the cardboard button, but will otherwise show cardboard apps correctly. But apparently Google is working on compatibility with cardboard and the controller in the next few weeks.

    I want a daydream but I just can't bring myself to want the Pixel. Why cut off a chunk at the bottom of the screen for home, back and menu buttons when you've got such massive bezels. Add to that no waterproofing, no removable battery, no external storage and a premium price point.

    I held an XL side by side with my current Note4 and they would have had to pay me to upgrade.

      I have had the smaller pixel now for 2 weeks and it is by far the best phone I have owned. I'm getting two days comfortably out of the battery and the lack of bloatware from the get go is fantastic. The back/home.menu buttons work great once you get used to them.

        Can you rearrange the on screen buttons? Just gotten used to the LG way, so hoping the Pixel can do it as well.

      I went from a note 4 to a Pixel XL (via a note 7) and honestly it's not a lesser experience. I thought it would feel less good but it's definitely better than the note 4 and equal to the note 7. While I miss physical buttons, it does work out incredibly well. And I was sceptical about the rear mounted fingerprint button and now I love it.

    *face herpes is real*lol they are called cold sores but i am loving vr i have psvr just so much fun. I am looking forward to batman vr farpoint and Robinson the journey and others as they come out.

    @trishool
    It's not compatible with the Nexus 6P because anything daydream VR needs special hardware, similar to the chipset inside the gearVR. The daydream has minimum specs for VR that mobile companies have to follow before getting approved, so we will start seeing compatibility in most new android phones next year.

    Does it play nice with other phones?

    I've found some headsets have a terrible field of view and you end up with a big black border around your screen. Did this take up most of your peripheral?

    My initial impressions after picking a pair up at JB HiFi last night to go with my Pixel XL.

    Firstly, when I get them sat & focused just right, they are pretty impressive. One of the YouTube vr 360 degree videos rivals a demo I saw on a HTC vive last week, so image quality is good. Yes, there's some screen door effect, but when the experience is right it kind of melts away.
    Fit - The headset wasn't very comfortable for me last night. Note I've got a large head (62 hat size, large motorcycle helmet). There wasn't a position where it sat entirely comfortably without some pressure on my brow. Seems a little better today, so may just take some getting used to.

    Reflections - Light leakage around the edges reflects off the lenses & is visible. Not a huge issue, but they're best in a dark room. They would have strongly benefited from the anti-reflective coating you get on glasses. Speaking of which...

    Glasses - This is probably the biggest shame. If you could adjust the focal distance of each eye (move the lenses backwards/forwards oh so slightly) they'd be great. You can't. So, put up with being a little/lot out of focus (I'm -1.5 on each eye), wear over your glasses (some pressure on the bridge in particular) or break out the contacts. I'm likely to end up going for the last option. Again, a struggle the first night, but a little better today. Perhaps I'll get used to putting up with them.

    Battery - the rendering really taxes the phone & it runs hot while you use it. My pixel XL was estimating 3 hours of battery when I used this from 100% charge. For long-haul flights you'd need a couple of pretty sizeable battery banks to get you through.

    Play movies & YouTube - you're presented with a big screen in a field for play movies. Works surprisingly well actually. The image at the edges is out of focus until you turn your head towards it, so it's a bit like sitting at the front row of the cinema without the neck issues. Would actually prefer a slightly smaller screen. Haven't tested the batter just watching a video, but since it still renders a 3d world for you that the screen sits in, I don't imagine it's much better. Would prefer it was just the picture at a distance. Trying too hard to be VR in this case.
    YouTube 360 degree video is AWESOME though. There's a big future in this as a medium as even with the little screen door effect you get, it's easy to ignore & get drawn in. Real WOW factor for friends & family.

    Controller - works pretty well, but doesn't understand it's position in 3d space very well at all. Works great as a pointer, but playing the 3d puzzle game Mekorama, it didn't handle being moved up/down so I could better point it at the top of the puzzle. Had to drag the puzzle around/down instead. Vive & Oculus have this well beat. The Vive you can have for example virtual hands in front of you, twist your wrists & you can see your hands move. Daydream has none of that immersive feeling. The controller feels more like a laser pointer. Really disjoint (at this stage at least). At least you're not tripping over cables when you turn around.

    Overall - you don't have to be a kid to be amazed by the 3d experience. Comfort isn't great though, nor is battery usage, so my gut feeling is that they will quickly become an occasional toy, or something to show off the phone. With a less showy play movies experience, these could be a great second/third screen. In education, or for those with limited mobility though, there's a future here.

    I can't bring myself to buy one yet knowing US Pixel owners got the Daydream for free! Plus we paid more for the Pixel too!

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