It isn't the games that really wow me when I slip on the Daydream View VR headset. It isn't the worlds that the Google Maps app allow me to visit. It isn't even the immediate sensation of wonder that VR still instills me. It's how comfortable the headset is.
All images: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo
"It looks like wearing a sweatshirt on your face" my coworker coos, and I feel the sudden pressure of hands on the headset, gently stroking the soft jersey knit fabric that the headset is wrapped in.
I'm rocking Google's first VR headset, the $119 Daydream View, and it doesn't just look like a sweatshirt on my face, it feels like one too. The best kind of sweatshirt. The comfy one you reach for when it's cold and rainy and you want to bundle up.
The Daydream View accompanies the launch of Google's new VR platform for Android, Daydream. It's part of Google's big foray into VR, where it thinks the successes won't be with systems like the Vive or Playstation VR, but with mobile systems like the GearVR. Consequently Daydream is cheap, super user friendly, and requires nothing more than the VR headset and a powerful Android phone (phones powerful enough will be Daydream "approved" — currently only the Google Pixel is fully supported).
The VR experience, and the Daydream app store, are virtually identical to the Samsung GearVR store. Which means the menus are all the same, the VR is still a little difficult to get into focus easily, the battery drains super fast, and the phone gets hot enough that you wouldn't want to put it in your pocket afterwards. I currently can't comment on the app selection, as there was little available beyond YouTube, Google Maps (which lets you wander through janky VR versions of popular landmarks), and two games. Google swears more content is promised, including over more 20 games, Netflix, HBO, and Hulu.
With the VR experience nearly identical and app choices familiar, but spare, what's left is the headset itself — and it's unlike any other VR headset available. It's soft. Like pillow soft. Usually VR headsets are all hard plastic interspersed with bits of soft plastic to keep things from being uncomfortable. Yet the Daydream View is wrapped entirely in absorbent fabric. So it's comfortable to wear on your face for long periods of time, and you're less likely to be coated in a thin sheen of sweat like you're inevitably are with other headsets.
But all that fabric means all GROSS. If your friend who loves her foundation tries it on, you can expect to sample that foundation yourself next time you put it on, and if your greasy dad soaks it through with his face oils and mansweat enjoy the new stains. As user friendly as the Daydream View is, it is not share friendly. Not unless you enjoy rubbing sweartshirts soaked in sweat all over your face.
Which is a shame, because this is a great conversation piece and a dead simple VR solution. The more expensive PS VR is still the winner when it comes to games and long term support of entertainment, but Daydream VR is incredibly natural to use. The small remote that comes with the headset pairs easily, and with little fuss. It sits in the hand nicely, and is incredibly responsive. I've yet to give it to someone and not watch them quickly catch on.
The Daydream View also has the neatest and most simple solution for controller storage. Just flip down the door where the phone goes and slip the controller into its little nook. You're immediately ready to travel with the device and not worry about loosing a key component.
The headset has a NFC-chip hidden on the door where the controller resides when not in use. Lay the phone on it and it instantly knows its been placed in the headset and opens the Daydream app. This is a much sleeker and simpler solution than Samsung uses on the competing Gear VR — plugging the phone into a USB jack on the headset. Yet this simplicity means it doesn't look great. The phone disappears when in the Gear VR headset, but seems unnaturally wedged in when fitted into the Daydream View headset.
It's the one really inelegant aspect of an otherwise extremely elegant system. There are far fewer bugs and hang ups with the Daydream system versus Samsung Gear VR and it has the potential to work with more devices. Gear VR requires you use a Samsung phone, Daydream, just requires that the phone be fast enough and have the appropriate NFC chip. Eight different manufacturers, including Samsung, already have phones in the works, with the Google Pixel just being the first.
If you have a Pixel or are intending to buy a Daydream capable phone, then purchasing the $119 headset and controller feels like a no brainer. It's a small investment, which gets your into a cool new ecosystem Google has plans to support for some time, and it's a great way to dip your toes into the VR world. But if you're on an iOS device or have an older Android phone and zero plans to update then don't bother. Daydream is cool, but not worth either an OS switch or a smartphone upgrade.
- Super soft and comfortable headset
- All fabric headset means it absorbs sweat and isn't easy to clean
- Can use any Daydream approved phone
- Simple set up
- A VR experience on a phone, which means not perfect. You will have difficulty focusing at first
- At $119 for the headset and controller it's the cheapest interactive VR solution