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The battle of the entry-level headsets: Google’s Daydream View vs. Samsung’s Gear VR

For as much as tech writers talk about the VR revolution, virtual reality still remains esoteric for most consumers. Headsets such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are expensive on their own, and require a hefty investment in computers to run them. There are many “entry-level” VR headsets that run off users’ phones, but many of these are too weak to provide a truly engaging experience. Only the Gear VR has impressed us so far, but its crown may be in peril with Google’s recent announcement of the Daydream View, a headset designed for use with the upcoming Daydream VR software. Just as Google is looking to secure its spot in the smartphone market with the Pixel and Pixel XL phones, the Daydream View is a shot across Samsung’s bow. So how well does the View stack up against the Gear VR?

Related: Pixel phones, Daydream, Home — oh my! Everything Google revealed at its October 4 event

Daydream View

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Gear VR

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Optical Lens TBA 101° field of view
Display Depends on device 2560 x 1440 pixel Super AMOLED
Refresh Rate Depends on device 60 Hz
Required Hardware Google Pixel, Pixel XL, and forthcoming Daydream-compatible phone Galaxy Note 5, Note 7, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, S7, S7 Edge
Sensor Accelerator, gyrometer, proximity Accelerator, gyrometer, proximity
Focal Adjustment TBA Focus adjustment wheel
Interpupillary Distance Coverage TBA 54~70 mm
Physical UI Motion controller (included) Touchpad, back button, volume key
Connection Wireless connection USB-Type C and MicroUSB
Dimensions TBA 201.9 x 116.4 x 92.6 mm
Weight TBA 310 grams
Color variants Slate, snow, and crimson Blue black
Price $79, plus cost of phone $99, plus cost of phone
Availability Pre-orders available October 20 Available Now
DT Review Hands-on 4 out of 5 stars

Design

The first thing Google emphasized about the Daydream View is comfort. Most VR headsets are very obviously gadgets, made of plastic and rubber. People do not typically wear gadgets, Google mused, they wear clothes, so the View was designed with clothing in mind. The headset is made of soft, lightweight fabric, though Google hasn’t specified the materials used in the fabric. For the sake of cleanliness, the face mask can also be removed and washed. The Gear VR, meanwhile, is made of plastic with a matte finish and lined with a rubber face mask. Both headsets have been designed to accommodate users with glasses.

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Google’s goal with the View is comfort and ease of use. As such, the View has no wires to fiddle with. Users simply slide their phone into the headset and fasten the clasp, and the phone and headset will connect wirelessly. With the Gear VR, users need to plug their phone in via the micro-USB connection.

When it comes to control, the View once again takes a different approach. Google’s headset comes with a simple, two-button controller with motion sensors, so users can manipulate objects and navigate menus in VR with gestures. The Gear merely features a directional pad. It can be paired with third-party controllers, but because they’re not standard, most Gear experiences don’t offer controller support.

Performance

Google has yet to release specs regarding the View’s display, so we cannot compare its resolution and refresh rate to the Gear’s just yet. Ultimately, the details will depend on the phone. The Google Pixel will have a 1080p display, and the Google Pixel XL will have a 1440p display.

Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL are the first Daydream-compatible phones announced thus far, but Google asserts that more such phones will be coming. The Gear, on the other hand, requires a Galaxy phone, such as the S7 or S7 Edge. These have 1440p displays.

The specs for the Pixel and Galaxy S7 are similar in terms of processing power and memory, so for now, it does not seem like either headset will provide a remarkably different VR experience.

Software

In our review of the Gear VR, we noted that the software interface had “a blocky, flat design,” but that navigating it was fairly easy, the only drawback being that users must use the touchpad on the side of the headset. Until we have a chance to test the Daydream headset, it’s difficult to say whether the software is easier to use than the Gear’s.

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Apps and games for the Gear are offered through the Oculus store, and the selection of VR games is nice, but the Gear was lacking in quality apps. Those it did have, such as the Netflix app, also didn’t work as intended.

Google is bringing many of its popular apps to Daydream, with virtual-reality twists. Users will be able to watch three-dimensional videos on YouTube, for example, or take VR tours of famous locations in Google Street View. Daydream will have some catching up to do as far as games, but the titles announced so far are interesting, including the sequel to Gunjack.

Price

Both of these headsets are affordable gateways into VR. The Gear VR retails for $99, and is currently available. The Daydream View will sell for $79 when it hits digital shelves in November, and will be available for pre-order starting October 20. And if you buy a Google Pixel or Pixel XL, you’ll get a Daydream View for free. Samsung offers a similar promotion for the Gear VR.

Conclusion

Until now, the Gear VR had a virtual monopoly on entry-level VR. Daydream View is its first major competitor, and the rivalry seems close. Although we have not yet had a chance to review the Daydream View — or view the precise hardware specifications — the promise of a softer, more comfortable headset with software designed by Google is alluring.

The lower price point also helps, too, but it’s tough to make a final verdict on which is better without seeing how Google’s forthcoming headset performs in real-world situations. Either way, November can’t come soon enough.