Hands On: Google Daydream View

Daydream View headset available from Google Store, but it won't ship right away

Google’s comfortable, easy-to-use Daydream View could be the first VR headset for the masses.

Wake up! Google Daydream, which will bring VR to Android in a big way, is almost here. More than 50 partners are expected to bring apps and games to the platform by the end of the year, including Netflix and Hulu.

But you need the right phone and right hardware to make use of it. That’s where the Daydream View headset comes in. Like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, you can slip a compatible smartphone inside for a self-contained VR experience. Right now, Google’s Pixel smartphones are Daydream certified, and so are a few other devices like ZTE’s Axon 7. It’s intended to be a reference design for headsets from other manufacturers, so similar models may follow.

How does the View perform? Phenomenally. Bear in mind that it’s an $80 device, so you’re not getting Vive-level VR quality. Still, it’s the first mobile VR headset I may use for a continuous period of time, and one I can see catching on to mainstream audiences.

Comfort and style are Daydream View’s forte

Snapping on Samsung’s Gear VR is comfortable, but it can feel a little strenuous after some time wearing it. Google’s Daydream View is the opposite – you never want to take it off.

It has a comfy sweatpants vibe.

Google says it partnered with an unnamed clothing brand to achieve that comfort. The plastic frame feels a little cheap, but I immediately forgot about it once I started touching the soft fabric it’s made of. You can bend it a little, which is going to be handy when traveling. It doesn’t feel fragile, especially considering its main component is glass.

Slipping it on my head was easy enough, and you can adjust the strap via two buckles. One downside I quickly noticed was that there was some light bleeding in from the edges of the device — you may have to play around with it to get a better fit.

The View is lightweight and cushiony. It has a comfy sweatpants vibe — and that’s important if you want me to sit down with this on my head for hours on end watching VR content from The New York Times or Netflix.

daydream_handson_07
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Fortunately, it’s more stylish than sweatpants: It looks sharp, especially with the three color options: slate, snow, and crimson. Unfortunately, only slate is available at launch, but we’ve got our eyes on the crimson.

Plug and play

To set up the Daydream, you first unhinge the elastic strap at the top of the headset to open the front panel. This is where the remote is stored. Take it out, then place your Daydream-certified phone between the front panel and the lens. Close it up by attaching the elastic strap to the hook.

You don’t need to press anything for Daydream VR to kick off — the NFC chip from the phone will do that for you. The phone also won’t need to be adjusted like with Cardboard — the images from the screen automatically match your view thanks to capacitive points on the View.

Anyone can do this, and that’s important if you want mainstream appeal. It only takes a few seconds to take the phone out put it back in.

A motion-tracking remote

The View’s motion-tracking remote resembles a standard presentation clicker, but it reminded me more of a Nintendo Wii controller. There’s a trackpad you can click on, a button that can be configurable by developers, a home button, and a volume rocker on the side. It feels as smooth as a pebble, and is lightweight to hold.

Experiencing VR with a controller is leagues better than using a touchpad on a headset, or staring blankly at objects to trigger an action. The pointer was accurate for the most part — it was easy to choose what I wanted to click on, but sometimes it wouldn’t appear on screen.

There was no latency, and it was quick and responsive.

Motion-tracking is the best part about the remote, though. I played a game that made me move a ball throughout a maze-like pattern. As I waved the remote left and right, up and down, the board the ball sat on moved in the same fashion. There was no latency, and it was quick and responsive.

You can see where this controller can go with Daydream VR. A J.K. Rowling title coming exclusively to Daydream, “Fantastic Beasts,” will let you play as a wizard, and the remote is your wand. We didn’t get to try it much, as it starts out mainly as a narrative game.

Still, I’ve had Harry Potter-enthusiasts reach out to me excitedly about the game and Daydream VR. It’s exactly this type of content that will determine whether or not Google’s Daydream platform will have a future.

Content and quality is where it’s at

Google’s Daydream platform needs to be the Netflix of mobile VR content. An exclusive Harry Potter title certainly helps, but there needs to be a constant flow of high-quality content to keep people interested.

daydream_handson_012
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

From what we’ve seen so far, the quality is surprisingly great. I didn’t experience any motion sickness, and didn’t notice any latency. The screen was sharper than what I was expecting, but that will depend on which phone you use. Still, it’s not perfect — the light bleeding from the edges could be an issue, and it’s going to be slightly pixelated.

We’ll have to wait and see if Google can deliver on content to see if Daydream succeeds.

Availability and price

It’s no Vive or Rift, but Google’s View is a VR headset I can see myself using consistently, thanks to its unbeatable comfort. It’s also $80, which makes it more affordable than other competitors like the Gear VR. If you owned a compatible phone like the Pixel, the Daydream would be a no-brainer addition. Of course, Google will make that easy for you: If you buy a Google Pixel smartphone, you’ll get a Daydream View for free.

The View is now available for purchase on the Google Store for $79, though it won’t ship for another two to three weeks. Keep in mind it won’t be the only Daydream VR headset. This is Google’s reference design — other manufacturers will follow with their own tweaks.

Highs

  • The most comfortable mobile VR headset
  • Inexpensive
  • High-quality content
  • Motion-tracking remote works well
  • Easy setup

Lows

  • Only works with specific phones
  • Plastic frame can feel a little cheap
  • Some light bleeds in from edges

Updated on 10-20-2016 by Lulu Chang:  Added news that the Daydream View headset is now available for purchase from the Google Store, but will not ship for 2-3 weeks. 

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