For as much as tech writers talk about the VR revolution, virtual reality still remains purely theoretical for most consumers. Headsets such as the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift are expensive, as are the high-end computers required to run them. There are plenty of entry-level VR headsets that run off of smartphones, but many are too weak to deliver a truly engaging experience.
Of the smartphone-powered VR headsets on the market, only Google’s Daydream View, a headset designed to be used in conjunction with Daydream VR, and Samsung’s Gear VR, a VR accessory compatible with Samsung’s Galaxy phones, have impressed us so far. But how do the two compare? Here, we take an in-depth look at both to find out.
|Optical Lens||90-degree field of view||101-degree 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, Huawei Mate 9 Pro, ZTE Axon 7, Motorola Moto Z, Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe||Galaxy Note 5, Note 7, Galaxy S6, S6 Edge, S6 Edge+, S7, S7 Edge, S8, S8+|
|Sensor||Accelerator, gyrometer, proximity||Accelerator, gyrometer, proximity|
|Focal Adjustment||N/A||Focus adjustment wheel|
|Interpupillary Distance Coverage||~64 mm||54~70 mm|
|Physical UI||Motion controller (included)||Touchpad, Back button, volume key, and Gear VR controller (included)|
|Connection||Wireless connection||USB Type-C and MicroUSB|
|Dimensions||166.8 x 4.18 x 3.88 mm||201.9 x 116.4 x 92.6 mm|
|Weight||220 grams||310 grams|
|Color variants||Slate, snow, and crimson||Blue black, orchard gray|
|Price||$79, plus cost of phone||$130, plus cost of phone|
|Availability||Available now||Available now|
|DT Review||3.5 out of 5 stars||4 out of 5 stars (late-2015 model)|
Google designed the Daydream View to be comfortable, first and foremost. Most VR headsets are very obviously gadgets, made of a lot of plastic and rubber. But that’s not the case here — Google partnered with a clothing brand to achieve the headset’s look and feel.
The plastic frame feels a little cheap, but we’re big fans of the Daydream View’s soft-touch fabric. It’s lightweight and cushion-y, and has somewhat of a “comfy sweatpants vibe.” It doesn’t feel fragile, and the the face mask can be removed and washed — a feature we came to appreciate in our review, after watching hours of VR content.
The Gear VR, on the other hand, is made of plastic with a matte finish, and it’s lined with a rubber face mask. The newest generation of the device has slightly larger lenses with a separator between them, and an improved smartphone cover that snaps more easily onto the front of the device.
Google’s goal with the View is ease of use. As such, the View has no wires to fiddle with. You simply unfasten the elastic strap at the top of the headset to open the front panel, slide your phone between the front panel and lens, close it up, and refasten the strap. You don’t need to press anything to launch Daydream — the NFC chip in your phone will do that for you.
With the Gear VR, you need to plug in your phone via the micro-USB or USB Type-C connection.
When it comes to controls, the Gear VR and View are fairly comparable.
Google’s headset comes with a two-button controller outfitted with motion sensors, a trackpad, and a volume rocker on the side. The large circular dimple at the top acts as a selection button, and the lowest button serves as the Home button. The device resembles a Wii remote, and packs a 220mAh rechargeable battery that lasts anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour. When drained, it charges via USB Type-C.
In our review of the Daydream View, we were impressed by its responsiveness — there isn’t a lot of latency. And we liked that it could be paired with up to two phones, which comes in handy if you’re sharing a Daydream View with another person.
Samsung’s newest Gear VR headset, on the other hand, comes with the Gear VR Controller, an Oculus-designed motion wand that looks like a miniature HTC Vive controller. It, like the Daydream View controller, has a touch-sensitive trackpad that doubles as a clickable selection button. Below the trackpad are Home, Select, Volume, and Back buttons, and on the underside is a trigger. A wrist strap is also located near the bottom, which helps prevent you from losing your grip.
Unlike the Daydream View remote, the Gear VR Controller takes a pair of AA batteries, which Samsung says last up to 40 days. This, however, is entirely dependent on the battery manufacturer and how much you use it.
Inside is a gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnometer for tracking motion, allowing you to point, drag, drop, tilt, shoot, and carry out a host of other actions. In our brief time with the Gear VR Controller at Mobile World Congress, it felt sturdy, stable, and easy to grasp. The Home and Volume buttons were responsive, and the trigger felt satisfying and springy. The Gear VR also has a built-in directional pad and Back button, and can be paired with third-party controllers.
Most importantly, both headsets have been designed to accommodate users with glasses.
The Daydream View’s performance depends heavily on which phone you’re using to power it. According to Google’s official Daydream specifications, any phone with at least a 1080p display between 4.7 and 6 inches in size qualifies. It must support a refresh rate of at least 60 Hz, however, and a “low-persistence” mode. It also must have at least two physical processor cores, one of which must be assigned exclusively to the Daydream app.
The list of Daydream-supported smartphones is growing by the day, but here are some of the most popular models:
- The Moto Z and Moto Z Force, both of which have screen resolutions of 2,560 x 1,440, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 processor, and 4GB of RAM. They start at $624 and $720, respectively.
- The ZTE Axon 7, which has a screen resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, a Snapdragon 820 processor, and either 4GB or 6GB of RAM. It starts at $400.
- The Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe, which has a screen resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 pixels, a Snapdragon 821 processor, and 6GB of RAM. Pricing has yet to be announced.
- The Google Pixel and Pixel XL which have screen resolutions of 1080p and 1440p respectively, a Snapdragon 821 processor, and 4GB of RAM. The Pixel starts at $650 and the XL at $770.
The Gear VR, on the other hand, requires a Samsung Galaxy phone such as the Galaxy S8, S7, or the S7 Edge. These have 1440p displays.
Daydream-compatible smartphones and Samsung’s Galaxy phones may pack different components, but Samsung and Google have done their best to establish baseline specs — even on “low-end” hardware, you’ll have a pretty good VR experience using both Daydream and the Gear VR.
For now, it doesn’t seem like either headset will make for a remarkably different VR experience.
Google’s approach to software on the Daydream View is commendable. It’s simple, intuitive, and beginner-friendly — there’s even an interactive guide that teaches you how to use the remote, and a tutorial that has you exploring the woods with a flashlight.
The Daydream home screen resembles the layout of apps on the Oculus Rift. You can view your most recently-used apps, along with a library of all installed Daydream apps. Apps also download from Google Play, which means you don’t have to take off the headset to download an app or game. But you can browse the Daydream app when you’re not in VR mode, too, and quickly launch apps that way.
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. It doesn’t offer the same cute, intuitive onboarding experience as the Daydream View, but it’s fairly self-explanatory. On the left and right sides are the Library and Oculus Store, where you can download various apps and games. You scroll through pages using the Gear VR’s built-in trackpad, or the Gear VR Controller.
The Gear VR boasts hundreds of VR experiences and games. Some of the highlights include Facebook 360, a hub for the social network’s 360-degree video and picture content, and Minecraft, Microsoft’s Lego-like creation platform. Other standouts include Hitman Go: VR Edition, an adaptation of the smartphone-centric Hitman Go, and Paint VR, a blank VR canvas on which you can doodle. Earlier this year, Oculus also announced that more than 70 in-development titles would soon take advantage of the Gear VR Controller.
Google’s Daydream platform may not be able to match the Gear VR when it comes to volume, but that doesn’t mean it’s without compelling content of its own. A few highlights include Google’s suite of VR-optimized apps — YouTube VR, Street View, Google Play Movies, etc. — as well as experiences such as Wonderglade, Mekorama VR, Hunters Gate, and Star Chart VR. You can also use the headset to access coverage from The Wall Street Journal VR, CNN VR, The Guardian VR, and The New York Times, along with video apps such as HBO Go, Netflix, and Hulu VR. Recent titles like Gunjack 2: End of Shift and Danger Goat are just an added plus.
Pricing and availability
Both of these headsets are affordable gateways into VR. Either iteration of the Gear VR will run you a cool $130, and comes bundled with the aforementioned Gear VR Controller. The Daydream View currently retails for $79, and is available in snow, slate, or crimson configurations.
Last year, Oculus had a virtual monopoly on entry-level VR. The Daydream View is the Gear VR’s first major competitor, and it’s a neck-and-neck race.
We’re big fans of the Daydream View’s softer, more comfortable headset and easy-to-use software. But Samsung’s new Gear VR Controller shakes things up. It offers more inputs and longer battery life than the Daydream View’s controller, and supports exclusive games and experiences. Our review of the Gear VR Controller is forthcoming, so we’ll have to call it a tie for now. But in the meantime, it’s tough to go wrong with either platform.
Updated on 05-05-2017 by Kyle Wiggers: Added Daydream View impressions and details regarding the Gear VR Controller.