My Daydream View arrived and it is awesome

Back in early October, I ran out and bought the new Google Pixel phone the day it came out, and immediately put through an order for my free Daydream View VR headset.

Last week, as all the other tech journalists were writing their reviews, I had to sit and grind my teeth because my headset hadn’t arrived yet.

But yesterday, it came! Whoo hoo!

The Daydream View in its box. (Photo by Maria Korolov.)

The Daydream View in its box. (Photo by Maria Korolov.)

For those who somehow stumbled into this site by accident, the Daydream platform is Google’s next stage of virtual reality evolution, and a big step forward from Google Cardboard.

You might not know much about Google Cardboard if you just watch the news, because most of the media coverage has been of the high-end headsets like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, and more recently, Sony’s PlayStation VR. But Cardboard-compatible headsets are actually outselling all of those put together by millions.

Most Cardboard-compatible headsets are not actually made of cardboard.

Most Cardboard-compatible headsets are not actually made of cardboard.

There are more than 100 different manufacturers making Cardboard-compatible headsets, which are great for playing moving on private virtual movie screens, watching immersive, 360-degree videos, and casual games. And porn. Can’t forget porn. With prices as low as $5 a set, folks in emerging countries are snapping these up like crazy.

Daydream is the next stage of that and solves two of the most annoying problems with Cardboard-compatible headsets.

No configuring necessary

The original Cardboard specification allowed for an NFC chip that automatically told your phone to switch into virtual reality mode, and also told it how to adjust the image so that it would look right with the particular lenses your headset was using.

But I’ve never been able to find a headset that actually did this. And I have tried dozens of them.

Instead, you had to download the Google Cardboard app, find the Google Cardboard QR Code for your headset, and use the code to configure it.

Some manufacturers didn’t even have a QR Code, so you had to try random ones for other headsets until you found one that was close enough.

If you skipped this step, and tried to run VR apps anyway, you were likely to wind up with a horribly distorted image and be traumatized for life.

The Daydream View finally gets this NFC thing right. You put your phone in the viewer, and it switches to VR mode. You do need to download the Daydream app, though. But once you do, you’re in business.

Daydream View headset with Pixel XL smartphone.

Daydream View headset with Pixel XL smartphone.

You just drop the phone in, close up the flap, and hook the little loop over the little plastic nub on top. It’s not quite as easy as the magnetic holders some headsets have, but is still very simple and intuitive.

You also don’t have to fiddle around with the interface. Existing Cardboard headsets use various ways to interact with apps — some give you access to the screen so you can touch it to activate things, others have a magnetic button, some have a capacitative touch button, and many have nothing at all. Third-party Bluetooth controllers work with some apps, but only for Android phones.

The Daydream comes with its own controller and automatically pairs itself with your phone, and has three main buttons — including one that doubles as a track pad — and a volume control. Plus, it knows which direction it’s pointing in, which is a huge huge plus.

Virtual environment

On Cardboard, each app and video was its own, stand-alone experience. To load one up, you would take your phone, open the app or video, start it playing, then put it into your headset. To switch apps or videos, you needed to take the phone out of the headset, make the switch, then put the phone back on again.

Annoying!

Daydream has a virtual environment that lets you pull up apps and videos without taking off the headset.

Daydream's virtual environment app launcher.

Daydream’s virtual environment app launcher.

It doesn’t work perfectly — I occasionally had to open it up and restart the app — but then again, it only came out ten days ago.  In addition, some dialogs aren’t VR-enabled yet. Not only do they break the immersion, but you have to take off the headset and take out the phone in order to deal with them. I’m hoping they’ll fix this in the next update.

The environment is very similar to that of the Samsung Gear VR, which, until its phones started exploding, was the gold standard of mobile VR.

While the Gear VR’s home is a living room scaled for a giant, with floating screens in front of you showing the various apps and other options, the Daydream home is a cartoony natural landscape.

The view of the Daydream environment, if you turn around and look back.

The view of the Daydream environment, if you turn around and look back.

But, other than that, the two are pretty similar. You can open apps that you already have, or download new ones.

It’s still easier to download apps the traditional way, though, because text entry in a virtual environment is not the easiest thing in the world.

App and phone selection

The thing that makes or breaks a platform, of course, is the size of its ecosystem.

And, with Google Daydream the potential ecosystem is ginormous.

Although only the Pixel phones officially support Daydream right now, more manufacturers have already announced that they’ll be releasing new phones this holiday season.

Plus, with Daydream baked right into the latest version of Android, Nougat, at some point all new Android phones will support the platform.

Sorry, Apple fans. Although the Cardboard headsets work fine with iPhones, and many apps are available in both systems, so far Daydream looks to be a little too closely tied to the Android operating system to work on iOS. That could change in the future, but if virtual reality support is important to you, then this might be the reason you finally switch. I personally am a huge Apple phone, and loved my iPhone with a passion. Switching to the Samsung Galaxy S6 a year ago so that I could use the Gear VR was a painful experience and I never got used to the interface. It just seemed to get in my way all the time, while on the iPhone everything just worked. I have to say that with the Pixel, I’m no longer constantly annoyed. It just works. And works extremely well.

YouTube is probably VR's killer app.

YouTube is probably VR’s killer app.

Moving on to the apps, Daydream launched with a nice base — YouTube, Hulu, CNN, USA Today, Street View, a couple of games, and the new Ghostbusters and Fantastic Beasts.

Ghostbusters knocked me out of the VR mode, and neither my new Daydream controller worked with it, nor my old Bluetooth controller from Ipega, but the rest of the apps were great. And many of my old Cardboard apps also worked, though I had to load them up first, then put the phone in the headset — they didn’t launch from inside the virtual reality home. I hope Google fixes this soon, too, and also lets me use the new controller with the old apps as well.

Still from the Harry Potter-themed Fantastic Beasts, a hidden-object game.

Still from the Harry Potter-themed Fantastic Beasts, a hidden-object game.

Bottom line: this is the new best-of-breed mobile headset, the best overall headset for the general public, and the best headset for 360-degree videos and casual games. It doesn’t compete with the HTC Vive, or the PlayStation VR, but those are also aimed at very different audiences.

Watch a promo video for the headset below:

 

 

 

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maria@hypergridbusiness.com'

Maria Korolov

Maria Korolov is editor and publisher of Hypergrid Business. She has been a journalist for more than twenty years and has worked for the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, and Computerworld and has reported from over a dozen countries, including Russia and China.

  • amanieux

    how is the field of view ?

    • Mike Upton

      Not great, but not awful. I read somewhere it’s about 90 degrees, versus many of the others being at close to 110.

      • Yes, I’ve also seen it listed at 90 degrees. However, when I’ve been using it, I haven’t found immersion to be an issue. It could just be me, but the better graphics and high level of responsiveness — combined with my phone’s large screen — seems to work well. I personally don’t notice a field of view difference between Daydream and the other mobile-based headsets I’ve tried, including the Gear VR. The Vive is better, but I think that’s mostly due to the room-scale motion tracking, which really immerses you in the environment.

        • Mike Upton

          You’re right. Immersion is not an issue. Though viewed through a smaller viewfinder, it doesn’t make the quality any less awesome. I personally love Fantastic Beasts, StreetView, and Arcslinger!

          • I loved the animals in Fantastic Beasts! I couldn’t get over how life-like they were. Like, reach-out-and-touch lifelike. I just wish there was more to the game — it felt more like an intro tutorial to a game, rather than a game itself. But I understand that the platform just came out. I can’t wait to see what it will turn into it.

            I think Street View is awesome, and the Daydream version of YouTube is excellent — Google did an unexpectedly great job with the user interface. It’s actually a pleasure to use.

            I haven’t tried Arcslinger yet — will do soon, though!

  • Daydream. Hands down.

  • BradKnepper

    Maria so I’m wondering if this would be a quality vr headset for a non pixel phone to check out the stuff already out there or is it better to just pick up one of the vr headsets you have already reviewed?

    • Based on my experience (testing out dozens of mobile-based viewers) the Daydream View is currently the best VR headset on the market for mobile phones. HOWEVER, it currently ONLY works with the Pixel, XL, Moto Z, and Moto Z Force. (More smartphones are expected to be released soon with support for Android Nougat and Daydream.)

      If you are about to buy a new smartphone, and VR is important to you, buy one of these new phones.

      If you are not planning to buy a smartphone, and you currently have a late-model Samsung phone, the Samsung Gear VR is the best headset you can get.

      For all other phones, get a Cardboard-compatible headset. For example, here are the best headsets for iPhones: http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2016/12/best-vr-headsets-for-iphones/

      Here are the ten best VR headsets under $50: http://www.hypergridbusiness.com/2016/06/10-vr-headsets-under-50/