Google Daydream View hands-on: The next evolution in mobile VR

By Sameer Mitha | Published on 05 Oct 2016
Google Daydream View hands-on: The next evolution in mobile VR

The Google Daydream View is a marked improvement over the Cardboard in almost every sense

Mobile VR has many shortcomings. The only VR headset to work with phones and give a fairly decent experience has to the Gear VR from Samsung. You know, the makers of the explosive phones. One of the coolest features of the Gear VR was the ability to play games, watch Netflix and YouTube videos and of course, VR porn. But the device had its limitations. Gaming was limited to just turning your head or using the touch sensitive buttons on the right side of the headset. The device was also compatible with Samsung smartphones only, and that too a select few so the experience was for the niche that owned Samsung devices. For the rest, we had to resort to devices such as Google Cardboard, or the numerous clones available in the market. The experience from these devices was gimmicky and lackluster.

Today, I got to to experience Google’s VR headset, the Daydream View and straight off the bat I’d like to say that the experience is very smooth and far richer than what I’ve seen on the Gear VR. This is with regards to clarity on the screen, comfort of wearing the headset, easy adjustability and smooth frame rates when turning my head. So is the device any good? Well, you will have to wait for our review to find out. But here are my initial thoughts after experiencing the Daydream View for about half an hour.

To begin with the Daydream View only works with the new Pixel phones and that’s a bummer, but Google says that other OEMS will launch Daydream specific VR headsets and smartphones too in the future. The Pixel phones are a benchmark for Daydream so don’t expect the headset to work with your old smartphone or Nexus device. The Snapdragon 821 touts its mobile VR capabilities and even though Google hasn’t officially said it, we think this is a benchmark processor requirement for the Daydream experience. 

When you get the Daydream View in your hands for the first time you will notice that it is built mostly out of premium fabric. There is no plastic on the exterior and that is a good thing as it makes the device a lot lighter than other plastic built VR headsets I’ve tried on. The smartphone housing connects to the Pixel phones via NFC so there is no need to open an app and calibrate the VR headset. Just snap the phone in, close the housing and you are good to go. Another interesting feature is that there is no focus ring on the headset. Initially I thought this would be a problem, but after trying on the headset, I realized that you can adjust the strap, so the headset fits comfortably on your head and the focus is fine. There was a little bit of light bleeding into the headset but nothing that hampered the experience. 

So literally, the process of getting the headset working is - put your phone in, strap it on and start enjoying. That’s it. One interesting feature of the Daydream View is that even if the phone is slightly crooked, it auto-adjusts and calibrates. So you don’t need to be specifically precise with positioning the smartphone.

A very cool addition to the VR experience is the motion controller. Firstly, I’d like to say that its awesome that the remote can be housed in the headset when not in use. This will give you less of an excuse to lose the remote. Secondly, if I had to describe the remote control to you, I’d say that if the Apple TV remote and Nintendo Wii controller had a love child, it would be the Daydream view’s remote control. The controller has a touch sensitive section at the top, which also has a button. Below this rest two more buttons, one of which is the action button and the other is the home button. To the right of the remote is the volume rocker. I have to say, the ergonomics of the remote are very good considering the fact that you wont be looking at it while using it. The remote control also has 9-axis motion control which is great for gaming and navigation. The controller connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth and has a battery life of 12 hours. It charges via a USB-C cable.

During my experience, I got to see a YouTube video in VR, play a simple racing game and experience the magic of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. All of the demos looked absolutely stunning. From simply turning my head to experience the depth of content in the VR YouTube video, to waving my hand in the air to tilt the race track, the experience was very immersive. I would say it is as immersive as some of the low graphically intensive games I have experienced on the HTC Vive. That’s saying something considering the price difference and power of the Vive when compared to the Google Daydream View. The best experience has to be Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I was in the center of a chamber where I could wave my magic wand to cast spells, read parchments and look around the room. Now remember, unlike the Vive there is no room scaling here so you will have to sit in one position to experience the VR headset.

The best part about the VR headset is that the center position can be realigned after you sit in a comfortable position. So let’s say I want to sit down or lie down and change the center position of the headset, I can do so by firstly changing my position and then with the simple hold of a button to re-center the headset. No need to to get out of the app or reset the headset like one has to in the Gear VR.

So is the headset perfect? Well not really. Despite being priced at $79 the device will initially work will only the Pixel phones, which means that it won’t have the same mass appeal as the Google Cardboard VR. But that’s the trade off for quality I guess. Also, there is no information about when the headset will be available in India and that’s a bummer. 

Overall, I’d like to say that the Daydream View is a leap in the right direction when it comes to mobile VR. We will however pass our final judgment on battery life (of the Pixel Phones in VR) and overall performance once we review the headset.

Sameer Mitha

Sameer Mitha lives for gaming and technology is his muse. When he isn’t busy playing with gadgets or video games he delves into the world of fantasy novels.

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