Richard Goodwin

18/11/2016 - 1:49pm

Google’s Daydream View aims to do for VR what Android did for smartphones… so how does it work in the cold, hard, light of day?


VR is apparently the next big thing. Unless you ask Apple and Microsoft, who feel AR – that’s augmented reality, by the way – is the way forward. Either way, Google’s tanks are now parked in battle formation to assault the space which is currently dominated by the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung's Gear VR.

This is quite odd as well. The VR space, while relatively embryonic, is not dominated by any of the major, OS-owning players. Apple has yet to do anything significant with VR or AR, ditto Microsoft, and this has left the space open for the likes of Samsung, HTC and the Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, who’s VR products have been on market since 2014, slowly gathering content.

What Google is aiming to do with Daydream – and Daydream View, the headset – is create a platform on which its hardware partners (LG, Sony, Huawei, HTC and even Samsung) can leverage and build upon. All they have to do is make their Android phones Daydream-ready and, BOOM, you have the potential for VR experiences for your consumers.

But where the waters get a little murky is to do with the platform itself. Samsung is more established in the space, Daydream is just getting started, so what’s stopping players like Huawei and Samsung attempting a solo mission and going after their own, bespoke systems? Samsung has shown this can be done and its platform now has more content than Google’s Daydream.

Basically, Google needs to convince developers that its platform is the one to develop for and, given the clout Google has with Android, plus its extensive content assets like YouTube and Google Play, it isn't hard to see many developers acquiescing with The Big G’s plans and simply falling inline. Still, there is potential for a lot of competition in the VR space before one platform wins out… and at this stage it is anyone’s guess who that will be.

For the time being, Google’s poster boy for its VR platform is Daydream View, a VR headset with a couple of very unique differences. More Daydream VR headsets will surface in the future, headsets made by Google and its partners, but for now, Daydream View is the benchmark for what Google expects and wants for its VR platform.

So how is Google Daydream View? Let’s find out shall we…

Google Daydream View Review: Design

The design, look and feel of Google’s Daydream View is its first big USP. Unlike every other VR headset on the market, Daydream View is made almost entirely from cloth, just like clothing, and, as a result, is very comfortable to where for long periods of time.

The design itself is fairly conservative. It’s smart, lightweight and simple to set up with well-placed features like a neat elasticated hook to hold the phone tray closed and a storage clip inside the viewer for holding the remote when its not in use. Everything is very well thought out and logical.

How it fits on your head is always going to be subjective to the user, as every head shape is different. My girlfriend found it sat perfectly on her head, for instance, but on my head it rested funny, as the strap placement, its attached to the top of the unit, made the bottom kick outwards slight which in turn meant I had to push it down with my hand to get a fully immersive view.

The actual setup is super simple: just download the Daydream View application on your phone, select it and pop the handset inside the Daydream View headset and you’re quite literally away. Once inside Daydream View, you’re guided through a series of instructional demos on how to use the remote, navigate around Daydream View, and the types of things you can do whilst in there from playing games, to watching movies via Play Movies and video clips from YouTube.

It all feels very immersive once you’re in there and you’ve gotten used to using the control to point at things and select stuff. It is rather disorienting at first, especially if you have an attention hungry dog in the house, but after a few minutes it all starts to feel very immersive. Impressive, almost. You can see the potential for what’s in store here. It’s no way a finished product just yet, but you immediately feel that one day, in the not too distant future, it almost certainly will be.

Google Daydream View Review: Google Daydream Platform

The Daydream platform itself looks nice enough; its an outdoor, woodland setting complete with animals, mountains and rivers. It’s pleasant enough, but you can see add-ons coming in the future that will allow the user to download other environments. The scope’s pretty big here and I think Google would be amiss not to allow this to happen.

Interacting with content is simple; everything is laid out in a grid-like menu on the screen. To access something, say, Google Play Movies, simply point at it with the remote and select. Everything loads fairly quickly, though Google advises you have a very strong internet connection when using Daydream View for an optimum experience.

Google has support for YouTube, Google Play Movies and a bunch of games – none of which are very good – at launch. The Play Movies app is decent enough with a decent selection of content. Ditto YouTube. However none of it is quite there yet; it all feels very beta… more like a demo of what’s possible than an actual selection of proper content. This “beta feeling” exists throughout the Daydream platform. You can see and feel the potential, but it’s not quite there yet.

Google Daydream View Review: The Experience

Google has enough content to sort this out relatively quickly but it will need help from developers to make Daydream a complete platform. It needs killer apps and content, something new and unique that you cannot get anywhere else… Novelty is great but truly great and innovative products need actual utility; they need to offer experiences you simply cannot get or replicate any where else.

Whether Google can do this with its phone-lead VR remains to be seen. The more expensive HTC VIVE is far more impressive than Google’s Daydream View, both visually and in how it works and functions. The VIVE needs a TON of power to get it working and is, at its core, a very different product to Daydream View but HTC appears to understand what VR should look and feel like better than Google at present.

The biggest gripe for me is that the visual experience just isn't there yet; everything is pixilated and unclear – like pre-720p, unclear. In order to make the experience fully immersive, VR needs to be fully HD. Everybody is used to Full HD on their phones and TVS and PCs, so asking people to make a concession for VR which, in its very essence, puts you closer to the action itself is kind of a big issue for me at present.

This is why 4K phones are coming. VR needs better resolution if it is to be fully immersive. The other option, as with VIVE, is to make a headset that pairs with a phone wirelessly and connects to a VR headset with a HD panel. I get why Google wants to use phones inside the VR headset itself, but I definitely feel that, even with QHD panels like you get inside the Pixel XL, the visual quality just isn’t there. No one likes looking at grainy, pixel-laden images – it gives you a headache.

If I owned a company that was heavily invested in VR I would almost certainly look at options for wirelessly sending the phone content to a display housed inside the VR headset. It’d probably cost more, but I feel like this would make for a better, more lightweight VR headset in the long run.

Google Daydream View Review: The Remote

My first experience with VR was with Samsung’s GEAR VR. That unit did not come with a remote. Instead you had to blindly tap the side of the headset which is potentially one of the dumbest design features every invented. Google has not made the same mistake with Google Daydream View and has wisely included a handy remote for interacting with things in its VR world.

The remote itself is brilliant; its easy to use blind, features a wonderful touch-scrolling feature and is perfectly proportioned for extended use. The remote connects via Bluetooth but it will need a recharge every now and then. I’ve been using mine for two week’s and it is still going strong. I’ll update this review when the batteries run out. The remote has a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope. It’s also very accurate and intuitive, reminding me a lot of a Nintendo Wii controller.

The remote – and headset – do not feature positional tracking either, so you don’t really get a sense of depth inside Daydream or its apps; it all feels kind of flat and one dimensional. Again, the VIVE and Oculus controllers have Google trumped in this regard, though I suspect this is something that could be added in via a software update at a later point (maybe…).

Google Daydream View Review: The Verdict

Google’s first foray into the VR space is decent, a mixed bag, sure, but a very solid effort that shows huge potential for growth and innovation in the future. As it stands, the content and quality of imagery just isn’t there at present but the arrival of developers in the space and 4K phones in 2017 could go a long way to solving this issue.

The key point of Daydream View is the price which at £79 is pretty much unprecedented at present. However, Daydream View is currently crippled by a lack of support – only Google’s Pixel phones work with it at present. This will change a lot in 2017 as the next run of Android phones start dropping, but for now this is a major problem for Google and its VR plans.

So is content. As I said earlier, everything feels very “beta” at the moment, which is to be expected – VR is very much in its infancy. Starting is always the hardest part, though, and I am confident Google, along with its legions of developers, will innovate and create something special with this VR platform. It’s just a question of how long this will take.

For now, the verdict is simple: Daydream VR is very much a work in progress.

Here's Where You Can Now Buy Google DayDream View:

United States: Google Store, Verizon, Best Buy; $79 (USD)

Canada: Google Store, Bell, Rogers, Telus, Best Buy; $99 (CAD)

United Kingdom: Google Store, EE, Carphone Warehouse; £69 (GBP)

Germany: Google Store, Deutsche Telekom; €69 (EUR)

Australia: Google Store, JB Hi-Fi; $119 (AUD); Coming to Telstra on Nov 22nd

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