Google Daydream VR View review

Brodie Fogg 11 November 2016

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Google jumps on board the VR train with a spectacular device for its price range.

With PlayStation VR now out in the wild and the HTC Vive officially available at retail in Australia soon, 2016 has certainly been a big year for virtual reality. Unexpectedly, Google entered a horse in the headset race when it announced its range of Google Pixel handsets in October along with the Daydream View headset

The Daydream View promised to be an affordable mobile VR solution that could harness the power of the new flagship phone. After a fews days of what we can only call heads-on impressions, we’ve come to love the plushy little headset for its form and spot-on motion controls. The only thing left to see now is whether developers will take advantage of the platform, because that’s what will ultimately determine its fate.

The upsides: Why you’d want the Daydream View

  • Controls like a dream: Not to diss the Gear VR (it filled a hole in the mobile market where there was none), but its main drawback were the basic controls on the headset itself. This restricted most games to a point-and-click adventure or a semi-on-rails experience. What Daydream View offers is an a lineup of tailored “experiences” that require nothing more from the player but to sit back and relax. The Daydream View’s controller not only has a clickable touch wheel, but two extra buttons (one for home, one for developers to use as they please) and even volume controls. The remote and the surprisingly accurate motion tracking open up more possibilities for mobile VR than we’ve ever had at this kind of price point. The control sits comfortably in the palm of your hand, is charged with USB-C, and can be secured inside the View headset when it’s not in use.

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  • An affordable ticket to ride: Google’s Daydream View is a huge step up from Samsung’s Gear VR, yet its launch price is actually cheaper than Samsung’s asking price for the Gear VR. If you can still find one, the Gear VR will set you back $159, whereas the Daydream View will cost you just $119. It’s as if Sony released the next PlayStation for less than the current Xbox One or vice-versa, the choice is made for you.
  • Exciting software: While the Daydream View’s launch lineup lacking a top-shelf, first-person VR game, it does offer some decent third-person experiences and VR twists on popular apps like YouTube and Google Maps. The kid-friendly Wonder Glade is compilation of four mini-games that show off the Daydream View’s motion tracking. There’s not much for grownups in Wonder Glade, but kids will eat up the short bursts of virtual reality gameplay. For the adults, there’s Hunter’s Gate, which is a fairly rote fantasy experience of shootin’ demons and taking names. It’s an odd one to showcase on the View, as it’s played from a low-isometric, third-person point of view and really doesn’t utilise virtual reality unless you opt for the “gaze controls”, where you to focus your fire with your eyes. As plain as it sounds, the most fun I’ve had so far with Daydream View is using Google Maps’ Street View. It’s like discovering Street View all over again. Visiting childhood landmarks and previous travel destinations in VR was weirdly moving, and the View’s controls allow you to navigate Street View more naturally than ever. There’s also the Fantastic Beasts experience that Google showcased at the Daydream View’s reveal. Hogwarts alumni will find a lot of fun using the View controller to cast spells and tame a small collection of Newt Scamander’s beasts, but it’s not as much of a game as it is an interactive tour of Newt’s bestiary. The Daydream platform’s success lives and dies on how developer’s take advantage of the new handset and its advanced controls, but we’re excited from what we’ve seen so far.

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The downsides: Why you might not want the Daydream View

  • You don’t own a Pixel: While Google declared other Android smartphones will eventually support Daydream, Google’s own Pixel is currently the only smartphone to support it. If you fancy Google Daydream View, you’re going to have to either fork out for a Pixel or hold your horses until more Android handsets offer support. That’s not all bad. The Pixel is an outstanding handset, and you could do much worse if you’re shopping for a premium Android device. But if you’re happy with your current handset, you’re not going to go out of your way to purchase a Pixel solely to use with Daydream View.
  • The heat is on: While we didn’t notice any lag or framerate dips during our time with the Daydream View, it didn’t take long (maybe 20 mins of play) before the Pixel started to burn up. It’s not just a little bit warm, it’s hot to the touch. The Pixel, as powerful as it is for a smartphone, still has to work incredibly hard to run virtual reality titles. It probably doesn’t help that there’s not much ventilation between handset and the glasses, but this is mostly down to the Pixel’s processor trying to keep up with the 360-degree VR titles.
  • Light bleed is distracting: Not to be too harsh on the affordable VR headset, but light bleed can be seriously distracting. Overall, the Daydream View’s soft, fabric design is incredibly comfortable, but unless you’ve got a perfectly shaped head, there’s almost always going to be gaps at the sides and underneath. There’s also the fact that the Pixel’s ease-of-access means there’s about a 2-3mm gap between the handset and View frame, so there’s ample opportunity for light to enter. We found sitting in a dimly lit room to be the best way to experience the View.

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Who is it best suited for? What are my alternatives?

Right now the best and most obvious match is with existing Pixel owners. If you already own a Pixel or Pixel XL or were considering buying one otherwise, the Daydream View is a very nice compliment to make the most out of your fancy new handset. There’s plenty to see and do in the Daydream library from the get-go, If you’re interested in virtual reality but aren’t ready to make the leap to PlayStation VR or HTC Vive, Daydream View is good entry point. It’s hard to recommend the Gear VR now, considering the View is cheaper and simply a better gadget, but if that’s your only choice then you could do worse.

If you’re a PlayStation 4 owner, you could consider forking out $549.95 for PlayStation VR (which is a lot more than $119 for the Daydream View, but also a lot cheaper than the Pixel’s $1029 price tag).

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Where can I get it?

Google’s Daydream View is available through Google’s online store and online and in-store through JB-HIFI, all priced at $119.

Telstra will be receiving stock soon. We don’t know whether Telstra will be selling the Daydream View outright or as a plan add-on, but we’ll update our review as soon as we know more.

If it's a Google Pixel you're after, Telstra are currently selling Google's latest smartphone on contract.

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