Let me just start by saying O..M..G! Google has struck gold not once, but *twice* in one month, first with the release of their completely “Made by Google” Pixel phones, and now with the accompanying Daydream View VR headset and platform.
First impressions of the new Daydream View headset were of both amazement and frustration. Amazement at how far Google has come from Cardboard to the fully immersive and highly interactive Daydream VR environment. Frustration with a few out-of-the-box issues that could have been addressed by the Google Daydream team from the outset. They are still working out some of the bugs as I have already received updates for the Android 7.1 OS, as well as the Daydream app and controller which have improved stability. I’m sure we’ll continue to see many more updates to the Android OS and Daydream platform to further improve stability and performance in the coming months. Better instructions, improved ventilation and an adjustable face mask would make the View an all-around excellent experience.
Unboxing and Setup with some issues
The box contains the headset, controller, controller wrist strap and almost no setup instructions other than an inset with instructions to install the Daydream app from the Play Store. Seems simple enough.
After searching for and installing the Daydream app then placing my phone in the View and closing the front flap, the Daydream app automatically launched and I was immediately prompted to install the latest OS updates. However, I got an error every time I attempted to start the download so I chose the option to Skip the OS update for now and continued the launch process (I complained about the download issue in the Google+ Daydream View Community and the issue was fixed by Daydream engineers within two days). I was then prompted to hold down the Home button on the controller to pair the controller with the phone via Bluetooth. I held down the Home button for several minutes, but just got an error stating “We’re having difficulty finding your controller.” Hhmmm…
After a bit of searching online, I discovered that the controller needs to be fully charged before it can be reliably paired with the phone. Oh, well that would have been good information to have in the package. After fully charging the controller via the Pixel USB-C charger for about an hour, the controller paired successfully and I was finally able to enter the Daydream Forest!
The Daydream UI
The Daydream experience begins in the middle of a forest next to a babbling brook with chirping birds all around. Applications can be selected from a large interactive panel which includes three buttons at the bottom of the screen for the Google Daydream Play Store, My Library and Settings, respectively.
Excellent Showcase of Apps
There is a well-rounded assortment of apps available at launch which are meant to showcase the capabilities of the Daydream platform and controller, however there is still a rather limited selection. Developers are working on quite a few new Daydream apps and there should be many more available in the coming weeks and months. Some apps to try right away are: Wonderglade, VR Karts Sprint, Hunters Gate, ArcSlinger, Danger Goat, Mekorama, Fantastic Beasts, StreetView, Rose, Arts & Culture, WSJ VR, CNN VR, Guardian VR, Jaunt VR, YouVisit VR, IdeaSpace, Hulu, Google Play Movies and TV and, of course YouTube VR, which gives you a front-row seat in front of an enormously large 4K theater screen. In addition to having access to all of the standard 2D YouTube videos, there is a large and growing body of 3D, 360 and 4K videos which will immerse the viewer in a multitude of different experiences from around the world. Everything from jumping out of planes to yachting in the Caribbean to exhilarating mountain bike rides. Be sure to use a quality pair of wired or wireless headphones for the optimal experience. Video in VR mode will make your regular TV screen, no matter how large or expensive it may be, seem almost silly by comparison. It is now possible for anyone to have their own personal 4K home theater accessible anytime and anywhere. Got a 30-minute subway commute to work? Why not watch your favorite Hulu show on your 10’ Home Theater 4K HDTV while sitting in the comfort of your own luxury studio apartment! The immersive world of VR gives you the ability to transport to another world in an instant. Be sure to carry a charger or portable battery pack, however, as it will completely drain your battery after about two hours of continuous usage.
The controller has a clickable touchpad, as well as App and Home buttons and an up/down volume rocker on the side; and employs a number of built-in positional sensors to provide 9-axis geospatial movement for an accurate reflection of hand movements within the app. The controller can be used in any position to represent almost any in-app device or movement. Depending upon the app, the controller might be a: wand, sword, gun, hand, steering wheel, bat, pointer, touchpad, or almost anything the developer wants it to be. The App button action can be defined by the developer, however, it is typically used as the Back button in most apps.
Google has been able to achieve a very fluid VR experience through the use of some very advanced software built-in to the Android 7.1 OS which provides complete access to the high-end Qualcomm Snapdragon CPU for the foreground VR app combined with data from the geospatial position sensors of the newer Daydream-ready phones to accurately track head and hand movements in real-time with sub-20ms latency. All of this results in a very life-like experience without the accompanying nausea which some people experience when their eye and head movements don’t precisely match.
A Few Problems
Unfortunately, all of this processing generates heat. A lot of it. As it turns out, cloth is a pretty good insulator and the air gap between the phone and the headset is rather small which causes the phone to become very hot with just 15-20 minutes of usage. The heat issue is the number one complaint for all Daydream View users, and creates a very difficult issue for the phone as it becomes unusable within 30-60 minutes of continued usage. At times, I received a pop-up warning that my phone was too hot and damage could result if I continued using it.
Room to Breathe
Fortunately, the Pixel XL (and possibly the Pixel though I haven’t tested it) fits perfectly in my Note 7 Gear VR headset and works quite well with both the Daydream app and controller. After using Daydream in Gear VR for well over an hour it seemed apparent that the phone itself can handle extended use without a front cover trapping in the heat. After a bit of experimentation, I discovered a way to wrap a rubber band around the base of the front flap on the View and then pull it up over the phone and secure it to the post on the top of the headset.
The bottom of the rubber band can be pulled under the front flap and secured to the strap at the top of the front flap with tape. A bit of tape on the middle of the rubber band provides a handy pull-tab to pull it over the phone and lock it in place. This provides a method of leaving the front flap open and keeping it in place to avoid having it close when looking up. There is also the added bonus of being able to run Cardboard and Augmented Reality apps since the front flap will not activate the Daydream NFC tag or block the front camera. The front flap will still close as normal with or without the phone inserted in the headset.
Comfortable, but Wide, Face Mask
Overall, the View headset is quite comfortable to wear once the head strap is properly adjusted with a quick pull on the buckles, and can be worn for well over an hour with no discomfort. There is no focal adjustment, however, so if you wear glasses you’ll have to wear them when using the headset. The headset is designed to fit comfortably over glasses though there is an air gap on the sides of the face mask which allows light in and causes an annoying glare on the screen. This issue can also be easily remedied using tissue paper stuffed in between the shell and the removable (and washable) face mask to push the sides in a half inch or so.
For a first effort, I’d give Google 3 out of 5 stars. They definitely got the controller right and the platform is clearly the future of Android video and gaming, in my humble opinion. I’m looking forward to playing some seriously cool games in the near future, and spending much of my free time Daydreaming in another world.