A month with the Google Daydream View
Updated: Aug 22, 2019
There have been a number of excellent technical reviews for the Google Daydream View. As a VR content creator, I’ll be focusing more on how it works, what you can watch and what the overall experience is like.There is an appendix section at the end of the blog with some points on hardware that I didn’t notice in other reviews.
I’ve always viewed the Cardboard as the device that made VR accessible to the masses so here’s hoping that the Daydream View is a more sophisticated and accessible mobile VR device.
Daydream: The platform and app created by Google to access VR content
Daydream View: Google’s new headset — a more sophisticated follow-up to the Google Cardboard that comes with a controller.
Compatible mobile phones: An Android phone that runs 7.1.1 Nougatoperating system like Google’s own Pixel.
Where you can get one: It really depends on where you live. I’m based in Singapore and had a family member ship over the Daydream View from the US and I bought the Pixel XL phone in India. In short, it’s not available in South East Asia yet but I’m hoping it will be soon. Daydream is currently only supported in: US, UK, Canada, Germany and Australia.
The VR content on the Daydream View is, simply put, underwhelming. You’ll have seen similar apps on other devices — rail shooters, kart racing, puzzle games, Google Street View, etc. The selection will, of course, ramp up with time.
One of my favourites is the YouTube 360 app which provides easy access to all the 360 videos in YouTube via a VR menu interface. To help your search you can either use a VR keyboard (with your controller) or a voice recognition option which worked perfectly for me. I use this app the most.
Strangely, I found was that the Google Play store did not work for me in VR mode. I had to remove the phone from the headset, access the store as you normally would, download VR-specific apps and then put the phone back into the headset to access them. It appears this is a known issue and access to the Play Store in Daydream’s VR mode is only available for Daydream supported countries.
No Native VR Player
A native VR players allows users to put VR videos on their phones and watch it through the VR app. Samsung Gear VR allows this, Daydream does not. I’m essentially limited to watching what I can find online in the Daydream app which requires a pretty stable and strong internet connection. This is fine for places like the US and Europe but what about countries with weak broadband such as India or Indonesia?
My biggest gripe with Google’s new VR headset and platform is that I’m not able to view VR content that is viewable via the Cardboard but is not supported by Daydream.
So what does one do if they want to view, say, the Bohemian Rhapsody Experience (currently not supported on Daydream) on their Daydream View? You would need to disable NFC on your phone thus turning off the Daydream auto-launch. You can then use your Daydream much like a Cardboard — play the content on your phone and then into the device to view.
If Daydream allowed compatibility with existing VR content and apps (ie those that work with the Cardboard) this would allow for a lot more choice in what to view or play. Easier said than done I’m sure — but it would score a ton of brownie points with VR users.
In all honesty, the controller works fine. It’s sleek it has volume control, it has easy to use buttons but ultimately I found myself asking what was it for? Initially I thought it was just to make it easier to surf through content etc but in reality, it’s more of a controller…a game controller. This is confirmed by the Daydream View homepage that says you can use the controller
…to swing a bat, steer an airship, or even cast a spell with a magic wand.
The natural follow up question then being is this more of a VR gaming device? If I was Google and I invested millions of dollars on a controller well then guess what? I would want content that uses that controller. Which means more games and other “interactive content”. I’m not sure if the world needs more VR games but this is something I’ll get into in a future blog.
Google has created a comfortable and simple to use VR headset. It’s fair to say that it’s a more high end successor to the Cardboard. However, The Cardboard’s simple design and affordable price made VR available to anyone who had a decent smartphone. In its current form, I don’t see the Daydream View as a VR device for the masses, more for mobile gamers. That being said, there’s still plenty of work to be done to get this into the hands of said gamers:
Daydream View is still not widely available
Mobile phones running Android’s 7.1.1 Nougat are not widely available yet, and are expensive
Daydream is officially available in only 5 countries
There is insufficient Daydream compatible content
The Daydream platform does not allow for similar ease of access as the Cardboard but is instead exclusive which, to me, is disappointing from a content perspective. Ultimately, in this increasingly crowded VR headset space the Daydream View is just another device with a controller and a big brand behind it.
Can it be more? Hell yes.
My dream is for a wireless VR headset that allows access to high quality content at an affordable price with as low a barrier to entry as possible. We’re not there yet, but I know we will be one day.
APPENDIX: Couple of Hardware Notes
The Daydream View is a comfortable device with its soft cloth exterior and velcro band. It also comes with an easy to use controller allowing for interactive VR experiences.
However, its field of vision is at around 90 degrees which is less than the Samsung Gear VR and it’s very noticeable. In addition to this — and this one’s a biggie for me — the headset is not big enough to wear with glasses. To top it off there’s no focus option either so for those of you wearing glasses you will be jostling the headset around a lot on your head trying to get a clear image. Just to be clear, the lack of a focus function doesn’t make this device unusable for people with glasses, it just makes it more annoying to use.