Google Daydream View
GOOGLE LEVELS-UP ITS SMARTPHONE VR HEADSET FROM CARDBOARD TO SOMETHING THAT CAN TAKE ON SAMSUNG’S GEAR VR — AND IT’S COMPATIBLE WITH MORE THAN JUST SAMSUNG PHONES, TOO.
WE’D LIKE TO thank whoever’s midday nap led to the creation of Google’s upmarket new smartphone VR headset, appropriately dubbed ‘Daydream View’. This hipster headset is wrapped in an array of pastel-coloured fabrics that almost makes wearing a VR headset look palatable to any ogling bystanders (a feat we’re genuinely impressed with) and though the simple elastic headband seems a standard design choice, it is actually exceptionally ergonomic for a smartphone VR headset. One of our biggest grievances with VR headsets in generally is that they don’t cater particularly well to the visually impaired, leaving little to no room for use with glasses (let alone actually making the experience comfortable with spectacles). The Daydream is an excellent exception to this rule and we would feel genuinely disappointed to have to go to back to any other headset after having seen (and felt) what was possible.
There’s another key ingredient that contributes to the overall pleasantness of using the Daydream View: the included wireless controller. As big fans of the wand remotes that come with LG televisions, it’s no surprise that we loved Daydream’s Bluetoothconnected sidekick-wand, too. Yes, it’s definitely taken inspiration from the remotes and controllers of fully-fledged PC VR units like Oculus’ Touch and HTC’s ‘Vands’ (ie. Vive wands) as Redditors have dubbed them, but Google’s taken the standard VR wand design and added it’s own magic elements. Other than the 360º three-axis movement of the wand, the primary control is an ergonomic concave touchpad — in many games, this takes the role of a D-pad or clickable joystick. The remaining controls are comprised of a Home button that allows you to exit or quickly reorient your perspective, an Action button that has various functions (dependent on the app or game) and a side-mounted volume rocker. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough apps on the store at the time we tested to really test the limits of what the controller is capable of, but there are a enough to give glimpses of its potential.
In the isometric shooter platformer Hunter’s Gate, the touchpad moves the character while pointing the wand shoots in 3D space, a combination that amounts to a novel and intuitive control scheme. The hardware worked well with the paired smartphone (the Daydream View was only compatible with Google’s Pixel units, the Moto Z family of devices and ZTE’s Axon 7 at the time of writing) and so, apart from a little light leakage, the Daydream gave a near perfect performance from a hardware perspective.
Just as is the case with smartphones, the operating system or, in this case, the manufacturer’s software platform, plays an important role in the overall VR experience. Similar to Samsung’s Gear VR headset, Daydream is tied to Google’s proprietary smartphone-VR app-ecosystem of the same name, which means it is limited at the moment compared to the extensive app lists of Samsung’s Gear VR/Oculus Store tie-in, or even that of Google Cardboard for that matter. The search company has vowed to bring a decent list of apps onto the Daydream platform by the end of 2016 that includes all-star VR games like Gunjack 2 and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. From the handful of titles that were available at launch, we’d have to say that our favourite was the Fantastic Beasts interactive narrative that put the wand controller to good use by allowing you to actually cast spells with it.
If Google can add titles quickly enough, it theoretically has the hardware to overtake the Gear VR, but Samsung has more than a year’s worth of of smartphone VR software up its sleeve at this point, plus a significantly bigger user base (at least until a few more Daydream-compatible smartphones are released) and a big PC VR software partner in the form of Oculus. In other words, it doesn’t quite beat the Samsung Gear VR as an overall smartphone VR package — but there’s certainly a heap of potential here.