Google first announced Daydream VR as part of the Android 7.0 Nougat update, however the first version of Nougat for Nexus devices didn’t include any of the cool virtual reality stuff. There also wasn’t a Daydream headset at the time. With the released of Android 7.1 Nougat on the Pixel and Pixel XL, Daydream VR is a thing. I’ve been playing around with the Daydream View, and it’s an interesting step forward for mobile VR, but it’s not without its issues.
- Design and comfort: The Daydream View headset is without a doubt the cuddliest VR headset you can get. The soft fabric covering is pleasant to the touch, and the flexible rubber frame keeps it from being too heavy or awkward. Compare that the the Gear VR which is a hulking monstrosity of plastic—something you never forget when it’s strapped to your face. The simple hinged flap that holds the phone in place is also makes it quick and easy to go into Daydream VR mode (it uses NFC to launch the VR interface). Daydream View might look a little bit like a shoe, but it’s a very nice shoe.
- Device support: The Pixel and Pixel XL are currently the only devices that work with Daydream View, but that won’t be the case for long. Unlike Samsung’s Gear VR, Google isn’t keeping all the VR goodies to itself. Android 7.1 enables Daydream VR on any phone that meets certain requirements. They need to have a sifficiently powerful SoC to render two 60fps videos simultaneously, a display resolution of at least 1080p with 3ms or less latency and 5ms or less persistence, and Bluetooth 4.2 LE. So, we’re talking upper mid-range to high-end phones. Give it a year and I’d expect all flagship Android phones to support Daydream VR.
- The controller: Google’s Daydream View headset comes with a Bluetooth motion controller, which pairs quickly with your phone as soon as you enter VR mode. You can think of it as a virtual laser pointer that lets you highlight and interact with objects in VR. There’s also a trackpad on the controller, giving you two ways to interact. It’s much more immersive than the Gear VR, which uses a clumsy trackpad on the side of the headset. I’m interested to see how game developers take advantage of the native motion controls in Daydream VR.
- Narrow field of view: The field of view (FOV) is one of the most factors affecting VR’s immersiveness. Unfortunately, Daydream View doesn’t have very good FOV. It’s about 90-degrees, so it won’t fill as much of your vision as other systems. For example, Gear VR is about 100-degrees in the latest version. More advanced VR systems like the Vive and Oculus are noticeably better at 110-degrees. You can forgive Daydream a little, seeing as it’s deisgned to work with phones of many different sizes. That necessarily comes with some compromises.
- Lack of content: The content available in at launch in Google’s VR store is… disappointing. All the apps and games together probably number just a couple dozen, and some of those aren’t worth using. Some of the nicer apps include Washington Post VR, YouTube VR, and Fantastic Beasts, but there’s no Netflix or Hulu yet. On the game side, there are a handful of fun titles like Everybody Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and EarthShape. Some of the games at launch are just demos with full versions coming later. More apps and games are supposed to be arriving by year’s end.
- “Screen door” effect: When you look at the screen in your VR headset, you will often see a regular grid of lines. These are the spaces between the pixels, which you can only see because the screen is magnified and several inches away from your face. This is not unique to Daydream View, but it’s something to be aware of. Even a 1440p display has this, and 1080p ones will be worse. There’s not currently a viable way to do 4K on a phone (Sony tried, and it didn’t go well), so for now you’ll just have to live with this foible.