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2017 Daydream View review: Mobile VR done right

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Virtual reality (VR) is still one of the evolving fields in today’s day and age. I decided to check out Google’s new Daydream View headset, and here are my thoughts.

Design and feel

Right off the bat, this is definitely one of the more nicer looking headsets on the market. It’s made of a lightweight fabric that not only looks great but also feels great. The facepad is similar to that of a cushion and makes extended VR use more comfortable. This year’s headset from Google brings the addition of a removable top strap, something that was absent on the 2016 model. While I never owned the 2016 Daydream View (I only got to play with it once in Google’s NYC pop-up store), I can certainly say it helps balance things out in regards to the weight of the headset with the phone inside.

The phone slips into the front and should work with whatever case you’ve got on.

Controller

The controller gets a slight change in that the app button is slightly raised rather than flat like the home button, thus making it more discernable when in VR. The touchpad is just as versatile and acts as a clickable button to interact with Daydream or the app you’re currently using. Along the side, you’ll find a volume rocker. It connects to the phone via Bluetooth and charges over USB-C which is super handy, but it also has great battery life any which way.

Your first few uses might find yourself accidentally leaving games by hitting the home button instead of the app button, but the controls are pretty easy to grasp quickly, and once you’re done using your headset, the little loop on the back of the Daydream View’s strap holds it in place when not in use.

Daydream

Remember, it’s phone VR. You aren’t going to get any HTC Vive-like experiences here, but for something simple, it gets the job done and quite well. I placed my Pixel 2 XL in the headset, jumped through the tutorial, and was greeted by the Daydream homescreen.

The UI

Credit where credit is due, I really dig the theme and design language that Google chose for Daydream. It makes VR use more “inviting” and sometimes, the small things like that matter. The whole homescreen is a low-poly interface set in a valley with trees, animals, a river, a waterfall, and, towards the back, a cave. You’re presented with a grid of featured and recent apps, and below that are buttons to the Play Store, your full app library, cast to a TV, and some settings. There isn’t anything too fancy going on, but nonetheless, I love it.

Some things that I’d change, though? Well, not to much really, but one thing that would be nice is to have a clock somewhere on the homescreen; heck, even if Google built it into Daydream controller so it’d be there if you glance down at it. Yeah, I know the time is displayed in the Daydream settings, but it would eliminate the slight inconvenience for sure. Also, not that I don’t like the current homescreen, but having multiple variants or different styles/locations of it, cycling through with each Daydream use, would definitely be a nice touch.

Apps and games

Apps and games are the whole premise of Daydream really. It’s all up to developers to design and create fun and compelling games, but since as close to no Daydream games actually have ads, many of them are paid applications. Some a reasonably priced, some are a bit questionable, but fortunately, I got $50 of game credit with my Daydream and got about six or so games complimentary.

One of the first games I actually tried was “Wands,”  an online multiplayer game in which players can duel each other using magic with customizable and upgradeable wands. Now, I don’t know how many Daydream users are there that play that specific game at the same time that I played it, but I don’t recall ever having to wait more than a couple seconds before I was matched with an opponent. And considering that it’s also priced at $5.99, that’s quite impressive. It’s still one of my go-to apps whenever I pick up my Daydream View and would say that it’s well worth the spend.

As a Harry Potter fan, the single and only app from the universe is “Fantastic Beasts VR Experience.” I haven’t gotten to try the updated version, but I did play the first one that was mysteriously disappeared from the Play Store, and well, it just wasn’t very convincing. The one I played was super short, and while it looks like the new update added 3 more beasts to the current 3 and a couple more experiences, the $5 for it just isn’t justifiable for me. Especially with VR and a physical controller, there’s potential for an actually good Harry Potter game, but for now, this is what we get. Come on, Warner Bros.

“Moatboat” was another great application, and best of all, it’s free. It’s almost like the Scribblenauts Remix of VR. You fly around in a little map and are able to spawn almost any object with just your voice by raising the Daydream controller up and speaking into it like a megaphone; however, I wish that the developers would’ve just built this into the app button as sometimes the controller misses that you raised it, and anyways the app button is not used for really anything in the app. I also checked out “Gunship Battle2 VR,” but I honestly feel that JoyCity tried to do too much with the controls in the game; although, I’ll give them some credit for at least trying to explain them all easily.

Then, of course, you’ve also got your usual YouTube and Google Play Movies. I don’t have Netflix, so I can’t describe the situation there, but the YouTube and Play Movies apps are probably the best video apps designed for Daydream, as you’d expect. The YouTube VR app is pretty feature-packed and has got all the toggles and functions you’ll ever need while the Play Movies app also has got a nice interface. Both apps allow you to drag and pin the player to wherever, which makes watching some YouTube or a movie in VR while lying down less of a pain.

Casting to a TV

With the new Daydream View, Google brought along an update to Daydream with the ability to cast the content of your screen to a Chromecast. The first couple times I tried this, it was practically a lag and buffer-fest. At times, audio wouldn’t cast, picture quality would decrease, or the casting would all of a sudden just freeze. Thankfully, after a few months later of VR use, casting to a Chromecast was definitely quietly fixed, or at the very least improved, by Google; however, checking back down, the ability to cast the audio of Daydream to the TV along with picture has vanished, leaving the only the phone for outputting sound. A bit of a bummer really, but hey, VR use is now less “secluded” than previously and your friends and family can finally see what you’re seeing, so that’s a plus.

Phone VR

As I mentioned earlier, no matter how much Google pours into it, it’s still phone VR, and you’ve got to treat it as such. When I first tried the new Daydream View, I honestly expected the resolution to be better. I use a Pixel 2 XL, and while the quality in VR isn’t terrible, it certainly is a bit disappointing to me as I guess I just had high expectations for phone VR and what I got didn’t meet them.

The lenses are wide enough, and I think now’s a good time to mention that the headset also does a good job of blocking out light, with the exception of the nose area, as there’s a little bit of light-bleed through there, but it’s not a lot to the point where you’re distracted or annoyed by it.

I think the question that many had with the new Daydream View and the Pixel 2 phones is does the phone heat up like a furnace after just 15-20 minutes in VR? And the straight answer to that is yes. Again, I never owned the 2016 Daydream View or the OG Pixel, so I can’t compare it there, but the phone does still get hot while in VR, and since Google chose fabric around all of the exterior of the headset, it doesn’t do much to help with heat dissipation. However, I’m sure Google made some improvements to either the phone or the headset in that category, and it’s not like the phone gets hot enough to the point where I’m worried about the internals getting damage. Warm. It gets warm. Just not smoking.

The Value and Verdict

The 2017 Daydream View saw to a $20 price increase from Google’s 2016 model. Is that $20 increase really worth the upgrades? At $99, that’s debatable. Ask yourself: How many times will I actually pick this thing up and use it after the first time? This isn’t exactly a problem with the product but more of a problem with the concept—virtual reality. I really think that Google’s done an excellent job so far with Daydream in just two years; however, if you’re seriously considering a Daydream View, you’ve got to be genuinely interested in VR to make this well worth the purchase. But if you’re like me, who just wanted to check out some high-quality, mobile VR and Google’s latest hardware offerings, save yourself a 100 bucks and don’t buy it. The new Daydream View isn’t “magic,” but I can certainly recommend it for being the best bet on mobile VR in the market.

Purchase Google Daydream View ($99) on the Google Store, Best Buy, B&H, Verizon, Walmart, and AT&T

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