You'd be forgiven for missing Google's updated Daydream View VR headset amid the unveiling of its new Home smart speakers and its first pair of translating earbuds. That's not because Google's interest in VR has waned. On the contrary, it's launching standalone Daydream headsets later this year. But it is because unlike with many of those other new toys, the improvements made to Daydream are more modest.
If you've used the original Daydream View, you know the score. This is Google's mobile virtual reality headset – its answer to Samsung's Gear VR. Unlike the Gear VR, Daydream supports smartphones outside of Google's own, that is any that support the Daydream software, and these slip into the headset rather than plug in.
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We've been living with the new Daydream View, putting it side by side with last year's model, to see how much of an improvement it really is. Here's our full verdict.
Google Daydream View (2017): Design
Daydream View 2017 edition (left) and Daydream View 2016 edition (right)
One of the more immediately noticeable changes to Daydream View (for those of you paying attention) is how it looks. Yeah okay, the cosmetic changes aren't exactly radical, but did you notice that removable top strap? What about the fact that the grey isn't exactly the same shade of grey as last time? Oh no, it's slightly lighter, and you can now buy the headset in black or pinky-orange (what Google calls "coral") too. By no coincidence are these the same colour options as the Google Home Mini.
The fabric is also more textured and less Sunday-sweatpants than the 2016 version, and there's an added loop on the back of the head strap to store the controller, rather than doing so inside the faceplate. Bet you missed that one.
And that's about it in terms of design changes. They're small things, but as we've learned with VR headsets it's the small adjustments that can go a long way when you're strapping technology to your face. That top head strap (which is removable FYI) now more evenly distributes the weight across your skull, while the foam around the lenses extends a little further for added padding. Small things that accumulate to make a noticeably more comfortable experience.
One design change we almost missed is the visible gap in the front flap. One of the problems with phone-based VR is that smartphones weren't built solely for VR, and can overheat when stuffed into a headset. Google's found a solution by building in a heatsink, allowing the heat to better dissipate from the phone when you're deep in a VR session. That's presumably also why the controller is now kept at the back of the headset, rather than inside it.
Google Daydream View (2017): VR quality
One thing Google has changed here that will affect the quality of VR is the field of view, which goes from 90 degrees to 100 degrees, one whole degree fewer than the latest Gear VR. So, y'know, negligible difference from the competition, but the bump up on the previous version is definitely noticeable and gives it parity with its biggest rival.
The new fresnel lenses create a bit of a trade-off, with a better field of view and larger sweet spot (so less fidgeting with the fit) in turn for more risk of glare. Look closely and you might notice it, but I think the decision was definitely worth it to get a more immersive, comfortable quality.
Google has made it so Daydream View works with more smartphones, which is obviously good news, but your experience will vary slightly depending on what you're sticking in there. I've mostly been using the new Pixel 2, but the Pixel 2 XL has a higher resolution display at 538 pixels per inch, so it's a visually richer experience compared to 441ppi. But all the same content runs across all the phones.
That new heatsink should technically improve performance as well if you're the type of person who goes for longer VR sessions. In our case with the first Daydream View, the old Pixel would overheat very easily. In testing the new Daydream my Pixel 2 got a little warm at most, but nothing to worry about.
Daydream's controller is only 3DoF (degrees of freedom) so it doesn't track depth. That means you'll do a lot of pointing and clicking – or swinging swords/wands/whatever – but you can't bend down and pick something up in VR, or reach out and grab an object. Similarly the headset doesn't have positional tracking, so it won't follow your movements around the room.
That's par for the course for mobile VR right now, although it also means there's no guardian system like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have, warning you when you're about to collide with a physical object. Yes, I punched a wall on more than one occasion. I don't know about sweat and tears, but blood definitely went into this review.
Google Daydream View (2017): Content
Google says it now has more than 250 "high quality" VR titles, and indeed it's definitely got better. Google's also pushing to get original YouTube series onto Daydream. You can already watch HBO Now and Netflix, and while these aren't going to immerse you in any of your favourite shows, you'll get to watch them in a neat virtual living room.
The Daydream costs $20 more than the old one, but Google's making that up with five free games it will launch, including the fantastic Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes, a Wareable favourite.
But here's the thing: Daydream View isn't going to compete with the Rift or Vive in content any more than quality, but that's also not the point of it. Google sees this as a headset you keep in the living room, maybe take it to a friend's house, for a quick and easy way to jump into VR. It's comfortable, and it's good enough for those types of experience. I took mine home for Christmas last year and let my gran try it – and she went bananas for it. That's what it's about, and to that end the Daydream View achieves its aim.
iOS support would be nice, but seems very unlikely for the time being. iPhone users will have to stick with Cardboard, or look beyond what Google has to offer.
- More comfortable
- Wider field of view
- Less chance of overheating
- No iOS support. Boo
- Needs more games
- Fresnel lenses worse in some games