The Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View occupy that interesting space between crappy mobile VR viewer and high-end headset you might not be able to afford. That's why they're both expected to shift a fair few devices over the holidays.
So which one is best for anyone after a plug and play mobile headset to get into virtual reality? Essentially, you can't go wrong. But to ensure you make the right choice for you, we've compared design, comfort, features, display, apps and games, controls and price below.
Gear VR vs Daydream: Design and comfort
First up, both of these headsets are the slot-your-phone in variety and can be used with various smartphones. Google and Samsung deal with this in different ways.
With the Gear VR you physically attach your phone to the headset via its microUSB or USB 3 port. There's a couple of blocks you can swap out on the latest model if you're passing it round to friends and family but if it's just for you, you can set it up within 30 seconds and you're good to go.
The Daydream View connects to your phone via NFC and does a good job of recognising it quickly. The phone is held in place by the front of the case and if you have the 5.5-inch Pixel like us, it'll stick out.
Design wise, the Daydream is the nicer looking and, well, feeling, as it comes in a lovely cloth finish and a light body that's smaller than the Gear VR. So it'll look a little less gadgety lying around the house than the plasticky Samsung. But when you're in VR you don't care about what you look like.
As for comfort, I prefer the Gear VR. It feels secure and the padding around the face does its job nicely. It's not quite as light but the Daydream's nose gap is too big on my face, which means I wear it too tight and feel it pressing against my forehead through its own padding. Other team members have had fewer issues but it's annoying to see light bleeding in.
Gear VR vs Google Daydream View: Display
This will depend on which phone you're using, as each headset uses your phone's display. The best you can get with the Daydream View is the 5.5-inch AMOLED Pixel XL which has a resolution of 2560 x 1440 with a 534 ppi. Take note that if you use the regular sized Pixel, you'll see black bars either side of your VR picture.
As for the Samsung, what with the Note 7 catastrophe, you can use it with phones like the Galaxy S7 which has the same specs: 5.5-inch display, 2560 x 1440, 534 ppi. The S6 and S6 Edge actually have a higher pixel density at 577 ppi with a smaller 5.1-inch screen.
With both headsets, and their compatible phones, it won't compete with HTC and Oculus but it's not that far off the picture you'll get on the PlayStation VR. You can view bright, vivid, sharp looking CG games and 360-degree videos on both. Sure, if you look you can see the pixels and you'll be aware of the lenses, but neither headset has a screen door effect. With the right app or game, you'll be transported.
Gear VR vs Daydream View: Features and controls
Both headsets come with an Android companion app, which is how you set it up and download titles from the respective stores – we'd recommend downloading before you slip the headset on. When in VR, you can see very similar menus to drop in and out of apps. It's all very beginner and discovery friendly.
One of the main differences is that the Daydream comes with a small, handheld controller that you'll need not just for individual apps but to navigate the menu too. The Samsung, meanwhile, has buttons and a trackpad on the left hand side of the headset. The Daydream View controller is comfortable, light and easy to use without looking. There's a trackpad, app button and Home button plus volume buttons, and you'll get the hang of it quickly. Tracking of the position of the controller is okay, if not perfect every time, and the battery life is 12 hours which is pretty good.
Future Gear VRs may come with Leap Motion hand tracking or handheld controllers, but for now you can hook up a Bluetooth controller (or Xbox controller) to play games the old-fashion button bashing way.
In use, both Samsung phones and the Pixel did heat up considerably but neither so much that we got worried about a face explosion. And in both cases, you'll get a couple of hours before you need to recharge your smartphone – this of course depends on what you're playing, how old your handset is etc etc.
Samsung Gear VR v Daydream: Apps and games
Right now, Samsung has the edge when it comes to sheer quantity of great apps and games to try out but hey, it's been building up its store for years and Daydream is still pretty new. Check out our ever-updating list of the best Samsung Gear VR apps, games and experiences.
There's a mixture of free and paid-for, quick group-friendly demos and games to get stuck into and everything from mobile ports using gaze tracking to VR experiments.
To give credit to Google, it already boasts apps like YouTube VR (with Google Assistant voice search), Jaunt, Within, NextVR, Google Photos and Street View, Netflix VR (2D screen in 3D room still) all of which include loads of videos or places to explore. Because it has well, Google apps, it's particularly strong on video, virtual tourism and non-game apps.
There are also titles we've seen elsewhere such as EVE Gunjack and Rose plus fresh experiences like Lego Brickheadz Builder VR and the gentle but wand-tastic Fantastic Beasts tie-in. Expect much more, from both big names and indies, as more headsets and compatible phones are announced – Google promised 50 apps and games by the end of 2016.
Gear VR vs Daydream View: Price and compatibility
Price wise, both fall in the same affordable but not dirt cheap category. The real difference is that the Daydream View price of £69 includes the controller whereas you'll have to buy a Bluetooth controller separately with the £80 Gear VR. To be honest, we reckon these two are both damn good value for money.
As for what phones you will need to own – or buy – the Daydream View is, at this stage, only compatible with the 5-inch and 5.5-inch Pixel phones as well as the Motorola Z and Z Force phones with the latest Nougat update. To use the 2016 edition of the Samsung Gear VR you'll need a Galaxy S7, S7 Edge, S6 or S6 Edge or Galaxy Note 5.
Samsung Gear VR v Daydream View: Verdict
Most of your decision about the Gear VR vs Daydream View will hang on which phone you have now, or which one you're looking to buy. But if there is a genuine choice right now, most people should go for the Samsung Gear VR – it has more apps and games and no light bleed no matter your face shape.
If you care about the look of the thing or the handheld controller tempts you, Daydream View is a good long term choice, though, as it's only going to get better with time. Your third option is to wait and see how Daydream shakes out in early 2017, as there might be a headset that suits you more than the View.
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