We’ve seen a few VR headsets for phones lately – they simply hold onto your phone and allow it to access what was, until today, a small world of VR videos and a few apps. Google’s Daydream View VR system is a headset plus a Bluetooth controller wand which finally lets you interact with virtual worlds displayed on your phone – like properly interact.
The wand and the software are the key elements here. But first let’s take a look at the headset itself.
Google Daydream VR Headset
Despite performing the same VR goggles function as previous VR headsets that we’ve seen (like the 3SIXT VR Headset and Zeiss VR One Plus) this one isn’t made out of plastic and foam pads. It’s fabric-coated with a flap at the front. The lenses are plastic like the 3SIXT and the 360fly headsets. The flap is the important part as few manufacturers have managed to get this right: the phone clasps often get in the way of the buttons on the phone's side and frequently exert enough pressure on them to activate functions like volume and power off – which is annoying. Google’s flap is secured with elasticated band (like a hair band) and attaches to a plastic hook. As such it’s easily the quickest-to-use clasp we’ve seen although having a better way to line up the middle of the phone with the holder would be helpful. You can also access the controls on the side of your phone while you use the headset... but you probably won't need to.
There are some Near Field smarts in the front flap as the headset detected the phone when we placed there for the first time and offered to install the Daydream app for us. However, you can just download it from the Play Store and you can still use other headsets without missing out on anything.
But we do have some reservations. The shape and size of the foam area around the goggles might look a bit classier than straight foam, but there’s less give in it meaning that the fit isn’t great. This means that light leakage from outside is noticeable both in the form of reflections on the lenses and from the relatively- large gaps which you can look through at the sides - which can be a bit distracting. However, more than this, the lack of give in the foam married with a single headstrap means that the headset needs to be quite tight to avoid falling down. But making the headset tighter puts pressure on your eyes and that makes things go blurry. We actually preferred using the Zeiss and 3SIXT headsets as they were more secure, comfy and enclosed – they also worked fine with the rest of the Daydream system. But it’s a minor thing - there’s no deal-breaker here.
But that’s just the physical element of this setup and it’s borderline irrelevant in the potentially-world changing innovation brought about by the controller wand and software.
The Daydream wand
The wand is simply a small, rechargeable Bluetooth device with sensors, buttons and a touchpad - not unlike a Wiimote. Anyone who has used the hand sensors provided with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive VR systems will immediately be impressed. Whereas those systems require hardcore PCs, an expensive headset and a sensor array that needs to be installed in a room, the Daydream does basically the same job with none of that. We’d like to say it’s less accurate, but it’s not by much and re-centering it when it gets out of alignment is a cinch. There’s a trackpad at the front that you use with your thumb. This can be used to swipe through menus or navigate an avatar around a map – amongst other things. There’s a Back button and a Home button below this and – Hallelujah! – a volume rocker on the side (no more fiddling with buttons obscured by headset clasps).
We see the power of this device from the opening setup tutorial…
Google Daydream software
The tutorial runs for a few minutes but it’s one that will delight and surprise you. Clicking on a moving butterfly by aiming the controller (which acts like a pointer) is one thing, but using it as a torch to illuminate animals in a dark virtual forest is quite something else. It’s amazing and puts you in mind of some of the casual games and VR demos from Steam.
And things only get more impressive from there.
We've seen impressive star chart apps before but now we can be part of a fully-interactive planetarium with Star Chart VR.
Meanwhile Google's Street View has evolved into something wonderful. Using the controller to navigate around landmarks, like the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu, really does give you a sense of what it's like to be there and walk around. We loved walking up to the famous Indian temple and looking up at the towers. It gives you a real sense of scale of the place that we've not experienced before.
In more-entertainment-focused apps, Pearl is a cross between a music video, short film and a VR movie. You're sat on the dashboard of a car watching a father and daughter go through life while a song plays. You can look wherever you want while it happens. It's very immersive.
In some apps you can use a virtual keyboard.
The potential for experiencing live and historical events is off the charts. While this isn't new in the world of VR, we suspect that Daydream will popularise the practice and dramatically improve quality going forward.
Next: The best part, worst part and conclusion