Samsung’s Gear VR has enjoyed a monopolistic hold on the mobile virtual reality space since its debut in 2014. That means the South Korean giant has had a leg up on its competitors with a large selection of apps, media content, and games available for the headset. But if there was one competitor to break through Samsung’s bubble and claim the top spot, it’s the company behind the most widely-used mobile operating system in the world — Google.
Daydream is Google’s high-quality VR platform for Android. Like Samsung’s Gear VR, a phone must be compatible or, as Google says, “Daydream-ready,” to be able to utilize the platform. Headsets also must conform to Google’s reference design to be compatible — and that means we’ll see other unique headsets along the way from other manufacturers for Daydream as the platform grows.
It sounds good, but VR headsets can be tricky, and can prove disappointing if the details don’t meet the original vision. Can Daydream deliver?
Comfortable and compact
One of the strongest points Daydream View has in its favor is the comfort of wearing it. Comfort is key in a device that’s expected to sit on your head for any amount of time, and Google has hit the mark with its design.
Daydream View is a lightweight and small headset that’s made of “soft, breathable fabric.” It has a plastic interior, which holds the glass lens in place, and an elastic hinge at the top opens a flap that houses the wireless remote. This flap is also where you place your compatible Daydream-ready phone (right now, only Google’s Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones).
The headset is well-constructed, but the plastic in the interior feels a little cheap. We’ll have to wait and see how it weathers after prolonged usage, but we haven’t had issues so far. Thankfully, the inside padding can be removed so you can wash it and keep it clean. Daydream View has one strap that goes around the back of your head, and it’s easy to tighten or loosen with two buckles. Wearing the headset is comfortable, and because the device is light (it’s a little heavier than an average 5.5-inch phone) it didn’t make us weary after prolonged use.
The View’s compact nature also makes it easy to carry around in a bag, and that’s important. The key differentiator of mobile VR is that you’re not restricted to using it in your home alongside a powerful desktop computer. You can use the headset on a train, in a hotel room, on your lunch break — just about anywhere.
But the headset does have one caveat, and it all depends on the shape of your face. With the headset on, there are three noticeable gaps that allow light to seep in from the outside — where the nose is and on the left and right edges. This won’t affect everyone, but those who have the problem may find light leak a distraction when using the headset in a bright room.
The phone powering Daydream
You need a Pixel or a Pixel XL to use Daydream, but Google says it’s working with “device and component manufacturers across the Android ecosystem” to bring more phones into the fold.
More Daydream-ready phones means more people are likely to use the VR platform. Right now, there are a few devices available or nearly available that support Daydream, including ZTE’s Axon 7, and Huawei’s newly-announced Mate 9 Pro. Both of these devices will need updates to Android 7.0 Nougat to be classified as “Daydream-ready,” though.