It’s pretty clear by now that virtual reality — like it or not — is probably here to stay. The tricky part is getting people to start using these requisite VR headsets on the regular, and Google’s approach is equal parts simple and elegant. With a new Pixel phone (or another Daydream-compatible device) and the $80 Daydream View headset, Google might have just cooked up the most comfortable, coolest looking VR experience out there.
First things first: damn this thing feels nice/ It’s crafted from technical fabrics (you know, the sort of stuff that winds up in workout clothes) and has eye cups wide enough to fit even my enormous hipster glasses. Those materials also make the Daydream View crazy-light, to the point where I think I could veg out for hours without issue. It looks surprisingly cool too, with color choices that evoke runways more than production lines. That’s something I could never say about the more cumbersome Gear VRs of the world.
Speaking of the Gear VR, Samsung’s mobile headset does have one crucial advantage: field of view. The Gear VR was recently updated to be more comfortable, and while it’s not as nice to wear as Google’s View, it’s ever so slightly more immersive. Don’t get me wrong: the View isn’t bad (especially for the price) but the everything you look at fits into a circular frame that sits in the center of your field of vision. It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly not bad if you look at the View as a crash course in virtual visuals. Where the View really shines is its control scheme — undo the elastic latch that holds normally holds a phone in place and you’ll find a tiny remote.
See, rather than make you connect a Bluetooth gamepad or fumble with controls on the side of your face, the Daydream comes with a motion-sensing wand that lets you interact with things as though you were playing with a Wii. It works, and works well… most of the time. The main button has a nice click to it and swishing the wand in front of your face is tracked almost one-to-one by the on-screen cursor. After a while though, I just sort of lost it — while working through a magical demo that tied into J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, the telltale point of light somehow shifted way off to my right. The issue persisted even after I jumped back into the main Daydream menu, and it frankly got pretty annoying until someone told me I could hold down a button to recenter everything.
It was clear from the outset that the Daydream View isn’t a perfect VR headset, and you’d be a little crazy to expect perfection out of a face-screen that costs $80. Still, Google’s willingness to experiment with style and its devotion to sheer ease-of-use make the View even more exciting than I had expected. The View might not be for me — I’ll only be able to tell when it ships next month — but there’s a decent chance this thing could find a foothold where other, more unabashedly geeky displays couldn’t. For a small bit of kit, that’s huge.