For the past few months I’ve been thinking that the Gear VR’s goose is well and truly cooked. Not because of exploding Note 7’s (though that is a more literal reason), but because of Daydream. The prospect Google’s mobile VR ecosystem, combining several phones and headsets for a more accessible high-end VR experience, cast a long shadow over Oculus and Samsung’s impressive but singular setup.
As you can imagine, then, I was quite excited to jump into my Daydream View headset when it launched earlier this week. But my first experience with the device wasn’t what I expected.
Similar to our review of the kit, I found big issues with the amount of light that Daydream View lets in when I first put it on. I fixed them by moving the headset unnaturally higher up my head, so the top rested on the lower half of my forehead. It stayed in position once the strap was tightened, though I was always aware of the odd fit.
The same goes for the Daydream controller, a 3 degree of freedom remote that’s mandatory for every app and game. I was completely put off by the apps that have a virtual representation of the controller, either mirroring the real world design or appearing as a wand. That’s because it lacks the position tracking seen in Oculus Touch, PlayStation Move and the Vive wands. It goes off-center easily and adjusting to a 3D world with what’s essentially a 2D controller is bizarre.
I put the View down for the first time and felt disappointed. I didn’t think this was a device that could challenge the Gear VR. But over the course of the day and the one that followed, I’ve come to realize that Daydream isn’t really meant to be a Gear VR killer. It’s not meant for the hardcore VR audience and that’s okay.
So who is it meant to be for? The simple answer is: for everyone else.
As I showed the View to friends and family, I started to realize the true meaning on this device. I was pulling it off my head and passing it to others in seconds, not adjusting straps and rings myself in fear that someone else was going to break them. I was tilting the controller to steer around tracks in VR Karts Sprint and thinking “I haven’t done this since the Wii” and then remembering the incredible mainstream hit Nintendo’s motion controlled console proved to be. It wasn’t the biggest, best and most impressive console of the time, but it sure as hell outsold the competition.
I was jumping around my family’s neighborhood, killing time in Street View, knowing I wasn’t experiencing ‘true VR’, but then I passed it to my Dad and he gasped. I stood outside their house, turned to the front door and was delighted to see my last cat, who had died five years ago, staring back at me with his undying sense of curiosity that I so fondly remember. I showed it to my Mom who, for the first time, smiled inside of VR.
It’s the first headset I’ve taken to the pub, taken out of my bag and shown to my girlfriend, who then sat at a table and forgot she was there, while I made sure she didn’t knock her drink over with the controller.
Daydream View isn’t necessarily a headset for the die hard VR fan and it really shouldn’t be. We’ve already got our headsets, be it our Rifts and Vives for those that can afford them, PS VR’s for others and, yes, our Gear VRs too. Instead, this is the headset you use as a family, the one you bring around at Christmas to pass around. It’s the one you quickly pull on to jump into YouTube and pull off again just as quickly.
It’s filling a hole I didn’t know existed, and I’m really glad it’s here.