Taking your first step into the world of virtual reality is tough if you don’t have the cash to spend on an $800 system. Sure, there are less expensive options like Google’s $15 Cardboard, but its apps aren’t exciting and it’s, well, made of cardboard. Samsung’s $100 Gear VR offers hundreds of apps with some excellent standouts, but you need a Samsung smartphone just to use it. Enter Google’s Daydream View.
Available for $80, the Daydream View is a VR headset designed for use with any Android phone that runs Google’s Android-powered Daydream app. For now, that includes just one phone: Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Pixel. But the company says additional Daydream-ready phones from HTC, LG, Motorola, Samsung and others are on the horizon.
So should you go get into a Daydream View? If you’ve got the Pixel and want to experience relatively inexpensive VR, then yes, the Daydream is worth the price of admission. Just don’t expect too many apps just yet.
Comfort for your face
If there’s one thing most VR headsets have in common, it’s that they’re heavy and unwieldy. In other words, they’re uncomfortable. Sony’s PlayStation VR is relatively cozy thanks to its uniquely adjustable design that lets you move the headset’s strap and lenses to better fit your face.
Still, you’re always aware that you’ve got it strapped to your face, because of its weight. Daydream View, on the other hand, is genuinely comfortable thanks to its lightweight design. It’s almost like a pillow for your face. At about 8 ounces (without your smartphone), the Daydream View is lighter than the 12-ounce Gear VR.
The Daydream View owes that weight savings to its cloth body. In fact, Google says it used the same type of cloth usually meant for athletic jerseys to make the headset light and breathable enough to wear for extended periods. I wore the Daydream View for a solid hour and didn’t notice any of the typical fogging I’ve experienced with other headsets.
Of course, no matter how breathable the Daydream View is, you’re eventually going to sweat while wearing it. With other VR headsets, that means having to break out a Clorox wipe and some paper towels. But Google made the Daydream View’s gasket, the part that touches your face, removable and washable. So if you, or your perpetually sweaty friend Dave, end up sweating all over the thing, you can just toss it into the washing machine and it’ll come out nice and clean again.
Setting up your Daydream
Setting up the Daydream View is incredibly easy. First you download and set up the Daydream VR app on your smartphone. Next, launch the app, unhook the loop keeping the headset’s front panel closed and place your phone on it. Your handset should automatically connect to the Daydream View and tell you to close the latch. And that’s it.
Once you’ve got your Daydream View on, you’ll get a quick tutorial explaining how to use the included remote. Yep, the Daydream View comes with its own remote control, and boy is it convenient. What’s more, Google included a small section for you to place the remote into the Daydream View’s headset so you don’t lose it.
The remote features a large circular touchpad at its top, as well as back, home and volume buttons. Inside are a series of sensors that allow you to physically point at and select in-app items and navigate via motion controls.
Enter the Daydream
When you strap on the Daydream View, you’re greeted by a stylized cartoon forest complete with running streams and chirping birds. The home screen is made up of three main app boxes that you can point to using the remote (a white laser pointer guides you) and swipe through using the touchpad.
Below that are icons for your five most recently used apps. Under those are links to Google’s Play Store, your Daydream apps library and the headset’s settings menu. So far there are 16 apps available for the Daydream, five from Google and the rest from various other developers.
Google’s apps are easily the best of the bunch. Google Street View lets you take virtual tours of locations ranging from New York’s Times Square and Central Park to the Taj Mahal and Coliseum. You can’t actually walk around in the app; instead, you use Daydream’s remote to point and click at specific white dots that let you navigate to different areas.
YouTube lets you watch 360-degree videos, which are pretty impressive, until you come across a standard video. In that case, you have to watch it while standing in a fake movie theater. Sure it makes the image look like it’s on a big-screen, but I can also do that on my TV without wearing a mask.
Google Play Movies projects movies on a faux makeshift backyard screen that’ll make you feel right at home, while Google Photos lets you view your 360 panoramas by turning your head. Meanwhile, Google Arts and Culture lets you get close enough to famous paintings like Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night” to see individual brush strokes.
Additional apps include games Hunters gate, Mekorama and Wonderglade, as well as Star Chart VR and Wall Street Journal VR. None of the games will suck you in, though, as they’re mostly meant to be proofs of concept than anything else. Wall Street Journal VR is interesting, as it lets you check the day’s news, read articles and watch videos. But again, you can do all of that on your phone or laptop without having to strap a headset on. While available 360 video are certainly worth checking out, there still aren’t many of them.
But it’s the Daydream’s remote that brings the whole package together. Samsung’s Gear VR is a wonderful device, but you have to either use its touchpad, which is located on the headset itself, or buy a secondary controller. The fact that the Daydream’s remote is part of the package and includes motion controls is absolutely clutch.
I did, however, notice the remote would occasionally go off course when I was pointing at something with the headset on. I quickly corrected it by re-centering the screen.
Should you get it?
Google’s Daydream View is a fantastic headset that’s incredibly comfortable and exceptionally inexpensive. The included remote is a great deal and the fact that the system is so easy to set up and use will attract new users. There are some downsides, though.
First off, the apps library isn’t very large yet. With just 16 apps available on launch day, there’s just not enough content to hold your attention for very long. Google says it will have 41 apps by the end of the year, but that’s still well below the huge number of apps offered through Samsung’s Gear VR. What’s more, the Gear VR’s apps are a lot more fleshed out and engrossing.
Then there’s how hot your phone gets when used with the Daydream View. You never feel heat on your face, but it’s a bit unsettling, for sure.
The Daydream View will definitely be worth your cash when its apps library is larger and it works with more smartphones, especially since it’s just $80. But for now, you might want to hold off.
Dan Howley is tech editor at Yahoo Finance.
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Email Daniel at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.