Oh boy did Google announce a lot of stuff recently. It used the launch of the Google Pixel 2 smartphone to also show us the rest of its upcoming hardware lineup. Honestly, Google is not clearly a full-fledged hardware maker on a crash course with the likes of Apple.
We don’t care about any of that however. We want to know what VR hardware Google s bringing to market. Unfortunately we still did not get more information on the promised standalone Google Daydream HMD. All’s not lost though, since some Daydream news was on offer.
The Daydream view was essentially a very upmarket Google Cardboard. After everyone else and their dog decided to clone the Cardboard using more expensive materials, Google basically just wanted to remind everyone that they could do it better.
The original view had a cloth exterior and was just less cheap overall than products from other makers. The new version of Daydream looks, well, about the same. Google has however tweaked it in many subtle ways to improve the product. Unfortunately these improvements also seem to have upped the price by $20 to a still-reasonable $99.
The most pertinent changes are really ergonomic in nature. Which is actually pretty important since you have to strap the thing to your face. The facepad has been redesigned to spread the pressure around more. Which means you can wear it for longer without developing sore spots on your face.
The strap has also been reworked so more people will fit into it. Which is great news for me, a person who has to import hats and helmets because they don’t make them in size “watermelon”. There’s now also an optional third top strap, which can help it sit more securely.
The lenses have been revised and overall the field of view has improved by 10-degrees. The focal area is also bigger, which should make for a less blurry experience. They’ve also improved the level of light-leakage, which is nice.
We shouldn’t just take these new lenses for granted either, apparently they are the product of sophisticated, supercomputer-powered optical simulation.
A big improvement, at least to me, is the inclusion of a heat sink. My biggest issue with mobile VR is how quickly the phone overheats. It’s the main reason I have to stop using my Gear VR. Of course this only makes sense in a product with a limited number of compatible handsets, but still it’s desperately needed.
One of the best things about the View in the past has been the inclusion of a motion controller. This new model still has a controller, but they’ve made some improvements here as well.
The buttons have been made more tactile, which makes them easier to use while wearing the HMD. Useful given that’s the only way you’ll ever use it. The software has also been updated to make the controls more accurate, but existing View owners will also get this. The controller has also been given a new storage spot in a fabric loop on the rear strap. Before, it was stored in the lid. I’m not sure if this is a big deal or not, but hey it’s different.
The view was clearly something that cared as much about looks as it did about functionality. Google has gone further down this path by expanding the number of colours you can buy the View in. We now also get black, grey and coral. That’s cool and all, but personally I think the colour of the HMD only matters when you aren’t using it. Perhaps this points to Google wanting the new View to be something you’d leave out in your lounge.
Although the $20 price increase hurts a little, Google has found a way to make it hurt a bit less. If you buy the new View you also get five VR games to the value of $40 bundled with it. This also makes the View a pretty nice gift for someone you want to get into VR. Whether you want these games is a different story, but here they are anyway:
Bundled titles are always a hit and miss affair, but at least as a new View owner you can try some stuff right away without laying down more cash.
A Small Club
The Daydream View pulls off many of its best tricks thanks to the fact that it only works with a small number of handsets. Pretty expensive ones too. Obviously the Google Pixel phones are supported, but if you have a Galaxy S8 or S8+ you are also covered. That’s interesting given the fact that Samsung also has an official Gear VR for the S8 at about the same price too. A hard choice to be sure.
With the exception of the Gear VR, this is likely to be the clear choice if you own a compatible phone and want mobile VR.
One Step at a Time
While I was hopeful we would get some earth-shaking VR news from Google this time around, it’s not bad to know that the company is iterating its current VR hardware and making it noticeably better. While the new Daydream View hardly justified upgrading from the old model, it’s a nice gesture towards new buyers. Now roll out the standalone HMD already!