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November 10, 2016

Daydream VR review

by John_A

The Daydream VR is Google’s latest foray into the world of wearable virtual reality devices. Falling somewhere between its $35 Google Cardboard and the more pricey Oculus or Vive, the Daydream’s closest competitor might be the Samsung VR.

Introduced on October 4 alongside the Pixel and Pixel XL, the Daydream VR (now available) promises a more immerse take on virtual reality. There are rather steep hardware requirements for phone makers looking to get their handsets certified for the platform. Google expects high-resolution screens, strong processors, and a host of sensors in phones if they hope to get the Daydream-ready classification. As such, it will likely be limited to flagship phones in the first year or so.

As of today, only the Pixel and Pixel XL are considered certified for the Daydream VR platform. We’ve had a Pixel XL for a few weeks now and spent the better part of the last week with a Daydream VR. Google has provided us with demo units of both devices.

While this is considered a review of the experience, it’s obviously not going to be fully fleshed out just yet. For starters, we can only review what’s currently available; there’s no way to give a reaction to a promise. There’s plenty of potential ahead for the platform, but as of today, not all of the apps and games are ready to roll. We can only speak to what we spent time with.


Taking the Daydream VR out of the box we find a neatly packed headset with little wasted space. The various components are tucked in nicely but are easy to pull out. As someone who is often quick to skip over instructions and jump right in, the Daydream VR was right up my alley. There’s nothing here that signals you need to walk slowly into getting set up.

The unit we received from Google is the Slate color, which comes across as a heather print you might find in a t-shirt. Soft to the touch, the Daydream VR is rather lightweight. The overall aesthetics are inviting.


In putting the Daydream VR on, the strap on the back lets wearers slide to adjust tightness. There’s plenty of space for your nose, perhaps a smidge more than what may be necessary. Along those lines, there’s also enough room inside to wear eyeglasses with the headset. This isn’t necessarily a blanket statement, but you should be able to get it on over top most glasses.

The bungee cord strap for holding your phone in place is strong and secure; it doesn’t feel like it’s going to break or get tired anytime soon. Moreover, there’s a strap tucked inside for where you place the remote control. It’s more forgiving and loose but, it too, feels built for the long haul.


The remote control that comes with the Daydream VR is small and pocketable and runs about the length of your thumb to the base of your palm. It’s comfortable to hold and has a design that makes sense. Even when your vision is obstructed by the headset you can tell which button does what and where it’s located.


Getting started with the Daydream VR is pretty straightforward. As this was an early look at the experience, we logged into a specific account that ultimately pushed the Daydream VR app to our phone.

Placing the phone into the Daydream VR is about as easy as it gets. Simply put on the foldout plank and line the center of the screen up with the black rubber nubs. Fold it up and secure it with the bungee strap.

Opening the Daydream app for the first time, users are given a walk through that is easy to understand. It’s here where you learn how to center orientation, get the feel for the remote, and see where things are headed.


It’s a fun virtual environment that’s relaxing and moves at your own pace. We appreciate being spoon-fed at times but we also like to jump ahead at others. This allows for both. Should you need a refresher, or wish to hand the Daydream VR off to another user, the tutorial is readily available.

One demo we were particularly fond of in the initial usage was looking around a forest at night time. The remote control operated as a flashlight; we were tasked with searching the area for wildlife. There’s something really cool and immersive about being there and having an instrument in your hand that made sense.

Immediately we pictured cooking apps, golf, and other titles that take advantage of the remote. Whereas we were so-so on the idea of the Harry Potter (Fantastic Beasts) game at the Daydream VR’s unveiling, we now cannot wait to cast spells and use the remote as a magic wand.


The main interface of the Daydream app lets wearers look around in a 360 degree space, with titles floating out in front of them. It’s here where you can launch into other apps and games or download others. The Google Play Store is a vetted selection of titles that only work with the headset. You won’t be able to install something here that doesn’t take advantage of the technology.

General Impressions

Wearing the Daydream VR is as comfortable as we might have hoped, even for more than just a few minutes. Nearly everything we looked at or played was immerse and felt more real than what we’ve experienced in Google Cardboard. Given that we didn’t have to use our hands to hold the unit, we felt like we were actually in the various environments – even the cartoon-like ones, too.

We noticed on multiple occasions that the Pixel XL we were using would get hot to the touch. Not just warm, but actually hot. In fact, there was one instance where the Daydream app prompted us to let it cool down. How long had we been using the Daydream VR? Roughly 20-30 minutes one time and 30-40 the other.


Whenever the phone would get this hot we simply opened it up and took the device out to cool down on its own. We also took the opportunity to charge the remote control up via its USB Type-C plug.

We know that Google expects to do some big things with Daydream VR, some of which could find users wearing it for much longer periods of time. Watching a full-length movie at this stage seems out of the question. We’re not certain whether it’s related to the content we were using, or if it’s a software update waiting in the wings, but it’s hard to imaging going 90 minutes or longer with this on.

With that said, we simply loved playing games for 10-15 minutes at a time. The same for Google Maps Street View and the occasional trip to a museum. Thanks to the high-resolution (2560 x 1400 pixels) of the Pixel XL, the pictures were sharp. We had to manually ask ourselves to look for the tiny dots that make up each pixel and even that was a challenge at times.


Hands and Eyes on Games and Apps

We played with the default apps and games that came with the Daydream VR experience. Moreover, we were provided with credits ($25) to install additional titles. Thus far we have used less than $10 of it to install two apps: StarChart VR and Mekorama VR.


StarChart VR former takes you into space where you can look at all of the planets, major stars, constellations, and more. It’s really breathtaking stuff that is also educational. We learned more in a few minutes with some of the planets than we remembered from school. Also, there’s something really cool about looking at the sky and seeing what the actual constellations are and how they are comprised.


Mekorama VR is a very friendly puzzle game that tasks players with navigating a robot to a particular destination. It’s possible to click and drag the floating environment to all sides and additional angles. If you’ve played Monument Valley, then you know what you’re in for with this one. You’ll get through the first levels in no time at all. And, while it’s somewhat flat and minimal in graphics, the Daydream experience makes for an experience that feels like you’re actually there.


Wonderglade is a fun game that takes players into a virtual world that’s full of mini-games. It reminded us of what you might get out of the Nintendo Wii and using the remote. Graphics were more rich here, though, and things felt more real, thanks to the 360 degree views. Players get to tilt, spray, putt miniature golf, and other things with easy-to-learn mechanics. Is it childish? It certainly appeals to younger ages but that doesn’t mean adults won’t be impressed.

Suffice it to say, we enjoyed the other, non-paid apps, too. Pulling up Google Maps Street View is brand new when you’re to walk down any road and look at neighborhoods. It’s a breeze to put yourself in front of a major landmark and see what it’s like.

YouTube VR was a mixed bag of results but only because it relies on the source for video. Some clips work better than others but, generally speaking, we are excited to see content unfold over time. With that said, some of the stuff that’s trending today was not quite as immerse or clear as we would have liked.


The games and content we’ve played with so far are quality and we’re optimistic that Google takes a tighter, vetted approach to apps. If it has certain expectations on hardware partners, we hope it does for developers, too. The last thing VR needs is a bunch of junk that gets out before the quality stuff and spoils the experience.

We’re concerned about the fact that the phone does get hot after only 30-40 minutes. In looking around, we found we’re not the only one who experienced this. Let’s hope that Google is able to identify the root causes and can fix it. We’d love to watch a full length film on a plane ride, especially if it feels like there’s a massive screen floating in front of us.


The Daydream VR is not all that much more expensive than a Cardboard unit. We’re not saying to skip over a Cardboard and go straight for this, but, should the right circumstances present itself, we recommend doing so. The hands-free aspect is good; the remote control functionality makes it great.

For only $80 we think the Daydream VR is a no-brainer. If you already have a Pixel or Pixel XL, you’ll definitely want to get one of these. The apps and games available at launch are fun; the future is wide open for developers to leverage the tech. And, thanks to affordable cameras capable of capturing 360 degree pictures and video, that content will grow at a rapid pace. Watching someone else’s vacation videos might not suck when viewed through a Daydream VR.


  • United States: Google Store, Verizon, Best Buy; $79 (USD)
  • Canada: Google Store, Bell, Rogers, Telus, Best Buy; $99 (CAD)
  • United Kingdom: Google Store, EE, Carphone Warehouse; £69 (GBP)
  • Germany: Google Store, Deutsche Telekom; €69 (EUR)
  • Australia: Google Store, JB Hi-Fi; $119 (AUD); Coming to Telstra on Nov 22nd
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