Google Daydream View (2016) review

Android VR becomes a reality, and it's super cheap

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  • Desperately needs more immersive games
  • Only launched with 12 games, more to come
  • Puzzle games are the ones worth buying
  • New Daydream games added on December 8

Google Daydream View launched with just 12 games, and while only a few were worth downloading, five more games arrived in December for a total of 17.

This new VR platform, with its own Google Play Store section, excels at puzzle and mini games, but needs more full-fledged and immersive 3D titles.

'Mekorama' and 'Danger Goat,' for example, are two creative puzzle games in which you navigate a character through spinnable 3D worlds. They're wonderful.

'Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes' is also inventive with ingenious local multiplayer. The headset wearer sits in front of a virtual bomb. Everyone else visits a website for a lengthy PDF document and figures out which wires to cut and codes to input. You have three minutes, and it's a panic every time.

True 3D games like 'Twilight Pioneers' and 'VR Karts Sprint' feel unfinished, buggy or lackluster, while the J.K. Rowling's 'Fantastic Beasts' is short and should have been more engaging. It doesn't take advantage of its VR's 360 powers quite enough. We never got the "wow" effect from the creatures, like a Disneyland 3D movie ride that reaches out of grabs you.

Hunters Gate from developer Climax Studios is the one 3D game that makes good use of the Snapdragon 821's souped-up GPU. You're going to enjoy this Diablo clone for its classic arcade shooter gameplay, hours of upgrade and co-op multiplayer.

December saw five more games, and they feel more full-fledged: Gunjack 2: End of Shift, Layers of Fear: Solitude, Wands, Underworld Overlord, Need for Speed No Limits VR, and LEGO BrickHeadz Builder VR.

We'll update our impressions of new games as they arrive and treat this as a live review going forward.

Apps and interface

  • Apps and games are easy to download
  • 360-degree videos and photos have 'wow' factor
  • Google Street View maps are surreal in VR
  • Netflix and HBO Go added on December 8

Although games are a big draw for Google Daydream View buyers, there are a number of fun apps that you should spend just as much time with.

YouTube VR lets you experience 3D videos as well as watch normal YouTube content. Google Photos lets you check out your own video and photo library.

Netflix VR and HBO Go / HBO Now also came to Google Daydream in December,  giving you a Game of Thrones and Black Mirror in a theater mode. No 3D content here – yet.

Next VR, however, is dedicated to 360 degree experiences. Like the identical Samsung Gear VR app, it focuses on unique concert and sporting event perspectives.

We were amazed to click on the Photos app, expecting to see a default gallery, but to then see one of our old panoramic photos show up in our headset without warning. "Wait... I recognize this picture!"

Even more surreal is seeing your home and the world's most famous locations in Google Street View. Clicking your way down your hometown street in VR in daylight, while you're just inside at night is pretty mindblowing.

Samsung Gear VR really impressed us with features like 360 degree photos and videos, and the Google Day platform does much the same, even copying the easy-to-understand Oculus VR app's tile menu interface.

Specs and performance

  • Snapdragon 821 chip can handle 3D graphics
  • Battery life and overheating an ongoing issue
  • Slowdown whenever the phone gets too hot

Google Daydream View is the newest VR headset and it's powered by two of the latest Android smartphones, the Google Pixel and Pixel XL.

These phones are powerful, with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processors and an embedded Adreno 530 graphics chip. That means you can expect even more 3D-set 360 degree games as time goes on.

Right now, the graphics on some games look superb – really it depends on the time, effort and experience of developers making those games. 

However, we did notice that performance takes a hit whenever the phone heats up after about 20 minutes of non-stop gameplay. You'll also see a big drop in battery life with any extended VR use.

All of this means you're either going to have to play in short bursts or tether a battery pack to your VR headset-encapsulated phone.

As more developers fine-tune their games to fully take advantage of the Snapdragon 821 processor, we hope that game performance increases and phones temperatures decrease.

Matt Swider