Welcome to the 21st century; a time when you can strap phones to your face via the medium of smartphone-powered virtual reality headsets to take you to far-away imaginary lands. And in its latest Google-powered formula, Daydream, we've got a veritable Android-based mobile competitor to take on the likes of the Samsung Gear VR (and, fingers crossed, there's no gamble of a genuine fireball to the face with this one).
Daydream View is a cloth-clad, soft-finish virtual reality headset from Google, initially compatible with the company's Pixel phones - the Google Pixel (reviewed here) and the Google Pixel XL (also reviewed). It will also be compatible with more NFC-capable Android devices with the correct v7.1 OS and capable processors.
From a hardware point of view, it's quite unlike anything else out there: think Google Cardboard minus all the flimsy, flexible, cardboardy stuff and the necessity to hold it to your face and what you have is a whole new - and very comfortable - experience.
That's one of the things about VR. It's typically a faff; a laborious process of adjusting straps, slipping on headphones and finding the right tightness for your personal eye-point is just a pain. Not so with Daydream View: slip in a Google Pixel phone (the XL in our case), which quickly pairs via NFC, seal it up with the bungee cord, then pull the device's elasticated headband over your bonce and job done - that's it.
Because the View is a soft-finish device, devoid of the typical plastic of the Samsung Gear VR and other headsets, it feels more comfortable from the off. It's almost homely like a casual summer jersey, if you will (we just hope it doesn't bobble too much over use).
The other key point about the Daydream View is that it comes with a handheld controller to aid the whole experience. This needs to be calibrated per use, but without any external sensors - yes, we're looking at you Vive, Oculus, PlayStation VR and most other high-grade options - it does a really good job of acting as a virtual "pointer". It helps provide the feeling there's some real interaction in these virtual worlds, rather than just sitting there, shoulders slumped, legs abreast, looking like a Matrix reject wanting back in.
With the headset on, you're transported to Daydream Home, which is where content lives. Think of it like a shopping mall; a one-stop shop where your purchased content and experiences live for quick access. We tested out YouTube VR, with a Natural History Museum dinosaur-based video experience, and a controller-based game inside a game called Wunderglade, which was similar to Super Monkey Ball (if anyone doesn't remember that on the Nintendo Wii, it's all about deft controller-based movements to guide a rolling object around a course; or, in old skool terms, you'd know it as a pinball maze).
What's interesting about Daydream View is that the field-of-view is purposely limited. In devices like Samsung Gear VR you'll get a slightly more open view, but the extremities of vision are often so blurred the they are of little use and can be distracting - especially if you wear glasses (which you can leave on in Google's experience, the lenses are far enough away). Daydream View's view is like a wide-open tunnel, rather than a claustrophobic one, with a hard circular vignette to the outer periphery that helps to focus your experience. It works well, so long as the action is front and centre, otherwise you might notice it like you used to notice those "cinema" black borders on old CRT televisions (and once you see them, they never go away).
As for external light - which can have huge impact on reflective issues if it leaks inside the headset - it's hard to tell how well Daydream View will cope just yet. We tested the device at Google's launch on 4 October, which was in a dedicated and darkened booth. With no bothersome external light sources, it was a great experience. How that'll vary in your living room, well, we'll just have to wait and see.
The other point of note is the Google Pixel XL which was powering this whole experience. Its QHD resolution (2560x1440 pixels) made for a tightly-knit view, especially considering the OLED panel used - which minimises the "gaps" between each pixel, so the visual fidelity is heightened.
The only footnote we can really make about Daydream View is whether its £69 price tag (plus the cost of a £599/£719 Pixel/Pixel XL) will deliver enough genuinely desirable experiences to make it a worthwhile venture from day one. What a headset like this really, really needs is quality content.
While Wunderland is, erm, wunderful, it also feels like an experience that doesn't need VR to make it plausible. Perhaps that's the thing with VR on the whole: developers need to dedicate the time to make proper virtual reality experiences that transport you to places, not just videos and standard games.
Saying that, from the experience we've had even at pre-release, this "Cardboard plus" device feels like its slap bang on the money in terms of price and position. With the right content it's the most accessible and logical (and untethered) in point to virtual reality that there is. Let's start dreaming. Or Daydreaming.