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Google’s New Daydream View VR Headset Moves The Needle…A Bit

Just because you can upgrade hardware doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

These days, it seems like consumer electronics companies feel compelled to release a new version of their products every year. A new phone, a new tablet. What better way to bring in tons of new revenue than to update the product line and make customers feel like they’ve got to upgrade to stay current?

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But just because you can put out new versions doesn’t mean you should.

That’s my take on Google’s second-generation Daydream View virtual reality headset, which hits store shelves this Thursday, just as Google’s new Pixel 2 phone is released: The first version, from a year ago, was pretty good. The new version feels like it’s just a small bit better, and perhaps not enough to warrant an all-new iteration.

At a press event to unveil the new headset earlier this month, Google’s head of VR, Clay Bavor, emphasized that the biggest advances with the new Daydream View come in the form of comfort. It’s lighter, and meant to be more comfortable than its predecessor. As well, thanks to a built-in heat sink, it’s designed to better handle the heat put off by the hardworking Pixel 2–or another Daydream-ready phone–which is required to actually, you know, use VR on the Daydream View.

One of the biggest design changes between the first-gen Daydream View and the second is that the new version has a strap on top that’s meant to provide stability, as well as to hold on to the Daydream controller that comes standard with the $99 headset.

After spending a couple of hours with the new headset, I’m comfortable saying that the second-gen Daydream View is, yes, more comfortable, and does feel lighter. You can also feel the heat emanating from the heat sink. A little more on that later.

And if you didn’t have a first-gen Daydream View, I would happily recommend buying the new one, if you’re a Pixel owner, or thinking about getting a Pixel 2. If you tend toward Samsung phones, you’re going to want to check out that company’s Gear VR headset instead.

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Another option, if you’re feeling adventurous, are willing to wait a bit, and don’t want to be tied to a specific phone, is to wait until early next year for Facebook-owned Oculus’s standalone VR headset, the $199 Oculus Go.

Rope You In

But Google’s strategy is to rope you in to the world of Pixel through a wide range of high-tech features, including Google Assistant, Google Photos, a great camera, and more. And, of course, compatibility with Daydream built right into the phone’s firmware.

So if you were thinking about getting a Pixel 2, spending the extra $99 for a VR headset (which also gets you a five-pack of leading VR apps) is a good investment.

But if you already have a first-gen Daydream View, I’d have a much harder time advising you to upgrade. I just don’t see enough advances to warrant spending the money.

Yes, it’s a bit more comfortable, but not significantly. The heat sink is a great idea, but I quickly found—watching basketball via NextVR’s app—that the Pixel 2/new Daydream View combination still causes overheating, resulting in an error message urging me to remove the phone from the headset in order to get better performance. Until then, it alerted me, performance would be downgraded.

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As far as the Daydream VR platform itself, there doesn’t seem to be much different now than there was when it was first launched a year ago. Perhaps the biggest changes are that the library of Daydream-ready apps is far bigger—250 in total, up from a few dozen at the end of 2016, including a number of exclusive new titles and ways to experience media. But you can access all of those on last year’s device.

And in my experience, the new Daydream View is a bit buggy. Beyond the overheating issue, I found that the wireless handheld controller needed to be recalibrated frequently. It’s easy to do so, but annoying that it felt necessary every few minutes. The controller also seemed to stop working altogether while I was using the Netflix app—which also seemed wonky, continuing to play audio after I had paused playback.

When the first Daydream View was released, it was buggy, too. I wrote at the time that I knew new hardware often has small problems, and that most I’d found would likely be fixed before long. I feel the same way about the new Daydream View. Still, it wasn’t hard to find these little problems, and little or not, they made the experience of using the headset a bit less enjoyable than it should have been.

To be sure, the Daydream View isn’t high-end VR. It’s not the Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive, or even Sony PlayStation VR. Those are more expensive systems and they deliver more. The new Daydream View costs less, and delivers less. But it does have a growing library, nice graphics, and sweet design–featuring soft fabric and a clever lid–that is far better than that of the Gear VR, which is hard plastic and which seems to strive to make it hard to insert the compatible phone.

All in all then, my takeaway of the new Daydream View is that it moves the needle forward, a little. Not enough to make me recommend buying it if you already have the first-gen version. But if you’re considering buying a VR headset for the first time, and are also considering the Pixel 2, you’ll likely enjoy using it.

About the author

Daniel Terdiman is a San Francisco-based technology journalist with nearly 20 years of experience. A veteran of CNET and VentureBeat, Daniel has also written for Wired, The New York Times, Time, and many other publications.

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