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Daydream Believer: Google Makes Good VR Affordable

After dipping it's toes in the VR waters with the no-frills Google Cardboard, the company has finally taken the plunge with the $79 Daydream View (available starting November). More than a simple virtual reality viewer, Daydream brings customization, a remote and a host of apps and games.

I had a chance to go heads-on with Daydream View and can say with confidence that it's the first real competition to Oculus and the Samsung Gear VR.

Design

Daydream View is like nothing you've seen before. Instead of matte hard plastics, Google consulted athletic-wear designers and made the headset out of soft microfiber that's similar what you'd use to make a jersey. The result is a device that's extraordinarily comfortable and squeezably soft.

Google also set Daydream View apart by offering different color palettes. When it launches in November, you can get View in Slate, Snow or Crimson. While the other two colors are attractive, the striking Crimson is sure to be a best seller at launch.

Google claims that Daydream View is 30 percent lighter than competing headsets. It's definitely smaller. The recent iteration of the Samsung Gear VR dwarfs View in terms of size. Outfitted with the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, the Gear VR definitely felt heavier than the View with the Pixel VR, especially when I tried on both headsets. The plushier View was like a gentle hug on my face, but I'm curious how the fabric will deal with the sweatier members of the population.

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Setup

The View is the poster child of "set it and forget it." Focusing on making the headset as easy to use as possible, all you have to do is open the headset's latch, drop in phone and you're good to go. Where the Gear VR makes you take your phone out f the Gear VR to do the initial install of the Oculus store, Daydream View and the Pixel phone of your choice talk wirelessly and utilize an auto-alignment system to make sure you always have the optimal view.

Remote

The Daydream View remote looks similar to the Oculus Rift's peripheral. Both have clickable top buttons, with accompanying ones for back and home. However, the View's remote features a host of sensors at the top that allow the device to respond quickly and accurately to your movements. That's why drawing an otherwise unfamiliar arcane symbol was so easy during the Fantastic Beasts demo.

However, with any small peripheral, you're bound to lose it sooner or later. In order to prevent loss, Google designers wisely created a built-in cubby in the headset to store the remote. You just open the headset hatch and secure the device in place.

Apps and Games

Google's swinging for the fences with several exclusives, including the J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them experience. Corresponding with the upcoming movie, you'll play as a wizard using the remote as a wand. The handheld device is precise enough that I drew a spell and summoned a beast approximately 5 minutes into the game.

View will also feature EVE: GunJack 2, the sequel to the popular EVE: Gunjack found on numerous VR platforms. Once again, you're back in the cockpit blasting enemy ships as they try to take over your ship.

In terms of entertainment, Google has deals in place with Netflix, HBO and Hulu, so you can view all their content on the big virtual screen. There's also Google Play Movies and Google Photos. For news, you have the VRSE-powered New York Times Magazine.

However, I'm most excited to see the VR version of Google StreetView, which the company promises will allow wearers to visit 1000 places in over 70 countries with 150 street tours. I  got a quick taste of what virtual YouTube has to offer with the London Museum of Natural History - 1 of the 100,000 interactive 360 and VR videos the service has to offer.

As I walked down a hall of dinosaurs on what appeared to be a stuffy walking tour, the room suddenly filled with water as a large aquatic lizard came to life. It swam so close to me, I could see the folds in its leathery hide and was tempted to reach out and touch it. However, its large teeth and the realization it wasn't real made me reconsider. I experienced a little motion blur when I turned to watch it make a U-turn and barrel towards me as it devoured a nearby fish.

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Interface

I only caught a brief view of the interface, but it looks similar to what's currently on most VR headset. There's a floating library, which is made of large floating tabs that you choose using the remote. It's definitely a step up from the haphazard way Google Cardboard dealt with apps and games. I'm definitely interested to see how View's aggregation systems will function.

Outlook

Google has taken a decisive step into virtual reality with the Daydream View and effectively put the competition on notice. The aggressive price, different color headsets and exclusive content make Daydream View a serious contender in the mobile virtual reality space. The design is both fun and functional and the remote has a lot of potential.

I was hoping to see some Project Tango integration for a mixed-reality device. However, as it stands, I am eager to explore Daydream View's capabilities when it launches in November.