Google Daydream VR: All you need to know

Google recently kickstarted an infatuation with mobile virtual reality, thanks to its affordable yet effective Cardboard VR headsets. Now the Daydream VR platform is here to seriously upgrade our virtual reality experiences on our humble smartphones, although the cost has understandably risen. Here's our full guide to Daydream, including how to try it out for yourself.

What is Google Daydream?

Virtual reality has made it into our homes thanks to our trusty mobile phones. Our smartphones can deliver immersive games and experiences to our eyeballs simply by slotting them into a headset and strapping them on.

Google Cardboard was one of the first mainstream solutions to offer VR to the masses, for as little as a tenner. Of course, this was a very basic offering, with limited control over your actions - all you could really do was look around and click the solitary button to interact.

Google’s new Daydream brand is a serious step up from Cardboard, offering a more premium experience, improved control and an exclusive catalogue of games and experiences.

To enjoy Daydream VR content, you'll need a Daydream View headset and controller, as well as a smartphone which actually supports the platform. You can then download apps from the online store, to enjoy right there on your headset.

Several developers have created apps and games specifically for use with Daydream, while smartphone manufacturers are slowly releasing compatible mobiles which can run these games. Google has even created a reference design, so new Daydream compatible VR headsets can be made by any manufacturers looking to grab a slice of this exciting new virtual pie. For now however, only Google's headset will work.

How to use Google Daydream

The anatomy of Google Daydream consists of three key parts: the headset and motion controller, a smartphone and the Daydream software.

Google Daydream View and Google Pixel XL

Google Daydream View

Right now Google’s own £69 Daydream View is the only Daydream-compatible headset/controller combo on the market (but more are expected to follow, soon).

The headset comes in three colours (Slate, Snow and Crimson) boasting a flexible, fabric-covered design, whilst the small colour-matched motion controller connects wirelessly via Bluetooth and features internal motion sensors to detect its position in 3D space. It also houses volume controls, a clickable touchpad and two navigation buttons. The View charges via Type-C USB and features a non-removable Li-ion battery too.

Read next: Google Daydream View Review: In Depth

Daydream-compatible smartphones

Whilst the Daydream View serves as the means of looking around and interacting with the virtual space, the actual hardware powering the VR experiences is found inside your smartphone.

As with Samsung’s Gear VR, you can’t just use any old handset. The processor, memory, graphics and display all have to be sufficiently powerful to support a VR experience and what’s more, Google has to approve each smartphone that’s been built to work with Daydream.

Google Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones

Right now the pool is pretty small, with Google’s own Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones being the first Daydream-compatible devices on the market. Lenovo has added Daydream support to both of its Moto Z and Moto Z Force flagships from 2016, while Samsung's new Galaxy S8 and S8+ also offer Daydream compatibility - a surprise, as Samsung has its own rival platform in the Gear VR.

The most recent phone to arrive in the UK with full Daydream support is the Asus Zenfone AR. Of course, at £800 this handset sure isn't on the 'affordable' side. Likewise, the Pixel and Galaxy S handsets are premium mobiles that'll put a serious dent in your wallet.

Thanks to Google's strict requirements for Daydream accreditation, you can expect only flagship and top-end smartphones to support the platform for the foreseeable future.

Downloading apps and games for Daydream VR

The third fundamental element of Daydream is the software itself. Android Nougat includes all of the technical VR underpinnings to support Daydream natively. However to actually access the virtual world, the first thing you’ll need to do is download the Daydream app from Google’s Play Store.

Once installed, you can use this app to browse through Daydream VR-compatible apps, games and experiences as you would any other app on the standard Play Store. Offerings range from horror games and fast-paced action titles, to 360-degree or 3D videos.

Companies like The Wall Street Journal and the BBC have created immersive experiences using their own original content, Warner Bros. released a Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie tie-in experience to coincide with the launch of Google Daydream and you can view the likes of YouTube or Netflix all in VR.

Best Daydream VR experiences

Whilst consumers have only been able to get their hands on Daydream as a platform for about a month, there are already a wealth of experiences and games available to try out. Here are a few of our favourites at the time of writing:

For a complete list of the best Daydream-compatible games right now, check out our best Google Daydream VR games feature.