Google’s Daydream VR platform is probably a little confusing to you right now, especially when it comes to which devices will support it. This is understandable, because Google still hasn’t published its hardware spec and the so the exact requirements for a phone to be considered ‘Daydream-ready’ are not yet clear. To confuse things even further, we also have the concept of ‘Daydream-compatible’ to deal with. So let’s take a look at the official Daydream VR ready phones and those likely to be compatible with the platform.
What is Daydream-ready?
‘Daydream-ready’ is the term Google is giving to next-generation devices that will have the necessary low latency sensors, low persistence display and minimum CPU/GPU performance to satisfactorily deliver Daydream VR content. As Google VR head Clay Bavor said at I/O: “We want to hold a very high quality bar, and for that to happen all the components need to be just right.”
This is also why Bavor said that it is highly unlikely that any current smartphones (at the time in May) would get Daydream-ready branding. The reason is primarily down to two things: the lack of the necessary sensors and the absence of a low persistence display. But this refers to smartphones. There are also head-mounted displays (HMDs) to consider. Here’s what Google has said about Daydream VR HMDs:
Daydream-ready headsets are designed for the high-quality mobile VR experiences that Daydream enables. Unlike the Google Cardboard viewer, they are designed for extended use. Instead of a trigger button, users interact with VR applications using the Daydream controller.
So you can see there’s a split between the high-end Daydream VR experience and the more accessible Cardboard VR experience. Think of these experiences as two ends of the Google VR spectrum. They may be vastly different in feel and hardware but they are still part of the same axis. This is where Daydream compatibility comes in.
What is Daydream-compatible?
First, it must be noted that Daydream-compatibility is not something Google talks about. Naturally, Google’s focus is on the next-gen hardware that will fully deliver its vision for Daydream content.
But there is already a huge base of Android users already invested in VR, including over a million Gear VR users, so Google would be foolish to ignore them and focus only on future users. This is where the (as yet unconfirmed) theory of Daydream VR-compatible devices comes in.
Google would be foolish to ignore the existing base of Android users already invested in VR and focus only on future users.
While the Galaxy S7 probably doesn’t feature the sensors required to be considered Daydream-ready, it is feasible that, by meeting the vast majority of the other Daydream VR requirements, it could be considered Daydream-compatible. This would mean it’s not quite up to Google’s standards but is close enough, kind of like the “Works with Google Cardboard” branding we already see a lot of.
Daydream compatible devices would thus be capable of running Daydream VR content, but the SDK would either disable those features the hardware is incapable of delivering or “roll back” to Cardboard VR when necessary. This is the same basic premise that allows the Nexus 6P (which is officially not Daydream-ready) to be the reference device for Daydream VR development. It’s not Daydream-ready but it is Daydream-compatible.
Again, Daydream VR-compatible devices are purely speculative for now, but it would make a lot of sense for Google to allow Daydream content to run on less-than-Daydream-ready hardware. Partially to give the platform an instant user base without demanding users make a new device purchase running Android 7.0 Nougat.
But also because it would allow existing Android users and developers to get a feel for Daydream VR and hopefully convince them to purchase the necessary hardware for the full experience. If Google decides to add support for external sensors (which could appear as accessory mounts for existing phones), there might be even more Daydream VR-ready phones already around.
Google may also add support for external sensors to enable Daydream VR compatibility for almost-there devices.
Confirmed Daydream-ready phones
So far, only a few Daydream-ready phones have been announced but a few more recent devices will possibly be included to the list. But until the official hardware spec is published, we can’t say for sure. Here’s the confirmed list so far.
ZTE Axon 7
The first official Daydream VR-ready phone to be announced was the ZTE Axon 7. Priced at just $399, the Axon 7 offers a pretty compelling package, especially when it includes support for Google’s VR platform. The ZTE Axon 7 specs also gave us our first hint at the minimum spec required for Daydream-readiness, including the Snapdragon 820, an AMOLED display and 4 GB of RAM.
Asus Zenfone 3 Deluxe
Even though the high-end version of the Zenfone 3 Deluxe (with 256 GB ROM and 6 GB of RAM) recently got a spec bump to the Snapdragon 821, both the Snapdragon 820-equipped models are also Daydream-certified. Considering all three of these phones have a Full HD Super AMOLED display, QHD is clearly no longer the benchmark resolution for Daydream VR phones.
The following specs are absolutely not official, they are simply drawn from the list of already-announced Daydream-ready phones. First up, the Snapdragon 820 is the minimum chipset required for the CPU and GPU performance expected by Google and 4 GB of RAM looks to be the minimum memory requirement.
On the display front, at least a Full HD OLED display with low persistence is also necessary. Prior to the announcement of the three Zenfone 3 Deluxe models (which have Full HD resolution), it looked like QHD would be the minimum resolution required, but that now seems to have been relaxed.
As Qualcomm notes in its VR Software Development Kit notes for the Snapdragon 820, VR also requires “predictive head position processing” which the Qualcomm Hexagon DSP includes.
Possible Daydream-ready phones
Based on the specs mentioned above, there are a few existing devices that could theoretically be Daydream-ready. The Moto Z and Moto Z Force, Snapdragon versions of the Galaxy S7, S7 Edge and S7 Active and the OnePlus 3 all have the Snapdragon 820, QHD OLED displays and at least 4 GB of RAM.
The other big requirement – and more than likely the reason none of the OLED phones listed above have come out as Daydream-ready – is that they either do not have the necessary low latency sensors or low persistence display demanded by Google.
Most current phones either do not have the necessary low latency sensors or low persistence display demanded by Google.
This is probably why Clay Bavor said it was unlikely any current phones would get retroactive Daydream-ready certification. But looking forward is a different story: it stands to reason the upcoming Galaxy Note 7 will be Daydream-ready and the same is likely also true for the Huawei Mate 9 and Mate S2 and LG V20. But until everything is made official we can’t say for sure.
Are you holding out for a Daydream VR ready phone? How big do you think Daydream VR will be?