Welcome to this first part of a series of articles in which I will compare the two big mobile VR platforms with each other. In each article I will examine a certain aspect of the two platforms and crown the respective winner. Even though this series is published on “Daydream District”, I would like to point out that I will keep this comparison fair. I believe that competition is good for business and if these articles help to point out weaknesses of the Daydream platform that can then be rectified in future iterations, everyone wins.
So let’s get to business. In this first article we are going to look at the controllers!
Daydream vs. Gear VR: The Controllers
With the latest iteration of Gear VR, Samsung has introduced a motion controller that is very similar to that of Daydream. It also offers 3 degrees of freedom, which means it can be used like a laser pointer in VR but does not have the ability of being tracked in space. The new controller also features a clickable trackpad at one end, two additional menu and home buttons and a volume rocker. The big difference is that on the Gear VR you will find an additional trigger button, an omission on the Daydream controller that just now when you compare the two input devices head to head becomes painfully obvious. Another difference is how the two controllers are supplied with energy. As opposed to the Daydream controller that features an internal battery and has to be charged via a USB-C port, the Gear VR controller is powered by two standard AAA batteries. Now let’s compare those controllers bit by bit.
The (missing) Trigger Button
Until the Gear VR controller arrived, I had not missed a trigger button at all on the Daydream controller. Actually, I was perfectly satisfied with how the Daydream motion controller operated in VR. Just by being able to navigate using a motion controller instead of having to use your head movements in Gear VR, the Daydream platform had such an enormous advantage that it was tough to even compare the two platforms.
So nobody was really missing a trigger button but instead we were happy that we had a motion controller in the first place. Using your thumb to click on the track pad in order to shoot a gun in VR was still so much better than having to click on the side of the Gear VR, making you look and feel like a Scott Summers that is trying to control the laser beams coming out of his eyes.
After having used the Gear VR’s motion controller for a few days now this perception has completely changed. Not having a trigger button feels like a major oversight. Where before it felt okay to play The Arcslinger by using the thumb to shoot, it now feels wrong and breaks immersion. Yes, I’m spoiled by the competition now. It is simply so much better and much more natural to use the Gear VR’s trigger button to pull the..well, trigger!
But that is not only true for games. I am also using the trigger button for menu selections. When pointing at things, it just feels right to use the trigger button. It has a solid feel to it and not once did I click it by mistake.
For whatever reasons Google decided not to include a trigger button into the Daydream motion controller, it has been a mistake. A mistake that will hopefully be fixed. The company should have the grandeur to rectify this mistake in the next iteration. If they don’t want to include a whole new button into the Daydream specs, then why not just include a trigger button that also fires up the touchpad click? That would be good enough for me. Google, please add a trigger button to the Daydream controller!
A clear win for Gear VR.
Daydream 0 Gear VR 1
Button layout & controller handling
So how do both of the controllers handle? Which controller is more comfortable to hold and to use during your sessions in VR? Which controller has the better button layout?
One obvious difference in design is that the Gear VR is shaped like an inverted spoon bending at a slight angle directly behind the touchpad. Ergonomically that design is much more comfortable than the simple remote control design of the Daydream controller. It allows for a much more natural grip when pointing at things in VR. Instead of having to bend your own wrist when trying to point straight, you can simply hold the Gear VR controller in a much more natural position that does not require you to bend your wrist at all.
The Gear VR also has an advantage as what the additional menu and home buttons are concerned. As opposed to the Daydream controller, the buttons are situated horizontally next to each other with equal distance to the touchpad which makes them easier to reach for the thumb. On the Daydream controller, your thumb has to travel a longer distance in order to reach the home button for example. Moreover, on the Gear VR controller the two buttons feel very differently, thanks to one of the buttons clearly protruding out of the controller housing, making it possible to to feel the difference when you are not able to look at the controller because you are in VR. The two additional Daydream buttons also have a slightly different design but the difference is too minimal in order to easily being able to distinguish the buttons just by touching them.
Clear winner again: Gear VR
Daydream 0 Gear VR 2
Charging vs. Batteries
Batteries. Old fashioned batteries. For those of you who have not heard of them before: you used to put them into electronic appliances like tv remote controls or the Sony Walkman. That was before every device got a USB port and an internal battery. Those times are back now with the Gear VR controller and honestly speaking I was slightly surprised about that decision.
It turns out that I highly prefer powering the controller with batteries as opposed to having to charge it. The reason is that I had quite the problems with my Daydream controller as what charging is concerned. Sometimes, the device would simply not charge at all. Or it did not take a full charge and would not work after only a few minutes of using it. Or I forgot to charge it and had to hold off reviewing the latest Daydream title, because I was forced to charge the controller first.
For the Gear VR, I only had to put in the batteries that were included in the box when I got it and never had to think about it again. And once the batteries run out of energy, I will simply replace them which will take me like 10 seconds. It is simply more practical that way. Especially when on the move. Just bring an extra pair of batteries and you don’t have to worry about your controller running out of energy at all.
An unexpected win for Gear VR.
Daydream 0 Gear VR 3
Pairing with the phone
As Daydream veterans know, at the beginning of each new session you got to long press on the controller’s home button to pair it with the Daydream-ready phone. Most of you probably also made the same experience like I did: it does not work in 100% of the cases, or only on the second try. Sometimes it does not work at all and you will wonder what the matter is before you connect the controller with your USB cable in hopes it only needs some additional charging before you can delve into VR.
I was expecting the same thing with the Gear VR controller. But no, to my utter surprise I only had to manually pair it like any other Bluetooth device one time in the very beginning. Afterwards, on every single time I used the Gear VR, the controller simply worked. Take that Google.
A clear win for Gear VR
Daydream 0 Gear VR 4
It’s an unfortunate problem that controllers that are not tracked in space, like our Daydream and Gear VR controllers, seem to have in common: controller drifting. You point straight ahead but in VR it seems you are pointing to another direction. This is not to be confused with headset drifting, where the whole VR world around you seems to drift. We will talk about headset drifting in the next article where I will compare the Daydream View headset with the Gear VR one.
For controller drifting, your only remedy is to recenter the controller by long pressing the home button. That’s true for both controllers. In my Gear VR sessions I had to do so far more often that I had to do it while using Daydream. It seems that this is one of the few problems that the Gear VR engineers still have to work on. The pointer would even jump from perfectly centered to drifting away from the center when you get back from a game to the Oculus hub, so it seems that this simply needs more tuning on the software side.
For this part of the comparison, you can tell that Google had a 6 month head start over Samsung and they used that time to update and fine tune the controller software constantly. In the first few month the Daydream platform had the same problems that Gear VR is facing now. It was even worse, sometimes the pointing directions were totally messed up and you were pointing to the left but in VR it would point to the right. These days are over, at least what the controller drifting is concerned. Headset drifting is a whole other topic though, but at least in this category, the Daydream controller can score a consolation point.
A win for Daydream.
Daydream 1 Gear VR 4
Final Result and Conclusion
The Gear VR controller is the clear winner. Heck, it blows the Daydream controller out of the water! It feels better in hand, the additional trigger button makes a huge difference and lets the Daydream controller look dated, pairing simply works in the background without requiring the user to long press any button and not having to constantly charge the controller because it simply works on batteries is extremely liberating. Samsung and Oculus have done a great job here and have engineered the far superior product.
The ball is in your court, Google!
Overall score after Part 1:
Daydream 0 Gear VR 1