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Using the smaller Pixel with Google Daydream is a big compromise

It's not looking good for Pixel owners who want to use Google's new Daydream View VR headset. The phone's 1080p resolution AMOLED display is good enough for daily use when held at a nominal distance from one's face, but strapped into a VR headset, the individual pixels are not only visible but distracting, and our advice is to avoid using the smaller Pixel for mobile VR.

The resolution

Let's talk about the resolution. I spent a lot of time going between the Pixel and Pixel XL in the Daydream View, and the higher density on the latter phone's QHD display — 534ppi to the Pixel's 440ppi — is not only obvious but essential to the enjoyment of the experience. I found myself often distracted, even in the midst of a video or game, by the individual components comprising the whole. And while those components are still somewhat noticeable on the larger Pixel XL, we've learned by now that the more we can minimize distraction while in virtual reality, the more immersive and enjoyable the experience.

I still enjoyed the Pixel in the Daydream View, and unless you've used a Gear VR with Galaxy S7 or something with an equally high density you may not be disappointed, but I have, and it was.

The field of view

The other thing to keep in mind about using the smaller Pixel is that its physically smaller screen makes the field-of-view ever-so-slightly narrower, lessening by a few millimeters the amount of space you can see in virtual reality. In, ahem, reality, it's not that big a deal, and you're unlikely to notice it unless, as above, you're coming from the Pixel XL, but keep these things in mind.

Light bleed

This is a problem for both Pixels, but the smaller unit does let in noticeably more light than the larger one. It's not necessarily the bottom area that leeches in additional light, but the overall surface area of the phone being smaller that, in a well-lit room, makes the experience slightly more distracting.

That's easily avoided by lowering the ambient light around you — turn off the bulbs, lower the blinds, close the curtains — but if you're in an environment like an airplane where you can't control these things, the Pixel XL is a superior choice.

Battery life and heat

The Pixel XL does have a larger battery than the Pixel, but due to its extra resolution doesn't necessarily achieve additional uptime. I typically got three to four hours of constant use from each unit, which is pretty darn impressive for a mobile VR suite, and unlike the Gear VR, the phone's charging port is open while lodged in the Daydream View. It's likely that future Daydream headset designs will also be required to allow for concurrent charging, too.

Both phones get very hot while inside the View, but it did seem that the smaller Pixel was slightly warmer to the touch. I don't have a thermometer to register the absolute difference between the two, but I'd say that the Pixel was some five to 10 degrees Fahrenheit toastier than the XL.

Other considerations

Obviously, the Pixel XL is a sizeable jump in price from the Pixel — $120 USD, and more in some markets. That, plus the $79 for the Daydream View itself, is no small price to pay. If it comes down to using the combination of a Pixel and Daydream together, or nothing at all, of course I'd choose the former: the experience is amazing regardless of which Pixel you're using, and Google has done an amazing job ensuring that either model works seamlessly within the View headset.

There's also the question of color: is it better to use a black or white Pixel with the Daydream View? I got a chance to use both colors and found little difference between them; the rumored additional reflectiveness of the white phone face did not manifest itself in real-world use, especially when the ambient light was low.

At the end of the day, Daydream and its first headset, Daydream View, are remarkable achievements, and must be tried even if you're familiar with the Gear VR, Cardboard or any other mobile VR solution. Daydream is fun; it is effortless; it is flawed, in a good way. I love it. Even with the Pixel, which is distraction central.

Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

  • now u tell me this? anyway i think this will be a good start for google in to VR(I can live with it for a year or so) but i am waiting for tango enabled upgrade to VR view to be released in the next few years
  • I agree on the Tango enabled phones with Daydream. That is where it is at. Fine with the pixelation of my smaller Pixel for now. Maybe next year the update to this will be a higher resolution screen. 1080p is fine for everyday use, but I knew going in that VR experience was going to be sacrificed a bit.
  • Weird, i already knew all phone based VR solutions are lame to begin with and really suck on a 1080P device. I thought everyone who was really interested in Daydream knew to buy the XL.
  • Good to know. Personally indifferent about VR so having the regular Pixel will be nice for me...eventually. That aside, glad that you were able to put the white front vs black front being better for VR for the Pixel.
  • Same, I don't mind that the Pixel wrong be all that and a bag of chips at VR, but I'm glad to know I didn't make a big mistake picking a white/silver phone for the first time ever... The DD View is gonna be free for me anyway so it's a nice novelty either way. If I want high fidelity graphics I'll sit on my desktop and or buy a Vive TYVM. One thing not discussed was performance tho, lower res might be distracting in a static scene but it almost surely is bound to run smoother at other times and/or with more stressful games.
  • A little disappointing, but not at all surprising. I bought the smaller one pretty much expecting that it wouldn't be of much use in a VR context.
  • I wonder if in the future this will affect decisions on putting higher resolution screens in smaller phones such as the next generation Pixel?
  • I'm sure that will depend almost entirely on Daydream usage data that Google gets over the next year.
  • And on what kinda battery life they can eke out of a higher res screen... I'm sure they'll move up, eventually, I wouldn't be surprised if Google moves to an Apple/Samsung like cadence and avoid a massive yearly re-design as the Nexus line inherently required due to choice of manufacturer.
  • 1080p in vr is like 480p not worth it unless you like tmobile throttling.
  • My Not VR:VR Ratio is going to be about 95:5 so I'm not that worried about it, but I think this is a bit overblown, really only apparent if you have something to compare it to most of the time. Even with Google Cardboard, I enjoyed myself with my 720p Moto X. Threw in the Pixel's 1080p and it looked nicer, and at no point did I think it look terrible. Sure, going back to the 720p phone, I could see how it's not as good. Right now, my reference point is purely a Pixel at 1080p. And it looks good. I wouldn't know what's better until I threw in an XL, but since I'm a mortal not a phone reviewer, that's not going to happen. The 95% of my day that involves having a much more comfortably-sized phone is going to win out every time. For the rest of you reading this, buy the size you want without considering VR, unless of course VR is your top consideration. I guarantee you that you will be fine and enjoy your pixel experience as long as you're not constantly comparing it to a higher DPI device right next to it. I'm also glad to see the white face of the phone doesn't really matter. 3 weeks ago this site was yelling Armageddon with Daydream if you had the white phone. And as expected, it's not a big deal.
  • Thank you, I wasn't gonna sacrifice all day one-hand usage for VR anyway, but it's good to hear this.
  • I am still waiting on my Pixel XL. No word on when it will ship. Either they did not anticipate they did not make enough or they did not anticipate the demand. Both model are still sold out...Hello GOOGLE.
  • I walked straight into my local store and walked straight out with my Pixel. I don't understand why people sit waiting for one to be delivered to the door. Haha And I got to play with one while I decided. I'm absolutely loving mine best Android device by far I've ever used.
  • I'll take the smaller phone over VR capabilities any day. Non-VR games should run better on the smaller phone as well which is what I play. I think it's funny Russell started that white phone rumor i think. He talks about it in one of the podcasts or hands on articles.
  • Weird. I thought I remembered reading something on here about how the higher resolution of the S7 would look worse in VR than the Pixel. Guess not.