This morning, Google opened a pop-up showroom where anybody can visit to get a hands-on look at the new Made by Google hardware lineup. At 10 am the line at 96 Spring st, in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City, was growing but still manageable.
As we waited to be ushered in, Google representatives came by to offer us coffee drinks prepared by a pair of baristas in the Peddler Coffee cart parked on the curb. "Now that's latte art," said the guy in line next to me when he saw that the foam-topped drink that had just been delivered to him bore the new "G" logo (the baristas had a mocha-powder stencil).
He turned back to his friend and they continued weighing the pros and cons of the new Quite Blue Pixel phone. "I wish they'd made the front blue," said his line mate.
The line proceeded in staggered waves for crowd control around the demos. It was a prudent move. The square footage of each demo area was no match for the number of feet pressing in. Skip the line and scroll through the gallery below to see what it was like.
The small rooms hosting demonstrations of "Ok Google" applications of the Google Home digital assistant were crowded out immediately, you can see one behind the "Google Home" pillar below:
On the other hand, nobody seemed very interested in the Google Photos showcase as presented by an unwieldy sphere of screens tucked into a claustrophobic alcove.
By far, the most popular item in the space was the Daydream View headset. Many guests ignored the rest of the exhibits and bee-lined over to get their first taste of Google's sophomore mobile VR experience as soon as they entered. The Daydream alcove was dressed up as the cartoonish digital forest that we first saw on stage at Google I/O 2016.
In person, the Daydream headset looks plush and snug. It's comfortable to wear (my coworker said it was the first VR headset she'd tried that felt cozy even over her glasses, true to a claim that Google made during their hardware keynote on October 4), but when I took it off after just a 5-10 minutes of use my face was beaded with sweat where the headset had sat.
The virtual reality experience inside the headset itself was impressive. For sure, it was the best mobile VR I've seen yet. The demo had two games to choose from, J.K. Rowling's "Fantastic Beasts (and Where to Find Them)", and "Wonder Glade" (a collection of simple games geared toward kids).
The graphics in Fantastic Beasts were top notch. The controls, a wand-shaped cursor that follows along as you move the physical Daydream remote, were easy to grasp. Unfortunately, the cursor frequently moved off center, forcing me to either list steadily to the left or recenter by holding down one of the buttons every few moments. I didn't have time to figure out if this was just me or some issue with the system. Overall I'd say the Daydream View is a huge win for mobile VR. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what people build for the platform.
Nothing is available for purchase in the showroom, which is open daily from 10 AM to 8 PM through the end of 2016, but everyone is welcome to go try out Google's newest products. The company is also offering classes where you can reserve a time slot to learn about the Pixel phones from a certified Google guide in a small group of up to five people. According to the website there will be an event on Saturday, Oct. 29 where, "In celebration of National Cat Day, Made by Google will be hosting our furry celebrity friends—Nala and Luna Rose!" So feel free to do that, too.