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Oculus Go: The Way Forward for Mainstream VR

Hardware Reviews By Christopher Coke on June 13, 2018

Oculus Go: The Way Forward for Mainstream VR

Virtual reality is amazing, but until now accessing it meant tethering yourself with a thick wire and a pricey startup kit. Cutting the cord was possible thanks to the Gear VR, but required and expensive smartphone to use as a display. All that has changed. Oculus is back again with the most accessible gateway to VR yet: the Oculus Go. It’s portable, has 1,000 apps and games, and doesn’t require a smartphone - all for $199.

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Specifications

  • MSRP: $199 (32GB), $249 (64GB)
  • Display: Fast-Switch WQHD LCD
  • Resolution: 2560x1440
  • Refresh Rate: 60-72hz
  • CPU: Quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 (two 2.3GHz Kryo HP cores and two 2.15GHz Kryo cores)
  • RAM: 3GB
  • GPU: Adreno 350
  • Storage: 32GB, 64GB (non-expandable)
  • OS: Android 7.1.2 Nougat
  • Networking: 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.1, GPS
  • Battery: 2600 mAh
  • Field of View: 100-degrees
  • Controller: Yes
  • Sensors: Orientational Tracking, Proximity
  • Tracking: Yes
  • Connections: 3.5mm jack, Micro USB
  • Built In Audio: Headphones, built-in speakers
  • Weight: 470g

The Oculus Go is a standalone VR headset. It doesn’t require a gaming PC or smartphone to deliver its experiences, which makes it special in today’s VR market. While there are competitors offering portable VR experiences, the Go comes in hundreds of dollars less at only $199 while offering a number of unique benefits. Without question, this is the most accessible VR has ever been and the Oculus Go is an excellent way to experience it for the first time.

The headset is lightweight yet feels well-built. There’s no avoiding looking a little silly wearing a VR headset but the Go is easily the sleekest option on the market. It’s made of plastic, but there’s a stylish mix of shades and materials that feels fairly elegant. At only 470g, the velcro strap system does a good job of holding the headset in place without applying undue pressure on the bridge of your nose. I’d love to see a rigid strap sold as an accessory in the future to keep that weight anchored to the back of your head. After several hours of use you begin to feel the weight on your nose, which is about the lifespan of the 2600 mAh battery anyhow.

What’s really striking about the Oculus Go is that it offers an improved visual experience over the company’s flagship Oculus Rift. The resolution has been bumped to 2560x1440 versus the Rift’s 2160x1080, making images appear crisper with less screen door effect. Text is also much clearer, making any kind of reading much easier, vastly improving the web browsing experience. Likewise, the Go also features an improved generation of the Fresnel lenses used on the Rift, reducing God Rays in scenes with high contrast.

The real trump card in Oculus Go’s favor is its compatibility with the apps developed for the Gear VR. Within the Oculus Store are more than 1000 experiences, encompassing games, videos, apps, and virtual reality experiences. While the Go has and will continue to have competition in the mobile VR ecosystem, this may well prove to be the defining factor. There is simply far more to do with the Oculus Go than the competition because of its interoperability.

So, how is the VR? Pretty. Darn. Good. Under the hood, the Oculus Go is powered by a last generation quad-core SnapDragon 821 processor, an Adreno 350 GPU, and 3GB of RAM. Put another way, Oculus has built the smartphone you would have needed for the Gear VR right into the Oculus Go. By stepping back from the cutting edge of component tech, Oculus is able to keep costs down while still delivering respectable performance that’s capable of powering anything available on the store. As games develop and the demands on tech advance, we’re likely to see future versions of the Go, similar to the updates Gear VR has received, but for $199, buying another every few years feels much more reasonable than with either of the PC-based headsets.

In the box, the Go ships with a single controller. When you first put the headset on, you’ll be asked to hold the menu button to calibrate your forward direction (useful, especially when laying down for something like Netflix). In games and apps, you’ll use this to select what you want to engage with, aim weapons, and to navigate around virtual environments. It feels great in the hand with the thumb naturally resting on the touch pad and a handy trigger which feels great in shooters.  It currently doesn’t appear that you can pair another. This does limit the possibilities somewhat, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see an update opening up that functionality in the future.

The most notable limitation on both the headset and controller is that they’re restricted to three degrees of freedom (3DOF). Since there is not external of head-mounted sensor array, it’s unable to track elements like depth. Unfortunately, that means any kind of leaning - say, for a closer look at something in a game - is out. It also means that room-scale VR is also out of the question. It’s a notable limitation of the hardware that can break your immersion, but considering the $199 price tag, it’s a forgiveable sacrifice.

The headset also includes a clever audio solution. The speakers are actually located beneath the velcro strap which helps to channel sound to your ears. The speakers aren’t loud (you wouldn’t want them to be) but provide very good positional audio. You can also use headphones, of course, which you’ll want to do if there are other people in the room.

All of that said, even though there are masses of games and experiences to try with the Oculus Go, where it shines best is as a media consumption device. Without any wires, you’re free to recline on the couch and immerse into your very own movie theater. You can load media onto the headset itself (sorry, no microSD cards in this version), but streaming is really where it shines best. It’s also here where the revised optics and higher resolution come to the forefront. 

On the Vive, the PC VR headset I currently have hooked up, consuming media feels pointless because of the lower resolution screen. It’s a step down from my TV, PC, or phone, so why bother? Here, the visuals are crisp enough where it doesn’t feel like nearly the sacrifice. I keep the Go by my bedside to watch Netflix in bed without the light bothering my wife. It’s a personal, portable cinema. What’s not to love about that?

Final Thoughts

In a word: Versatility. That’s what makes the Oculus Go special. Whether you’re a gamer or movie watcher or just someone who needs to slip away into another place in the middle of their day, the Oculus Go has an answer for you. For $199, it’s the single best entry point for VR out there and an easy recommendation for us to make.

Pros

  • Affordable entry point to VR
  • Increased resolution and lenses even outdo the Rift
  • Biggest assortment of apps and games of any mobile VR solution
  • Included controller that’s excellent for games
  • Lightweight and comfortable

Cons

  • No expandable storage
  • 3DOF can pull you out of certain experiences

The product described in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.