Oculus Go full review
As the years go by, technology improves, and this is also true in the case of virtual reality. While five years ago we couldn’t imagine piloting a spaceship in Elite: Dangerous or meeting up with friends in a virtual world, it’s now becoming standard practice. The next step is to improve the VR headsets themselves by shedding the cables and the need for a PC – and Oculus has taken the first step in that journey.
The Oculus Go was one of the first all-in-one VR headsets on the market when it first appeared in 2018, offering a great virtual reality experience without the need for a smartphone or high-end PC. It could be the all-in-one VR headset that brings virtual reality to the masses - here's our review.
Pricing and availability
The Oculus Go is available to order from the Oculus website following a May 2018 release. What’s more exciting than the release is the price tag; it was £199/$199 at release, but it was dropped to only £139/$149 in January 2020, making it the cheapest standalone VR headset on the market. It may seem a little steep to the uninitiated, but when you consider the fact that you need a £700+ PC to run the Oculus Rift S on top of the initial price, the Oculus Go seems like the more attractive option.
Has Oculus compromised the VR experience to cut the price of the headset? Carry on reading to find out.
How well designed is the Oculus Go?
The headline feature of the Oculus Go is that it’s one of the first in an entirely new category of VR devices; an all-in-one VR headset. Rather than requiring a high-end PC like the Oculus Rift, or a Samsung smartphone like with Gear VR, the Oculus Go has all the tech it needs to operate built-in. You’ll need an iPhone or Android to set the device up initially, but from there, everything from tracking to graphics processing is handled by the headset itself.
This instantly makes VR more accessible to the masses: you no longer need a high-end PC or the latest smartphone to access the world of virtual reality. You simply connect the headset to Wi-Fi and put it on, and you’re transported to wherever you want to be. It makes sharing the experience with friends and family much easier as it requires no setup of tracking systems, and we haven’t even mentioned the highlight of an all-in-one system; no cables.
One of the biggest complaints with every high-end VR headset on the market? Cables. The cables run from the headset to the PC, the brains of the operation. It can be restrictive, you can get tangled up and it makes you constantly aware that you’re in a virtual world. But with the Oculus Go, it’s all built into the headset and thus, no need for cables. It gives you the freedom to turn 360-degrees without worrying about tripping over cables, and makes sharing the headset much easier too.
With all that tech built into the headset, it’s bound to be bulky and heavy, right? Wrong. Measuring in at 190mm x 105mm x 115mm and weighing a lightweight 468g, the Oculus Go is a feat of design and engineering. It doesn’t feel any heavier on the face than any other VR headset on the market – in fact, thanks to some improvements in the design of the headset, it’s one of the most comfortable VR headsets we’ve used.
That’s mainly due to a more ergonomically shaped and all-around softer facial surround. This decreases the pressure usually felt below the eyes when wearing VR headsets, and is soft-to-touch so it doesn’t cause any kind of skin irritation. This is enhanced by the introduction of more breathable materials that help you stay cool while wearing the headset, and a redesigned strap system too.
The strap system has been redesigned to accommodate more hairstyles and head shapes; you can adjust the top strap or completely remove it if necessary, while the introduction of a split rear strap provides a more comfortable experience for those with a ponytail. All this combined provides a better, more comfortable fit and a generally more enjoyable VR experience than those we’ve experienced in the past.
Oh, and don’t worry glasses-wearers, the Oculus Go comes with a Glasses Spacer in the box. Simply remove the facial interface, pop the spacer in and you’ll be able to comfortably wear your glasses in the virtual world. There will also be the option to buy prescription lenses in future, though this will limit the ability to share the headset with friends and family.
What technology does it feature?
Now you know a bit more about the Oculus Go headset, it’s time to delve a little deeper into the tech on offer and how it performs.
Let’s first discuss the tracking system used in the Oculus Go, as there is bound to be some confusion about the level of tracking on offer. The Oculus Go offers 3-degrees-of-freedom head tracking, compared to 6DoF on offer from high-end headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. This means that the Oculus Go offers an orientation-only system; you can look around in VR, but you can’t walk around, kneel down or reach out and interact with objects (much like what’s on offer by smartphone-powered VR headsets).
The main reason for this is because 6DoF tracking requires the use of tracking systems – a feature that would harm the simplicity of Oculus Go. And besides, 3DoF tracking is perfect for this kind of VR experience; if you want a hardcore VR gaming experience where you’re ducking and diving, you’re looking at the wrong Oculus product. Instead, the Go focuses on entertainment, social and (light) gaming, for which full-scale tracking is rarely required.
Though it should be expected, it’s worth noting that we’re yet to experience a single issue with tracking; the headset tracks our head movements perfectly with no noticeable lag. It does sometimes get the orientation slightly wrong, but that’s fixed by holding the Oculus button on the provided remote. Simple!
One area where the Oculus Go trumps even the £399 Oculus Rift is the display. Inside the headset, you’ll find a 5.5in 5260 x 1440 fast-switch LCD display. That’s better than the resolution of the Oculus Rift (2160 x 1200), and a change in display tech too. The OLED display of the Oculus Rift is great, but like the HTC Vive and PSVR, it suffers from SDE (Screen Door Effect). For those unaware, it creates an effect similar to what you’d see looking at the virtual world through a screen door, and it can become quite annoying.
The Oculus Go, on the other hand, features a fast-switch LCD display. This negates SDE to a level where it’s barely noticeable, even when you’re actively looking for it. That, combined with the higher resolution provide bright, crisp visuals with almost no trace of SDE.
It’s not the best in all areas though; while the Rift, Vive and PSVR offer a 90Hz refresh rate, the Oculus Go offers either 60- or 72Hz, depending on the app. But while there’s a technical difference between the displays, in reality, the difference isn’t noticeable. The display is buttery smooth, and has yet to cause any motion sickness (though that may vary from person to person).
So, what’s powering the all-in-one VR headset? The Oculus Go features a made-for-VR Snapdragon 821 chipset that handles all the tracking, powers the display and generally provides the virtual magic. Though it’s not Qualcomm’s most powerful chipset (the 835), it was designed with VR in mind and has been optimised to provide a great all-around VR experience.
It’s more than enough to power the catalogue of apps and games available on the Oculus Store, though we must admit that loading times on some of the more graphically demanding games can be lengthy (15+ seconds). We’ve also experienced periods of lag, not with the tracking or the headset, but simply waiting for the Oculus Home interface to catch up with what we’ve selected. It’s not a deal-breaker though, as it usually loads within a few seconds.
Generally, though, the Snapdragon 821 VR Platform does a great job at providing an immersive virtual reality experience, whether you’re relaxing in a virtual cabin in the mountains watching Netflix or shooting Zombies in Death Horizon.
Another area where Oculus has shown innovation is in the audio department; the Oculus Go features integrated spatial audio. This means that you’ll be able to hear everything in VR without the need to wear headphones – even the 3D audio effects are noticeable. But how is this possible? The speaker features speakers on either side of the headset that produces the audio, which then reverberates down each arm and into your ears. It’s an impressive feat, and surprisingly doesn’t compromise the quality of the audio produced.
It provides a dual effect; you can hear what’s happening around you in the real world, along with the world of VR. It’s great for more social-led VR experiences, as you’re free to interact with those around you while you’re using the headset. The volume is controlled by buttons on the top of the headset, and while it’s not audible to those near you at low volumes, you can easily hear it at high volumes. But, for situations where silence is required, you can plug in a pair of headphones via the 3.5mm headphone jack.
Oh, and you’ll also find an integrated microphone to chat to friends in Oculus Rooms or apps like vTime. It’s clear enough for most things, though if you’re livestreaming to Facebook (another supported feature) or recording gameplay with audio, you may want to use a pair of headphones with an integrated mic.
You interact with the virtual world in Oculus Go using a handheld controller, similar in design to that used with Gear VR.
It’s more ergonomically shaped though, and boasts Oculus branding throughout. You’ll find a touch-sensitive trackpad, a back button, a ‘Home’ button and a single trigger on the rear. Unlike the headset itself, the controller is powered by a single AA battery, and while that may be an issue for some, the controller is fairly power-efficient.
Much like the VR headset, the controller offers 3DoF meaning that you can rotate it, but it won’t sense depth or motion. But, as all games and apps on the Oculus Store have been designed with this in mind, you don’t really feel like you’re missing out on anything. You’re still able to easily interact with the virtual world around you, don’t expect to be able to reach out and touch things like with high-end headsets.
What’s it like to use?
Finally, we discuss what it’s like using the Oculus Go and what kind of VR experiences are on offer.
When putting the headset on, you’ll first be greeted by a message prompting you to hold the Oculus button on the controller to correctly orient yourself before delving into the virtual world. Once completed, you’ll be taken to Oculus home, a customisable virtual area where you can browse from the library of apps and games available on the Oculus Store, take screenshots, initiate livestreams and just about anything else you need to do on the Oculus Go – it’s the system hub.
A laser pointer extends from your virtual controller, allowing you to interact with the toolbar at the bottom of the display, and the on-screen elements. You can browse the Store (each app has a custom 360-degree background, a very nice touch) and install apps and games, edit system settings (volume, brightness, etc) and customise the virtual avatar linked to your account.
Once you’ve installed apps and games, it’s as simple as selecting them with your controller to open them. You can return to Oculus Home at any time by pressing the Oculus button on the controller.
Apps and entertainment
The focus for Oculus with the Go is entertainment and social – if you’re looking for a gaming-focused headset, take a look at the £399 Oculus Rift – and the selection of apps on offer reflects that. The Oculus Store boasts over 1,000 apps and games, with over 100 already compatible with the Oculus Go. These range from the likes of Netflix that allows you to watch your favourite shows in a virtual cabin in the mountains, to social apps like Oculus Home and vTime, and even 360-degree documentaries like those provided by Within.
It extends beyond the apps developed by third-party developers, though. Oculus is planning on launching Oculus Venues and Oculus TV. The former allows you to watch live concerts, sports events, stand-up comedy and other events with your friends with the likes of Gotham Comedy Club, Major League Baseball games regularly showcased in VR. The latter is Oculus’ answer to social viewing; it’s a 3D environment where you can watch your favourite shows from a number of providers (Netflix, Hulu, etc) with your friends.
With a focus on entertainment on social, what’s it like playing games on the Oculus Go? Of course, it’s nothing like the Oculus Rift experience – you won’t find the high-end textures found on the likes of Elite: Dangerous and Robo Recall or the ability to reach out and interact with the environment like what’s provided with Oculus Touch, but for the money, it’s a pretty decent experience.
Despite only offering 3DoF, there is still a surprisingly diverse game library on offer. You’ve got arcade zombie shooters like Dead Horizon, exploration games like Daedalus and engaging turn-based strategy games like Augmented Empire that provide hours of content. Many of the games on offer are much cheaper than those available for the Rift, too!
So, while the Go can’t compete with the Rift in terms of gaming capabilities, a casual gamer won’t be disappointed at the games available or the overall experience.
The Oculus Go features a built-in rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery that’ll provide around two hours of use before it requires a charge, though that may vary slightly depending on what you’re doing in VR – games drain more battery than video apps, and installing apps takes up a bit of battery power too. When at 0 percent charge, the Oculus Go takes around three hours to fully recharge.
The Oculus Go has the potential to really show the masses the potential of VR. While smartphone-powered VR has always been the go-to, the Oculus Go provides a much better overall experience in a nice, simple package that requires no smartphone or PC to work. And despite all the tech being crammed into the headset, it’s still sleek, lightweight and comfortable to wear over long periods. The display is impressive too, boasting a fast-switch LCD display that almost completely removes SDE, an issue prevalent even in high-end VR headsets.
All that for under £140/$150? This really could be Oculus’ star product.
Oculus Go: Specs
- All-in-one VR headset
- 190mm x 105mm x 115mm
- 32- or 64GB storage
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 VR Platform
- Integrated spatial audio
- Redesigned facial surround
- 5.5in 5260 x 1440 fast-switch LCD display, 60- or 72Hz refresh rate