In a way, the Oculus Go is the VR headset we've been asking for since the dawn of the medium. This is virtual reality that doesn't require an expensive PC to run, nor does it need a smartphone. You take it out of the box, put it on your head and – just like that – you're in virtual reality. It's the VR we were promised, but it's not without limits.
It also gets around one of VR's other speed bumps: the price. The Oculus Go starts at $199, half the cost of the fully-loaded Oculus Rift. That's still more expensive than buying a plastic Daydream or Samsung Gear VR shell for your phone, but it streamlines the virtual reality experience significantly.
There are, of course, some compromises to get to the lower price point, which we'll get to. But out of the gate it's important to know this isn't as powerful or immersive as the Oculus Rift. This is a headset aimed at a different audience: it's VR for everyone, not just the enthusiasts. The question is, will it bring in the masses like Facebook and Oculus hope?
Oculus Go: Getting set up
Did someone say no wires? Yes, the Oculus Go, unlike the more expensive Rift, ditches all the cables – aside from the one required to charge up the headset, of course. Even the accompanying controller is powered by a solitary AA battery.
It means getting the Go up and running is a much faster process, taking no more than 10-15 minutes to complete the initial setup. Once you've got the Oculus Go companion app downloaded to your iPhone or Android smartphone you can log in with your Facebook account (surprise, surprise) or an Oculus account. Then you'll be walked through what needs to happen next. That first involves plugging in the Oculus Go using a pretty standard micro USB charging cable. You'll also need to ensure you have Location Access activated on your phone to be able to discover the headset, which will then connect pretty much instantly. Then you'll need to connect Go to Wi-Fi to pair the app and the hardware.
After you've dropped the battery into the controller and picked which hand you're going to use, you're basically ready to begin. You can also add your payment method at this point to make it easier to purchase VR apps and games from the Oculus store. But you can skip this part of the process and come back to it later if you prefer. The last thing you'll need to negotiate is a short explainer that reveals that the Go is designed for ages 13+ and reminding you to be aware of your surroundings when it's VR playtime.
It's as stress-free a setup as you could possibly want and Oculus does a really good job of walking you through each step.
Oculus Go: Design and build
We won't dwell too much on the Oculus Go's design because, well, it's simple and we like it. Most importantly, it's comfortable. It weighs an A-OK-by-us 468g which, sure, is essentially the same as the Rift's 470g, but it hasn't ever felt like it's weighing our face down as some VR headsets do.
The headset is built by Chinese tech giant Xiaomi – hence the Mi logo on the left side – and while the grey plastic isn't exactly a looker, it's not butt ugly either. It's functional too, with ports for the microUSB charging cable and headphone jack on the left at the front and only a power button, LED light and volume +/- button up top. We did find ourselves accidentally hitting that power button when grabbing the headset to pick it up or put it down, which is annoying, but as the Go will auto-power down when not in use, it's no big deal.
The knit mesh face plate feels nice and snug, though it did need tucking back in a few times during use and there are 'nylon micro yarn' straps around and over your head that do the job just fine. There's also a rubbery eyeglass spacer that you can insert if you wear glasses – personally though I prefer to wear contact lenses when in VR. If you don't want to wear contacts or insert your spacer, there are prescription lenses available from VirtuClear.
Here's the thing, though. Here's. The. Thing. Oculus has gone and done a Daydream View by making the nose gap too big. Two out of three Wareable team members have found this to be the case – again, it's a personal preference thing that depends on your face shape and nose size. But the result is that for some people, way too much light is being let in and you can see what's directly below you.
You might find you like being able to see the controller and when you're messing about, choosing an app, it is actually handy. But not when you're in a 360 experience or a game. This was a real dealbreaker with the Daydream View and sadly it's happened again – let us know in the comments how you feel about this though because, hey, you might not care.
Oculus Go: In use
As the word standalone suggets, there's no phone to slide in here – all the display tech is built right into the headset and this really doesn't get old. It is, in fact, very cool and so much less of an ordeal. And when it comes to the VR visuals, we've got no complaints considering the price and beginner-friendly package it comes in.
The 5.5-inch, 2560 x 1440 display is 538ppi, which matches the high-end smartphones that mobile VR headset makers have been persuading us to stick into their devices for the past few years. The Oculus Go actually has a slightly larger field of view than the latest Samsung Gear VR, thanks to the Fresnel lenses used here, and developers can choose between 60Hz and 72Hz refresh rates so some apps and games look even smoother on the fast-switch LCD screen.
Which is all to say the Go looks pretty crisp and punchy for its category and (again) that price is a winner. Is it enough of an upgrade to recommend the Go over a (half the price) Gear VR for Samsung phone owners? No, we'd still say probably not. But this headset works with all iOS and Android phones so it's a moot point for most people. One small niggle – keep the bundled cleaning cloth handy as we did find some fogging on the lenses, a problem we've also had with other headsets. It depends on the temperature in the room and should go away as you settle in with it.
One really neat trick that's trickled down from the Rift is spatial audio, which you can find working really well in apps like Felix and Paul Studios' (very short) Jurassic World experience. It's very effective in adding to the immersion of even lower quality videos and experiences, as well as reminding you to turn 360 degrees and look at what's behind you. It's also a solid reason to ditch whatever cheap mobile headset you've been making do with.
There are built-in speakers on the side strap panels, which are fine for quick fixes but obviously we'd recommend sticking a pair of decent headphones into the headphone jack in the side. No built-in 'phones like you'll find on the Oculus Rift, but this is one wire we really don't mind adding.
Another nice touch is the fixed foveated rendering – this isn't so much a feature for users to look out for, as you won't notice it, but the Oculus Go can lower the quality of the picture in your peripheral vision to get more from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 running the show. This performed just so and we had no real hiccups during gameplay – just the occasional skewed homescreen which could be quickly recalibrated.
Oculus Go: Tracking and controller
The main way in which the Oculus Go feels like a stop gap is when it comes to tracking. Both the headset and the single controller – you can also hook up a gamepad – offer 3DoF tracking, which means three degrees of freedom rather than six. That means you can move and rotate your head and move the controller up and down, side to side but you don't get positional tracking as with the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and HTC Vive. No moving around, no leaning, ducking or diving. In other words, exactly what you want to do when you've got an unrestricted, wireless headset after having been tangled up in wires for so long. It's the same with the controller – you don't get any depth.
Now, if you've never used one of the high-end headsets you might not miss it. But we do. Even more so because we know it's coming to (more expensive) standalone VR, just not this headset. Oculus' own Santa Cruz in fact – think of that as the Rift 2 – will have the full tracking. But this isn't the Rift 2 and it's $200.
So let's look at it for what's it offering, not what we want in an ideal world. The 3DoF tracking is nice and responsive when it comes to head tracking, as you'd expect, but it does very much depend on what content you're in – we didn't get on well using the controller in Cloudlands Minigolf VR, for instance, it just felt a bit off.
The controller itself is light and fits neatly in the hand – you can tell the app whether you're left or right handed – with a touchpad, trigger and two buttons, back and Oculus Home, which you can also use to re-orient the screen. Both inside and outside of games, it's super quick and easy to point and click the trigger even for things as dull as entering Wi-Fi passwords in VR (though the pointer visual occasionally does disappear). It's powered by a single AA battery and has a small LED light at the top which blinks when you pair it.
One quick last word on the controller – it's pretty much essential for using the Oculus Go. At one point we didn't have our phone to hand and we kept getting a 'We can't connect to your controller – check battery, move it closer, go to Oculus support' message floating in our vision. When that happens you can do things like power off the headset with a combination of gaze tracking and the volume up/down button on top, but it doesn't work as well as gaze and the single side button on the Samsung Gear VR – when we got to 'View all' in Settings then tried to click on the Controller icon with the volume, it went back to controlling volume. Unhelpful. Any controller issues, just unpair and repair in the Settings section of the Oculus app.
Oculus Go: Apps and games
The Oculus homescreen, library and all-round interface is still our favourite. It's slick, easy to navigate and is just really thoughtful, right down to the easy to see comfort levels on all of the titles. It's also super quick to get to what you want to jump into with the controller – you don't want to spend any longer than you have to hanging out in the menu screens.
As long as you're not expecting to find PC-level VR games on here, you'll love the Oculus store. Without the power of a PC this can't power something like Lone Echo or Robo Recall, at least not without concessions. With over 1,000 apps, games and videos to choose from, though, Facebook has given the already impressive selection a boost to co-ordinate with the release of the Go and there's lots more on the horizon that it's currently hyping.
Compared to Google's Daydream and mobile Viveport, this is probably still the most comprehensive overall, and also the most ambitious with projects like Oculus TV – a hangout TV environment with apps like Netflix and Hulu – and Oculus Venues – for live events and concerts – 'coming soon'. Oculus Rooms, its social app, has had a revamp but it's notable that Facebook Spaces doesn't appear here, an odd omission. Sharing to Facebook features quite prominently – we haven't been able to try these out yet but we will.
That said, we wonder if Vive will perhaps push more towards wooing gamers to standalone VR; Oculus has taken a much broader approach, perhaps content to keep gamers on Rift for the time being while the more sophisticated standalone headset Santa Cruz is developed.
The Oculus Go is available in 32GB and 64GB versions, with the latter costing slightly more at $249 and no word on anything bigger. That's plenty considering that you won't be storing anything else on there, unlike smartphones.
Oculus Go: Battery life
Get used to charging this thing. The Oculus Go's official battery life is 1.5 to two hours of gaming and two to 2.5 hours of watching VR and 360 degree videos and we found that to be about right in our testing. Now for a single user, this won't be a problem – you shouldn't be using VR more than that in a day anyway, right?
The problem comes when you're passing and playing between a few people, as Oculus suggests against using it while charging. And the fact that the built-in lithium ion battery takes hours – at least three – to charge back to full from dead via microUSB. The LED light on the top of the headset will go orange when charging and green when charged to full. If you want to check the battery, you can see it at the top right of the menu bar in the virtual homescreen, or in Settings in the Oculus mobile app.
It seems mean to moan about the Go's battery life, especially as the alternatives in either direction involve rinsing your smartphone's battery or dealing with a lot of wires, but with regular use, the time-in-use to time-charging ratio can be a pain nonetheless.
Oculus Go vs the rivals
The Oculus Go sits between the Gear VRs, Daydream Views and mobile headsets on the low end and the upcoming Lenovo Mirage Solo and HTC Vive Focus at the higher – two higher-end standalones that we're expecting to test very soon. But it also sits on its own. It's looking likely that this will become our go-to recommendation for anyone looking for an easy-to-use, starter VR headset. In other words, anyone who's not already bought into VR which – let's remember – is still most of the world.
Even when the Mirage Solo (which could do big things for Daydream) and Vive Focus land, they are both at least double the price of the Oculus Go. Prices will come down, though, and we're looking forward to really comparing these three head to head.
The Focus has, until recently, been a China-only headset but will start rolling out to other territories in 2018. We've spent some time with the Focus and what strikes us immediately using the Go is that the hardware and the software feel just a bit more polished than HTC's setup, even if the tracking isn't as good. The materials used on the Go give it a more high grade feel than the Focus as well.
While HTC's headset does also feature the same display as the Vive Pro, the Go still offers a crisp enough resolution in comparison to keep things immersive. What the Go does lack in any form is room scale tracking, which the Focus does have and it works really well. Again, it's a shame Oculus' headset doesn't let you move in that VR space, but we can understand why the compromise was made.