Oculus has been promising standalone virtual reality for some time. No wires. No separate computer.
Now that promise is a reality, with Oculus Go.
This affordable standalone VR headset is designed to be easy to use, whatever your level of VR experience. But is it any good, or just another throwaway VR device than no one will want to use beyond the initial excitement?
Simple setup and comfortable design
- Wire-free Google Android-powered headset
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 Mobile VR Platform
- Compact controller, weighs 65g
- Knit Mesh, Nylon Micro Yarn and Spandex materials for face mask and head straps
Setting up the Oculus Go is certainly straightforward: simply download the Oculus App, log into your account, get your Wi-Fi password to hand, and you’ll then be talked through the pairing process.
As with any smart device, this headset needs charging before use. Oculus has kindly supplied a Micro-USB cable to do just that, but no wall plug to match it – so you’ll need to find your own, perhaps a not-in-use phone charger.
The design of Oculus Go is rather understated. An almost battleship-like grey is the colour theme, with a tiny Oculus logo etched on the front. The power and headphone jacks sit on one side, while the power control and volume dial are easily accessible on the top.
The exterior might be simple, but this device is all about beauty on the inside. The Oculus Go is completely wire-free and sports a mix of Knit Mesh, Nylon Micro Yarn and Spandex materials, which are breathable and therefore comfortable for hours of wear and won’t cause your face to sweat uncontrollably while you game. If you’re not quite happy with the fit, there are also options for swappable face masks to purchase from the Oculus site.
Easily adjustable Velcro straps keep the headset firmly on your head. Oculus has even gone as far to think about the hairstyles of users with a split-band at the back for ponytails, man-buns and dreads.
The headset’s weighting is great, because it has no cables that extend from it (unlike with current top-end VR headsets), so it doesn’t tug on your head. We’ve found it surprisingly comfortable as a result; there’s very little of face ache or discomfort. Of course, you’ve still got a box strapped to the front of your noggin, but this is one of the lighter headsets out there, so it doesn’t nag or leave you with a constant uncomfortable pressure.
A glasses spacing system is included in the box too, which adds a little extra room under the face mask to ensure comfort whatever your visual disposition. Oculus also allows you to purchase prescription lens adapters so you don’t need to wear your glasses while you game.
- 5.5-inch display with 2560 x 1440 WQHD resolution (538ppi)
- Fast-switch LCD screen capable of 60Hz or 72Hz refresh rate (app dependent)
- Upgraded lenses, improved over Oculus Rift, optional prescription lens upgrades
Oculus Go sports some pretty impressive specs for a standalone VR headset. With upgraded lenses and a decent resolution, it has plenty of promise when it comes to graphical delivery.
It is, however, a Google Android-powered device and so still a mobile virtual reality experience. As such, it clearly won’t compete with the visuals you’d get from the high-end VR devices like the HTC Vive, Vive Pro or Oculus Rift when they’re paired with a high-end gaming machine.
But the Go is a different proposition; it’s meant to be a device that’s affordable and therefore accessible to all. And with the Qualcomm chipset under the hood we’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results. The experience varies from app to app, game to game, but generally speaking the graphics are good enough.
Oculus promises a fast response rate, with reduced ghosting and motion blur issues compared to other headsets. We found the majority of experiences to certainly be smooth and easy on the eye. However, we did notice the square edges of the screen are visible through the round lenses if you wear the headset tight on your head.
The biggest issues we’ve found mostly come from buffering and loading, while 360 videos at first appeared blocky and ugly before they began rendering properly and became watchable.
- Integrated spatial audio speakers and microphone
- Optional 3.5mm headphone jack
When it comes to sound, the Oculus Go is no slouch either. The audio output is built right into the headset itself, so there’s no need for separate headphones or an integrated headset. On low volume settings people nearby can’t easily hear sounds coming from the headset, as the audio is aimed at your ears.
This setup also offers spatial sound capabilities, meaning you can hear where audio is coming from when playing a game, positionally. That means you can tell the direction someone is talking to you from in Oculus Rooms, for example, which helps with the immersion of the virtual experience.
Another upside to this design is that you can also hear what’s going on in the real world around you, which puts you in less danger if something crazy happens like the house catches on fire while you’re playing.
If you need a more private and personal VR pleasure, then there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the side, so you can use your own headphones if you feel the need. Volume controls are easily accessible on top of the headset too.
The built-in mic allows for easy communication with friends, but it also allows you to take advantage of Oculus voice commands. From the main navigation, you can say something like “Hey Oculus, launch Netflix” and it does just that. If you’re worried about Facebook using the mic to constantly monitor your conversations to serve you better adverts, don’t worry, you can turn this off in the settings.
Oculus versus Samsung Gear VR
To compare the Oculus Go with a mobile VR setup, we called in a Samsung Gear VR for comparison. We certainly found the Oculus visuals to be the better, as there’s a noticeable improvement in the quality of the image and reduction in the motion blur.
The graphics of the Go are visibly superior, too. The Samsung Gear VR relies on a smartphone for its power and only supports a 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution, compared to the 2560 x 1440 WQHD resolution of the Oculus Go.
It’s clear that the Oculus Go is a step-up from phone-powered VR headsets, then, but it certainly won’t blow you out of the water if you’ve already dabbled with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Yes, these have wires and you’ll need a powerful PC, but are in a different dimension when it comes to performance potential.
Apps, games and VR experiences
- 1,000 cross-compatible VR experiences from Samsung Gear VR
- 100 brand new or significantly updated titles for Oculus Go
- 32GB/64GB of internal storage
Games and experiences are what make or break a VR headset. Even the very best device needs the content to back it up.
The Oculus Go is built to be compatible with all current Samsung Gear VR games and experiences right out of the box. This means there’s access to over 1,000 VR experiences and 100 brand new or significantly updated titles created specifically for the Oculus. These can be purchased and downloaded straight to the headset over Wi-Fi or installed remotely using the Oculus App on your smartphone.
The Oculus Go comes with either 32GB or 64GB of internal storage, meaning a fairly decent amount of storage for a number of games, videos and VR experiences. There are no expandable storage options with this device, but it’s easy enough to uninstall unwanted content with a few clicks.
However, we found a number of the games and experiences designed for the Gear VR crashed when we tried to play them. This could be because they’ve not been updated to run on the new device yet, but this did occur a number of times during our testing.
We also found a number of the VR experiences on the Oculus Go gave us strong nausea – which is not something we’ve experienced a lot elsewhere on the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift. This comfort issue varies from app-to-app and person-to-person, but it’s worth considering as a potential problem if you know you already suffer from motion sickness with other VR devices. However, apps and experiences are sortable according to comfort rating, which may be helpful:
- Comfortable – little or no player movement and less chance of disorienting effects
- Moderate – some player motion and effects
- Intense – not for VR beginners, these include effects which might cause motion sickness
Photo and video content
- Built-in Lithium-Ion battery capable of two hours gaming or two-and-a-half hours of video playback
- Three hours charging time via Micro-USB port
Besides gaming, the Oculus Go is designed to allow you easy access to video and photo content from a variety of source. You can pop images right onto the device, browse photos from your phone’s camera roll, immerse yourself in Facebook 360 content from your own or other people’s feeds, and more besides. Oculus thought it was important to give users the ability to show friends and family photos and videos on a big scale, immersive screen.
The problem we found is the device often pauses and goes into standby when you take it off your face (presumably to save the battery). We found this lead to other issues: if you’re trying to show someone, say, a 360 YouTube Video and that experience pauses (and even minimises) when you remove the headset, then you’ll need to talk the wearer through how to use the device to load the content again. We’d love the ability to remotely control what the wearer sees, so you could easily show your Nan your holiday snaps without having to talk her through how to use the VR interface and controller.
The headset also allows you to “explore” content according to your interests – travel, sports, educational, news. There’s the promise of live VR broadcasts, sports events and content from a wealth of producers including CNN, New York Times, Fox Sports and Al Jazeera Contrast VR. There’s also the Oculus TV app which combines a range of TV apps (mostly optimised for the US at the moment) including CBS, Red Bull TV, Facebook video. The headset also supports Netflix, Showtime and Hulu, as well as giving the ability to purchase films and content directly to view in your own personal theatre.
We particularly enjoyed the Netflix app, which puts you in a virtual living room in front of a big screen. Pressing play automatically dims the lights and sets the mood, leaving you free to enjoy big screen thrills on a small and comfortable headset. The Oculus Go’s built-in Lithium-Ion battery supports around two and half hours use, so plenty of time to watch a film or binge a few episodes of your favourite show.
Tracking abilities and included controller
- Three degrees of freedom head tracking
The Oculus Go uses three-degrees of freedom tracking. This means it can follow the movement of your head and the tilt or click of the controller, but you cannot move around in the VR world by moving your body through the real world.
The controller is basically pinned to your hip and you cannot see your hands or body in the VR universe. This takes away, somewhat, from the immersion. But it does also make the Oculus Go accessible to everyone.
It also means the headset is free to be used anywhere – as there’s no need for tracking base stations or frustrating cables tied to gaming computers.
The controller is also well designed and easy to use. It’s tiny, fits neatly into the palm of the hand, and features several controls – including a trigger, home and back button, swipe and click trackpad. One of the buttons works to easily reset the position of the controller if it gets out of sync for any reason.
The Oculus Go is a well-crafted virtual reality headset. It doesn’t need a smartphone or gaming PC to run, so it’s incredibly affordable and open to anyone and everyone. The fact it’s wireless makes it a joy to use, while the focus on design comfort make it ideal for VR newbie and experienced gamers alike.
Sure, the Go doesn’t stand up against high-end VR devices like the HTC Vive, Vive Pro or Oculus Rift, but then it’s not meant to (these solutions require a gaming PC and wire tether, so are expensive). Then there’s the nausea and so-so battery life issues, which could be improved upon.
Overall, the Oculus Go is a great device for watching content, playing games or connecting with friends. It’s better than a Samsung Gear VR and its asking price makes the Oculus Go the obvious standalone VR headset to buy.
Alternatives to consider
Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream
The Lenovo Mirage Solo is another standalone VR headset. This one runs on the Google Daydream OS platform but, like the Oculus Go, doesn’t require a phone to run. It boasts a similar resolution and specs but offers six degrees of freedom for greater in-game control (which might reduce the nausea sensation, we suspect).
Read the full article: Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream initial review
Google Daydream View
Mobile VR is the most affordable way to experience virtual reality if you already have the right phone. The Google Daydream View headset works with Daydream-ready Android devices and we found that it delivers compelling virtual experiences.
Read the full article: Google Daydream View (2017) review
It’s a more expensive device, it’s wired and requires a good gaming machine to run, but the Oculus Rift is one of the very best VR headsets out there. If you want to seriously get into virtual reality, this is the one for you… just not your bank balance.
Read the full article: Oculus Rift review