Oculus Quest Review: VR for the masses

Virtual Reality is one of those concepts that not a lot of people really “get.” The main reason for that is because it’s not very accessible to the average person; and what is accessible, up until now, has generally sucked. VR headsets fall into three categories:

  • Headsets powered by your phone. It’s basically a frame with some lenses.
  • Headsets powered by gaming computers that are capable of pushing ultra-high graphics at ultra-high resolution for an ultra-high price
  • Everything in between.

It’s that last category that we’re looking at, because that involves Google DayDream and Gear VR. Basically that’s the category that’s still driven by your phone, but have some kind of controller or other input mechanism.

But now, there is an emerging category which is nicely filling the gap between option 2 and 3, and that’s where the Oculus Quest fits in. This is a standalone VR headset, with no tethers or high-powered computer necessary. Frankly, it’s pretty great.

Hardware

Wearing the VR Headset
Yeah, you look a little like a dork, but it’s a small price to pay.

The Oculus Quest looks like a “normal” VR headset, but it doesn’t have any cables running from it. It comes with two controllers, and a long USB Type-C cable/plug for charging. The headset is adjustable with three velcro straps on both sides and on top respectively. Overall, the unit is not too heavy at 571 grams. Some younger users reported it made their neck hurt a bit, which is probably why the Oculus Quest is recommended for ages 13 and up.

The two controllers have wrist straps and run on AA batteries. Each controller has a pointer finger trigger and a middle finger trigger. Plus, there are three buttons on the top and a joystick. If that sounds like an overabundance of user controls, that’s because it is. The headset itself sports a USC Type-C port for charging and data transfer on the left side and a power button on the right. Both sides have headphone jacks so you can plug in from either side. There’s also a microphone you can use to talk to other players in multiplayer games like Drop Dead 2. Finally, you’ll find a variety of sensors including a low-resolution black and white camera we’ll discuss later. Overall, it’s fairly standard for what you’ll see on most VR headsets.

On the inside, you have a Snapdragon 835 processor – you’ll recognize that from the Google Pixel 2 or the Samsung Galaxy S8. The screen inside the unit sports a resolution of 1440 x 1600 per eye with a 72 Hz refresh rate. The headset is also equipped with two speakers that support spatial audio, so you can hear when the zombies are behind you. Speaking of zombies, the software is where the sexy starts, so let’s dive in.

Software

The Oculus store has a number of games to play.
The Oculus store has quite a few nice offerings for hours of game play.

At its core, Oculus runs on Android – it’s a very customized version of Android, but Android all the same.

The Oculus Quest supports six degrees of freedom in motion tracking. That means you can walk around, crouch down, etc. and the headset will track that movement. However, since this is a standalone unit, there is no external way to set up a boundary. So, Oculus came up with an internal way in the form of the Guardian. The Guardian allows you to define an area that is safe for play, and sets up a blue grid in that space to help you stay in bounds. As you approach the Guardian’s edge, the grid fades into view. If you push through it, the low-resolution black and white camera shows you what’s outside the grid. Overall it’s a really smart way to keep people inside their space. There’s also a stationary guardian mode which forms a tight circle around you for times when you won’t be moving around at all.

What’s really neat about the Oculus (and other VR Headsets to be fair) is when you’re wearing the headset, you can “see” the controllers so you can grab them. In some games, this manifests as a hand, on others like Beatsaber, it manifests as the hilt of your laser saber. When you’re in the main menu, you see the controllers themselves.

When you first start up the Oculus Quest, you’ll find yourself in a sort of study/observatory with furniture and books, and your main user interface controls. Controls are grouped into five categories – Navigate, People, Sharing, Notifications, and Settings. Each of those categories has several different sub commands. You’ll mainly use the Home Tab, which shows you a list of recent apps you’ve played. Other parts of the UI allow you to access your friends list, the app store, and various sharing options. It’s here where you can capture screenshots, start video capture, and even stream live to social media. And by “social media” we mean “Facebook.” Sharing options are extremely limited unfortunately.

On the plus side, this is Android, so there is flexibility. You can plug in your headset and grab screenshots and video files off the device. You can also sideload apk files and mods. We didn’t test any mods during our testing period, but the mod community around Beatsaber is particularly robust.

Navigating the interface is as simple as pointing with your controller and pulling the trigger to click. It’s very intuitive and makes getting around easy. It does not make typing very easy, which you’re reminded of the first time you have to enter credentials for anything. Speaking of credentials, it should come as no surprise that most of the ecosystem is tied to your Facebook account.

The app ecosystem is fairly well populated. You’re missing out on Steam, but the rest of the app store has various puzzle games, first person shooters, and of course Beat Saber. The games we’ve enjoyed include Drop Dead 2, Rec Room, Vader Immortal Volume 1, and more. There’s plenty to keep you busy here for some time.

Battery

Battery life on the Oculus is decent. You’ll get around 2-3 hours of playtime for about 2 hours of charge time. That’s not the best charge-to-play ratio, but two hours of VR is more than enough for one sitting. Of course, if you’re at a party, two hours seems fairly short. As previously mentioned, the controllers run off of AA batteries and last a week or two at a time, depending on usage.

Sharing the experience

What’s a VR headset if you can only invite one person to the party though, right? While it’s true that only one person can use the Oculus Quest at a given time, you can share the experience by casting to a mobile device or latest-generation chromecast. That is controlled via the Oculus app. You need to be connected to the same WiFi as the casting device, and there is a delay between the two devices – sometimes by as much as 5 seconds or so. You’ll want to keep the volume down on the device you’re casting to, otherwise, the doubled sound can become disorienting.

Using the Oculus Quest

Embrace the look. You’re having a lot more fun that the peple with this view.

Now that we’ve talked about sharing, it’s probably about time we get to talking about what it’s like to use the device. In short, it’s pretty great. Motion tracking, resolution, and a 72 Hz refresh rate all combine to give a smooth experience and among the dozen or so people who have used this device during our review period, none reported any kind of motion sickness, disorientation, or nausea.

The interface is also quite intuitive. The controllers allow you to point and select items, even switching back and forth if you’re left or right handed. The selectable objects are all large enough to click easily. In short everything works the way you expect it to work, even without the brief tutorial you get at the beginning of the experience.

Various apps use a variation of the curved screen for their interface. From Beat Saber, to Amazon, to YouTube, most interfaces worked on this principle. It works, and it makes sense, especially in this context.

Downsides

#FaceSweat. The trouble is real.

If you came here looking for all the reasons we hate the Oculus Quest, we have bad news for you. There’s very little not to love about this machine. That being said, it is not perfect. The fit around the nose in particular is a little on the loose side. You can see a bit of the floor through the gap, which can detract from the overall experience.

Controller tracking is also not perfect. There is definitely a blind spot or two where the headset has no idea where the controller is, causing you to miss out on that Beat Saber Full Combo by a single slice. Occasionally, the screen will go blank for less than one second, also causing the occasional missed Full Combo. We were never able to successfully troubleshoot that issue, and Reddit has a few other users complaining of the same problem, so beware.

Occasionally the battery covers on the controllers slid off during game play. We suspect that’s more on an individual issue pertaining to how the controllers are held during Beat Saber, but it’s also something to be aware of.

Finally, face sweat. OMG, the face sweat. We get it, the Oculus Quest needs to be padded for comfort, but when you put a mask on a fat man and have him moving and grooving to the beat for 30 minutes, that thing is downright nasty for the next person to put on. At parties, we have to enforce a strict two-song limit, lest the headset become…marinated. We’re not sure what the solution here is, maybe ship a couple of extra face pads in the box, but we’ll just say it’s pretty Nasty McNastyface.

Conclusion

This is a great headset.

Overall, this is one hell of a machine, and it can be had for $400, which is an insanely low price for the opportunities it affords you. At $400, you’ll be getting the 64GB model as opposed to the 128GB model for $500. This is another acceptable compromise, as most games for the Quest don’t take up a lot of room – maybe a gigabyte or two, which leaves you plenty of space for a big catalog.

Is VR for everyone? No, but with the Oculus Quest it is now for more people than ever before. This unit costs you less than half of a base model Note 10, and provides you with a whole new world of entertainment and gaming.

If we were to design a perfect VR headset, it would be compact, portable, and live in a standalone unit. No high-powered expensive computers required. The Oculus Quest ticks every one of those boxes. There are compromises, for sure – you won’t get the most graphically intense games on the market. But when it comes to sheer dollar value, buys don’t get much better than this. If you’re interested in dipping a toe in the water, this is a good way to do it. It’s light, compact, powerful, full featured, and it costs $400. There may be no better value in tech.

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