We've been hearing a lot about the Oculus Go, the headset being called a mix between the Gear VR and the Oculus Rift. What is it really capable of? Is the experience as interesting as it promises to be? We were able to spend some quality time with the headset and answer these questions for you in our final review.
- Standalone headset (no smartphone or wires needed)
- Interesting price/quality ratio
- Charging time is longer than usage time
- Can cause nausea (a common VR problem)
Who is this headset made for?
Mark Zuckerberg recently explained the place of virtual reality in his strategy: He believes that every 10-15 years, a major event in technology occurs. DOS, user interfaces, web browsers, mobile phones, applications... In other words, VR is a market that will grow and become huge. For the boss at Facebook, it's important to "build up a lot of different muscles in order to be competitive" and so he decided to go in for the hardware, which is quite unlike the other projects undertaken at Facebook.
This headset is not really aimed at VR professionals or aficionados, who will undoubtedly prefer more powerful (but also more expensive) solutions such as the HTC Vive. The Oculus Go is available via oculus.com, and in the summer, it will arrive on store shelves. With a starting price of $199 for the 32 GB model (there is also a $249 64 GB model), we can not really say that it will attract the merely curious, who may be too afraid to lay down that much cash. So, who is the target customer for this device? At first thought, it's the users of the Gear VR, because they are not only familiar with the Oculus store (we will come back to that later) but also because the Go is a standalone device: unlike the Samsung headset, you don't need a smartphone to use it. This independence is also a selling point for interested users who don't have powerful smartphones. In any case, before buying a VR headset, there's plenty to consider.
A successful collaboration for a successful device?
If you were keeping up with CES 2018, then you must have seen Facebook announce its cooperation with Xiaomi for the production of this headset. The collaboration can be explained very easily: the Oculus Go won't just be sold in the West, it will also be sold in China as...the Xiaomi Mi VR! One partnership, two markets, everyone wins. The only difference between the two models will be the color: the Mi is white and the Oculus Go is grey.
The headset's dimensions are 190 mm x 105 mm x 115 mm, which is overall rather similar to the dimensions of the Gear VR. It weighs 467 grams. In general, the design of the headset is not particularly innovative (how could it be, anyway?): two lenses, a screen (instead of a smartphone), an elastic strap fixed on 3 axes and an abundance of plastic. The overall look is successful, the material on the front (behind the screen) is colder and seems to be metal, but it may be simply plastic made to look like aluminum that's cold to the touch.
On the top of the unit there's the power button in the middle and the volume buttons on the left. Generally you will not have to use these often, because once the volume is set you should no longer have to adjust it, but if you find the built-in speaker annoying, you can connect headphones through the jack on the side. Next charging port, which is unfortunately micro-B USB 2.0. Anyway, an LED light shows the headset's status via color code: battery charged, battery nearly empty, screen on, connected to the companion app, etc...
You can adjust the elastic strap so that the device sits just the way you want it. It's pleasant enough to wear (at least for short periods), but there's a small gap around the nose which lets light leak in. This doesn't interfere with operation, but may annoy users who are accustomed to more.
Of course, there's also a controller (called a joystick in VR jargon) that has two buttons on the front, easily accessible with your thumb, and a trigger that you use with your index finger. The joystick uses a standard battery (provided) instead of the same kind the headset itself uses.
A promising display
The screen is LCD and has QHD (1440 x 2560 pixels) resolution, which gives you 538 ppi. A normal user without too many expectations can be satisfied with Full-HD definition on mobile, but for VR, it is essential to have a high definition, so QHD is the best alternative. That's because 4K, in addition to being expensive, drains the battery quickly, which would be a big problem for VR. The refresh rate is 60 Hz to 72 Hz, depending on usage since developers can choose the frequency for their apps.
All of this obviously affects the battery which, according to the manufacturer, should hold up for a little more than 2 hours for a gaming session and 2 and a half hours when viewing multimedia content. As explained above, the charging is done with a Type B cable (supplied) and takes about 3 hours, so you'll spend more time charging the device than playing, but VR sessions tend not to be too long anyway. The joystick works with a AA battery (also included in the box).
A good but not perfect experience
Once you put the headset on your head, you just have to let yourself be carried away by a particularly simple and intuitive tutorial in which you configure the device for Wi-Fi. Choose your avatar and personalize it (the choices are limited but still funny), then customize your virtual home by choosing an environment. There is something for everyone. Personally, I opted for the canyons because it is really beautiful.
You can then go to the store to search for apps and games, or open them in the library. The games are installed very easily, just download them (you just have to click on the button using the joystick, the rest is automatic). It would be difficult to make simpler. Apps are easy and quick to launch, in general, but the installation can sometimes be a bit lengthy. They are all optimized to be intuitive and, visually, the ones I tried were successful in every way. Both games and apps (especially those with educational value, like National Geographic).
The headset is meant to be suitable for people wearing glasses, but it is better if the glasses aren't too big because otherwise the experience is not very pleasant. The headset lacks a little clarity, as the center is in focus but the edges show a slight distortion, which turns out to be a little awkward when looking outside the center.
Apps and games should be used in moderation
You'll find the experience quite similar to that of the Gear VR, both visually (provided you used a very high quality smartphone, of course) and with the app catalog. There are apps of all kinds, from Netflix to games for both young and old. This is undoubtedly a great strength of the device, or rather the service, since everyone is likely to find apps they like.
In practice, after half an hour I had to stop because I began to feel nauseous, which is a common problem in VR (it's a problem I had not met on the HTC Vive, but that's a headset of a completely different caliber). If you're not sure whether or not you can handle the potential of nausea, check out the Roller coaster. I had to remove the helmet in less than 10 seconds, so it makes for a good nausea test.
The apps are all interesting in their own way. Whether you are in the water near a shark or you are fighting in space aboard a spaceship, the immersiveness is on the whole successful and you find yourself quickly transported. The sound is rather pleasant and fortunately adjustable directly from the headset (combat sessions can quickly become too noisy). Netflix allows you to dive onto a sofa in front of a large TV. Yes, you read correctly, your screen will take you into a virtual environment where you look at another screen.
This headset represents a good step forward from what we know by using VR with smartphones. Its biggest asset is without a doubt its $199 cost. At this price, it is possible to have a better experience than with the Gear VR, and without a fancy smartphone (although some kind of smartphone is necessary for the setup process).
The app and game catalog is very well stocked and varied. The games are fun and good quality. It's hard to ask for more at this price point. Nausea is a big issue for many users, but that's a problem with VR in general rather than just this device in particular.
In short, this headset will appear to its target market and can even hope to attract new users, but it will take some time to really start bringing in the crowds.