Oculus Go review: Proof VR really is the future of entertainment
Despite many efforts, VR has never really managed to hit the big leagues. While it’s arguable that both the PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear VR helped it reach public consciousness in a way other headsets couldn’t manage, they still imposed restrictions on adoption. People don’t want the faff of setting up cables and trackers, and limiting support to a small family of mobile devices is just as bad.
Oculus Go aims to solve this. It cuts away the cable and removes the smartphone from the equation by bundling everything into one device. Despite only offering three-degrees of freedom (DoF), compared with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStation VR’s six, Oculus Go is easily the most compelling case for VR adoption yet.
Go’s approach is nothing new, at least globally. The Chinese VR market is flooded with similar devices, but Oculus Go is firmly focused on the Western market, and its marriage of Oculus’ mobile VR interface, expertise in games publishing and dedicated VR mobile hardware mean it’s just as desirable to pick up as it is impossible to put down.
Oculus Go review: Keeping it in the family
Likely due to Xiaomi’s history of building low-cost, stylish mobile devices, Oculus Go has been designed and manufactured by the Chinese company in partnership with Oculus. The result is a wonderfully designed headset that takes cues from Rift’s silhouette but simplifies it for everyday use.
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Gone is the fabric-wrapped shell of the Rift and in its place is a matte plastic casing that evokes a feeling of slight sophistication and quality. The finish is far nicer than the chunky plastic found on the Gear VR. The built-in headphones and hard, baseball cap-like headband has been traded for a soft two-banded ski-goggle style strap with audio integrated into the headset itself. The eye surround has been upgraded with a new, more comfortable and breathable lining and there’s now an optional insert that makes it more comfortable to wear with glasses.
The remote control is just as nicely designed and takes inspiration from Rift’s Oculus Touch in a similar way. Xiaomi has hacked off the outer ring of the Touch controller and simplified the device so it has just a touchpad button and trigger, plus two small “back” and “Home” buttons for general menu navigation, but it still works very well. It’s dinky, fits comfortably in your hand and feels more robust than both Daydream View and Gear VR’s remotes.
On the top of the headset you’ll find a power button and volume rocker and, on the left side, a headphone jack and micro-USB charging slot. Everything has been designed to feel sleek and integrated, driving home the notion that there’s no effort needed when using Oculus Go.
Oculus Go review: Making the VR magic happen
When it comes to specifications, Oculus Go is actually a rather compact product for what’s tucked away inside its headset. Inside the 467g, 190 x 105 x 115mm headset is a 5.5in 2,560 x 1,440-pixel WQHD display with a refresh rate of up to 72Hz. Powering it is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 821 backed by 3GB RAM.
You’ll also find Bluetooth connectivity and dual-band Wi-Fi, although Oculus hasn’t officially disclosed the exact specifications of either. You’ll also get either 32GB or 64GB of inbuilt storage, which you can’t increase, so you’ll want to be careful about which you choose when buying.
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While this may be less powerful than the likes of a Samsung Gear VR with one of Samsung’s latest flagships, Oculus Go is a dedicated VR product, rather than a mobile phone trying to be something it’s not. The difference is most notable in the level of clarity of Oculus Go’s VR experiences.
Because Oculus Go uses new lenses compared to Rift everything is brilliantly crisp and clear when your eyes hit the lens’ generous sweet spot. Even when your vision strays to the edges, Go’s fast-switch LCD screen helps to reduce ghosting and the screen-door effect you get when individual pixels become clearly visible.
The most impressive aspect of the Oculus Go hardware, however, is its audio capabilities. Instead of integrated earphones on the headband, or simply a speaker pumping sound out into a room, Oculus Go utilises built-in directional speakers that do an incredible job of making everything sound like it’s playing in your head. For games and experiences that utilise 3D audio, it’s a fantastic experience and because your ears are left open you’re not completely closed off from the outside world.
It isn’t a perfect solution, though. These are speakers and, at around middling volume in a quiet room, most people will be able to hear what you’re doing in VR and, at its loudest, you’re looking at playing-music-on-the-bus-from-your-phone-speaker levels of obnoxious. Thankfully, Oculus Go has a headphone socket so you can play audio through your own pair of headphones instead.
It should also be said that Oculus Go’s unspecified battery capacity generally lasts around two to two-and-a-half-hours depending on what you’re doing. And because it curiously lacks USB Type-C it also takes a little while to charge back up again too. Thankfully, this is not too much of an issue as, generally, you’ll really only be using it for less than an hour at a time but, if you fancy taking one with you on a flight or train journey, you might find it won’t last.
Oculus Go review: It’s the VR experiences that count
Because Oculus Go uses Oculus’ own store and UI, the experiences it is capable of aren’t that different from that of the Samsung Gear VR. The difference is that, in the future, you’re more likely to find a slew of experiences that feel better to use on Go than elsewhere. It’s so slick, in fact, that it’s hard to believe it’s taken the company so long to create its own standalone device.
On the games and experiences front, Oculus Go taps into the same catalogue as Samsung’s Gear VR, as both devices run on the same Oculus-developed system. It’s unclear if this is an Android-based interface but, judging by how it’s almost exactly the same as Gear VR’s UI, it’s unlikely to be running on anything else. Because it has access to the same catalogue, every game a Gear VR can run can run on Oculus Go. You can even tether a gamepad to the headset via Bluetooth if you’d rather have a pad-based experience instead of using Oculus Go’s controller.
Despite the fact that Oculus Go’s games catalogue and capabilities aren’t any different from what you’ll find on Gear VR, the simplicity of Oculus Go’s controller, the drop-in/out ethos of Go’s design and its improved optics all mean it’s much more enjoyable to use. Something as immersive République VR both looks gorgeous and feels slick to play, and diving into a home-theatre-sized Netflix session while lying in bed never gets tiresome.
Other experiences like Oculus Rooms and Catan VR point to the social aspects of VR and highlight the potential benefits of more Oculus Go-like devices coming to market. Even being able to don a headset at breakfast and see VR news experiences is an entertaining glimpse into what the future could hold, despite it feeling a little jarring at the moment.
Because Oculus Go also doesn’t require anything but the headset to function – at least once you’ve set everything up via a companion app – it could also be used as a fantastic educational tool both in and out of the classroom. In a similar way to how Gear VR has been used to transport kids to the depths of the ocean, into space or back in time, Oculus Go could do the same at a far lower price.
Oculus Go review: Release date and price/verdict
And this is where Oculus Go wins: price. Xiaomi is known for its affordable devices, and Oculus Go is a prime example. No other VR device comes close to Go for sheer affordability.
At £200 for the 32GB version and £250 for the 64GB it’s a huge step down from the £120 plus phone asking price the Gear VR requires. By that measure, it’s also cheaper than Google’s Daydream View which, at £99 before you’ve found a phone that works with it, is a comparative steal next to Gear VR.
There’s no specific release date for Oculus Go as yet. With pre-orders now open, all we know is that Oculus intends to ship devices at some point this summer, and that’s frustrating.
Regardless, Oculus Go represents a step in the right direction for VR. It isn’t a product for the hardcore or professional VR user. Instead, it provides a viable entry point for the VR curious and those looking for something different to enjoy without the need to shell out an impossible amount of money to do so.