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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Immersive, robust VR experience
Doesn't require additional hardware
Games look great and run well
Touch controllers unlock frenetic fun
Strong lineup of launch games
Price is right for this experience
Limited headset battery life
Controller battery covers come loose
The Oculus Quest is the standalone, affordable VR headset that we've been waiting for.
With modern virtual reality headsets, there hasn't been a great middle ground between the truly premium, high-end hardware and the much simpler, entry-level stuff. The dream has always been a standalone VR headset that doesn't require another device, has a fair amount of power onboard, and still delivers compelling gaming experiences.
Well, it's finally here, and it's called the Oculus Quest. It costs the same as the PC-based Rift headset, but you don't need anything else: the processor and screen are built in, and it comes with dazzlingly precise motion controllers, letting you immediately tap into games wherever you are—no cables required.
The Oculus Quest follows the design philosophy of the original Oculus Rift and the lower-end Oculus Go, with a big visor that's strapped in front of your eyes. Even after fiddling around with the straps, we still found it a little bit heavy on our face—but that's been true with every VR headset we've used, and others have been worse.
Even with the weight sensation, the headset stays on well during usage, which is critical as you may be moving around a lot. It has a fabric liner on the exterior of the headset and a spongy foam cushion that presses against your face, making the overall fit is quite comfortable. We love how the strap can adjust about 45 degrees up making it easier to put on and take off, which is especially crucial for glasses-wearers to avoid smudging their lenses or smashing them against their eyes.
The one big difference between the Quest and the earlier Oculus headsets is the addition of four tiny cameras on the visor. These provide "inside-out" tracking, which means the headset sees the world around you and tracks the Touch motion controllers in view. It saves the hassle of buying and setting up external tracking devices, as with the original Rift, while the Oculus Go is a much more simplistic device without any kind of optical tracking. In short, it's how the Quest provides an active, robust VR experience with six degrees of freedom tracking, all without additional peripherals.
The Touch controllers themselves are definitely unlike anything we've seen with other consoles and VR headsets (aside from the Rift), at least as far as design goes. Each one has two play buttons and an analog stick on the face, as well as a trigger button and a grip button, and a large plastic ring around the top. They're tracked by the headset's cameras, allowing for fluid and realistic movement, while the shoulder and grip buttons, in particular, are useful for creating a sense of immersion—such as clutching the grip button to pick up a pistol or lightsaber.
There's one small annoyance that can briefly pull you out of a game, however; the magnetic battery cover will sometimes come a bit loose if you're gripping the controller too tightly.
Getting up and running with the Oculus Quest isn't too difficult. You'll want to plug in the Quest headset into a wall outlet using the provided USB-C cord, to ensure that you get as much of a charge on it as possible before getting into the games. Each Oculus Touch controller uses an included AAA battery, which easily slots into each grip.
You'll need an iPhone or Android smartphone just for initial setup using the Oculus app. This lets you connect the headset to Wi-Fi, log into an Oculus account, pair the controllers, and easily browse through games and apps to download. You'll also be able to purchase games via the headset itself, but the app is a very handy alternative that lets you queue up downloads and new content before strapping on the headset.
The Quest will let you know when you're getting too close to a wall, lamp, or another unseen hazard while playing. It's like a virtual barrier in your very real world.
Once that's all set up, it's time to put the headset on and adjust it to best fit your head. The Oculus Quest has three Velcro straps to play with: on the right, left, and top. Between the three, you'll get a fit that feels snug and secure so that the headset stays in place during usage, and also minimizes the sensation of it being heavy on your face. If you plan to wear glasses while playing, then you'll also want to insert the included glasses spacer, which adds a couple of extra millimeters of room around your eyes. Once you have a comfortable fit all around, slide the lens spacing dial on the bottom of the headset to find the clearest view at the screen.
After all of that is done, there's one more step remaining before playing: setting up a playing space in your environment via the headset's Oculus Guardian feature. Simply by looking through the headset, you'll see a view of your space, and you'll use one of the Touch controllers to draw an outline of your available movement area. This is key for active, room-scale games and experiences, and the Quest will let you know when you're getting too close to a wall, lamp, or another unseen hazard while playing. It's like a virtual barrier in your very real world.
On paper, the Oculus Quest seems underpowered. It runs off of a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip, which is a smartphone processor introduced in 2017 with phones like the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2. It's generations behind on the smartphone front, and significantly less powerful than the kind of top-end PCs used for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
That limitation will no doubt keep some games off of the Oculus Quest, but amazingly, what's there right now works impressively well. You'll see some simplified textures and geometry along the way, but most of the games we've played are very smooth and impressively detailed, whether you'll slashing a pseudo-lightsaber to pulsing music in Beat Saber or swinging a real virtual lightsaber in Star Wars: Vader Immortal. The developers have done an impressive job of adapting their games to the hardware and making the most of this older smartphone chip.
Even the screen is a step up from the original Rift in terms of resolution, as the Quest's OLED panel gives you a crisp 1,440 by 1600 for each eye and a 72Hz refresh rate. Granted, the screen is right up to your eyeballs, so even a high-resolution display like that will look a little fuzzy once you're in the midst of the action. It's not distracting, however, and we didn't get any sense of the screen-door effect (where a visible gap between pixels can be seen, typically appearing as lines) or get motion sickness while playing. It's bright and colorful, and the sense of 3D depth is really impressive.
Note that there is a small amount of light leakage at the bottom of the headset, right by your nose. We didn't find it terribly distracting, and it wasn't very noticeable when the screen was full of color. You'll spot it right away when the screen is dark, however.
Developers have done an impressive job of adapting their games to the hardware and making the most of this older smartphone chip.
The Oculus Touch controllers, which look a little bit different than the Rift versions, also feel very responsive in use. Just seeing the fluidity and precision of the swinging blades in Beat Saber was enough to convince us that it's a step up from the PlayStation Move wands used by the PlayStation VR.
The Quest is sold in 64GB and 128GB versions, at $399 and $499 respectively. You cannot expand the storage with any kind of memory card, so choose wisely from the start. With the smaller capacity, you may need to delete apps and games at some point to make room for new ones, but you can always re-download purchases from the Oculus store.
You'll get the most immersive experience by plugging in headphones, of course, and there's a small 3.5mm port on the left side of the headset. However, we've mostly played without headphones and have been solidly impressed by the positional audio soundscape created by the headset's small speakers. We heard occasional hitches here and there, but mostly it did the trick of keeping us focused on the game while still being aware of the world around us.
Playing VR games is a resource-hungry activity, so it makes sense that the Oculus Quest's built-in battery is only likely to give you between two and three hours of usage. That's probably plenty of time for the average player to enjoy a few games and then take a break and do something else while the headset charges, but the Quest certainly isn't built for marathon gaming sessions.
It can be used while plugged in, which could be an option for less active or seated VR experiences. And rather than plug the Quest into a wall while using it, you could also plug in a portable battery and tuck that into your pocket while playing.
The Quest's built-in interface drops you into a gorgeous-looking home with a video wall full of recently-used games, as well as access to the store, friends list, and settings. It's easy to navigate with the Touch controllers, as each one becomes a pointer that you can easily move around to make selections. The Quest also has a few free game demos included, so you can try out a few experiences right away without spending money or waiting for large downloads to complete.
The Oculus Quest launched with a few dozen games and apps, and most are ports of successful titles from other platforms. Oculus has said that it will strictly curate releases much like a console maker might, only approving polished experiences for purchase or download. Hopefully that'll do more good than bad, keeping quality up while still allowing quirky, experimental stuff to come through.
For now, at least, the early lineup is stellar. There are many games worth buying from the outset across a wide span of genres, and they handily show off the capabilities of this impressive headset. The aforementioned Beat Saber is one of the best VR games on any platform, delivering a VR twist on the rhythm game by having you slash through flying beat icons using glowing, lightsaber-esque wands. Being able to play it without cords getting in your way is a huge upgrade, as well.
Another essential gem is Superhot VR, a twist on a first-person shooter game in which the world and its inhabitants around you only move when you do. It's almost like a puzzle game, as you'll need to slowly plot your physical movements as you attempt to grab weapons, evade slow-motion bullets that soar near you, toss throwing stars, and more. And there are more explosive shooters, as well, with Robo Recall and Space Pirate Trainer both letting you go wild on robot foes as you use the Touch controllers to ably wield virtual firearms.
Star Wars: Vader Immortal is one of the rare Quest exclusives (for now), and it's a real treat for fans. This first episode is short and sweet, lasting less than an hour (two more episodes are coming later), but it creates an immersive world as you interact with the imposing Darth Vader, solve puzzles, and even swing a lightsaber in duels against training droids. For $10, you can't go wrong.
You can also download Netflix, for example, and watch 2D shows and movies on a large virtual screen—or YouTube, which also has 360-degree videos to watch all around you. And while the Quest library is largely focused on games, there are real creative possibilities here too, as seen with Google's Tilt Brush. This amazing painting app lets you doodle and draw in a 3D environment all around you as your brush strokes and effects hover in the air. It's super cool.
Other gems worth checking out include platform-puzzler Moss, goofy sandbox-style game Job Simulator, and intense rhythm-action game Thumper. And that's just scratching the surface of what's available now. There's sure to be plenty more to come.
At $399 for the base 64GB unit and $499 to bump the storage up to 128GB, the Oculus Quest really does hit the sweet spot on pricing compared to capabilities. On the high-end have been boundary-pushing headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, both of which require a $1,000+ gaming-ready PC to run. And on the lower end are smartphone headset shells like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream, but even those need a pricey flagship smartphone. The PlayStation VR falls in the middle of those, but even that needs a PlayStation 4 console. The Quest isn’t as robust or powerful as a PC-driven headset, but the total buy-in price is dramatically less.
And thanks to inside-out tracking and the motion controllers, it can do a whole lot more than the simple Oculus Quest or smartphone-based headset shells. Those lower-end devices are better for non- or lightly-interactive content, while the Quest doesn't feel like it's been compromised at all. The games that are here are super fun and responsive, and look great.
Oculus' first stab at a standalone headset was 2018's Oculus Go, and as mentioned above, it's a much different kind of device. The headset itself looks similar, albeit in a light grey shade, but it doesn't have camera tracking and the one included remote isn't made for in-depth and especially active games. Starting at $199, the Oculus Go is very much an entry-level headset that's best used for watching 360-degree videos and playing around with smartphone-quality apps and games.
At twice the price, the Oculus Quest offers a much more robust VR gaming experience that truly feels comparable to the high-end headsets, albeit with less power onboard and less flexibility to use it with a wider array of content.
A Quest worth taking (or buying, rather).
There are more powerful VR headsets out here, but the Oculus Quest is the best overall headset for the largest number of people. It’s dramatically cheaper than the total buy-in for a PC headset, the experience is responsive, entertaining, and immersive, and the current game selection already has several winners right out of the gate. Virtual reality's recent growth has been hindered by hurdles like cost and complexity, but the Oculus Quest really feels like the first standalone VR gaming device that's built for everyone.