The Quest 2 Touch controller
When Facebook is gearing up to launch the Oculus Quest 2, with its higher resolution and promises of a unified PC/wireless VR future, it may seem weird to be excited about, of all things, the controllers. After all, they look almost identical to last year's iteration of the Touch controllers, complete with controversial front-facing tracking ring. They're also not the huge technological gamechanger that Valve's Knuckle controllers aimed to be.
Instead of being a generational shift, the Quest 2's Touch controllers are a refinement on last year's models bundled with the Rift S and Quest. They identify lot of the biggest flaws with that design and improve on them drastically, while also bringing a few new things to the table at the same time. They're not entirely perfect, but they're still worth looking at in more depth.
The Rift S' Touch controller (left) compared to the larger Quest 2's (right).
First the obvious: the Quest 2 Touch controllers are bigger and heavier than last year's model, coming in at approximately 30 grams more. While this may prove to be uncomfortable for people with very small hands, the benefit is they feel a lot more robust. One of the big problems that arose with the second generation controllers was their fragility, with the tracking ring sometimes snapping on even light impact with a wall or floor – not great for something you'll be blindly flinging around. The new, chunkier Touches have that added extra bit of density that could help keep them in-tact for longer, though I've not been brave enough to do any serious stress testing on mine just yet.
The added size also allows for redesigned ergonomics. Anyone who's used the previous-gen Touch controllers will know the pain that was accidentally hitting the menu because of it lying directly where your thumb naturally rests. That problem is completely eliminated now, with the menu buttons being shifted to the side, underneath the analogue stick. In the hours I've spent playing on the Quest 2, I've not once triggered a menu I've not meant to, and my thumb has rested nicely on the larger black plate where it can't cause any trouble.
The new, huge, circular button backplate does take a little getting used to. At first the position of my index finger felt unnaturally cramped in, but with time and a heavy Beat Saber session I found myself vastly preferring the new button layout. The grip button's also been improved, being slightly larger and more protruding to make finding it while blinded by the headset easier, while also solving the age-old problem of picking up the controllers with the wrong hands and wondering why everything felt backwards.
The new button placement prevents accidental menu opening.
Last year's Touch controllers also suffered due to the positioning of the battery compartment. They rested directly on the heel of the hand below the thumb, and more frantic movements often resulted in the entire cover sliding off. With the Quest 2, the battery compartment is in the same place and works in the same way, but has been slightly redesigned to prevent it from coming off during play. I've played frequent culprit Blade and Sorcery through the Quest 2 and have yet to feel the compartment fling off while I'm hilt-deep in some bandit's torso.
Speaking of battery, Facebook claims the Quest 2's Touch controllers have improved battery consumption. I've been playing using the included batteries for about five days now and haven't noticed any sort of drain, with the both controllers still reporting near-100% days later. Compare that to the Rift S, which I had to change the batteries for multiple times a week, and the difference is night and day. Grab a few rechargeable AA batteries and you should almost never have to worry about the drain. Of course, the headset itself is a whole different story, but that's a problem for a different article.
The new battery compartment is more difficult to accidentally slide open.
The main 'new' feature of the Quest 2's Touch controllers is an improved haptics motor, which is intended to allow for the same "HD rumble" features as newer controllers elsewhere like the Switch's Joy-cons and the PS5's DualSense. This is the one area where I'm a bit more cynical, as I've yet to encounter any game that puts them to use in a way that's a notable improvement over last year's models. Both Pistol Whip's vibrational metronome and The Climb's ledge grabbing feel pretty much the same as on the older models. That doesn't mean they're bad, the vibration on the older models was excellent, but I'm not getting the sense of an improvement that Facebook seems to think it is. Of course, this could be something that improves once the Quest 2 is out in the open and software that takes full advantage for it is developed, so I'll withhold judgement for the time being.
Battery compartments and haptic feedback are one thing, but the most important bit about any VR controller is its motion tracking. Some outlets, like Ars Technica, have reported the Quest 2 Touch controller's tracking to be noticeably worse than its older counterpart, but I have yet to see that for myself. Not to brag, but I can clear Expert+ tracks in Beat Saber just as easily through the Quest 2 as I can through the Rift S. While it entirely depends on individual circumstances, lighting, and quirks in production, I can say that my experience has been almost entirely the opposite to that of Ars Technica's.
The Touch Controllers are just as an integral part of the Quest 2 as the headset.
But… is that a good thing? This is a new generation of VR, the headset has a "2" chucked on it and everything! Is 'the same' really what we should be aiming for with the controllers? I appreciate the little quality of life improvements, but I would have liked to see some more inspiration taken from competitors. Why didn't Facebook embrace the knuckle-strap design of the Index's controllers, which allow you to fully release your grip and "throw" things without ever losing the controller? Or why are the capacitive buttons not improved to allow a finer control experience? Why do we even need controllers anyway with the Quest (and Quest 2) having support for full hand tracking?
The Oculus Quest 2's Touch controllers are definitely an improvement over last year's models, and what they do, they do well. The provide a link between you and the game you're playing that was simply impossible when modern VR first got started and we had to make do with Xbox 360 gamepads. But I do have concerns as to how much Facebook is really wanting to revolutionise VR when one of the core components has only marginally changed in the last year.
The Oculus Quest 2 launches on October 13. If you want to read about what you'll get in the box alongside the Touch controllers, here is an unboxing article.