SAN FRANCISCO - Oculus' first fully standalone virtual reality headset, the $199 Oculus Go aims to make VR more accessible than ever by cutting out the need to connect a smartphone or PC. But how does it actually hold up in the real world?
Pretty well, as it turns out -- as long as you're expecting a mobile-grade VR experience. I got my hands on Oculus' latest headset at GDC 2018, and came away impressed by just how dead simple it is to use (and how nice it looks).
Not unlike the Google Daydream View, Oculus Go sports a minimalist gray plastic design that I wouldn't feel embarrassed to wear on an airplane or in a room full of family members. The actual headset has very few moving parts; there are buttons for power and volume up top, as well as an adjustable elastic strap for your head. The Go felt lightweight and comfortable to me right away, though it seems easy enough to adjust if need be.
The Go's small included controller functions like a much simpler version of Oculus Touch, sporting a clickable touchpad, buttons for back and home, and a rear-facing trigger. The controller felt intuitive enough when solving puzzles in They Suspect Nothing or creating settlements in Settlers of Catan, though I'm curious how it will hold up during more intense action games.
In terms of performance and graphics, the Go seemed comparable to what you'd get from Samsung's Gear VR. The device tracked my head accurately as I shot down enemy spaceships in Anshar Online, but while the game looked smooth and colorful, the environmental details seemed closer to phone-based VR and not what you'd see on a full Oculus Rift setup.
But what really blew my mind was Oculus Go's spatial audio. Despite the fact that the headset's audio comes from inside the headset, I heard every game as if I had earphones in. And because of how the Go's directional speakers are designed, no one near you will hear the headset's audio even if you've cranked it all the way up.
Of course, as with any VR platform, the Go is useless without great content. The headset will launch with Anshar Online, Settlers of Catan, action-puzzle game They Suspect Nothing and Vacation Sim, the latest zany simulation game from the folks behind Job Simulator. That's a solid lineup so far, though it's worth noting that all of these games are coming to Gear VR, and some, such as Settlers of Catan and Vacation Sim, will be playable on Rift.
Still, Gear VR requires you to have a Samsung phone, and Rift depends on you having a beefy gaming PC. Oculus Go needs neither, providing one of the first truly pick-up-and-play VR experiences for folks willing to throw down $199 for one.
Could it be the accessible entry point that virtual reality needs right now? We'll find out when the headset launches later this year at a still-unannounced date.