Editors’ Note: Oculus announced on June 23, 2020 that it is discontinuing the Oculus Go. It will stop adding new features to the Go immediately and will stop adding Go apps to the Oculus Store after December 18, 2020. Bug fixes and security updates will continue through 2022. Our original review from May 8, 2018 is below.
Standalone virtual reality headsets have been a dream until very recently. The current wave of VR has consisted of either mobile-dependent headsets in which you have to insert a fairly powerful smartphone into a wearable shell, or tethered headsets that need to be plugged into a separate device, like a gaming PC or console. The former are inexpensive and don’t use wires, but only work with a handful of relatively expensive smartphones. The latter are pricey and use awkward cables, and require even more expensive hardware.
Now we’re starting to see some truly standalone VR headsets. The Lenovo Mirage Solo is a Google Daydream-powered headset that doesn’t need a smartphone or a computer, but it’s pretty expensive at $400 for a VR experience that isn’t nearly as immersive as what you can get on a tethered headset. The Oculus Go is even less powerful than the Mirage Solo, but costs half as much at $199 (for 32GB; a 64GB version is available for $249). Its comfortable design and accessible nature make it a compelling buy for curious users looking for a taste of VR without spending a lot of money. It’s the best introductory VR headset we’ve seen yet, even if it falls short of an Editors’ Choice award.
The Oculus Go looks a lot like the Google Daydream View, but without the fabric cover over the visor. It’s a plain gray plastic face mask with a nondescript flat front bearing only the Oculus logo on the top. The front edge of the top of the visor holds a power button, a volume rocker, and an indicator light. A micro USB port for charging and a 3.5mm headphone jack for using headphones or earphones (optional) sit on the left side of the headset, and that’s it for physical controls and ports. You won’t find a microSD card slot like on the Mirage Solo, so you’re limited to the 32GB or 64GB of built-in storage.
Fabric-covered foam runs around the back of the visor, where it comes into contact with your face. The fabric cover is quite nice compared with the raw foam lining of many headsets like the Mirage Solo. The foam easily pulls out of the visor, letting you insert an included rubber spacer underneath it for wearing the headset with glasses. You can also buy prescription lens inserts for $79.99, if you use glasses but don’t want to wear them with the Oculus Go.
The visor attaches to your face with a three-point headband made of wide elastic straps. They connect to the sides of the visor with two long brackets, and to the top of the visor with a single eyelet hole behind the face mask insert. The straps stay in place with hook and loop fasteners, and while they aren’t as easy to adjust as a dial on the back like with the Mirage Solo or PlayStation VR, the elastic has plenty of give and tightening or loosening the headband while it’s on is easier than on the bulkier, tethered Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
At just over a pound, the Oculus Go is much lighter than the 1.4-pound Mirage Solo, and is just two ounces heavier than the Daydream View with a Pixel 2 inserted. It’s very comfortable to wear, thanks to the breathable fabric on the face mask and the wide elastic straps of the headband. Physically, the Oculus Go should be comfortable to wear for the duration of its three hours of battery life, but you should take regular breaks more often than that, especially if you’re prone to headaches or motion sickness when using VR.
The included controller is very similar to the Daydream Controller included with the Daydream View and Mirage Solo, with a few minor but welcome tweaks. It’s still a three-degrees-of-freedom (3DOF) motion controller that doesn’t track position like the Oculus Touch or HTC Vive controllers, with a clickable touchpad and physical Back and Home/Oculus buttons. The Oculus Go remote adds a front-facing trigger, and has a slightly more ergonomic design that fits into the hand more like a pistol than a remote control, and includes a wrist strap for keeping track of it. It also uses a AA battery for power.
Like the controller, the Oculus Go itself is 3DOF rather than 6DOF, a noticeable step below the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, PS VR, every Windows Mixed Reality headset, and the Mirage Solo. 3DOF means the headset tracks motion and determines the direction in which you’re facing, but can’t tell if you’re moving forward, backward, up, down, or side to side relative to your current position. The big disadvantage 3DOF has over 6DOF is that VR software for the Oculus Go has to be largely stationary; you won’t ever get whole-room VR where you can stand up and walk around like you can with the pricier and tethered headsets.
The Oculus Go’s display uses the same 2,560-by-1,440 resolution as the Mirage Solo, split up into 1,280-by-1,440 for each eye. It’s an LCD, which means it doesn’t have the same deep blacks or wide color gamuts as the OLED displays used by the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PlayStation VR (or the Samsung Gear VR, since Samsung’s flagship phones also use OLED screens). It has a refresh rate that switches between 60Hz and 72Hz depending on the software, a step down from the 75Hz refresh rate of the Mirage Solo and the 90Hz to 120Hz refresh rate of the tethered headsets. Its picture still looks crisp, but the vastness of space in sci-fi games and science apps doesn’t look quite as inky as it does on OLED displays.
The headset uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 CPU, which is a notable step down in power from the Snapdragon 835 used in the Mirage Solo, or any flagship smartphones of the last year that work with the Daydream View or Gear VR. The VR version of the Snapdragon 821 is overclocked, so it should be a bit faster than the smartphone version, but it’s still less powerful than the processors in most other headset hardware. And, like all smartphone-based VR headsets, it can’t come close to the graphical power of tethered VR headsets like the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or PS VR. Of course, all of those systems require hardware investments of at least twice the price of the Oculus Go, including the necessary gaming PC, PlayStation 4, or flagship smartphone. It’s a worthwhile compromise for the accesibility in price.
You can use your own headphones or earphones with the Oculus Go, but the headset also has its own built-in sound system. A set of targeted speaker drivers project sound into your ears when you wear the headset, providing headphone-like audio without anything physically touching your ears. It’s a surprisingly good effect, and the sound leakage between what you hear and what people around you hear is less than you’d expect. Don’t rely on the speaker system if you want total privacy when using the headset, but it doesn’t get nearly as loud for others as it does for your own ears.
The Oculus Store on the Oculus Go is much closer to the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR store than the Oculus Rift’s more advanced VR library. A standard selection of movie and TV-watching apps are available, including Oculus Go versions of Hulu, Netflix, and Showtime. A dedicated YouTube app isn’t present like on the Mirage Solo, but you can watch 180- and 360-degree videos on YouTube easily through the built-in web browser. There are also several dedicated apps for browsing various libraries of 360-degree video content, looking at space in virtual reality, and various other interesting reading, viewing, and productivity apps. The Madefire app lets you read comic books in VR, and Calcflow provides a first-person, three-dimensional view of parametric equation models. There are certainly plenty of interesting things to poke around in on the headset.
The limitations of 3DOF for both the headset and controller mean the games on the Oculus Go aren’t as sophisticated as the games you can find on tethered headsets, but there are still some interesting experiences to be had. The Oculus Store offers a virtual take on the classic board game Settlers of Catan in Catan VR, the tense puzzle party game Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, and the horror dungeon crawler Dreadhalls.
Unfortunately, other pickings are still a bit slim. Oculus’ Apple-like insularity locks the Go off from using other Android-based VR stores like Google Play. You can conceivably sideload other Android apps to the headset by enabling Developer Mode on the Oculus mobile app and installing the Oculus Go ADB on a compatible Windows PC, but whether anything you can upload to the Oculus Go will work on the headset is a crapshoot.
Catan VR places you in a chair in front of a Catan board, surrounded by three other chairs. Other players appear in the chairs, demonstrating both the Go’s capability for multiplayer, as well as Oculus’ support for cross-headset play between the Oculus Go and Oculus Rift. Two of the players used the Oculus Rift, and so had two floating gloved hands in front of them thanks to the Oculus Touch controllers. The other Oculus Go user and I had only one gloved hand each, representing the Oculus Go controller.
I also tried out Tomb Raider VR: Lara’s Escape. It’s a promotional VR experience based on the upcoming movie. I played the titular Lara Croft, who finds herself in a tomb and on the run from armed soldiers. It felt like many other relatively simple VR adventures, like Blade Runner Revelations on the Mirage Solo. I stood at fixed locations, moving between them by aiming the remote and clicking. Some locations had interactable elements, like a series of switches I had to press in a certain order by aiming and clicking, or a piece of rubble I had to shoot with my bow by aiming and clicking. It’s a simple game I completed in about 15 minutes, after which I was shown the full trailer for the movie on a virtual theater screen.
I then played Rampage VR, another promotional game for the recently released film. It put me in the kaiju shoes of one of the three big monsters of the franchise, and let me walk around simple city environments in first person, smashing buildings and fighting the military. To walk, run, and climb I had to hold the touchpad and wave the remote up and down, which directed me to move in the direction I was facing. It was initially an awkward motion, but eventually, I found it much easier and more comfortable to use than the jarring point-and-shift waypoint-based movement of other VR games, like Tomb Raider VR. Smashing buildings involved staring at the architecture I wanted to punch and swinging the remote left and right, and picking up tanks to throw them at helicopters required pointing the remote at a vehicle until it shimmered, holding the trigger down, then aiming at my target and releasing to throw.
Rampage VR is pleasantly immersive and fun, particularly for a free, promotional VR game. It takes the 3DOF limitations of the Oculus Go and works around them in ways that feel intuitive, if not quite as immersive as the freeform two-handed control you get with the Oculus Rift or other tethered VR headsets. It’s not fancy, but there is enough mindless smashing, combined with some very light puzzle-solving for upgrading your chosen monster with gene splicing, to waste a few hours on.
Neither Tomb Raider VR nor Rampage VR looks particularly advanced. The graphics for both games are on par with PlayStation 2-era titles, in terms of model and texture complexity. This is normal for mobile-based VR headsets, which rarely come close to the graphical fidelity of tethered headsets. To the credit of the Oculus Go’s aging Snapdragon 821, both games performed smoothly and reliably, though loading games and apps on the headset generally feels a bit slower than on the Mirage Solo.
Watching videos on the Oculus VR is fun and easy. The ability to sit back in and watch a virtual theater screen is really enjoyable. If not for the maximum three hours of battery life, it would be a fun way to binge watch. You can use the Oculus Go while plugged in, but if you plan to do that you should invest in a much longer micro USB cable than the short one that’s included.
Affordable and Accessible VR
The Oculus Go won’t give you the most advanced VR experience, but for $200, you shouldn’t expect it to. The best VR still requires big, thick cables running from your headset to a PC or game console, and even more powerful Android-based VR requires a much bigger investment than the Oculus Go demands.
Of course, that’s the point of the Oculus Go: It’s inexpensive and it’s standalone. You can pick it up and try it out without plugging in a smartphone or connecting it to a PC or PS4. There are just enough compelling experiences to justify the price even with the hardware’s limitations. Simply being able to watch Netflix or Hulu on a virtual theater screen in relative comfort will be worth the price of admission for some. The various 360-degree video documentaries, art and science apps, web browser, and games are nice bonuses.
Ultimately, this is the best introductory virtual reality headset we’ve seen yet, with the lowest price tag and no additional equipment required. That goes far, even if it doesn’t go far enough to earn an Editors’ Choice award.
Oculus Go Specs
|Resolution||1,440 by 1,280 (per eye)|
|Refresh Rate||72 Hz|
|Controls||Oculus Go Controller|