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Oculus Go review: No longer one of a kind, but still fantastic

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
200
inc VAT

The Oculus Go is still one of the best ways to get into VR, even after the arrival of its successor

Pros 
A completely standalone VR headset
A huge library of VR games and experiences
Lightweight, portable and cheaper than anything else out there
Cons 
No fast-charging systems
Lack of 6DoF for VR experiences
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At launch, the Oculus Go was a miracle. For the first time, virtual reality was accessible for just about anyone with £200 to spend; with no cables, no hardware requirements and no complicated setup procedures, the Go was the first step toward pushing VR into the mainstream.

Since the Go launched, however, Oculus has produced another wireless VR headset: The Oculus Quest. Like the Go, the Quest runs Oculus' own store and interface; the difference is that it offers a full 6 degrees of freedom and enough power to run a far greater number of full-blooded VR games. It's also possible to purchase a PC connector cable that turns the Quest into a PC-compatible gaming VR headset.

The Quest is twice as expensive as the Go, however, and so the points that we make in this review still stand: the Oculus Go is a cheap, accessible VR system for the masses. The difference is, it's no longer one of a kind. 

Oculus Go review: What you need to know

Oculus Go does away with the need for a PC or smartphone 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 still a compelling case for VR adoption.

As an entirely standalone device, Oculus Go is genuinely go-anywhere VR. You can take it on a train journey, a coach, or just stay seated on your couch at home – it’s entirely up to you. The Chinese market is flooded with similar devices, but in the west Oculus Go is the first of the standalone VR headsets. Since the launch of the Quest, it's no longer the ONLY standalone VR headset available to western customers, but it has an ace up its sleeve: the price.

Oculus Go review: Price and competition

It’s here that Oculus Go trumps every other VR device on the market. Priced at £200 for a 32GB model, or £250 for the 64GB one, no other standalone device available in the west comes close. As both are powered by Oculus’ own store and interface, the Oculus Go’s closest competitor is the Samsung Gear VR. Samsung’s headset will set you back £120, but requires a £400–£900 Samsung Galaxy smartphone to function – and it’ll tie up your phone exclusively for VR duties and drain the battery while it’s at it.

The Oculus Quest, meanwhile, can be purchased for £500, which is a similar price to fully formed PC-compatible VR headsets like the Oculus Rift S and HTC Vive Cosmos. This is primarily why the Oculus Go retains its favourable position in the VR market.

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Oculus Go review: Design

For Oculus Go, Oculus and Chinese manufacturer Xiaomi have taken plenty of cues from the Oculus Rift for Oculus Go’s design. Gone is the fabric-wrapped shell of the Rift, replaced by a matte plastic casting that feels classier than you’d expect. Compared to the Samsung Gear VR, the Oculus Go feels like a much more upmarket device.  

The Rift’s built-in headphones and hard, baseball cap-like headband have 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, breathable lining and there’s now an optional insert that makes it more comfortable to wear with glasses. The result is one supremely comfortable VR headset.

The remote control also takes inspiration from Rift’s Oculus Touch – and the design is equally sensible. 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.

Look closer, and you’ll find a power button and volume rocker located along the top edge, with a headphone jack and micro USB charging port located on the side. Look closer still, and you’ll notice that the front face of the Go is hewn from a single piece of thin metal – this acts as a heatsink to cool the headset’s internals.

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Oculus Go review: Hardware specifications

Tucked inside the Oculus Go is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 backed up by 3GB of RAM. This powers a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel WQHD display that utilises a fast-switch LCD panel to provide a maximum refresh rate of 72Hz. This is all contained within a 190 x 105 x 115mm headset that weighs just under half a kilo – 467g to be precise.

Bluetooth connectivity and dual-band Wi-Fi make the grade, too, and there are options for either 32GB and 64GB built in storage. Sadly, though, you can’t increase that via expandable storage.

Oculus hasn’t specified the battery capacity in the Go, but you’ll get roughly around two hours of solid play time, maybe more if you’re just watching video. Because Go has both a movement sensor and IR sensor to tell if you’re wearing it or not, it powers to standby almost the instant you take it off, and switches back on as you pick it up. Curiously, Oculus Go lacks a USB Type-C port – opting for a micro USB instead. Recharging the battery isn’t especially quick, but as you’ll only be using it for less than an hour at a time, it’s not too much of an issue.

Oculus has also outfitted its Go headset with a brand-new set of lenses that improve upon the lenses found in both Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR. These refined lenses give you a generous sweet spot while ensuring that everything is crisp and clear. Even when your eyes stray to the edges, the fast-switch LCD screen keeps ghosting to a minimum, and minimises the screen door effect, where individual pixels become clearly visible.

However, the most impressive aspect of Oculus Go’s hardware is its audio capabilities. Instead of integrated headphones on the headband, like on Oculus Rift, Go has two speakers tucked away inside its HUD. These directional speakers do an incredible job of making everything sound like it’s playing in your head. Games that utilise 3D audio make fantastic use of this, and it really places you in the virtual world because – in a quiet room – you don’t have your ears cut off by earphones or headphones.

There are downsides to such an arrangement. At a middling volume in a quiet room, most people will be able to hear the Oculus Go’s speakers clearly. 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 port and supports Bluetooth devices, so you can always resort to headphones.

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Oculus Go review: VR experiences

Oculus Go uses the same Oculus store and UI as the Samsung Gear VR and, because of that, it launches with well over 1,000 different games and experiences to delve into. At this point, those of you who already own Gear VR headsets may wonder what the key appeal of Oculus Go is. In short, it’s generally a lot easier and more comfortable to jump into VR with Oculus Go over any of its mobile-powered rivals – but let us explain.

Despite the fact that Oculus Go’s games catalogue and capabilities are no 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 as République VR 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 ably pinpoint the benefits of standalone VR headsets versus traditional PC, console or phone-powered variants. It’s still early days, but being able to quickly don a VR headset at breakfast and catch up on the morning’s news in virtual reality is an entertaining glimpse into what the future could hold, even if it does feel a little jarring at the moment.

Because Oculus Go is a fully self-contained device – 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.

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Oculus Go review: Verdict

Oculus Go represents a step in the right direction for VR. It’s certainly not for the hardcore VR convert, nor the professional VR user, as both demand the kind of processing power which currently only PCs (and, to a lesser extent, consoles) can deliver.

What Oculus Go does, however, is prove that instant-on VR really can crack the code of mass market appeal. It’s capable enough to deliver an immersive VR experience, yet affordable enough not to put off huge swathes of its target market. If you’ve been debating whether to dip a toe in the virtual water but have so far resisted the urge, Oculus and Xiaomi have provided a very convincing (and very affordable) reason why you should take the plunge.

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