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Wearable Tech

What it's like to wear Facebook's $199 VR headset, Oculus Go

Oculus Go feels comfy and totally fine. But can Facebook win over more eyes right now based on price alone?

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It feels comfy, and it plays Settlers of Catan.

Scott Stein/CNET

It was soft. It didn't leave marks on my face. And the VR looked just fine.

That's my first-impression feel of Oculus Go, an upcoming bid by Facebook to get new people interested in VR for a sub-$200 price, no phone necessary. That $199 roughly converts to £150 or AU$255. The Oculus Go is a VR headset that's self-contained. In that sense it's Oculus' and Facebook's first truly standalone piece of hardware.

Facebook, owner of Oculus, has had a damn challenging week as it is. But Facebook and specifically Oculus have additional challenges with virtual reality, specifically advancing the tech forward and making sure people actually want to use it.

In that sense, I quickly discovered that Oculus Go is more about entry-level accessibility. The games and apps seem just like those on Samsung Gear VR, the Samsung phone VR accessory that's been available for years. I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But the headset's design is less clunky, and the integrated, cleaner, softer and smaller construction here is better than Gear VR in most ways, more reminiscent of Google's Daydream View VR headset... but with all the VR hardware and displays built right in.

I only played a couple of games with Oculus Go. One was Settlers of Catan, a new cross-platform Rift, Gear VR and Go-ready version of the board game that surprise-launched this morning. It was great: I saw my fellow gamers as avatars, and laid down my roads and cities on a virtual board in front of me. You don't need VR for video board games, but this is the best version of Catan I've used since the Xbox 360 version years ago (which this is based on: the developers bought the old code as a starting point).

Anshar Wars Online is a space shooter, where movement is controlled by my head turning. Graphics looked smooth and controls were responsive. It's fine. I've tried better VR games, but it was a solid demonstration of the Go's capabilities.

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Oculus Go. Basic and cleanly designed.

Scott Stein/CNET

Oculus Go isn't pushing new tech territories. It doesn't have 6 DoF (six degree of freedom tracking), which allows leaning forward or walking around a real space in VR. Instead, like Samsung Gear VR or Daydream View, you can only turn your head. An included controller with a simple click touchpad and trigger button is almost exactly like the wand-type controllers that come with Gear VR and Daydream View, and acts as a basic pointer with simple controls in games and apps. So, it's basically a phone-free Gear VR. 

Lenovo's upcoming Mirage Solo with Daydream and HTC's Vive Focus are slightly more powerful standalone VR headsets, in theory, with an ability to move around rooms a bit, too. But, they're not likely to be priced as low as Oculus Go will be.

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A close-up of the controller.

Scott Stein/CNET

At $199, it's $70 more than just the Gear VR accessory for Samsung phones. Its headset design is more refined, too. Much like Google's Daydream View headset, its eye mask is softer, more like rubbery foam. It fit my face snugly but didn't dig in. The head straps, according to Oculus, were redesigned to be more accommodating to hair styles. It's easy to put on and take off.

Oculus Go doesn't have a release date yet, but it's probably arriving by May to coincide with Facebook's F8 conference. Mark Zuckerberg has a lot of other fires to put out right now in Facebookland, and I'm not sure how much these problems will affect people's interest in a Facebook-powered virtual reality headset. I love Oculus' games and apps, and I still prefer Gear VR's ecosystem over Daydream View.

Oculus Go is a doorway to a lot of apps for VR first-timers in an easier-to-use package. But will it win over more eyes? VR's already had a hard time making its way into average homes. Oculus is clearly aiming for a gift-ready price territory here, something like Amazon Echo. Oculus Go isn't bleeding-edge tech. But it made me realize that, for many people who haven't even tried VR before, it'll be plenty good enough... if you're OK with making Facebook your VR gateway right now.