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Oculus Go review: Portable VR, no strings attached

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The Good A completely self-contained, standalone, no-phone-or-PC-necessary VR system. Comfortable design and feel. Sharp-looking display and effective built-in speakers with spatial audio. Hundreds of apps. Oculus setup app works with iOS and Android phones. Connects for social chats with Go, Gear VR and Oculus Rift owners.

The Bad Two-hour battery life. It's a sit-down experience (no room tracking). No expandable storage. No kid-safe settings. Lacks multiple account options.

The Bottom Line Oculus Go is VR for the masses: A self-contained, standalone virtual reality headset that's portable, affordable and delivers a great experience for the price.

8.0 Overall
  • Immersion 8
  • Interaction 7
  • Comfort 9
  • Ecosystem 8
  • Setup 9

The Oculus Go is a funny product. If you've been following virtual reality closely it seems like a step back -- unlike the PC-connected Oculus Rift, it won't let you walk around or grab things. It's simpler. In fact, it's exactly like those VR headsets for phones, the Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream View.

Except, this time, you don't need to connect anything else at all, after you've set it up with your phone, at least. All the hardware, screen, processor and everything, are inside the headset. And the functional pistol-grip Oculus controller is included in the box. For the first time, VR is totally self-contained. And the Go, all-in, costs $199, £199 or AU$299.

That's where the Oculus Go is a step forward. Go is, basically, the Amazon Echo of VR. It's not groundbreaking, but it's definitely affordable. There will be more advanced but expensive devices: the twice-as-pricey upcoming Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream, another standalone phone-free VR headset, has more sophisticated full-room sensing and motion. The Oculus Go is, comparatively, a sit-down (or stand still) experience. And, if you already have a phone that runs Google Daydream or Samsung Gear VR, you don't need this.

The Oculus Go is also comfortable and well designed. It's the most easy-to-use, most consumer-friendly way to try VR things at home or on the go that I've ever used. If you want an affordable, no-fuss entry into the world of VR, this is it.

I've been using the Oculus Go for a week, while commuting to work, at home, in the office, in the park. Here's what it's like.

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That's it -- nothing else needed.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's great about Oculus Go

The Oculus Go is the most comfortable VR headset I've worn other than the PlayStation VR, which is far larger and bulkier. The Go goggles press onto your face instead of using a visor-type design, but the foam padding is far better than the Oculus Rift or Gear VR. It's portable, too, and feels like it could tuck without too much trouble into a backpack.

Price, obviously, is a big plus. Most people I told the price to seemed surprised that it didn't cost more. For an all-in package, it beats anything else on the market.

The display and the speakers sound a lot better than you'd expect for a budget VR device, and it can even feel, at times, better than higher-end headsets. The piped-in, headphone-free, built-in speakers deliver pretty good 3D effects -- what Oculus calls "spatial audio" -- and the LCD display looks particularly crisp when reading text or watching videos.

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Sound comes through little holes in the head straps, delivering spatial audio that's great (when you're not in public spaces).

Sarah Tew/CNET

The screen-door effect is less than what is typically encountered on most VR headsets, thanks to Oculus using optimization that makes the most of the Snapdragon 821 processor -- less impressive than that of current top-end phones. Nevertheless, the standalone Oculus Go uses fixed foveated rendering, rendering the area at the center of the display more sharply than the edges, to make many apps look even better, without any side effects. The 5.5-inch, 2,560x1,440-pixel LCD display holds its own, but since it's not OLED, the display isn't as perfectly black as that of the Gear VR.

Most people who wore it -- family, friends or coworkers who were pretty picky about good tech and AV quality -- came away impressed. It outperforms its price, at least in terms of display, comfort and audio quality.

The selection of apps is damned impressive -- it has hundreds, so far. And for setup, it pairs with iPhones or Android phones, making it basically the best iPhone VR headset around right now.

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Every half hour or so, my eyes need a break.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What's not so great about Oculus Go

If you're looking for the next great wave of What Comes Next in VR, this isn't it. The Oculus Go is actually a step-back device, in a sense: it lacks cameras and can't track a whole room, or even part of one. It's stationary, look-around VR vs. dive-in-and-grab-things VR, and the included single remote, while functional, is nowhere near as good as what PC and game console VR controllers offer.

This is really just a Samsung Gear VR without the Samsung phone, and in that sense, it's more of the same thing that's been around since late 2014. This is the best version of that type of headset, but if you're looking for something more, you're out of luck.

The headset doesn't work with Bluetooth headphones. And because it lacks more advanced full-room tracking with onboard cameras (six degrees of freedom, aka 6DOF), which lets you "lean in" to VR, it means the Oculus Go's VR apps feel a lot more static. You'll be sitting down more, watching things. 

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Oculus Go next to other headsets (left to right): PC-required HTC Vive and Oculus Rift; self-contained Oculus Go in the center; and phone-connected Google Daydream View and Samsung Gear VR.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The included 32 gigabytes of storage on the $199 model might be a bit less than you'll need for lots of storage-needy 360 videos, if you're downloading regularly. A 64GB version costs $249, £249 or AU$369. There's no expandable storage. I've loaded dozens of apps and been fine (apps are anywhere from 100MB to several gigs), but storage isn't infinite.

This isn't a kid-friendly device, either. You can only use one user account at a time, and there's no kid-safe mode. Oculus recommends this for kids 13 and up anyhow, and that younger kids shouldn't be using it in the first place. Kids can use it -- and mine both did -- but only with continual supervision. I wouldn't trust them not to suddenly fall over or whack someone with the controller by accident.

You also have to be connected to Facebook for most of the Oculus Go's key connections and communications with friends. It's not necessary -- you can create an account that skips Facebook completely and still use most apps -- but remember, this is a Facebook product.

But still, I like this headset a lot more than I dislike it.

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Charging up via Micro-USB (or you can use the cable to load files from a PC).

Sarah Tew/CNET

Unboxing Oculus Go with a friend

The Oculus Go is packaged elegantly and cleanly, like a Google product or an Amazon Echo. It feels like it's made for an everyday person, not a VR power user. It's simple: a headset, a controller. There's even an included AA battery (only the headset is rechargeable). A Micro-USB charge cable is coiled next to a quick-start guide. 

There's also a microfiber cleaning cloth, and a spacer for eyeglass-wearers that can be inserted if needed by removing the headset's foam lining. (I wear glasses and I didn't need to use it.) A piece of paper folded over the headset's eyepieces tells you to download the Oculus app to pair with your phone.

Everything's self-contained with the Oculus Go, but it pairs with your phone to set up, like a smartwatch, an Echo or most smart things. And it works on iOS or Android: I tested the Oculus app with the iPhone X.

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The Oculus app on iPhone: The full app store is available to buy and load whatever you want, and connection settings can be tweaked on the phone and synced to the headset.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A quick pair, a login (Facebook not required), and you're ready to dive in. The phone app browses the Oculus store for easy purchases and installing.

I gave it to my friend, who hasn't used VR in a while. He watched a streaming video, played some games. He was impressed by the display quality. He asked me again, "How much is this?"

This keeps happening. Another coworker who's never tried VR before tests out Go and is immediately wowed by several demos. She says the sound's particularly impressive, and the display is better looking than she thought it would be. She wonders if maybe she'd get this as a gift instead of an Amazon Echo.

Oculus Go is great at home -- for half an hour at a time

The Oculus Go's many games and apps are worthwhile novelties, and some games (Cloudlands mini-golf, Daedalus, Dead and Buried, Bait) are pretty fun. Some video apps deliver some great 360 videos. Others feel rushed.

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