Oculus Go Review

I am a technology enthusiast, so when the first gen Oculus Rift came out, followed closely by HTC Vive, I was very tempted to go out and buy them. I, hovewer, could not reasonably justify the €1500+ expense of buying a new high-end gaming desktop and VR headset for a few cool experiences and games. Also, as I live in an apartment shared with other family members, I could not imagine where I would set it up with enough space for a decent room-scale experience. Also, for an open source advocate, there is a conundrum in that neither Oculus, nor SteamVR work well with GNU/Linux. SteamVR supposedly supports Linux desktop, but drivers and apps availability leaves a lot to be desired. That's why I decided to wait until further iterations of the design get cheaper and my living space situation changes.

Then, something very cool happened. Both Samsung and Google got into the race with their mobile VR attempts. When I was choosing a new, mid-range Android device to replace my bricked Ubuntu Phone, a Google Daydream-capable Axon 7 was a close second to my current Honor 8. Unfortunately, Daydream-platform suffers from typical Google disorder of them starting a new, cool product and leaving it to starve for support and die off. Samsung's Gear VR, on the other hand, had the great support by Facebook's Oculus, but required a flagship Samsung Galaxy device, putting it out of a price range of a Slavic CompSci student. The ecosystem, however, kept growing into making GearVR a viable platform for a casual VR fan. This got single-handedly fixed by the release of Oculus Go, a standalone mobile VR device for ~ €200.

Very nicely laid out box carrying some VR goodies!]

Specs

Unsurprisingly due to it's price, Oculus Go doesn't really impress with the specs. Custom-tuned Snapdragon 821, 3GB of RAM, 2560x1440 5.5" fast-switching 60-72Hz LCD screen, with fresnel lenses ensuring 100° field of view are enough for a good experience on a budget. CPU and RAM put it into the "flagship from 2016" range, but since it's nicely overclocked, optimised for VR and sporting a big-ass heatsink (whole front of the unit), it chugs along nicely. I sometimes experience dropped frames and stutters in the UI, or some janky games (Racket Fury, I'm looking at you), but overall performance is impressive as hell. The graphics output is what you would expect from a mobile VR headset, but that doesn't bother me much. My unit has 32 GBs of storage space, and while I sometimes wish I went for the 64GB version, it is manageable. There is currently no way of expanding the storage, neither via USB OTG drives, nor SD card expansion. You really don't need to store all of the Oculus game library on the device itself and will only find it limiting if you want to watch high quality locally stored 360° videos. You can mitigate this by streaming content from your pc, either using Samba, or some proprietary BS protocols used by various apps. This will also be somewhat fixed by future update allowing the use of OTG flash storage.

The display, albeit LCD instead of more common OLED, is top notch. It's second only to the Vive Pro, which is a different class of device. The 100° FOV creates a sort of swimming/skying goggles effect, but you get used to it easily. Basic refresh rate i 60Hz, which is low for VR, but the list of apps compatible with 72Hz is growing and to be honest, I was really surprised, that after a few days of usage, my low refresh rate-induced motion sickness disappeared and hasn't returned yet. The screen-door effect is present, but it never really bothered me when I toyed around with Vive nor Rift, and with greater screen resolution of GO, it is less pronounced.

For the four-eyed among us, me included, there is a possibility of adding an insert behind the foam, to add distance between your eyes and the lenses. If you have regular-sized glasses, you can now use VR without the headache of ruining your frame, or the lenses on the headset. I myself use the insert, but more often I still wear contact lenses, since if you're like me, doubling the number of lenses doubles the likelyhood of having an annoying smudge somewhere in your field of view.

My unit has already got a few scoffs and bruises. If you care about having your VR pristine, be sure to buy a case

The headset weights less than 500g and the straps are very comfy. I can wear the Go for an hour without feeling too tired, although you do gain a typical "oculus ring" on your face after wearing it for couple of minutes. The build is a good compromise of quality and price, feeling sturdy and even premium, considering the price. On the side of the GO, you can find a microUSB charging/data port and a 3.5mm headphone jack. I haven't been using the jack at all, since the speakers are simultaneously loud and clear enough to watch movies and play games, and directional enough that the surroundings won't be too bothered by it. The sound separation it pretty amazing too. Oculus tells us we shouldn't use the Go while charging it, but since Carmack doesn't care about this warning, I consider it a CYA measure.

That's good, because the battery life is so-so. The capacity is 2600mAH, and screen time is about 1.5-2 hours. Good enough for gaming, not great for binge-watching Netflix series, nor longer movies. Fortunately, external batteries are getting quite cheap and you can get a 10 000 mAH one for €10. Oculus Go doesn't support quick charging, which is a shame, but doesn't affect the usage too much.

The controller is ergonomic and lasts ages on one AA battery

Controller

The controller provides you with 3 degrees of freedom. That means it senses when you rotate it or tilt it, but does not know it's position in space. Same thing applies for the VR headset itself. This limits you to a standing position, or preferably sitting in a rotating chair. This does not really affect watching movies in a virtual cinema, but is quite limiting for gaming and VR experiences. There are standalone 6DOF headsets on the market (Lenovo Mirage Solo and Oculus Vive Focus), but they are either lacking software support, and/or are limited to Chinese market and a lot pricier. There are also third-party addons that add support for 6DOF to the device, but they suffer the same problem as the standalone 6DOF devices. All in all, we have to wait for the Oculus Santa Cruz, or Vive Focus to come to worldwide availability to enjoy "proper" VR on the go.

Oculus Go's controller is based on the design of the GearVR controller and that's a good thing. It's very comfortable to hold in hand for long periods of time, has great trigger button and although the touchpad is mediocre in tracking, it does it's job well enough. I have only one problem with button layout and that is that I often mistake the back button with the home button. It sucks to try to get to the menu of the game and instead going back to the home screen and loosing 10 seconds to get back to work. I did not experience much controller drift, other than in some janky games (again, Racket Fury!)

Some games require gamepad. You can connect pretty much any Bluetooth gamepad via the app on you smartphone, or any wired USB gamepad with reduction to microUSB. I haven't found much uses for the gamepad yet, as I mainly use my Go as a movie watching device and to play games that do not really need it. I will try it out with a Steam controller when I get it, since it recently got firmware support for Bluetooth LE.

Software

The UI of Oculus-branded Android is great. It's easy enough to use for a 6 year old, quick to get to any app and has cool default 360° pictures. The app store lacks wishlist feature, which sucks, cause there is a huge selection of cool content on the Oculus store. I must admit, I may have already doubled the price of my Oculus Go just by purchasing a ton of great apps and games and really playing just a small fraction of them. A lot of the VR venues are US-only, but that's what a VPN is for ;)

Home screen

I have encountered some software bugs, mainly dealing with file management. I can't get Samba share to work in Pigasus video player and when deleting files from the device via the file manager on my desktop, the device won't release the disk space until it's rebooted. Other than that, the ocassional app crash when pressing the home button (argh... Racket Fury!!!) can be annoying, but doesn't break the experience completely.

Side-loading other Android apps seems easy enough, but I haven't yet felt the need. Even though Minecraft VR sounds great, there is so much official content that I haven't yet tried and so mane released every month, that I have yet to lack stuff to do with my headset. For those, with sizeable GearVR app library, follow this guide and you should be fine.

Personal experience and conclusion

Personally, even as a Facebook-hater, I must admit I fell in love with Oculus Go. It doesn't compare with the Rift or Vive, not even PSVR in terms of power, but this wireless and standalone implementation of a cool concept takes the cake in terms of convenience. It has the appeal of a console gaming system, before the time of lengthy updates and long boot times. Whenever I have 10+ minutes of free time, I have the option to delve into the virtual space, or watch a segment of an episode in a virtual cinema or on the surface of the moon.

Virtual cinema

It makes even simple things like watching a 2D movie, or playing a "pancake-style" game (games played on traditional displays) so much more immersing. I bring the Go almost to every family gathering and my family and friends love it. The children behave in order to get time allocated for them to explore the Universe in a rocket flying to Mars, play table tennis versus a rusty robot, or get scared shitless by a zombie infestation. Even senior citizens love are mighty impressed by the immersion factor. The only trouble is, that my brothers and cousins are now constantly bugged to buy a few these magic glasses by their little hellspawns. Lucky for them, the price tag for the experience is low enough for a christmas or birthday present.