The long-rumored (and recently leaked) Oculus Quest 2 is here, in my home, on my face. I received it earlier this month, along with news that this would be Oculus’s cheapest “all-in-one” VR system yet: starting at $299 and arriving on October 16.
That’s one hell of a price for cutting-edge VR. But it comes at a cost.
Part of that comes from Facebook’s aggressive policy about making Facebook social media accounts (whose terms of service revolve around a “real name” policy) mandatory to use new Oculus VR headsets, including the Quest 2. Let me be blunt: that is a terrible idea. Attachment of a social media account and its massive Web of personally identifying data (as accumulated by everything from service log-ins to average Web-browsing cookies) to computing hardware (VR headsets, phones, computers, TVs, etc) is quite frankly an irresponsible move on Facebook’s part.
If that’s the beginning and the end of this review for you, I do not blame you. I also encourage you to move comments about that specific opinion to my August op-ed about the development. (Or, quite honestly, redirect that comment-writing energy to your state or country’s regulators. I’ve already written to my home state’s Attorney General.)
But let’s say you already bought into Oculus hardware or software in the past, or you’ve made your peace with the company’s Facebookening. Or maybe in spite of all of the bad news, you’d make a deal with the Mephi-zuck-eles for a higher-performing, “all-in-one” Oculus Quest that’s now powered by a Snapdragon 865-equivalent SoC with more RAM, more pixels, and a higher refresh rate.
If that’s where you land, you’ll eventually find a different bummer about Oculus Quest 2: how desperate Facebook is to get the price down to that magical $299 number. It seemed like every single day that I tested this device in the pre-release period, I discovered some new corner-cutting issue that wasn’t worth the savings. Those piled up to the point where Facebook will need to launch a Quest “2+” revision before I’m ready to recommend this headset.
Everything looks similar… but it’s not
Oculus Quest 2 should look familiar, as its design language and general form factor are nearly identical to the original VR system that launched in March 2019 starting at $399. Both versions have four outward-facing cameras to track your nearby environs, so you can put the headset on anywhere and expect a convincing “transportation” effect inside VR. This “inside-out” tracking model can be found in most Windows Mixed Reality headsets, and it differs from systems like HTC Vive and Valve Index, which won’t work without infrared-spewing “tracking boxes” installed in your preferred playing space.
Unlike most other VR headsets, the Quest line does not require connections to a PC or console. Strap it onto your face, map out a “playing space” inside your home using your hands, and Quest 2’s internal hardware will do all of the 3D rendering. (Like the first model, Quest 2 supports optional connections to PCs for their higher-end games, as well.)
Quest 2’s pair of hand-tracked controllers include the same array of buttons, triggers, and joysticks as the first version, along with the same “halo” construction to hold their infrared sensors. You may glance at these and think you’re in for identical performance compared to other “Oculus Touch” controllers. Not so fast.
Facebook reps mentioned that the controllers were redesigned with an emphasis on increased battery life and comfort, which I found curious. The original Oculus Quest controllers didn’t last very long, but they only required one AA battery and were far more efficient than, say, the HTC Vive Cosmos controllers. What got the battery drain down further? This is when Facebook reps admitted that Quest 2’s controllers have fewer infrared sensor points.
I went back to compare tricky “expert” Beat Saber levels on both Quest 1 and Quest 2, and sure enough, the older controller is noticeably more accurate. It’s hard to perfectly measure VR controller detection without access to verbose data logs (which I’ve used to diagnose issues with SteamVR in the past). But I can safely say that after an hour going back and forth between Quest 1 and 2, the number of lost swipes on the newer hardware was higher. So this downgrade in sensor points checks out.
Worse, Quest 2 has removed the grippy, cross-grain texture found in Quest 1 controllers, while making the controllers slightly heavier (151g for the new controllers, versus 129g for Quest 1’s controllers). As a result, I’ve felt them slip out of my grip much more often than with Quest 1. Having a wider pad on top of the controller to rest my thumb doesn’t alleviate the issue. It’s the first of many curious changes between Quest headset generations.
Fabric feelings, strap yaps
In terms of cosmetic changes, Quest 2 no longer lines the headset’s sides with soft fabric, nor does it include a similar fabric lining in the inside. The former is a manageable bummer; I miss that soft sensation of picking the Quest up, but I can live without it. The latter genuinely impacts usability by allowing more light bleed into your field of view—it’s not much, but with VR immersion, every bit of light leak counts.
The biggest “cosmetic” change is also incredibly impactful to the headset’s function—the Quest 2 has a new strap. Ugh. I have never seen such an abomination in my years of reviewing VR headsets. It’s worse than Oculus Go, the previous bottom-rung candidate for cheapest-feeling headset strap on the market.
Instead of employing a typical “halo” strap design, meant as much to shift support and weight to the back of your head as to allow a variety of hairstyles through, Oculus has opted for an uncomfortable split-strap design. This connects a top-of-head strap and two straps leading to the headset’s left- and right-hand sides. If you have long hair, you now have one fewer organic way to pull that hair out comfortably.
Worse, you must adjust this strap’s fit every single time you put it on or take it off, since it works like a strap on a backpack or messenger bag: you must pull the strap through a pair of double-looped buckles. Quest 2 asks users to pull to the left to tighten, to the right to loosen. (Ever heard the phrase “righty-tighty, lefty-loosie,” Facebook?) It feels clumsy and obnoxious every single time, and its shape does a bad job of properly distributing the headset’s weight. That weight, by the way, is nearly identical to Quest 1; the new headset’s “10%” reduction in weight comes almost entirely from the change to this lighter default headstrap.