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Review: We do not recommend the $299 Oculus Quest 2 as your next VR system

Enlarge / It looks the same as its predecessor, but Oculus Quest 2 is quite different—and mostly in disappointing ways.Sam Machkovech

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 shipping on October 13.

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.

The takeaway: Bullet points for this review

A better screen, both in pixel resolution and refresh rate.

90Hz, but when? Facebook isn't clear about higher frame rate support.

More powerful wireless-VR hardware, which powers nifty under-the-hood tricks.

Less battery life. You'll barely exceed two hours of gaming on a single charge.

A cheaper, flimsier headstrap. You can pay more for a nicer one.

A baffling change to the "IPD" slider. Only certain skulls need apply.

The controllers are the same… but worse. I'm a bit shocked by this one.

The F-word. Yeah, we'll get into that.

Everything looks similar… but it's not

  • New box, with a much different, less sleek aesthetic compared to prior Oculus releases.
  • Inside this is an even simpler cardboard box.
  • But, I mean, you're just going to toss the box, anyway.
  • Headset, front-facing view. It's near-identical to Quest 1 in terms of dimensions.
  • Headset from the side.
  • Headset, on the author's head.
  • Those lens stickers have got to go.
  • Volume slider. But where's the IPD slider from Quest 1? Er… we'll get to that.
  • New controller (right) posed next to Quest 1 controller (left). Buttons are nearly identical, but now there's a larger pad for resting your thumb.
  • Closer zoom on both generations of Oculus Quest controllers. Yes, my original Oculus Touch 1 controllers have lived a long and full life.

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.

  • This default, cheap, backpack-like strap must be adjusted every time you put Quest 2 on, or take it off, because it doesn't come with a nifty elastic strap a la Quest 1. Sam Machkovech
  • An awkward photo of this strap on the author's head.

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.

Hope you have $50 more to spare

On other VR headsets, such a construction might be aided by elastic—like on the Quest 1, which cinches to your head but can be pulled a certain distance for headset removal. (Otherwise, you'd need to remove and re-snap Quest 1's velcro straps every time.) In a conversation with Ars, Facebook engineers insisted that this updated, flimsier strap is meant to support more hairstyles and to make it easier to put Oculus Quest 2 into a backpack. But after using the thing, I soundly reject this claim. My favorite thing about reviewing Quest 1 was how easily its firm-yet-pliable headstrap fit into any bag or case.

  • Elite Strap, the box.
  • Elite Strap, as packaged.
  • The default strap pops off of the plastic nubs on the sides, which are not the same as the elastic attachments on Quest 1.
  • This clicky dial lets you cinch a rubberized halo to the back of your head.
  • That's maximum extension, right there. I wish it were bigger.
  • Using my finger to lift the top-of-head strap for visibility.

Thus, Oculus Quest 2's starting price isn't really $299. It's $349, with the $50 cost of a Quest 2 Elite Strap tossed into the mix. This add-on, which goes in place of the default strap, revolves around a firmer plastic design that opens and closes with a clicky dial, all buffered by a rubberized halo (you know, the kind that supports a variety of hairstyles). This strap makes Quest 2 tougher to toss into a messenger bag, however, and if you have a giant head or wear glasses, it becomes much tougher to get onto your face, owing to the Elite Strap's weirdly limited "maximum" extension.

The Quest 2 Elite Strap beats the Quest 1's default strap in terms of weight distribution (which was my biggest complaint about it in 2019). But that comes at the cost of convenience and head-size restrictions. Facebook no longer offers the cleverly engineered last-gen strap as an option.

Today's lesson for pupils

Even if you make your peace with getting Quest 2 onto your face, you're in for another potential rude awakening. Oculus Quest 2 includes a higher-resolution fast-switching LED display, rated at 1832×1920 per eye, compared to a 1440×1600 rating for each of Quest 1's OLED panels. But, yes, you read that correctly. That's a single LED panel for Quest 2, not a pair of them.

Facebook tried this same engineering approach with 2019's Oculus Rift S, a PC-exclusive VR headset, but this decision changed the way users might adjust the headset's interpupillary distance (IPD) slider. Most VR headsets split their displays into two panels, then put them on a mechanical swivel that users can adjust at a sub-millimeter level so that they are properly aimed at each eye, perfect for anyone's uniquely shaped face. (IPD, for the uninitiated, is the distance between your pupils; it's comparable to the size of a credit card, though it can widely vary.)

The Rift S faked this by letting users artificially adjust IPD output via software, so that the pixels on this single panel might move leftward or rightward. The result was functional enough, but it left users with extreme IPDs out of luck and added an additional smear outside the lenses' "sweet spot" (meaning, pixels in the periphery looked blurrier than the center).

The eyes may not have it

Facebook wants you to grip the edges of the Quest 2's lenses in order to physically shift them from side to side. I do <em>not</em> like physically touching any part of a VR headset's lens assembly, personally.
Enlarge / Facebook wants you to grip the edges of the Quest 2's lenses in order to physically shift them from side to side. I do not like physically touching any part of a VR headset's lens assembly, personally.

Oculus Quest 2 tries to split the difference with an adjustment system that both physically moves the lenses and digitally alters which pixels light up. Instead of pressing on Quest 1's plastic guide to adjust a headset's screens and lenses for utter precision, Quest 2 asks users to push directly on the edges of the lenses—quite firmly—to slot them into one of three settings. That's a pretty iffy proposition for an average user, since directly touching a VR headset's lenses is a big, fat no-no.

Quest 1 offered sub-millimeter precision with its slider. But Quest 2 only offers three rigid IPD settings, each 5mm apart: 58mm, 63mm, and 68mm.

My IPD is 61.1mm, almost halfway between the first two positions. When I use either of the closest default Quest 2 options, the results are just blurry enough to make me feel uncomfortable and dizzy after 10 minutes of use. Hmm.

(This lines up with my experience with headsets like Valve Index, which are similarly uncomfortable once I encroach the 1mm differential between my real IPD and the headset's setting.)

I asked Oculus Quest product manager Rangaprabhu Parthasarathy about this design change. He alleged that when testing Quest 1's calibration system, which let users guide their IPD slider until a series of green lines turned from blurry to crisp, "users didn't know which is clearer." In other words: Facebook blames dumb users, not trying to save money.

"I'm really sorry it's not landing in your sweet spot," Parthasarathy added.

Cheating the Quest 2 system

So how did I conduct my Quest 2 review without tossing my cookies? I set the lenses to the "2" position (meaning, 63mm IPD), then pushed them inward as if I were shifting them to the "1" position… but stopped as soon as they got stuck in between. As a result, the single-LED panel continues to serve VR images at a 63mm expectation, but the lenses are moved inward just enough to warp them into something that I find comfortable. Thankfully, picking up and putting down the Quest 2 does not dislodge the lenses from my preferred position, even though they're not "locked" into place.

When I explained this method to Facebook reps during an interview, VR content director Chris Pruett misunderstood me: "If you've forced the lenses into an in-between setting, you may be getting more discomfort as a result." I explained this was my only source of Quest 2 relief.

But as Pruett reminded me, I'm cheating the Quest 2's system, which is "warping" the pixels according to the lenses' fixed position. In other words: If your IPD lands outside Quest 2's advertised options, do not expect my little trick to necessarily work for your comfort level.

Quick-loading, quickly snatched away

Oculus Quest 2's leak from earlier this week revolved around the best aspects of this headset: the updated specs compared to 2019's first-gen model. That included confirmation of Quest 2's Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 (based off Snapdragon 865 architecture) as its core SoC, 6GB of RAM, and up to 256GB of storage. (The base $299 model includes 64GB of storage; a $399 model gets you up to 256GB.)

This increased power fuels a few things in Quest 2's pre-release state. One of those is a new and impressive fast-switching feature for apps, which is currently buried in the companion Oculus smartphone app. (Reminder: You cannot boot any Quest headset without first syncing it to either an Android or iOS device, which I still maintain is ridiculous.)

With the smartphone interface loaded, I can tap any app listed in its library, so long as it's installed on my Quest 2 headset. Doing this will instantly boot that Quest 2 game or app—without necessarily closing other apps. I tested this out by bouncing from Beat Saber to Space Pirate Trainer to Rez Infinite to Tetris Effect, and back again, either with instant loads or faster-than-usual ones. Doing this on Quest 1 forces you to stop, quit to the main Oculus interface, and sit through each game's loading screens—which can draaaaag time-wise.

However, Oculus representatives have suggested that this cool functionality will be disabled once Oculus Quest 2 reaches store shelves in October. Please, Facebook, don't take something away from this headset that I actually like. (There's a chance it will still work if a game supports Oculus's new "Universal Menu" system. But that's not the same as the across-the-board speed I noticed in my tests.)

90Hz at launch, but not yet

As of press time, Oculus isn't talking about the jump in Quest 2 specs as a break in generations. For now, the Quest-specific app landscape will revolve around its first-generation hardware, while app makers can flag certain Quest 2 upgrades for their 3D games and apps: resolution, frame rate, or both. In great news, Quest 2 will usher in 90Hz as an option. In bad news, we don't know exactly when.

Battery

Facebook estimates "close to two hours" of Quest 2 gameplay on a single charge, and I've found that estimate is accurate. Ars has a standard "WebGL" battery test we run on Android devices, and Quest 1 reaches 175 minutes on that test at "default" brightness.

On Quest 2, that same test, at "default" brightness, gets to 131 minutes. A brighter, crisper, higher-res screen plays a role in that difference—but so does Oculus's decision not to ship this newer headset with a significantly bigger battery. Instead, they offer a $129 "Elite Battery Strap" for power-conscious users, which is like the Elite Strap but with an additional add-on battery built in. Facebook says this strap "doubles" Quest 2 baRead More – Source

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