[Gear Review] Oculus Go: What Virtual Boy Was Supposed To Be

Exactly 7 days ago I brought home a 64 gigabyte Oculus Go, which cost me a reasonable $250. You can see the unboxing here. I had some doubts then about whether I’d get much use out of it, as I have a Rift CV1 as well.

The Go is basically a Gear VR with the phone built in. The build quality is nicer, the ergonomics are better, design has been changed to solve the overheating and lens fogging problems, and various other quality of life improvements.

The specific chipset inside is from a Galaxy S7. Three generations old, though it’s difficult to tell. Most Gear VR games are still designed with the minimum spec of an S6 in mind, so the games run beautifully smooth at either 60hz or 75 depending on what the developer targets.

The biggest upgrade from Gear is the fact that the lenses are now fresnel, like on the Rift, and the display quality is improved. You actually get better visual clarity in the Go than you get in the CV1. However, it’s a step down in other ways. Namely, there’s no positional tracking of either the headset or the motion controller.

You play Go games seated, using either a Wiimote style wand which can only be used as a pointer, or you use a bluetooth gamepad like the Xbox One S controller. Feature wise, it’s pretty much what Nintendo promised us Virtual Boy was going to offer back in 1995:

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It only took 23 years for technology to deliver on that vision. Am I a little bitter? Maybe! But at least quality portable VR is finally a reality. And without the pesky cable in the picture, even! No cables at all in fact, which makes it an interestingly “free” feeling experience compared to constantly having to contend with the thick cable of the Rift CV1.

The graphics are a step down from what a VR capable PC can do, obviously. But they’re more than serviceable. I’d place them roughly between PS2 and Xbox quality, depending on the game. There’s limited use of shaders, and high polygon counts. Resolution is of course much higher than TVs from that period but the displays are also closer to your eye, so the apparent pixel density is only a bit better.

Do I miss positional tracking? Yes, a little. I forget about it quickly when using the headset though. This is first and foremost a portable unit. You will use it when sitting in a plane or on a long train ride for example. So you won’t be moving around, and can’t wave your arms all over the place.

It also helps that the games by and large are designed around this limitation. Cockpit games like End Space would not benefit from positional as you could put your head outside the spaceship by accident. The lack of a 6dof controller is a bit worse if you’re used to having “hands” in VR, but the best Oculus Go games all use gamepad anyway.

It’s also really intended mostly as a media consumption device for normies, and for that purpose it’s brilliant. You can re-center the view at any angle you please, which means while watching Netflix on this thing you can put the virtual “screen” above you as if it’s mounted to the ceiling, so you can watch comfortably in bed.

There are other stand-alone HMDs out there with positional tracking, but they’re all locked to the Google Daydream content library which is disappointingly sparse compared to what’s available for Gear VR and Oculus Go. The Santa Cruz, successor to the Go, should also be out in 2 or 3 years and has full 6dof tracking for both the headset and controllers.

Is that really necessary for watching video however? For most regular people who aren’t super into games, the Go is all they’ll ever need. It’s really just a bonus that there also happens to be a large library of great games available for it. As someone who invested a tidy sum into Gear VR content over the past 3 years, Go was a much welcomed upgrade and a logical purchase.

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