Oculus Quest 2 review: This just puts all other VR headsets to shame

Oculus's second-gen all-in-one VR headset is better in every possible way except when it comes to materials. This is the VR headset to buy. But are you okay giving money to Facebook?

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The Oculus Quest 2 comes at a precarious time. The world is still gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic and people are still seeking escape from the hellscape happening all around us.

If ever there was a need for an easier way to slip into VR worlds — even for a few minutes — for distraction, entertainment, or communication, it’s this moment, this year, 2020.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Quest VR headset. It was one of my favorite gadgets of 2019 and I have spent many hours this year falling in love again with games like Beat Saber, Pistol Whip, and Vader: Immortal, and watching random movies with strangers in a virtual movie theater. The hundreds of hours I’ve spent with the Quest strapped to my face reconfirmed areas I felt could be improved: it needs to be smaller and lighter for hours of extended use; the screen could be sharper; the hand-tracking more responsive; and it should be priced lower.

The people at Oculus, a Facebook-owned company, must have read my mind because they made all of those changes in the Quest 2. In fact, Oculus is so confident in the upgrades that it’s going to stop selling its high-end PC-based VR headset, the Rift S, because the Quest 2 offers superior standalone and PC (with Oculus Link) VR experiences. From here on out — at least until VR glasses happen — the Quest is Facebook’s one and only VR headset.

From here on out, the Quest is Facebook’s one and only VR headset.

Starting at $299 ($100 less than the first-gen Quest), it’s obvious Oculus set out to make the Quest 2 more appealing to people who aren’t VR enthusiasts. This competitive pricing pits it squarely against gaming consoles like the Nintendo Switch. The Quest 2 is an incredible value when I think back on how a headset that provides VR experiences with this level of visual and 3D-tracking fidelity used to cost over $1,000 (with a gaming PC) only a few years ago.

I’ve been using the Quest 2 for several weeks now. My Switch and PS4, once my daily late-night indulgences, have never been so dusty. Oculus made many correct decisions with the Quest 2 — I’m sure it’s going to sell like crazy when it launches on October 13 — but at the same time, there are some small steps back. None of them are enough to stop me from highly recommending the Quest 2. This is the VR headset to get. But I can’t help but feel Oculus cheapened the hardware in some places to slash the price down.

Simpler design

You tell me if it looks cheaper or not.Raymond Wong / Input

While the Quest doesn’t really feel heavy on my head except during hours of continuous use in which I usually have to take it off to recharge anyway, I know many people have said it weighs their face down. Good news: the Quest 2 is slightly smaller and a little over 11 percent lighter than its predecessor.

Oculus achieved these reductions by paring down the design and materials, which I personally think strips away the premium look and feel of the Quest. The fabric-covered outside of the headset has been replaced with plastic. The semi-rigid rubberized (and more supportive in my opinion) cradle head strap has been swapped out for an adjustable elastic that more resembles straps you’d find on the mobile VR headsets like the discontinued Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR.

The Oculus Quest 2 vs. Oculus Quest 1. Note the head strap change.Raymond Wong / Input
The foam padding feels cheaper this time.Raymond Wong / Input
There's also no lining between the lenses.Raymond Wong / Input

There’s no longer a mesh-like lining that covers the insides between the two lenses. The off-white color, while less intimidating than black, picks up dirt more easily. Also — and this is my least favorite downgrade — the foam padding where the headset presses against your face is not made of breathable fabric like on the Quest. Instead, the foam feels more like the inserts you use to seal a window unit A/C; I don’t think these will hold up as nicely over time.

The cutbacks also extend to some of the features on the Quest. For example, Oculus removed the Quest’s dual headphone jacks (one on each side) and ditched the IPD (interpupillary distance) slider for a three-mode IPD switch mechanism that can only be adjusted by moving the lenses closer or farther apart when the headset is taken off.

The Quest 2's IPD is now adjusted by moving the lenses closer and farther apart.Raymond Wong / Input

I’m also salty the really nice hardshell case that the Quest came with, which is awesome for storing the headset, controller, cables, and spare batteries, is not included. An Oculus designer told me the new strap allows for easier packing in a backpack (just tuck the strap into the headset), but I disagree. On one trip to my sister’s house, the headset and controllers got lightly scratched. Not to mention, the lenses collected dust and dirt during transit. You’ll definitely want to keep a microfiber handy whether you’re playing at home or transporting the Quest 2. Fortunately, Oculus is selling a travel case separately. It just sucks that it’s an additional $49, though.

It sounds like I don’t like anything about the Quest 2 design, but that’s only because the Quest set such a high standard for fit and finish. I probably should have seen this coming since the original Rift was a harmonic blend of technology and fabric material and the Rift S is a forgettable bland hunk of plastic. From a business perspective, I get why all of these changes were made (smaller, lighter, $100 cheaper, yada yada). That still doesn’t change the fact the Quest 2 feels cheaper.

But I digress, the Quest 2 does get one design feature right: the two Touch controllers are way better than the Quest’s. They’re slightly larger and imperceptibly weightier, but it’s nice that there’s more surface area for resting your thumbs (the controllers more resemble the original Rift’s) and the battery covers don’t come loose the way they always do with the Quest’s controllers during sweaty rounds of Superhot.

More power, more realism

Look, VR will probably never look cool and that’s okay because it’s what’s on the inside that matters more. And man, oh man is the Quest 2 great underneath its plastic shell. The headset is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 chip, which is based on the Snapdragon 865 chip that you find in flagship phones like the OnePlus 8 Pro and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra.

Long story short: The Quest 2 has CPU and GPU power that’s three generations more powerful than the Quest’s Snapdragon 835 chip, which came out in 2016. Paired with 6GB RAM and the Quest 2 has way more runway for larger and more and graphics-intensive VR games and experiences. This all translates to even more realistic, immersive VR.

I didn’t do any scientific comparisons between the Quest and Quest 2, but anecdotally, I could feel a difference in responsiveness on the newer headset. Big and fast-paced games like Beat Saber, Vader: Immortal, and Arizona Sunshine loaded faster, jittered less often, and had more fluid controller and body tracking. It’s hard to describe, but 3D space feels smoother and less janky. It’s really the little things that add up. For example, turning is more lifelike and less choppy and stiff. Hand and finger-tracking are more fluid; I saw less stuttering when I bent my fingers and using gestures to select and scroll things was overall less flaky.

There are four cameras on the front of the Quest 2 for tracking controllers and AR passthrough.Raymond Wong / Input

This heightened level of immersion is largely due to the XR2 chip, but also the higher resolution 90Hz refresh rate display. Two things: 1) it’s a single panel that’s split into two halves for each eye versus the two separate displays in the Quest and 2) the display is an LCD like in the Rift S and not an OLED in the Quest. The latter, as you probably already know, is more expensive, but delivers deeper blacks and more vibrant colors.

At the end of the day, the type of display doesn’t degrade VR experiences in my opinion. Hardcore VR enthusiasts will probably freak about the change in display tech. But I’m not bothered by the black levels; they look fine. I care more that games look sharper and run smoother. And they do! The Quest 2’s 1,832 x 1,920 resolution per eye (50 percent more pixels compared to the Quest) makes everything in VR less fuzzy. Draw distances are more defined, objects in the background more visible, and text is more legible.

Path of the Warrior is literally a VR version of Streets of Rage.

As for the 90Hz refresh rate. Well, I wasn’t able to try it out because Oculus capped it at 72Hz (same as the refresh rate on the Quest) pre-launch; the company says 90Hz will be “coming soon” after launch. Still, for whatever reason (maybe the XR2 or additional RAM), a game like Path of the Warrior (an awesome VR-inspired version of Streets of Rage everyone one should get) made me less nauseous on the Quest 2; I could never play it on the Quest because moving around made me want to vomit.

Like any VR headset, you’re only going to “get it” and see how much better VR games and content look when you try the Quest 2 for yourself. Seeing is believing and the Quest 2’s higher resolution screen is a real treat for your eyeballs. There’s still a screen door effect, but its effect is minimized on the Quest 2. If you need an analogy, think of the Quest 2’s display like going from 720p HD to 1080 full HD. It’s not quite as big of a graphics jump as it is to 4K, but your eyeballs can see the difference at close range.

Spatial sound is blasted through small slits on the straps.Raymond Wong / Input

More feeling

Controller tracking is more responsive on the Quest 2.Raymond Wong / Input

Visual fidelity is only one half of what makes VR so mind-blowing. Motion tracking — with controllers or hands — is equally as important and the Quest 2’s tracking is better than before. This isn’t because of new cameras with wider fields of view. The four cameras mounted on the face of the Quest 2 are still the same exact ones from the Quest, but thanks to the XR2’s specific mixed reality processing and the additional RAM, the Quest 2 is able to achieve lower latency which results in greater responsiveness.

I’m not exaggerating when I say everything in VR feels snappier on the Quest 2 versus the Quest. It’s kind of like going from the first version of Kinect to the second version or the leap from the regular Wii Remote to the updated Wii Remote with MotionPlus. Version 1 works, but version 2 works so much better. Battery life is longer for the controllers, too. Oculus says it’s extended the controllers’ battery life by up to 4x longer.

The triggers are more springy.Raymond Wong / Input
The controller's surface is larger with space to rest your thumbs.Raymond Wong / Input

You won’t feel the improved responsiveness if you’re using the Quest 2 for stationary VR content where you basically point and click at things. But you definitely will notice the responsiveness when you’re busting out a dance move in a game like Dance Central or punching tough guys in Path of the Warrior.

There are still blindspots to 6DoF (six degrees of freedom) motion tracking on standalone VR headsets like the Quest 2. Mainly, there’s no camera underneath the headset for tracking controllers or hands directly under it. But I would say that’s rarely an issue since the majority of VR content is optimized for tracking directly in front of the headset.

Huge Library

One of the biggest concerns people had when the Quest launched last year was content. Would there be enough content long term? Between Quest-only VR content and Rift content via Oculus Link, I can safely say there’s no shortage of things to do or see in VR.

There are literally hundreds of VR experiences to jump into. Just when I think I’ve played the best VR game, a new one comes out. Oculus shared demos for upcoming content including, but not limited to The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners, Warhammer 40,000 Battle Sister, and Little Witch Academia. I can’t say all of the VR experiences I tried were for me, but that’s the beauty to the vast catalog available for Quest. There’s always something new to check out and you never know what to expect.

Pistol Whip
Asgard's Wrath

VR content isn’t like regular video games where, for example, you know what a shooter will play like or what a rhythm game will likely offer. A trailer can show you what kind of VR experience to expect, but immersing yourself in it is often very different. It’s this experimentation that keeps VR so fresh. Sure, you’ll find yourself with some games that are total duds or maybe they make you sick, but there are just as many gems to be discovered.

Which brings me to storage. The Quest 2 comes in two versions: 64GB ($299) and 256GB ($399). Personally, I think 64GB is not enough. Not when you’re downloading games that average 5GB or more. The OS also takes up some storage so you don’t get the full 64GB of storage. I filled up my first-gen Quest pretty quickly downloading games and I’m already close to running out of space on the Quest 2.

The sheer volume of content available for Quest 2 encourages you to download more so you can try new stuff. I don’t understand why Oculus didn’t bump up the base model to at least 128GB. Well, actually, I do know the reason. It’s the same reason why iPads and iPhones start at 64GB of storage: to lower pricing.

Planet Zuck

Oculus told me the goal with Quest 2 is to make VR more accessible — make it more affordable to a mass audience. Cheaper materials aside, I think Oculus has succeeded.

The Quest 2 is the most complete and uncomplicated VR headset money can buy. There’s no other VR headset that delivers such a robust all-in-one VR experience, while simultaneously also catering to PC VR enthusiasts. It’s sad the Rift is dead, but I think it’s the right move for Oculus. Focusing on the Quest is better for developers and users. It’ll mean fewer headsets to optimize for and a singular set of features to rally behind.

I look at HTC Vive and just shake my head wondering what they’re doing over there. Do they see Oculus is eating their lunch with the Quest? Do they even care?

The Quest 2 is the most complete and uncomplicated VR headset money can buy.

So the Quest 2 rules. But you also have to ask yourself: do you trust Facebook? Since Oculus announced last month that a Facebook account is required to use Oculus VR headsets, you have to decide for yourself if you’re okay with selling your soul to Mark Zuckerberg for access to Oculus VR.

Will you be able to sleep at night knowing that you’re playing within the walls of a man who has repeatedly shown no remorse for allowing its platform to spread misinformation? Do you give dollars to a company that has been blamed for aiding in the destruction of American democracy by allowing Trump and his legion of crooks and deluded to run rampant?

That’s a tough call only you can answer. To be clear, though a Facebook account is required to use the Quest 2, you don’t need to use any of Facebook’s social VR features. Oculus told me there will be clear settings for users to turn off certain Facebook integrations.

Using an Oculus headset used to be simple and it still is with the Quest 2. But the moral conundrum of hopping in bed with Facebook also makes ownership more messy than ever.

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