Oculus Quest 2: Facebook’s $299 VR headset feels too good to be true

September 16, 2020 John Mendoza No Comments


  • $100 less than before
  • Better, faster processor
  • Higher-res display
  • Great self-contained gaming experience
  • Doubles as PC VR headset
  • Lighter and a bit smaller

Don’t Like

  • Store still lacks some higher-end games
  • Only 2-3 hours of battery life
  • You have to use Facebook to log in

The rumors are true: The Oculus Quest 2 is real, and it’s better than the original. It’s also less expensive. Facebook is starting a renewed push to get everyone into VR, and the $299 Quest 2, arriving Oct. 13, could be the device that makes virtual reality mainstream. The most fascinating device I used last year was, without a doubt, the Oculus Quest. The VR headset seemed to suddenly fuse PC and mobile virtual reality into one compact, cable-free, affordable package. This year, it’s already been my portable holodeck, my little magic fitness room, my escape space. I didn’t expect a sequel a year later, much less one that was both better and cheaper. 

Facebook has aggressively updated the Quest with a new, faster, VR-optimized Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor and a higher-resolution display, and dropped the price by $100 to $299. (In the UK the starting price is £299, and in Australia it’s AU$479.) In a year defined by quarantine and remote communications, Facebook looks more intent than ever on getting as many people to use VR as fast as possible.

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The Quest 2 replaces the original Quest. But it will also, eventually, replace Facebook’s PC headset, too: The Oculus Rift S will no longer be sold as of next spring, so the compact Quest 2 headset will now be Facebook’s only VR product. It can connect with PCs or stand on its own, and with a new Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 processor it could be capable of running much more advanced software. It might even be Facebook’s little affordable Trojan horse that lets you explore mixed reality and AR before full-fledged AR smart glasses arrive years from now.

I’ve been using the Quest 2 for the past two weeks.

Oculus Quest 2

The original Quest in black and the Quest 2 in white.

Scott Stein/CNET

The original Quest was already a CNET Editors’ Choice award-winning product. So what does lowering the price and improving the headset do? Even if the Quest 2 were the same price as before, it would be easy to recommend. It’s lighter and faster and has revised controllers with better battery life. The display resolution is notably crisper and remarkably easy to read text on. Unfortunately, if you bought an Oculus Quest recently, this news really stinks (to my brother-in-law and nephew, I’m sorry). But for anyone else, it’s a great time to hop aboard… with one big looming question mark. That question mark is Facebook itself.

Facebook’s policies for the Oculus VR have changed, requiring a Facebook login, which wasn’t necessary before. Existing Oculus ID owners still have to merge accounts immediately when using the Quest 2. Facebook’s social media ambitions are clearly aligned where VR and AR are heading, and guess what? The Oculus Quest 2 is a Facebook product. This isn’t surprising to me, but it’s something to consider if you want a VR headset that’s more open and flexible, or doesn’t live under Facebook’s umbrella. 

But it’s also true that the Oculus Quest is the best self-contained VR headset on the planet, and the Quest 2 is even better. It’s more of a VR mini game console than anything, but its other tools — virtual big-screen computer monitors, fitness training software, immersive theater portals — add dimensions you may not even have considered. The Quest 2, like the Quest, is an escape ticket to magic worlds. It’s also a fantastic little machine for playing Beat Saber.

More game console than work device

If you treat the Quest 2 as a motion-enabled game console for your face and hands, or a way to socialize with friends in magic worlds where you can run around as invented avatars, it’s fantastic. The experiences I’ve had in Oculus Quest have been surprising and strange, magical and active. The Quest 2 looks to be walking that same path with its curated app store and self-contained ecosystem. The full-motion 6 degrees of freedom (6DoF) tracking, using four in-headset cameras, is all the same right now. The controllers are complex but well-designed.

But I do wonder when the Quest will transcend to become more. There are work tools in the Quest ecosystem, and ways to have virtual meetings: Spatial’s app brings people into shared spaces with workflows and cloud storage tools. Virtual monitor apps like Immerse can turn the Quest into a virtual series of monitors for your real computer. Plug in a USB cable, and the Quest 2 can be a PC VR headset (Oculus Link, which was in beta before, is coming out of beta alongside Quest 2), and work with a lot of Steam apps as well.

Still, the Quest doesn’t interface with Apple iOS or Google’s Android OS, although it pairs with a phone app like a smartwatch for some basic syncing and screen casting. You can’t just hop into a Zoom call or share a doc, and the flow between my virtual computer work life and the VR virtual flow isn’t there yet. I hope it can arrive because in my opinion, VR headsets should be more like immersive visual headphones. Right now they’re more like customized and different toolkits with positives (physical immersion) and negatives (no face-to-face camera conversation, and no easy work tools like a mouse and keyboard).  

A great example of VR’s limits is the Quest 2’s still-evolving hand tracking. I can use my hands to reach out and touch things, controller-free, which is wild. But I can’t get physical feedback, and mastering the specific gestures needed to open an app, drag an object somewhere or type a response to a message feels extremely difficult.

Oculus Quest 2

Scott Stein/CNET

What’s excellent

The price: The $299 all-in cost is still not trivial, especially in an economic downturn. But I’m looking at the Quest after reviewing a $1,400 phone, so about $300 doesn’t seem so bad at all. Another consideration is that the step-up $399 version has 256GB of storage, up from the 128GB max on the previous Quest.

The display resolution: The new 1,832×1,920-per-eye pixel resolution is improved from the 1,400×1,600 on the older Quest, and it makes everything smoother, removing a lot of the “screen door” pixelation. The newer XR2 processor also cuts down on the lower-res halo on the edges of the display that happened previously due to fixed foveated rendering (which only made the center of the display look ultrasharp to help the older processor). It’s more universally clean and crisp now, even at the edges.

Oculus Quest 2

Built-in audio pumps up from right behind those straps, but there’s also a headphone jack.

Scott Stein/CNET

Built-in audio doesn’t need headphones: The ambient spatial audio that comes out of the side straps is pretty good, and I prefer it to using headphones. It sounds a bit better to me than the first Quest. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack.

The new XR2 chip could create far more advanced graphics and be used for improved room tracking and mixed reality: Right now, the Quest 2 runs the same Quest apps and has the same hand-tracking capabilities. The system should be able to run more advanced apps and evolve its room awareness and tracking skills. Qualcomm’s chip is several generations beyond what the previous Snapdragon 835 could offer, and has specialized computer vision AI. But that’s all theoretical; right now it’s running nicer-looking Quest games.

Oculus Quest 2

Scott Stein/CNET

The refresh rate is better, up to 90Hz: The first Quest could run at 72Hz, a bit less than PC VR headsets that can go to 90Hz. The faster the refresh rate, the smoother the experience. The Quest 2 can do 90Hz, but it’ll start only as an experimental feature for the home and browser apps, with app support coming later on.

The size and weight: Facebook says the new Quest is 10% lighter (17.7 ounces, or 503 grams) and it’s also smaller. It’s still a pair of goggles, but it’s easier to carry around and wear. The basic flex straps are easier to pack down, too — the older Quest’s harder strap made it bulkier for travel.

Oculus Quest 2

The new Quest 2 controller (left) versus the original Quest (right). Same layout, but there’s more finger-rest room, and the controller’s a bit bigger now.

Scott Stein/CNET

The new controllers and their battery life: The revamped Oculus Touch controllers have the same buttons and analog sticks and triggers, like a split-apart PlayStation controller. But the new controllers are bigger and sturdier-feeling, and have a bigger button area with a thumb rest. The controllers still use AA batteries as opposed to being rechargeable, but last a lot longer on a single battery. I haven’t needed to replace them yet after two weeks. Also, the battery cover doesn’t randomly slide off like it sometimes does on the older Quest controllers.

The game library: Right now, the Quest 2 runs exactly the same games and apps as the Quest. That collection of apps is already pretty large and full of great VR game options. There are also a bunch of new upcoming games, many of them ports of existing PC or console VR games. I’ve played early versions of the upcoming Rez Infinite, the survival battle royale Population One, The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners and first-person shooter Warhammer 40,000 Battle Sister. So far, all of these are backward-compatible with the Quest, so owners of the first Quest definitely don’t need to upgrade. Will the Quest 2 eventually run its own exclusive apps? Hard to tell down the road, but I’d expect it.

Oculus Quest 2

The elastic straps are more compact now, but sometimes not as comfy.

Scott Stein/CNET

What’s a bit of a letdown

You need to use a Facebook account: As I said above.

It’s not as friendly to my larger glasses: The eye area on the new Quest is a bit smaller, and the included foam padding feels firmer and cushier. But my glasses now seem a bit more jammed in than on the older Quest. Facebook is selling a fit pack ($39) with a few different snap-out foam frames for different face types, so maybe I need one of those.

The new head straps aren’t quite as comfy, either: Going with simpler elastic straps instead of the more rigid array on the first Quest means the headset feels a little less comfortable for me. Facebook is selling a rigid Elite Strap ($49) that can be attached, and again, maybe that would help?

Same headset battery life, takes a long time to recharge: The headset lasts 2 to 3 hours, which is like the last Quest. I find battery life can run down in just one evening, and then I need to recharge. And recharging takes a long time — an hour or more, which means you’ll need to take a VR break whether you like it or not. Facebook does sell a head strap with an extra battery pack, though, which I’m curious to try. (See a trend here?)

Oculus Quest 2

You need a longer USB-C cable to connect to a PC for VR.

Scott Stein/CNET

The included USB-C cable is a lot shorter now: The original Quest included a superlong USB-C cable that could be used to charge while playing, or tether via USB-C to a PC. The shorter charge cable with the Quest 2 makes that impossible, but guess what? Facebook sells a longer cable (or you could buy your own for PC tethering via Oculus Link).

No expandable storage: The 64GB on the $299 Quest will hold several dozen apps and games or so, in my experience (Oculus apps run anywhere from 100MB to several gigabytes). The step-up 256GB model should be plenty. But that onboard storage is your only option.

The LCD display’s blacks aren’t as black as the original Quest OLED: The fast-switch LCD on the Quest 2 is generally better, but the black levels are clearly less black. In a darkened virtual movie theater or with a dark game like The Room VR, I’m a lot more aware of the display’s light. (On the up side, bright images and text like web pages seem more vivid.)

Oculus Quest 2

IPD adjustment is one of three fixed settings.

Scott Stein/CNET

IPD adjustment for my eyes was a bit of a learning process: The older Quest fit my eyes perfectly, and also had an interpupillary distance slider to fit eye distances for nearly anyone. The Quest 2 replaces the slider with three preset eye distance settings (53mm, 63mm, 68mm) that are meant to fit most people, but at first my vision didn’t feel 100% with any of them. Over time, I readjusted the straps to my head and started to get better results. I also have thick prescription glasses, FYI.

You can’t really use it in sunlight: The Oculus Quest 2 is like a vampire — keep it indoors. Direct sunlight can cause permanent damage to the displays if beams go through the inner lenses, and when I played outside, the headset tracking had some trouble finding the controllers. It’s a reminder that VR headsets still aren’t everyday take-absolutely-anywhere things quite yet, though I’ve done some outdoorsy experiments from time to time.

A possible magic doorway to more, but what about Facebook?

Facebook’s road to the future is set toward augmented-reality smart glasses that can blend the virtual and real, but that could still be years off. In the meantime, the Oculus Quest 2 could have enough onboard power to evolve new ideas for Facebook’s immersive work. The first Quest changed a lot in its first year, adding hand tracking, PC connectivity and other experimental features. As more compact and mobile-connected VR headsets start arriving in the next year or two, the Quest 2 could be ready for even more. The only question is how far Facebook will take it.

Besides whatever concerns about Facebook and data you may have, there’s also the question of how open Facebook allows its VR universe to be. While the Quest connects easily with PCs, what about the future of phones? How will the Quest dovetail with the apps we use every day? Right now, it doesn’t. But the future ahead will be about phones and tablets that plug into VR and AR, and the Oculus Quest needs to be part of that future, too.

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