Virtual Reality for Newcomers: The Oculus Go Experience


Looking to check out “VR”─ virtual reality─but don’t know where to begin? Say hello to the Oculus Go, the company’s entry-level offering for the holiday season. It’s the “light” version of their new, more advanced Oculus Rift S and Oculus Quest, but if you’re buying your first unit then its simplicity will be to your advantage. 

In case you hadn’t heard, Oculus was created by Facebook to get into the increasingly overcrowded VR market. FB first debuted a headset called the Oculus Rift, at E3, in June 2012, to less-than-stellar reviews. However, the Rift showed a lot of promise and has since made significant improvements, culminating in the Rift S and Quest.

For the Go, Oculus took the Rift, downsized the headset, ditched most of the tethered wiring that made the original Rift a nightmare to set up, and used advanced technology to contain everything the unit needs within the headset itself. This means you won’t trip over the wires while getting your bearings.

One of the most annoying features of the original Rift was the terrible controller configuration. For the Oculus Go, controls are made much simpler: A single three-button remote that, while not as immersive as the Quest or Rift S Touch controllers, is sufficient for pointing and menu navigation. Do games suffer because the level of immersion is lessened? Only hard-core gamers are going to be bothered by the flimsy control scheme. First-time users will like it right out of the box. 

The real test of what this VR headset can do rests in the software it offers. Oculus has done a fantastic job of building its VR store over the last couple of years, but the games do not play on every system, so you need to check for compatibility before you buy. Several free games and demos are available, along with some great VR experiences, and this is where the Oculus Go shines. 

When you want to successfully integrate VR into the mainstream, you need three things: a great experience, an easy setup, and an affordable price. The Oculus Go ticks all three of those boxes. You’ll notice we didn’t say you need great games. That’s because the Oculus Go is not for serious gamers. When you have an introductory headset like this, it’s going to be passed around, both physically and generationally. You’re going to want to play, your parents are going to want to play, your in-laws are going to want to experience it, and the kids are going to be naturally drawn to its entertainment value. These are not necessarily gamers, who are a different, more discerning breed of entertainment acolytes.

The Go’s breadth and depth will rest squarely with newbies in the VR world and curious fun seekers. If you want something with a little more action, excitement, and substance, look to the more advance devices (and read our reviews on the Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S).

As for ease of use, the Oculus Go needs only a stable Wi-Fi connection to get to the Oculus Store. All games and experiences are downloadable from there. There are plenty of free games, which means your kids could be occupied for hours before they actually need to buy something. Thankfully, most of the games won’t run you more than $19.99, as opposed to the $59.99 price point of disk-based games and cartridges. As said before, the unit is completely self-contained—no other wires, connectors, or peripherals are needed. You slip the headset on, connect, and go.

There are two versions: The 32GB and 64GB sizes refer to the storage space for games. Like most phones, you may want to go with the heftier version since you won’t be able to add additional storage to the unit (it neither accepts memory cards nor has a USB connector for external storage). With 32 GB you can store approximately 3 HD movies, 10 games, and 20 apps. The 64GB doubles that. If money is an object, go for the lower-priced version. It has plenty of room for most Go games, but you may have to make some tough choices later on about what you want to keep.


As for aesthetics, you should know that the price you pay for having all that hardware in one place means that there will be a certain amount of fatigue on your face after wearing the headset for any extended length of time. This will cause the headset to shift slightly and may result in “light leakage”—a small amount of light may be present in the bottom portion of the headset. Some people are greatly bothered by this, while others adjust to it without an issue. A tighter fit is available on both the Quest and Rift S, but very few headsets are completely capable of eliminating light leakage. 

Another minor issue that may be bothersome is that you cannot watch the action in the headset on another device. Those of us familiar with the PlayStation VR know that one of the joys of experiencing the party atmosphere that the PSVR brought was watching what the player was experiencing. On the Go (and the Quest) you are denied that experience, but as I said, some are bothered by it while others patiently wait their turn for their own VR experience. Oculus recently announced that it is developing updates to display your Oculus Go experience on your TV, and, for now, there is a workaround that involves displaying your game on your mobile device and then casting from your mobile device to your TV, but that seems unnecessarily cumbersome. 

It’s almost inconsequential to go through the tech specs, since the experience is mostly about VR and not the latest screen size. However, you should know that the Oculus Go sports a 5.5" display with a 1280 x 1440 resolution (per eye; the spec is 2560 x 1440). It uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor (circa 2016) and comes configured with either 32GB or 64GB of internal memory. Keep in mind that your library of games must remain on the device, so opt for the larger memory or get used to deleting games when they’ve run their course.

Sound is integrated into the straps of the unit via two identical slits in the front of the headset. The sound was appreciable, although playing in a crowded room at Thanksgiving with an extended family is probably not the most optimal sound test. However, when experiencing some of the entertainment software, like YouTube VR, Mission: ISS, or National Geographic VR, you’ll appreciate the robust sound.

The system runs on a rechargeable battery and lasts for 2.5 to 3 hours. Honestly though, you shouldn’t play any one game for more than 45 minutes—the discombobulation you feel after being in that headset for that long will stay with you awhile after you’re done. The device usually charges in a few hours. Oculus warns that you should not use the headset while it’s charging. This sounded ominous until I realized (through real-world experience) that they tell you that so you don’t whip around with the headset on and yank the power supply out of the wall.

Is this the best VR headset available right now? We won’t go that far—read our review of the Oculus Quest here before you make that determination—but it is the most affordable entry-level VR headset that doesn’t skimp on experiences or hardware. If someone you know who isn’t a serious gamer is looking to get into VR this season, this would make for a mighty fine foray into that magical world.

What do you think? Are you ready to make the leap into VR? Are you waiting for better games or more seamless integration in mainstream gaming? Let us know in the Comments section, below. And for even more news about the exciting world of virtual reality, check out our dedicated VR page here. You can also get the full rundown on the entire Oculus catalogue, including news, reviews, and more, at our dedicated Oculus Experience page.