Oculus’ main competition is… itself?
When it comes to the Oculus Go’s closest competition, it probably isn’t the new standalones like the Lenovo Mirage Solo and HTC Vive Focus but in fact its own collaborative VR success story, the Samsung Gear VR.
We’re sure people are still buying even the original Gear VR on the cheap – which slide-in-your-phone headset you go for depends on which Galaxy phone you have, how much you care about extras like the bundled controller and how much money you have to spend.
For the purposes of this piece, let’s assume we’re talking about the latest Gear VR (2017) headset which launched alongside the Galaxy S8. So which beginner-friendly, (fairly) affordable VR headset is the best buy?
Design and comfort
When it comes to the design, these two are almost identical with a similar shape, wireless, portable and minimal buttons. They also look equally dorky to anyone watching though the Go looks neater overall.
The main difference is of course the fact that the Xiaomi-built Oculus Go has everything built in, whereas the Samsung Gear VR requires your Galaxy phone to power everything and provide the display. It is really nice just picking up the Go, hitting the power button on top, grabbing the controller and starting up.
A lot of this versus will be a case of “it depends” and that goes for the build and comfort of these two headsets. Both are light, even with the phone in the Gear VR, easy to strap up and shouldn’t push down on your nose. The Go has a jack for your headphones which is slightly less fiddly than finding the port on your phone.
Overall, I personally prefer the snug fit of the Gear VR as I’m not a fan of the (in my opinion) big nose hold of the Oculus Go. We’d recommend trying both headsets on in store if you get the chance for this very reason.
If you wear glasses, the Oculus Go might be a better bet – it comes with a rubbery eyeglass spacer to create more room for your specs.
The Oculus Go does offer a slight upgrade over what you’ll get from a Gear VR. Not so much in terms of resolution – it’s a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 display which works out at 538ppi and the Samsung Galaxy S8’s 5.8inch screen is capable of capable of a 2960 x 1440 resolution but Samsung is shipping it set to 2220 x 1080.
But it does seem to have a slightly larger field of view than the Gear VR’s 101 degrees thanks to the Fresnel lenses used on the Oculus Go. In terms of performance, the Go also offers a slightly faster 72Hz refresh rate for developers who can choose it over 60Hz if they want a smoother performance.
Both headsets suffer from slight fogging, when you first put the headset on so keep a cloth handy. And the spatial audio on the Oculus Go is really impressive so that might be something to consider.
When it comes to tracking and controls, we’ll give it to the Oculus Go but just. This still feels very much like a mobile VR experience. The Go has three degrees of freedom tracking which means you can move and rotate your head, and the controller, up and down and side to side but it won’t track you as you duck, lean or move around the room.
Tracking is generally good and the controller, which is very similar (slightly smaller) to the controller that now comes bundled with the Gear VR, has a touchpad, trigger and two buttons – back and Oculus Home. Both are light and super easy to use with one hand, run on AA or AAA batteries and in both cases, you can choose to hook up your own Bluetooth gamepad for extra gaming controls.
Apps and games
Right now, both the Oculus Go and Samsung Gear VR have access to Oculus’ mobile app and game store. We like it – it’s got a decent selection of episodic games, 360 videos, VR experiments, crowdpleasers like horror titles, free and (cheap) paid for selections etc.
It has come under some criticism as some people feel it’s still missing a ‘killer app’ though. Put it this way: this is a different thing entirely to what you can do and play on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, more like smartphone apps and games than console titles. As long as you realise that, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
One point that might annoy Oculus Go owners – many of these apps and games were designed for the Samsung Gear VR which until last year didn’t have a handheld controller, just gaze tracking and a trackpad on the side of the headset. And that shows.
Oculus has games that it is highlighting as made for Go – Catan VR, République etc – and though it’s a small selection for now, this should grow, especially if Go sales are promising in these first few months. Don’t underestimate what Oculus did with Rift plus Facebook’s own experiments in social VR apps – Oculus Rooms is on here, no Facebook Spaces for now.
We moaned a bit about the Oculus Go’s battery life in our full review but actually it’s a much better bet than the Samsung Gear VR, and one of the main reasons to go for a standalone at this price point.
The Go will give you 1.5 to two hours of VR gaming or two to 2.5 hours of 360 videos on one charge and it charges (slowly) via microUSB. That’s not too bad and it’s unlikely you’ll want to be in VR for any longer than that at a time.
You’ll be lucky if you get two hours of any VR content out of a Samsung Galaxy phone – you guessed it, it depends what you’re doing and which phone you have.
Your phone may charge back up more quickly but there’s the added annoyance of the fact that this is your phone which is probably running a bunch of apps and that you need for a million other things. There are a few tricks to get more out of it – closing down apps, making sure you’re on the latest Oculus software – though.
As a general rule, if you own a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone – or you’re about to get one – then we’d suggest sticking with the Samsung Gear VR for now and save yourself some money. The app and game selection is very similar right now and Samsung has its own handheld controller.
For everyone else though, the Oculus Go is well worth the extra $100 to free up your phone as you spend time in VR. There’s also the fact that now the Go exists, Facebook and Oculus will spend more time and energy making this the best affordable, wireless VR experience – probably more so than its collaboration with Samsung on the Gear VR.
Of course, the Go and Gear VR aren’t the only options and you should also consider the standalone Daydream options, namely the Lenovo Mirage Solo. With Google’s WorldSense tech and six degrees of freedom tracking, the Solo is a step up in terms of capabilities, but it’s also twice the price of the Go at $399 and it can’t compete with the similarly priced Oculus Rift on the gaming front.