Oculus Quest 2 Review: Not Quite the Perfect VR On-Ramp

Oculus Quest 2 Review: Not Quite the Perfect VR On-Ramp

The Oculus Quest beef up and slims down, but not every cut is a worthwhile one. Nor is every addition.

For all the effort of Oculus and its competitors to bring VR into the mainstream, no one has really found the perfect product. When I reviewed the original Oculus Quest, I felt like I had found the "the sweet spot in terms of consumer-grade virtual reality". The relatively low price and the standalone nature of the headset was a great starting point. Add in the Oculus Link feature in beta, which allowed users to use the Quest as a PC VR headset, and I felt Oculus was on the right track.

Oculus owner Facebook must have thought so as well, because the Oculus Quest 2 is here and this is the company's VR play for the foreseeable future. Gone is the Rift line of headsets. I previously recommended a price cut of $100 for the Quest, and now the Quest 2 starts at $299 for the 64GB model. Oculus has beefed up the performance and tweaked the design to make a device that will hit that price point, while still being everything the Quest was.

I remain impressed, but with strong caveats.

Three generations ahead of its predecessor. | Oculus

Upgrading the Quest - Internals

When the Quest came out last year, it was the mid-range option in Oculus VR's product line. At the low-end, you had the Go, and the PC-only Rift S occupied the high-end. The Quest was powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip. That processor combined with 4 GB of memory to drive two Pentile OLED displays with an individual resolution of 1440 × 1600 and a refresh rate of 72 Hz. The Quest was a far cry from the Rift S or the far more expensive Valve Index, but that was fine. The Quest didn't need to be the end-all, be-all for the company; it was the definition of "good enough" technology.

That's changed with the Quest 2 and Oculus has beefed up the system accordingly. The SOC is now the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2, a variant of the Snapdragon 865. That's right, this is a jump of three generations in terms of architecture in a single year. There's additional RAM, bringing the total up to 6 GB.

The new Quest 2 screen is a single LCD panel providing 1832 × 1920 per eye, something Oculus calls "nearly 4K". That's a huge jump over the original screen in terms of resolution, and the standard refresh rate is still 75Hz. (Oculus touts an improved 90Hz refresh rate mode for the Quest 2, but it's not widely implemented yet.) The benefit of switching to LCD is the ability to provide that larger screen in a cost effective manner, but you lose the true blacks of the OLED screen.

That said, the new screen drops the Pentile configuration: the original Quest has a slight "screen door" look to everything because of the diamond configuration of the LEDs. The Quest 2 has an RGB stripe display like the Rift S; it's harder to see the spaces in-between the pixels with this type of display. Combined with the resolution bump, the software on the Quest 2 looks immediately clean as soon as you boot it up. The difference in a single iteration, a single year, is stunning to be honest.

The Quest 2 in its natural habitat. | Mike Williams/USG, Oculus

A New Design Reality - Hardware Design

So if the hardware inside is significantly more powerful, where did Oculus make cuts? Well, the hardware design is a mix of steps forward and steps back. The Quest 2 is lighter than its older sibling, coming in at 1.1 pounds/503 grams, versus the 1.25 pound/571 gram weight of the original. Once it's on your head, it's one of the lightest VR headsets on the market.

Unfortunately, the new head strap is a miss for me. On the Quest, the headstrap was a single piece of rubber, adjusted by three Velcro straps. This has some drawbacks, notably it would slide when you got sweaty playing Beat Saber or Pistol Whip, but it was also very easy to put on and adjust. If you're playing in a semi-social situation, the original Quest was easy to pass around.

The Quest 2 has a new two-piece cloth strap, with one strap going vertically, and another going horizontally. The vertical strap has a Velcro adjustment, but the horizontal strap uses a double sliding buckle system, like a messenger bag. It is horrible to adjust when you're putting it on your head, and if you're passing the headset around, even more so. The trade off of these adjustment annoyances is that once the Quest 2 is on your head, it's pretty firm and the cloth strap is better in terms of dealing with sweat.

The new head strap and IPD adjustments are a step back. | Oculus

The straps do include better directed speakers this time around, but this also means there's a little more sound bleed over the original. I'd recommend using the include headphone jack with your own headphones. The jack is located near the USB-C slot on the left side of the headset. If you're using the official Oculus Link cable, it needs to face rearward to order to use the cable and headphones.

The truth is that Oculus has a better strap design: you just have to pay for it. The Quest 2 Elite Strap costs another $49 and has more ergonomic straps and a tightening dial like the Rift S or the PlayStation VR headset. I would've preferred this strap as the standard one on the Quest 2, even if that would have driven the price up slightly. There's also a version of the Elite Strap with an additional battery for $129.

Another change is the Quest had an interpupillary distance (IPD) slider, allowing you to set the distance between the lenses to match your eyes. The Quest 2 only has three settings for IPD: 58mm, 62mm, and 68mm. If you're above, below, or in-between those numbers, the Quest 2's display won't be perfectly clear for you. Setting the correct IPD is key for getting the best image clarity. For me, the distances were slightly off, but I found I could lessen the effect by getting the headset slightly closer to my face. That's not a perfect solution though, and the imperfect options here may make the Quest 2 useless to some folks.

The Oculus Touch controllers have also seen a few changes. The number of buttons remains the same, but the trigger pulls on the new controllers have a bit more weight to them. The analog sticks still have the same convex tops surrounded by a cross-hatched texture, like the Xbox One controller, but this time the sticks themselves aren't raised above the other buttons. The "face" of the controllers is much wider, giving you a place to rest your thumbs when you're not using any of the buttons. The battery compartment has also moved to the outer part of the controller; on the older controllers, I'd sometimes slide the cover off while playing due to where you're placing pressure while holding them, and the new placement fixes that issue.

The Quest 2 and its oblder sibling, together. | Mike Williams/USG, Oculus

Gaming On the Quest 2 - Software

The Oculus Quest 2 will not run unless it's paired to a mobile device, period. I actually had a lot of trouble with this on my Google Pixel 3A, as initially the headset wouldn't pair to my phone at all, even using the pairing code. This left me with a headset that wouldn't do anything for a few early hours, which is probably not the best place to be. Ultimately, I had to uninstall the Oculus app and reinstall it in order for the Quest 2 options to appear.

Once everything's loaded up, the Quest 2 home user interface is largely the same as the original Quest. The improved resolution results in much clearer and crisper text overall, as does the new fast-switching LCD screen. I'd say the colors are a little lighter on the Quest 2, but that's to be expected moving from OLED to LCD.

I loaded up my most-used apps on the original Quest on the Quest 2 and dove right in. Beat Saber, Pistol Whip, and Superhot all run fantastic on the new hardware. The clarity in Superhot VR is amazing, with a good amount of pop to the colors and the clarity meaning you can finally pick out the polygon bits that fall off each enemy you kill. Headshots in Pistol Whip are likewise much easier and the resolution means the levels look fantastic compared to the earlier iteration. But the thing is, these are all apps built for the Quest, and can't really draw on the improved horsepower of the Quest 2. (Or the experimental refresh rate at this time.)

The headset-only tracking means that you're still looking at tracking issues for the controllers where you move them to the side or behind yourself, where the cameras can't see them. Overall, it's much the same as the first Quest, and Oculus even have hand tracking as an experimental feature here. If the Quest 2 can't find the controllers, it'll automatically switch over to hand tracking. It's cool seeing how accurate the per-finger tracking is on the Oculus home screen, but the implementation of clicking (pinching) is a bit kludgy and no apps support it yet.

Oculus still rates the Quest for 2-3 hours of playtime, much like its predecessor. I got just 2 hours of play on a regular basis, literally just under or over the 2 hour mark. This is one area where Oculus probably should've improved things. What has changed is the battery life for the Touch controllers, which seems far better than their older counterparts.

Where the Quest 2's hardware improvements are really noticeable is when you hook this baby up to a PC. The Quest was an imperfect headset for PC gaming, because the clarity meant that you were missing out compared to the Rift S, and I had issues getting Oculus Link to work in early beta. Now, it works perfectly well, with the connection being entirely effortless.

With Virtual Desktop loaded up, I was once again able to kick up Steam VR and dive into the host of robust VR titles available on that platform. No Man's Sky VR, Sairento VR, and Boneworks look far better on the Quest 2, and I was finally able to firmly cement this as my headset of choice for day-to-day use. I'm looking forward to playing Star Wars: Squadrons or Phasmophobia on the Quest 2, while still enjoying my daily sessions of untethered Pistol Whip. Quest 2 lives in being able to do both. In regards to the 90Hz mode though, once again the Quest 2 is limited by the platform owner to 72Hz for the time being.

Oculus is promising further integration of Oculus Link into the standard Quest home space, and I think the sooner that happens, the better. I'm more of a power user, and I get the feeling that standard Quest owners are probably missing out on this great feature. And though I couldn't test it, I think the 90Hz mode will be a boon for PC VR. That said, the Oculus Link cable isn't cheap and you'll need to make sure your chosen cable meets Oculus' specs. (At least 5Gbps bandwidth, USB 3.0/USB 3.2 Gen 1.) So if you want to get the most out of the Quest 2, that's an additional cost.

You won't be able to use this thing without Facebook. | Mike Williams/USG, Oculus

Socially Stringent - Facebook Integration

It's hard to review the Oculus Quest 2 while not acknowledging the elephant in the room: the move to the new headset is also joined by Facebook pushing harder on getting users to add Facebook accounts. If you're a new user, a Facebook account is required, and if you're an existing user, you're encouraged to merge your Oculus account with your Facebook account. The deadline on the "encouragement" is 2023. Oculus Quest is firmly a Facebook thing, a further step toward the Facebook Quest.

This treads heavily on issues of data use and tracking, issues that are already inherent to Facebook as a platform. Facebook can and will hold all usage data, and there's little protection in terms of privacy. Soon, you won't be able to sideload on the Quest without offering a phone number or payment details; more information you have to give to Facebook. To say that users are angry about the shift is an understatement.

And here's the thing: I don't have an answer to all that. I wish there were an alternative to what the Oculus Quest 2 provides that didn't require Facebook. Unfortunately, Valve and the Steam VR ecosystem is aimed at the high-end, and other headsets lack the standalone apps that have already been developed for Oculus' store. I acknowledge the problem, but I don't have a fix for it. You'll have to decide for yourself if that's the make-or-break in regards to a purchase.

My biggest issue with the Quest 2 is the new strap and I think I'm ultimately going to purchase the Elite Strap to alleviate the problem. The lack of an IPD slider is annoying, and not everyone will be able to find a perfect setting to enjoy great image clarity. Overall though, the steps back in the hardware design are outweighed by the improved hardware performance. And that price is something most people can't argue with.

Quest was the proper first step towards mainstream VR in my mind, and Quest 2 is another strong step in the right direction, even if it's not entirely there yet. But I'll be enjoying this little hardware marvel until Oculus releases the next model.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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