Oculus Quest 2 review: smaller, cheaper, better

The Oculus Quest 2 will be the only VR hardware Facebook offers after spring of 2021. This is the headset Facebook is banking on, saying farewell to the tethered, fussy Oculus Rift headsets that launched this wave of virtual reality enthusiasm.

The Quest 2 isn’t the most impressive headset on the market, at least in terms of raw specs, and its improvements on the original Quest are incremental. But here’s the good news: Facebook was able to pull off all these improvements while lowering the price. The Quest 2 starts at $299.99 for the 64 GB model, a full $100 less than the first Quest. The 256 GB model will sell for $399.99, compared to the current Quest’s upgraded model, which comes with 128 GB of storage for $499.99.

The Oculus Quest 2 hardware.
Image: Facebook

The Quest 2 is cheaper and better than its predecessor, with enough tweaks to make it a formidable challenger in the VR space. After using the hardware for almost two weeks, I see why Facebook has gone all-in with this big bet.

A portable with the specs of a high-end, tethered headset

The first big improvement, the one that makes this purchase a no-brainer for anyone who has used and loves the first Quest, is the soft strap that ships with the device. It’s a huge step forward from the semi-firm plastic strap that held the original device on your head. It’s the rarest of VR headset amenities at this price point: comfort.

The new, softer, more comfortable strap that comes standard with the Oculus Quest 2.
Image: Facebook

If you want to upgrade the strap, Facebook sells an Elite strap for $49.99 that more closely resembles what you see in higher-end, tethered headsets, complete with a dial on the back to tighten or loosen the fit. It’s much easier to use, and that’s the strap I tend to keep on my review unit .

You can also buy an Elite strap with a built-in battery pack to give you more playtime (along with a carrying case to keep your hardware safe) for $129.99. All the Quest 2 straps attach through a new clasp system that snaps on with a little pressure, and snaps off with a twisting motion. The straps I was sent for the review never disconnected, even during energetic play.

The Oculus Quest 2 with the Elite strap and optional battery pack.
Image: Facebook

The Quest 2 is generally smaller and lighter than the original model, weighing in at 17.74 ounces with the nylon strap, compared to the previous unit’s 20.14 ounces. It’s not a huge difference, but it’s noticeable when going between the two headsets. Every ounce counts when you’re strapping something to your face. The controllers are actually a little larger than the originals — now in a crisp white color, like the headset itself — but they remain as comfortable as ever, even for my 11-year-old son. I doubt anyone needs to worry about these new controllers being too big for their hands.

Since a lack of basic comfort was often my biggest complaint about the original Quest, this change would almost be enough on its own to make the Quest 2 a must-buy. But I appreciate the visual upgrades, too.

Facebook has increased the resolution to 1832×1920 per eye, up from the original’s 1440×1600 per-eye resolution. The screens themselves now have a 90 Hz refresh rate, although currently the hardware is only running at 90 frames per second in the system’s menus, with 90 Hz support coming to developers near launch. To take advantage of those specs, the system is now powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 platform, a nice jump up from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 that powered the first generation of Quest headsets. Both Quest 2 models come with 6 GB of RAM, up from the 4 GB found in the original Quest.

In layperson terms: A higher refresh rate can be a gigantic boon for VR, making everything in the virtual world feel a little more solid and “real,” as a higher frame rate makes it much easier to trick your eyes and brain into thinking you’re someplace else. But we won’t know how much this improvement will help until we start seeing games patched to take advantage of the new hardware. Facebook has said it will enable the 90 Hz screen by default later this year, but you can turn it on at launch for use in the home menus and while browsing the internet if you go into the headset’s experimental features.

The best place to see the changes in the hardware’s displays is currently in the menus.
Image: Facebook

So for right now the Quest 2’s biggest improvements are the smaller size, more comfortable straps, and lower asking price. That will change once developers begin releasing patches for their games to fully take advantage of the unit’s shiny new screens, which should happen before the headset is released in October. We’ll update this review when more content using the full capabilities of the system is available to try, but the added sharpness in the menus and while browsing is already very enticing. I can’t wait to see what developers are able to do with the extra power.

That being said, however, the Quest 2 is pumping a lot of pixels to those screens very quickly, especially if developers choose to display their games at 90 fps. That’s a lot of strain on the hardware, even with that new chipset. What’s likely is that each team will have to balance between frame rate, resolution, and detail to get the most out of the new hardware while it’s untethered, although the improved screens are pure upside for anyone using the headset by tethering it to their PC.

That’s the other big news of the Quest 2: Oculus Link, the software that allows the stand-alone headset to connect to your PC to work as a tethered headset, is coming out of beta by the end of the year as, hopefully, a much more polished experience. Oculus Link was impressive but a little twitchy when it launched, but Facebook has since upgraded and patched it into something that’s a lot more stable. And it better be, since, again, the Quest 2 will soon be the only VR experience Facebook sells.

There are no longer tethered and stand-alone product lines, or portable and home-based headsets. Just like Nintendo combined the two with the Switch, Facebook is bringing both options together in the Quest 2. You will need a Facebook account to use the hardware, though, a change that will soon be universal with Oculus hardware — and which caused developers and fans to express their distrust of the Facebook platform in droves.

Whether you trust Facebook and its data practices could also influence your decision when shopping for a VR headset.

So what does this mean for VR?

Moving down to a single product for both stand-alone and tethered VR is a big step, but it makes sense when you look at the strength of the Quest 2’s hardware. A separate, tethered headset would have been redundant, unless Facebook wanted to add even more features and increase the price, and the company seems to be going after the mainstream as much as possible these days.

The downside is that apart from the new, much more comfortable strap and the visual fidelity of the menus in the 90 Hz mode, there aren’t many immediately impressive visual showcases for the Quest 2 available during the time I’ve had to test it. Knowing that just about every specification has been improved despite the lower price point is a pretty comforting thought, though.

I look forward to seeing what developers are able to do with the extra power, whether it’s continuing to optimize for fewer frame rate drops, deciding to run games at 90 fps, or just basking in the extra power to upgrade the textures. The content is coming; it just wasn’t quite ready during the review period.

VR has come a long way in only a few years, and now you can buy one of the best headsets on the market — with hardware that works on your PC or as a stand-alone device — for $299.99. That’s a huge leap in features and overall usability, while also offering the best price in VR. It plays all the existing Quest games, and original Quest headsets will be able to play all Quest 2 games, so the already challenging market for VR games won’t be bifurcated again.

Even without seeing games take full advantage of the hardware yet, it seems silly not to buy a Quest 2 if you’ve been waiting to jump into virtual reality. The hardware does everything you need, is incredibly simple to set up and get running, and turns into a tethered headset with a single cable. The screens are clearer and faster, the system that drives the whole thing is significantly more powerful, and it’s much more comfortable to wear.

The new Quest 2 packaging is modern, simple, and stresses that the hardware is “from Facebook.”
Image: Facebook

Facebook has also told Polygon that it has designed the production line of the Quest 2 so that it can be scaled up rapidly to meet demand, so hopefully the shortages that have plagued the original Quest model during quarantine won’t be as much of an issue moving forward. Heck, many players trying to get their hands on that hardware may even be thankful that the shortages kept them from purchasing a more expensive, less capable system — instead of saving $100 and getting a Quest 2.

Virtual reality is still a niche market, and everyone is looking for the best way to bring it into the mainstream, but Facebook is getting very aggressive when it comes to bang for the buck with this newest offering. There are better VR headsets out there, but they’re also much more expensive and harder to set up — and they can’t be used without a gaming PC powering them.

The Oculus Quest 2, on the other hand, is affordable, doesn’t need any additional hardware to work (although you have the option of using it with your PC), and offers a whole lot of power for the price. I think we can expect this to be a popular item for the rest of the year, and one of the most popular VR headsets in general moving forward.

Oculus Quest will be released Oct. 13. The hardware was reviewed using a retail unit along with the optional Elite Strap, both provided by Facebook. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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