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Meta Quest 3 review: A bit of mixed reality makes for better VR

It’s practically the Vision Pro-lite.

Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Meta Quest 3 proves that the Meta Quest 2 was just an impossibly good deal. When that VR headset arrived for just $300 three years ago, it was the perfect gateway to VR for most people. You didn't need to hook it up to anything, you just flipped it on and stepped into virtual reality. But then Meta raised the price to $400 last year, and the entire VR industry just started to feel very stale.

It's no wonder the $1,500 Meta Quest Pro completely flopped – VR was already struggling, and few people actually needed something so expensive.

Meta

The Meta Quest 3 delivers an even better self-contained VR experience than the Quest 2, thanks to improved screens and lenses.

Pros
  • Sharp new screens and lenses
  • More compact than Quest 2
  • Faster performance
  • Mixed reality cameras make it easier to see the real world
  • Adjustable for glasses
Cons
  • More expensive than before
  • Only 128GB of storage to start
  • No battery life improvements
$500 at Meta

The $500 Quest 3 likely won't tempt over as many VR newcomers as the Quest 2, but it's still a solid step forward for Meta. It has all of the upgrades you'd expect, and it also has full color mixed reality cameras, which let you use VR apps alongside a view of the real world. Squint a bit, and you can almost see what Apple is going for with the Vision Pro (though with far less fidelity).

Despite all those improvements though, the Quest 3 makes me marvel even more at what Meta accomplished with the Quest 2, which is still available at its original $299 price. That headset is still the best VR entry point for newbies, though I wish it were a bit cheaper by now. The Quest 3, meanwhile, is the logical upgrade once you've caught the VR bug.

Here's what makes it special: It's significantly thinner than the Quest 2, thanks to a new set of pancake lenses. Those also help to produce a sharper image from the new displays, which deliver 2,064 by 2,208 pixels per eye. That's even better than the PlayStation VR 2, which wowed us earlier this year. While it's a few grams heavier than the Quest 2, the refined ergonomics makes the new headset far more comfortable to wear. It puts far less pressure on the bridge of my nose and around my eyes.

The Quest 3 is also running Qualcomm's new Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chip, which offers double the GPU power of the Quest 2, according to Meta. Up front, there are two full color cameras for mixed reality, along with a depth sensor in the middle to help map your space and avoid obstacles. That's notable, since it was a feature Meta completely dropped from the Quest Pro. When it comes to storage, you’ve got your choice between the 128GB $500 model and a 512GB option for $650.

Meta Quest 3
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

Now for what the Quest 3 doesn't have: There's no face or eye tracking, or cameras on the controllers like the Quest Pro. Though, at least they've lost the annoying rings from the Quest 2 gamepads. I don't think you'll miss any of the Quest Pro's features – they're potentially cool, but developers haven’t really taken advantage of them.

Meta already proved it can make a solid standalone VR headset, but can it really bring mixed reality to everyone? That seems to be the driving force behind the Quest 3. Apple's Vision Pro showed us a genuinely promising vision of spatial computing, one where the digital and physical worlds can comfortably coexist. But that thing also costs $3,499. Trying to accomplish something similar for a fraction of the price seems impossible.

The Quest 3's attempt at mixed reality is far from perfect – the color cameras deliver a fuzzy and pixelated view of the world, as if you're in a drug-fueled haze. But it’s still pretty useful. A double tap on the side of the Quest 3 is all it takes to flip between immersive VR and the real world.

That's something I ended up using frequently to check on text and Slack messages, grab information from my computer, and chat with people around me. Doing any of those things in the past would have required either completely removing the headset, or flipping up the visor.

Meta Quest 3
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Quest 3 also goes beyond just letting you see the real world: You can also do some basic mixed reality multi-tasking. You can arrange up to three windowed Quest apps, like WhatsApp and the Quest Store, on a translucent virtual tray that sits in front of you. Even better, you can move that tray anywhere in your space. That's not something I’d use a lot, but the fact that I could create this environment, anchor it to a specific point in the real world, and walk around it simply blew me away.

It also helps that the Quest 3 makes every virtual element look incredibly sharp. Looking at WhatsApp chats in the headset was no different than on my gaming monitor. Meta still has to work on actually making the Quest's apps more useful though: I could only reply to WhatsApp chats by awkwardly pecking away at the Quest’s virtual keyboard, leaving voice messages or attaching media from the headset. (Let's just hope that tabletop virtual keyboard that Mark Zuckerberg showed off actually becomes a reality.)

Quest 3 Mixed Reality
A glimpse of the Quest 3's mixed reality view from my family room. (Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget)

The Quest 3 also marks the first time I’ve genuinely enjoyed using Meta’s finger tracking. It was an intriguing feature when it arrived on the original Quest, but it wasn’t alway accurate, so I preferred using the Quest’s controllers instead. Now, thanks to the depth sensor and full color cameras, the Quest 3 does a far better job at recognizing every finger gesture. I found myself letting my controllers rest far more often, since it was so easy to navigate through apps by swiping and virtually pointing.

Now given just how well the Quest 2 excelled at being a standalone VR headset, I wasn’t very surprised that the Quest 3 was even better. Everything loaded faster thanks to its increased RAM. The controllers felt far more precise, especially for games that demanded accuracy, like the upcoming Samba de Amigo and the VR mainstay Beat Saber.

Meta Quest 3
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

The Quest 3’s higher resolution display also makes games look far better than the Quest 2, but I was more impressed by the handful of titles that were optimized for its faster hardware. Red Matter 2 practically looked like a full-fledged PC VR title, thanks to its incredibly detailed textures and character models. The Kurzgesagt game, Out of Scale, made me feel like I was living inside of one of its gorgeously animated YouTube videos .

Quest 3 owners will still have access to the hundreds of games that also work on the Quest 2, but it’s nice to see some new titles arriving alongside fresh hardware. It doesn’t look like anything will be exclusive to Quest 3 yet, but that could easily change down the line. For now, I’d expect new games will have an extra layer of polish, while the Quest 2 will get a more basic experience.

I didn't get to try First Encounters, the Quest 3 mixed reality tutorial that was shown off during our initial preview, but I'm hoping more developers start building similar experiences for the Quest 3. There are a handful of truly "mixed reality" titles already, like Zombies Noir and Figmin XR, but they're mostly just interesting experiments instead of anything truly groundbreaking. There's room for the Quest 3 to deliver the sort of reality-bending experiences initially promised devices like the Magic Leap and HoloLens.

After testing the Quest 3 for a week, I’ve noticed something surprising: It’s the first headset that doesn’t make me feel trapped while using it. Since the real world is easily accessible, I feel far more comfortable sitting and enjoying a movie on Netflix, or a 360-degree video on YouTube. And thanks to its lighter frame and additional room for glasses, I can also play VR games far longer than I used to.

I only wish the Quest 3’s battery life lasted longer. Depending on what you’re doing, it can go for two to three hours, just like the Quest 2. At least you can still use it while charging the headset though, and it also stays powered when connected to a PC for beefier experiences, like Google Earth VR.

Meta Quest 3
Photo by Devindra Hardawar/Engadget

If you’ve seen my PlayStation VR 2 review, you’ll know I’m pretty ambivalent about the state of VR at the moment. The headsets are getting better, but the games and industry just feels stagnant. The Meta Quest 3, at the very least, seems like a better option for VR newcomers than the $550 PlayStation VR 2. It’s pricey, but it delivers solid VR without a PlayStation 5. While it’s no Vision Pro, the Quest 3’s stab at mixed reality makes it a headset you’ll likely use long after your VR honeymoon is over.

And if a $500 headset is too expensive, I’m sure you can find a used Quest 2 for a steal.

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