The Meta Quest 3 is much better than the Quest 2. It’s more comfortable, more powerful, easier to figure out, more pleasant to use for long stretches, and just flat-out better. If that’s all you’ve been wondering about Meta’s latest headset, there’s your answer. The passthrough improvements alone — the fact that I can now easily find my coffee / safely walk around the room without taking my headset off — makes this a worthwhile upgrade, even if you picked up a Quest 2 just a couple years ago and perhaps haven’t used it as much as you thought you might.
But that’s about the only thing I can say with total confidence about the Quest 3. Because when I really think about it, I’m not entirely sure what the Quest 3 even is. If it’s a VR headset, a direct successor to the Quest 2 from 2020, it’s certainly better but also nearly twice the price. If it’s a state-of-the-art mixed reality headset meant to usher in a future where the digital and real worlds are blended seamlessly together, it has some serious flaws and not nearly enough content. If it’s just a super-immersive game console, it’s great, but its library can’t hang with Sony and Microsoft.
Meta keeps calling the Quest 3 “the first mainstream mixed reality headset.” Strictly speaking, that’s true: at $499.99 for the model with 128GB of storage and $649.99 for 512GB, it’s a steep climb from the $299.99 Quest 2 starting price but still on the right side of the too-expensive line, especially compared to Apple’s forthcoming $3,500 Vision Pro. And unlike the mixed reality devices we’ve seen from Magic Leap, Microsoft, and so many others, an individual consumer can actually buy this one. But what Meta really wants is for this to be more than just the best reasonably priced headset. It wants the Quest 3 to be the one that makes people care about, use, and develop for mixed reality in a big way.
So here’s the real question, I think. Is the Meta Quest 3 a very good VR headset? Or is it, as Meta would have you believe, the first in a new line of a new kind of device?
I’ve used the Quest 3 enough to convince me that mixed reality could be awesome. It probably will be, eventually, once these devices are lighter and more socially acceptable and there’s a whole lot more MR content available for them. But that’s probably a ways off. For now, the Quest 3 is just a very good VR headset.
All smart, no glasses
Let me just get this bit quickly out of the way: I’m mostly going to be talking about the Quest 2 as a comparison in this review. The Vision Pro isn’t shipping, and there really are no other straightforward competitors to the Quest 3. The Quest Pro, Meta’s other mixed reality device, has some interesting tech but costs $1,000 and is really not worth considering. The question here, really, is whether the Quest 3 is worth the extra money over its predecessor.
The fit and finish of the Quest 3 is about what you’d expect for a second- to third-gen upgrade. Meta’s long-term plan for headsets is to make them look like a typical pair of sunglasses, and the Quest 3 is very much not that. But in the realm of “big, blocky plastic doodads on your face,” it does a lot of things better than its predecessor.
The headset itself is significantly smaller than the Quest 2, though the padded black face mask that attaches to it is much larger, so the overall footprint is about the same size. The whole package is about 160mm across and 98mm tall, compared to 142mm and 102mm on the 2. (You absolutely will not notice the small differences there.) The three vertical, pill-shaped cutouts on the front give the Quest 3 more personality than the bland face of the Quest 2. I’m not sure that’s a good thing — the Quest 3 looks like a character from WALL-E that was rejected because nobody could tell if it was good or evil — but it doesn’t really make a difference. You’ve got a giant headset on your face; people will point and laugh if you wear it in public. Let’s worry about the aesthetic details when we get a little closer to smart glasses.
The Quest 3 is actually a bit heavier than the Quest 2 (515 grams compared to 503), but it wears its weight much better. The Quest 2’s heaviest bits stick out from your face, so it always feels like it’s pulling down toward your nose. The Quest 3 is comparatively more balanced. It’s still a blocky thing on my head, but where my Quest 2 always feels tight somewhere — the top of my head, the back of my head, or most often right on my forehead — I found a comfortable Quest 3 setup almost immediately, and it stays in place even when I’m bouncing around during a workout. Adding the $70 Elite Strap makes it better still since it moves some of the weight to the back of your head and sits a little more rigidly. But unlike the Quest 2, I don’t think you absolutely need one.
Speaking of that setup: one small but welcome hardware change in the Quest 3 is that it brings back the little wheel underneath the headset that you can use to control the distance between the lenses. (The original Rift had a slider, while the Quest 2 just made you move the lenses, which is awkward and bad.) Everyone’s interpupillary distance is a little different, and it’s an important adjustment to get right — when you first turn on the Quest 3, it instructs you to turn the wheel to see what looks good. Even if you’re just going to set it once and forget it, it’s still a better system than the Quest 2. And if you share the device with co-workers or family members, it’s far easier to get dialed in.
The Touch Plus controllers are nice, but losing the tracking ring doesn’t change all that much
The new Touch Plus controllers look and feel just like the old controllers, minus a large tracking ring at the top. They’re lighter and smaller as a result, but other than smacking them together a little less than I used to, I haven’t noticed much difference in actual use. And while losing the rings hasn’t made the Quest 3 worse at tracking the controllers, it also hasn’t made it better: the headset still struggles to follow the Touch Plus controllers when they’re even slightly out of your field of view. They look like a non-camera-studded version of the Quest Pro’s Touch Pro controllers, which you can, in theory, buy to replace the Touch Plus, but I don’t think those are worth the $299 upgrade. In part because the Touch Plus’ battery is much closer to the Quest 2’s controllers than the Pro’s: I’ve been using the heck out of this thing for over a week and haven’t killed the AAs yet.
You’re going to want to keep those controllers handy, by the way, because the Quest 3’s hand tracking is pretty rough. In theory, you can do most navigational things just by waving your arms around; move the round cursor over what you want to click on, tap your thumb and index finger together, and you’re off. But because the Quest 3 doesn’t do inward-facing eye tracking and only uses its external cameras to follow your hands, it’s imprecise and frequently wrong — you have to very carefully move your hand a millimeter at a time to get the cursor in the right place. (Eye tracking might be the only thing about the Quest Pro I wish the Quest 3 had copied.) You can also just reach out and touch stuff, which works a little better, but the Quest 3’s depth sensing also misses a lot: you go to grab the Home menu to move it toward you, and your hand just flies through it. After testing hand tracking, I’ve stopped using it altogether.
I can see clearly now
The Quest 3’s two most important upgrades become immediately obvious as soon as you stick your head in the headset. It puts a 2064 x 2208 LCD in front of each eye, which is the best screen in any Quest ever. You can tell: everything from on-screen text to high-res games looks significantly crisper and better, like you’ve upgraded from a standard-def TV to a high-def set. It’s not quite as sharp or as dynamic as what we’ve seen from the Vision Pro’s dual 4K micro-OLED displays, but it’s enough that I can comfortably read small text in the headset for the first time. I could never shake that nagging feeling in the Quest 2 that everything was just a hair out of focus, and the Quest 3 hardly ever feels like that.
The display sharpness is the thing for the Quest 3
The field of view in the Quest 3 is a bit larger than before, too, which is nice, but it still has that “I’m looking through binoculars” rounded black shape around your periphery. The sharpness is the real win here. The screens are so much clearer, in fact, that they show just how low-res some games are: playing NFL Pro Era on the Quest 3 was like playing an N64 game on an HDTV, where I could see every pixel and every stutter with new clarity. But games like Red Matter 2 and the updated Pistol Whip, which are ready for the resolution bump, generally look fantastic. I’ve never had so much fun just wandering around in VR than I have with the Quest 3.
Upgrading the display even opens up a bunch of new uses for a device like the Quest 3. It’s a pretty useful entertainment system, both for VR and non-VR content — apps like PlutoTV and Peacock work really well. All those educational apps for seeing art and far-off places are much more immersive now, too. Apps like Virtual Desktop actually work for streaming your computer to your headset without hurting your eyes, though the display isn’t quite high-res enough for me to actually want to work like that for very long. (Meta’s whole “you’ll do your job in VR!” thing is still a ways away, and let’s not even talk about how bad Horizon Workrooms still is.)
The other big upgrade is the speakers. The Quest 2’s audio still pours out into whatever room you’re in, which is a bummer, but it’s noticeably better than before. This thing gets loud if you want it to, and the spatial audio does a nice job of anchoring sound in place. You’re still going to get the best experience with a pair of headphones — my over-ear Bose cans fit around the headset fairly comfortably, but I prefer a pair of wireless earbuds just to keep some weight off my head.
Thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 processor and 8GB of RAM in the Quest 3, it’s also noticeably snappier than the Quest 2. The headset boots faster; games load more quickly. I was able to play Dungeons of Eternity at high settings at about 80 frames per second, which isn’t up to gaming PC standards but is plenty for most purposes. I’ve hardly noticed any lag in head movements or any of the other stuttering that can make VR unpleasant. The only consistent performance issue I’ve had is with scrolling the Quest’s menus, which still wobble and lag like the screen’s refresh rate isn’t quite high enough. In general, though, the Quest 3 is as fast as I need it to be and can stand up even to the platform’s most demanding games like Red Matter 2.
I’ve been impressed with the growth of the Quest’s ecosystem over the last couple of years
And by the way, there’s now a lot to do in the headset. I’ve been impressed with the growth of the Quest’s ecosystem over the last couple of years, and there’s now a solid stable of games, ranging from casual puzzlers to ultra-intense shooters and practically everything in between. I used to warn VR buyers that you might eventually run out of content in there — I don’t worry about that anymore. And, of course, through Quest Link, you can plug your headset into your computer and play a library of PC VR games as well.
In my testing so far, I’ve gotten a hair over two hours of battery life from the Quest 3, no matter how I’m using it. Two-ish hours of movies, two-ish hours of games — it seems that as long as the thing is on, it drains about the same. That’s less life than I’d like, but two hours is a pretty long session in VR, and thanks to Meta’s new charging dock (which comes separately and costs $129.99), I can just drop in my headset between sessions, and it seems to always be charged. The dock is a really terrific accessory, though it pushes the headset even higher in price.
VR meets IRL
Up to this point, I’ve been talking about the Quest 3 as a direct successor to the Quest 2. In that sense, it’s a lot of little upgrades and one huge one (the screens) that make it a much better VR headset. Considerably more expensive! But much better. If you want a VR headset to play games, watch movies and TV, and do other VR things in, this is the one.
But let’s talk about the other bit. The thing really enabled by those pill-shaped cameras and sensors on the front of the Quest 3, the thing that has Meta believing the Quest 3 isn’t just “the third Quest” but the first of something else entirely. The Quest 3’s mixed reality features are simultaneously the most impressive and most frustrating part of this headset: they’ve convinced me that there’s some seriously cool and fun tech at work here and also that we’re really not particularly close to mainstream MR.
The first and most practical thing the cameras do is provide better passthrough, the view that lets you see your real-world space through your headset. On the Quest 2, that was a grainy black-and-white mess. Now it’s in full color and dramatically higher resolution. Not high resolution, mind you — just higher. Good enough that you can see your cup of coffee; not good enough to see if it’s coffee or tea. Good enough to see the time on your watch; not good enough to read the text of your notification.
The improved passthrough makes a lot of things about Quest Life easier. The frame rate is smooth enough to stay comfortable as I walk around with the headset on, which makes it easier to wear for long stretches. It can automatically set your boundaries in your room, so you don’t have to scan the floor anymore. You can double-tap on the side of your headset at any time to jump into passthrough mode in case you need to look at something or see which dog / chair / family member you just whacked while playing Supernatural.
But the reason the passthrough really matters is because it’s what makes mixed reality possible. The Quest can take those camera feeds and superimpose content over them in real time. The headset first has you walk around to scan your surroundings — in my case, my messy basement — and then lets you play in them.
The reason passthrough really matters is because it’s what makes mixed reality possible
Technically speaking, the mixed reality on the Quest 3 is… fine. It struggles badly in low light, turning everything grainy and low-res, but if you’re in a well-lit space, it’s mostly accurate. There’s some warping a bit around the edges, so it can seem a little bit like the floor is moving or you’re on a light dose of some hallucinogenic drug. It also warps and distorts around your hands as they move through space. But for a first generation of mixed reality, it’s a solid start.
The problem is, there’s almost nothing compelling to do in mixed reality on the Quest 3. The single most fun MR experience I’ve had so far is First Encounters, a mini-game in which tiny Koosh ball-looking aliens blow holes in your room and try to attack you while you try and capture them. It’s fun, silly, and really does make it feel like an alien craft has crashed into your house. It’s much more fun to play First Encounters in my basement than it would be in a purely VR space. But First Encounters is the demo experience to teach you how to use mixed reality! It’s a bad sign that that’s the best thing on the platform. Practically everything else I’ve tried is fun but simple — like Cubism, a puzzle game — or still basically a tech demo.
In the long run, while I think VR is perfectly suited to immersive gaming, MR is likely to be much more of a real-world tech. That’s why the form factor matters so much: walking around the world with a cool heads-up display is only really going to take off if that display doesn’t look stupid or gadget-y. MR will be cool for navigation, education, making Pokemon Go even more fun. The Quest 3 is mostly focused on MR for business and gaming, but both are better experiences in VR right now. For MR to really take off, we’re going to need more than just VR games reworked for passthrough; we’re going to need an entirely new class of apps and ideas. There’s not much of that in the Quest 3 yet.
That might help explain why even some of the MR games that do exist would be better off in VR. Drop Dead: The Cabin has an MR mode called “Home Invasion,” but its MR features work so badly the game’s basically unplayable in that mode. Figmin XR is a fun game for building stuff, but it seemed to have no idea that my coffee table is a hard surface that objects shouldn’t just fall through. Many of these games need to update for the Quest 3’s new depth sensor and passthrough abilities; others need to rethink their whole strategies. Very few things I tried actually interacted with my physical space in the way true mixed reality should.
I’m sure that will change eventually. The Quest 3 and Vision Pro are the first compelling reasons for developers to care about mixed reality, so I’m hopeful that over the next year or so, we’ll get a lot of good MR content and games. But right now, it’s pretty bleak out there. Even the exciting new games coming to the Quest 3, like Assassin’s Creed: Nexus and Roblox and the all-important Powerwash Simulator, are still VR games.
That’s because, for all it’s technically capable of, the Quest 3 is still a VR headset. A very good one, to be clear; my favorite one yet, even. But even great VR headsets are far from a mainstream product right now. If you believe mixed reality could change that and could entice even people who don’t care about VR headset and VR worlds to strap something to their face — and I do believe that — the Quest 3 just doesn’t quite deliver.
Maybe this is the headset before the headset, the one that helps entice developers to make cool stuff that turn into killer apps for the Quest 4. Heck, maybe none of this matters until the device itself is less “headset” and more “glasses” and until we’ve had a series of societal debates about whether you should make fun of people who wear these things in public. It’s going to take a lot of technical and social change to make mixed reality mainstream, and it’s probably going to take a few years.
Until then, the Quest 3 will remain what it is: an excellent VR headset and nothing else.
Photography by David Pierce / The Verge