Meta Quest 3 hands-on: A proper successor to the most popular VR headset

It features new pancake lenses, a Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chip and a starting price of $500.

Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Last year Meta caught a bit of backlash when it released the Quest Pro. It was too expensive, it had a number of features people didn’t really want, and there just weren’t enough apps that fully utilized its hardware. But today at Connect, Meta is announcing the follow-up to the most popular VR headset on the market and I think the Quest 3 is exactly what people have been waiting for.

Meta isn’t straying too far from the Quest 2’s basic template. The headset’s facelift includes a new y-shaped headband that offers better support along with a fresh row of sensors in front. There are now two full-color cameras that provide sharper pass-through vision along with a depth sensor in the middle that can automatically map your room and detect nearby objects like tables and chairs. On the bottom, Meta also added a dial for adjusting IPD (inter-pupillary distance) and, for users who wear glasses, there’s now a way to adjust the depth of the lenses to better accommodate the shape and size of your spectacles. You still get a USB-C port for charging, built-in speakers that support spatial audio and a headphone jack (in case you’d rather use wired headphones).

On the inside, the headset is the first retail device powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 chip, which Meta says provides double the performance compared to the Quest 2. You also get new pancake lenses similar to the ones used in last year’s Quest Pro, along with displays that offer 30 percent more resolution (2,064 x 2,208 pixels per eye). All told, it’s a pretty significant jump in horsepower, with its default 90Hz refresh rate being the only spec that’s staying unchanged (though like the Quest 2, there is an experimental 120Hz setting). Even its field of view has grown by around 15 percent (110 degrees horizontal and 96 degrees vertical). Notably, what you don’t get are eye and face tracking, which were some of the more forward-thinking features Meta included on the Quest Pro.

Meta didn’t forget about the Quest 3’s controllers either. That’s because while they’re still the same basic shape and size, the tracking ring around the top is gone. The company says that the new sensors on the headset can track the controllers without needing the rings and, when the controllers move outside the camera’s visible range, Meta is using AI and machine learning to better predict your hand movements. That said, the Quest 3’s controllers still aren’t quite as sophisticated as the Quest Pro due to their lack of built-in cameras, which means they aren’t fully self-tracking. On the bright side, the controllers have what Meta is calling True Touch haptics, which do an even better job of conveying tactile feedback. And despite the increased performance and new features, battery life is expected to be about the same as the Quest 2 (between 1.5 and three hours depending on what apps you use).

Now all these upgrades look great on a spec sheet, but after testing the headset out myself, they make an even better impression in person. Right away, everything just looks sharper, hand movements feel more precise and even audio sounds more immersive. You can also feel that increased performance, most noticeably when switching between VR and the pass-through cameras. Just a double-tap on the side and let me jump back into meat space with only the briefest of pauses anytime I wanted to take a drink or see what I just stepped on.

But of course, without solid software, a new headset isn’t all that exciting. Thankfully, the Quest 3 is backward compatible with all of the 500+ apps in the Oculus Store, with Meta claiming that there are another 100 new apps or titles with updated features on the way designed specifically for its latest headset, some of which I got to try out during my demo.

The Quest 3 comes with a new y-shaped headband to help better distribute the weight of the device.
The Quest 3 comes with a new y-shaped headband to help better distribute the weight of the device. (Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

I started with First Encounters, which is a tutorial that’s kind of like an MR-version of Space Invaders that also introduces users to the Quest 3’s features. Since the app takes place in mixed reality, before I could get to blastin’ I had to map out the room which involved simply looking around at all the walls and objects before tracing a final boundary (in smaller rooms you might even be able to skip this step, but this was an open event space), all of which took less than 30 seconds. After that, fuzzy aliens started to appear so, naturally, I had to dispatch them. The interesting thing was that, because the headset had already mapped the room, I noticed that portals naturally formed on the walls while some critters managed to spawn behind shelves and tables, all of which added an extra dimension to the gameplay.

After that I played Red Matter 2, which is an existing title that has been updated to take advantage of the Quest 3’s improved performance. The difference was immediately apparent. Textures were more detailed, text was way more legible and simply moving around felt smoother. I was even able to flip a switch that simulated how the game looked on a Quest 2 and, honestly, I don’t think I can go back to that. The Quest 3 is raising the bar for how things should look on a mainstream XR headset.

The Quest 3 features new pancake lenses similar to the ones that debuted on the Quest Pro in 2022.
The Quest 3 features new pancake lenses similar to the ones that debuted on the Quest Pro in 2022. (Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget)

Then I played some more games including a VR version of Samba de Amigo and Assassin’s Creed Nexus, both of which felt really fluid. I can’t remember the last time I held a real maraca, but moving virtual ones around with the headset was really intuitive. Anytime I missed a cue, I could tell I messed up, it wasn’t the headset’s fault. And in Assassin’s Creed, I was surprised at how precise aiming a crossbow felt. I even caught myself closing one I just like would in the real world.

I’m not sure this headset is doing much to entice people who aren’t already interested in VR and AR. But, it feels like Meta has done a thorough job of improving almost every spec and feature. It’s got everything you need without any unnecessary frills or add-ons. And Meta says the Quest 3 will be able to stream console titles to the headset via Xbox Cloud Gaming starting in December, so if all the existing and upcoming apps can’t hold your attention, you’ll have even more games to play. And with a starting price of $500 for 128GB of storage (or $650 for 512GB), it’s a lot more affordable than the Quest Pro too.

The Quest 3 is available for pre-order today ahead of official sales starting on October 10.