At Meta Connect I went hands-on with Quest 3.

Quest 3 is a significant improvement over its predecessor on paper, with a 40% slimmer visor, pancake lenses, next-generation chipset, color cameras, depth sensor, and more. With its mixed reality capability, it even promises to deliver entirely new kinds of experiences not possible on Quest 2.

But as I’ve learned from many years of trying dozens of face computers, on-paper specifications tell only a small part of the story. The only way to truly assess a headset is to actually try it. So how was it?

Weight & Comfort

As soon as I put Quest 3 on my face, I was surprised at how light and comfortable it felt, even with the default flimsy cloth strap.

Quest 3 is actually ever so slightly heavier than Quest 2 – 12 grams heavier to be precise. But in this new age of slimmer headsets enabled by pancake lenses, raw weight is becoming an almost irrelevant statistic when comparing to fresnel lens headsets because Quest 3 feels lighter.

As a thought experiment, if Meta had decided to lie and tell the world Quest 3 was actually lighter, I suspect anyone trying it would have believed them. That’s because what we really perceive is the rotational force (moment) of a headset, which is determined as much by the center of mass as the total weight – and Quest 3’s is much closer to your face.

Quest 3 also has a more comfortable default facial interface made of a softer, gentler kind of foam, which was a very welcome change given how much I hate the cheap-feeling face-hurting harsh material of Quest 2’s.

Glasses wearers will no longer need to use a spacer insert and awkwardly shove their frames into the headset, as by just pulling on either side of the facial interface you can adjust the distance from the lenses to your eyes, with four fixed distances possible. I don’t wear glasses though, so I kept it at the closest setting to maximize the field of view.

Of course, 20 minutes is not nearly enough time to truly assess a headset’s weight distribution and comfort. But I’ve often argued that Quest 2 should have come with the Elite Strap because of just how uncomfortable the default strap is, which I noticed after a matter of seconds, and I had assumed I’d feel the same way about Quest 3. But at least for short sessions, the default strap felt fine.

Passthrough & Mixed Reality

Passthrough on Quest 3 is much improved over Quest Pro – and lightyears ahead of Quest 2 – but it’s still far from feeling like a transparent optic.

The latency is impressively low and felt almost imperceptible for static objects – Qualcomm showed a demo of playing ping pong with XR2 Gen 2 reference headsets, for example.

The passthrough on Quest 3 has three times more pixels than on Quest Pro and ten times more pixels than on Quest 2. There’s still some graininess, but far less than Quest Pro. You can make out fine details in your environment including the facial expressions of other people in the room, notifications and messages on your phone screen, and relatively small text printed on A4 paper.

Further, whereas screens and other bright regions in your view are blown out on Quest 2 and Pro, Quest 3 dynamically adapts the exposure in real-time to prevent this. In another demo, my colleague Ian Hamilton even looked out a physical window to see the outdoors while playing a mixed reality game indoors.

The depth and scale of the passthrough locked in perfectly in the mid and far field, but the system still struggles in the near field and in your periphery. When you bring objects very close to your face, you’ll see geometric warping distortion which makes your phone look curvy rather than straight edged for example – but again, this warping is significantly reduced compared to Quest 2 and Pro.

The other issue in the near field is ghosting. While Quest Pro’s passthrough is really just black & white with a delayed color layer jankily added on top, Quest 3’s passthrough is true color, which looks & feels much better. However, there’s still some double-imaging on moving objects or hands nearby. It’s much more subtle than it was on Quest Pro, but it’s still present, including on your hands and arms, and this is the biggest weakness of the Quest 3 passthrough experience.

Ian tried Apple Vision Pro back in June, and he tells me this wasn’t an issue with it. With Vision Pro, he said he truly felt the hands he was seeing were his own, whereas the ghosting effect on his hands on Quest 3 meant he didn’t feel this at all. Of course, Vision Pro has a secondary chipset specifically for passthrough and costs seven times more.

So that’s the passthrough quality, but what about the mixed reality within it?

The positional tracking is rock solid, so virtual objects feel truly anchored to your real environment with no jittering, drifting, or floating. The new environment 3D meshing capability means objects can attach to or move along walls, floors, and furniture with no visible offset. They can even cast shadows, adding to the feeling they’re there.

But the big downside of mixed reality on Quest 3 currently is that it lacks dynamic occlusion. Yes, virtual objects can appear on or behind furniture and other static objects scanned when you start playing. This is a big step up from the room setup of previous headsets which had you manually draw crude rectangular cuboids. But these virtual objects are still rendered in front of your hands, arms, and other people, even if they should really be behind them.

This lack of dynamic occlusion was jarring – especially given it means virtual objects are rendered in front of your hands – and it completely broke the illusion of those virtual objects really being there in front of me. Meta says it will add dynamic occlusion as a software update later this year, but it’s a huge shame it won’t be there at launch.

Lenses, Resolution & Graphics

The triple combination of the twice as powerful GPU, higher resolution displays, and state-of-the-art pancake lenses deliver a truly generational increase in sharpness and graphical fidelity in VR apps and games.

Those who upgrade from fresnel lens headsets like Quest 2 will wonder how they ever tolerated the blurriness by comparison, and those coming from any other standalone headset will wonder how they ever found those graphics acceptable.

For example, Red Matter 2’s developer increased the rendering resolution from a fixed 1226×1440 to a dynamic 3322×3519, replaced 1K textures with 4K textures, and added dynamic shadows with high-quality shadow filtering to grabbable objects.

In my demo, I could hold down a button to toggle between Quest 2 mode and Quest 3 mode in real-time. I was completely blown away by how much better it looked – far closer to what I’m used to on PlayStation VR2 than on Quest 2. It was refreshing to no longer see the constant shimmering and aliasing typical of gaming on standalone headsets, to actually be able to see fine details in objects I picked up, and for text in menus and other UI to be sharp and clear.

Touch Plus Controllers & Hand Tracking

What I was most skeptical about before trying Quest 3 was not the headset itself, but its new Touch Plus controllers. They ditch the IR LED rings of previous low cost Touch controllers, but unlike Touch Pro, they aren’t self-tracking and don’t have cameras. Instead, they have IR LEDs under the face.

In theory, this should lead to frequent tracking loss when the face of the controller isn’t facing the headset. But in my demo that wasn’t the case at all. Even when I intentionally completely inverted the controllers, they continued to track flawlessly. That’s because on Quest 3 hand tracking is constantly running alongside controller tracking, and the system fuses both inputs together.