When Meta launched the Quest 3 in October, the focus was on mixed reality gaming, but I wondered if it was up to the task. Because the truth is that spatial computing is the latest challenge for VR headsets.
It may seem strange, but VR headsets should be used for more than just games. Most computing devices serve different purposes. Your PC works with you all day, then turns to entertainment, whether watching movies, browsing the web, or playing games. The best VR headsets can be just as functional – at least, in theory.
What is required for work?
The demands of your work may differ from my expectations, but most people only need basic office computing, not a high-performance video- or photo-editing station. The fact that I’m working in VR doesn’t change the task in any way. I need to access email, post to social media, browse the web, use various web apps, and do some photo editing.
I can accomplish all of those tasks from any device with a robust desktop browser that can run multiple web apps. A web-based image editor works, and they keep getting better, but I would prefer a fast and full-featured image editor. I’d also like to keep all the browser extensions I’m accustomed to using in my workflow.
On the hardware side, one or more large screens help pull in information from multiple sources or move media from one place to another. It’s hard to beat a mouse and keyboard for productivity, and if I use my favorites, the work gets done faster.
Despite its reputation as a VR gaming device, most of these requirements are met by the Quest 3. Meta describes the Quest Pro as a completely new way of working, but the Quest 3 uses the same operating system and apps. This means that both devices are spatial computers.
Quest 3 in standalone mode
The Quest 3 meets most requirements for light office work. By having three resizable windows side by side, I will never need a larger monitor or more screens.
Last year, when I tested the Quest Pro as a laptop replacement for a week, the Meta’s browser failed in several ways. For example, Gmail loads in its native HTML view. It’s functional, but without any style, it looks like a sea of text with blue links everywhere. I couldn’t download images from websites unless there was a dedicated download button.
In 2023, Meta resolved these Quest browser issues. I can sign in to Gmail, iCloud, Outlook, or other webmail providers from Meta’s browser, so accessing email is easy. In fact, most websites look fine and work as expected on the Quest 3. For example, there’s no problem with go-to apps like WordPress, Canva, and Pixlr. Facebook, Instagram, X (formerly Twitter), and other social media networks that support web browsers also work well.
I encountered a strange dilemma with Microsoft Word and Google Docs. Every web app suggests installing an uninstallable extension to enable copying and pasting. Quest Browser does not support any extensions. Meanwhile, the Clipboard works as expected in Gmail and Outlook. The Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Gen 2 has enough performance to handle any web app, but the Meta still needs more work on browser compatibility to enable the use of many popular web apps.
Typing has become much better with the new swipe keyboard. It works exactly like my phone. I draw a controller line or a finger through the letters, and the Quest 3 figures out which word I want. I can also peck at the keys with my index finger to enter a password or fix a typo. For faster typing, I can add a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse to my Quest 3 to make it more like a computer. The Quest 3’s mixed reality view makes it easy to glance at the keyboard.
Despite these advancements, there are some tasks that are still best handled on a computer. When I need to quickly edit an image, I don’t want to upload the images to a web app. I prefer the ease and speed of Photoshop or Gimp. Although video editing is possible in a web browser, sending the source content to the cloud is a burden.
This means the Quest 3 is not a laptop replacement compared to the Quest Pro. For more demanding tasks, I can stay in VR and connect the headset to a Windows PC, Mac, or even a Linux computer.
Quest 3 (plus a PC) gets the job done
The Metaz Quest 3 is a gaming device, but it’s actually quite a pleasure to use for work if you accept that you’ll occasionally need to connect to your computer. There are many ways to take advantage of the power of your computer while enjoying multiscreen capability and an immersive experience working in VR. The world disappears so you can focus on the task at hand, but it’s available at any time by switching to the passthrough background.
Meta also offers Horizon Workroom as a free remote desktop app. If I use this app, I am fully committed to using the computer remotely through the Quest 3. The benefit of three large virtual displays is tempting, but since I already have a GeminiOS display with two stacked physical monitors, I rarely use Horizon Workroom. The Meta’s app is also a bit restrictive, fixing the display in a side-by-side configuration at a limited size.
When I need more screen space or more control over monitor layout, I choose the third-party app Immersed. I can move, tilt, turn, and resize the five virtual computer displays. Immersed also supports most Linux computers.
If you’re happy working in standalone mode on the Quest 3, but sometimes need more, you can use the Remote Display app. There is a companion app to install for remote access to Windows PC and Mac computers. When I launch Remote Display, a window opens showing one of my two PC screens next to two Meta browser windows. With one click, I can easily switch to the other physical monitor’s view.
I still need to use my computer’s keyboard, mouse, or trackpad to interact with the computer, while my hands or controller control the Quest 3 window. I found the blend of these two worlds surprisingly satisfying. However, there is no automatic data transfer. I need to save on cloud to access files across different devices.
Is the Quest 3 ready for action?
Returning to the question of whether the Quest 3 is ready for work, the answer is yes. A more important question to ask is whether You Ready to work in VR and the Quest 3 is the best device for that purpose.
Personally, I still find the Quest Pro more comfortable. All of the software improvements mentioned above came to the entire Quest lineup, except for the discontinued Quest 1.
The Quest 3 offers sharper graphics, which will make a difference in the fine print. On the other hand, I don’t need fine print when I’m looking at three huge screens, so the Quest Pro displays are plenty sharp.
A bigger concern is how long the headset will remain comfortable. After a few hours, the 1 pound weight becomes noticeable even with a sophisticated head strap. The truth is that VR headsets are still too heavy for all-day use.
Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro has a 4K-per-eye display, and this spatial computer will make the current generation of consumer VR headsets look worse. Performance should be on par with a MacBook. However, early testers suggest the headset weighs at least a pound, so Apple’s spatial computer will also, like the Quest 3, spend a large portion of the workday on its charging dock.
The Quest 3 is ready for work, but don’t get rid of your laptop just yet.