Tech

I did my expenses in VR and I liked it

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Meta’s Quest 3 has now been available for over a week, and the reviews have largely praised the updated consumer mixed reality headset. In my own first impressions, I shared how it managed to convince me to give the category a second look — many years after I’d all but given up on VR as something worthwhile beyond a sporadic novelty. Now, after a few days living with and using the Quest 3 myself, I think even my initial positive reaction was underselling just how much Meta has accomplished with this new headset.

Most of my time spent with the Meta Quest 3 hasn’t actually been in virtual reality — instead, it’s been using the new mixed reality features that rely on the greatly improved video passthrough Meta added with this generation. Previously, passthrough was available on the Quest series, but it was rudimentary at best: more about preventing you from stubbing a toe or tripping over a coffee table than for any extended, practical use. This time, thanks to very low latency, color video and higher resolution, you can easily navigate your environment, and even use your phone to some extent for things like retrieving passwords from your password manager to use with your various services in Meta’s software.

The advantage of leaning into mixed reality with the Quest 3 is apparent right from the start. When you unbox the headset and put it on your head it provides a passthrough view as you walk through the setup, which is infinitely better and less disorienting than being plopped right into a fully virtual enclosure for your first interactions.

This is also the first time I’ve actually used a mixed reality headset continuously while walking around my space and doing simple, menial things like making coffee or washing the dishes. It’s satisfying — to a surprising and somewhat perplexing degree — to be able to grab a virtual Instagram or YouTube window and “carry” it with you as you walk through your own space. You can then place it exactly where it’s most convenient while you go about your daily life. Yes, you’re still wearing a relatively bulky, warm headset (though it’s much-improved in terms of comfort, too) but the Quest 3 doesn’t just show off the potential of wearable spatial computing — it provides a usably pleasant version of that in actual current-day application.

Of course, there are caveats. Maybe most notably if you live with other human beings, as I do, wearing a headset that makes you look vaguely like some kind of space-based special ops agent will not win you any affection. My partner was mildly amused, but mostly horrified the first time I wore the Quest 3 walking down the stairs and into the kitchen when she was around. I tried to explain that I could see her just fine, pointing out that she was just to the left of the web-based video player currently showing an episode of “Below Deck,” but this didn’t make her more enthusiastic about my newfound mixed reality lifestyle. The one time I wore it in bed was immediately deemed “unacceptable.”

No joke, though, the Quest 3 is a game-changer for household chores: I’ve been consistently using it while I do laundry, vacuuming and generally tidying up, because it’s perfect for watching just about anything you can stream while keeping your hands free for managing other tasks. The improved passthrough is plenty good for all of these kinds of tasks, too.

Another very interesting use of the Quest 3 I’ve been enjoying so far is running virtual displays for my work computer. Currently, I find Immersed is the best for how I want to work, and an interesting quirk of the software is that it plops you into a public, shared environment (dressed up as a virtual café) by default on the basic free plan. While working in this environment, with three virtual displays connected to my Mac, I was able to listen in on the conversations of others who dropped in (you can mute your own mic if you want) and heard about the well-being of the family of a developer from Eastern Europe talking to another developer from a neighboring country. It was like a coffee shop co-work, but much more international.

One thing I did while immersed in Immersed was a task that I typically avoid until the last possible minute — or sometimes even later than that, honestly: doing my expenses. We, like many, use Concur for expense reporting, and doing them feels like opting to have elective surgery without anesthetic at the best of times. I was curious if it might be more pleasant to do them in an environment that feels kind of like “Minority Report” if Minority Report had significant budget cuts (but was still pretty cool).

The answer is that Concur still sucks super hard in VR (or in mixed reality, which I also tried briefly) — but surprisingly, it doesn’t suck any more than it does in more conventional computing environments. I did actually enjoy doing normal computer things in VR, even if one of those normal computer things was itself an inherently unpleasant task.

Plus, I could always just switch over to Beat Saber and work out some of my frustrations about my missing receipts.

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