Impressive by both mobile and tethered standards, Lenovo’s new model has the potential to raise the quality of interactive VR and to take the medium a step further.
- Phone-free setup
- VR that you can take anywhere
- WorldSense works brilliantly
- Good value
- Needs more games and apps
- Difficult to take around
- LCD display is good, but not ideal
There’s no doubting that Lenovo’s Mirage Solo headset is revolutionary for the mobile VR market in a few ways.
It provides a very good Google Daydream experience without the need for an expensive flagship smartphone (it has the innards of a modern Android smartphone powering it). You can experience virtual reality the way it’s meant to be experienced, with six-degrees of freedom (6DoF) thanks to its inside-out tracking sensors that let you move about the environment. It’s surprisingly comfortable, too, taking a few notes from PlayStation VR to make long VR sessions something that I’d actually consider doing from time to time.
The tenet of mobile VR has always been its low price, giving consumers a decent option that punches well below the quality found on PC-bound headsets like Oculus Rift and HTC Vive Pro, but at that, also well below their price. So, it might come as a bit of sticker shock to see that the Mirage Solo is going for $399 (about £293, AU$530).
But if VR is on your horizon, or if you’re just looking for a captivating option that doesn’t require a pricey smartphone or a computer to use it, Lenovo’s headset is the best option out there. There are enough technical advancements crammed into this headset to justify the price, but Google’s platform needs to grow considerably to make this a truly tempting purchase for the mainstream audience.
There’s usually a lot to write when it comes to setting up other virtual reality headsets. Even the Oculus Go, which is cable-free, still relies on myriad steps for setting it up, requiring a smartphone to get you started. But the Lenovo Mirage Solo is as easy and breezy as it should be. Take note, everyone.
You take the headset from the box, charge it up with the included USB-C cable and charger, then boot it up with controller in-hand. After a few initiation steps (all performed while using the headset) you’re set free in Daydream OS, Google’s dedicated VR operating system.
Operating the Mirage Solo is, in many ways, exactly like what we saw on the Google Daydream headset in that it’s user-friendly as can be, but there are far more appreciated features here.
We’ll dig into the physical differences in the next section, but focusing on the software experience, it’s akin to a modern gaming console in that when you hit the home button during a game, you’ll be sent to a screen that lets you adjust settings and switch between other recently launched apps or games, if you please. Visually, we can see its Android roots showing, as what’s seen here looks like the pull-down menu on, say, a Google Pixel 2. Don’t forget, there’s basically a phone’s worth of hardware inside and, apparently, the software, too.
With all of that setup under your belt, finding a Daydream app or game is as simple as booting the Google Play Store located on the home page. Google does a pretty decent job of surfacing noteworthy content for perusal, though it’s not all free to enjoy and it’s not all worthwhile. We’ve seen apps upwards of $14.99, but most of the good stuff is within the $10 or less range.
The Mirage Solo is almost like the lovechild of the PSVR headset and the Google Daydream View, combining their sheer simplicity in design with impressive functionality that enhances the VR experience during marathon sessions.
Given that all of the hardware is stuffed into the headset itself, the comfort yielded here is remarkable, as Lenovo has opted to front-load the weight of the Mirage Solo on the top of your forehead. A twisting knob on its back brings the headset around your skull, making it fully adjustable. If you’re struggling to find the perfect fit or to keep the outside light from seeping in, even the display housing can move back and forth without distorting the image.
On front of the headset, there are two cameras used to enable WorldSense, Google’s technology that gives this headset 6DOF. Like the Vive, this headset makes a map of your environment and alerts you when you’re about to step outside of a safe zone. Except unlike the Vive, you’re not bound to your VR-ready room. You can take this literally anywhere, which is as cool and nerdy as it sounds. It’s somewhat obvious to say, but if you have a small play space, your movement will be more limited, but still enhanced over regular Daydream or Samsung Gear VR experiences. Even in larger play spaces, Daydream OS seems to limit most experiences with a boundary of about six feet in either direction.
Moving around the device, one side plays host to a USB-C charging port and a microSD slot that’s handy for loading VR180 videos captured by the Lenovo Mirage Camera, or providing extra storage for games and apps. Around to the other end, you have your power button, volume controls and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
All in all, the Mirage Solo is fairly compact, but due to its plastic construct, it’s tough to fit into a bag for travel. If you don’t want to stow it in a grocery bag or tote, you’re only other option really is to carry it or wear it, and that will get you some strange looks. But hey, these are strange times, so I’ve embraced it by simply holding it in my hands a few times walking to and from the work office. It’s not ideal.
Lenovo has also included Google’s Daydream remote, a necessary accessory for interaction within games and apps. From what we can tell, it’s the same hardware here operating over Bluetooth, but there seems to be some more functionality here, including capturing screens or videos with shortcuts. If you hold the home and volume up buttons simultaneously, you’ll begin recording video to the storage. Home and volume down takes a snapshot. From there, you can view them within the storage section of the settings menu. Oddly, these shortcuts weren’t working for us during the review, but we’ve asked Google to see what’s going on.
Loaded with the Snapdragon 835 chipset, 4GB of RAM, and Daydream OS, the Mirage Solo is ready to get down with the latest and greatest VR apps and games – even those that aren’t out just yet.
During our review, we tried a slew of WorldSense-enabled experiences, some old (the remarkably clever Virtual Virtual Reality and the Metroid Prime-esque Eclipse: Edge of Light) and some new (Blade Runner: Revelations, and The Chinese Room’s narrative-driven So Let Us Melt). Lenovo says that there will be 70 titles at launch that take advantage of your environment.
It doesn’t take WorldSense to make a game good, and that’s not all it’s for, as we discovered with its safety features. But it absolutely elevates the mobile VR experience to a new level for both new and older games. In Blade Runner: Revelations, a fairly well-made experience on its own, I got a lot more out of the experience by walking around the environment and analyzing clues and characters up-close. That’s not to say that every app or game will be enriched because of it, and the WorldSense safety bubble felt frustratingly small at times, but still there’s huge potential here to make magical experiences.
The Mirage Solo runs smoothly, due in part by its smartphone-esque hardware chops, but also by the fact that it’s running on its own operating system without worrying itself about phone calls and extraneous apps in the background. All of the resources are dedicated to whatever it is you’re doing with Mirage Solo.
In terms of visual fidelity, there’s not much to complain about here. The 110-degree field of view provided by its 5.5-inch 2,560 x 1,440 IPS LCD display is generous, though we immediately noticed garrish look that this type of display can be known for. All said, it’s plenty bright, the color presentation is spot-on, and the impressive pixel density and all-important refresh rate (locked at 75Hz) work together to make this screen look quite nice, though you won’t find deep blacks for a truly cinematic experience.
Filling up the internal storage of the Mirage Solo may take some time, as it comes with 64GB built into the headset. We’re happy to see a microSD slot included, which can take it up to 256GB. The Lenovo Mirage Camera can shoot in the new VR 180 format, which this headset can view simply by hot-swapping their microSD card.
Lastly, let’s focus on the 4,000mAh internal battery. Lenovo claims that it can provide upwards to 2.5 hours of continuous use. There likely aren’t many people out there who are going to take it from full to empty in one go, so right off the bat, it’s nice that this can last for multiple short bursts of entertainment. After a steady half hour playing some games, we brought it down to 76%. Another day passed without totally powering it down, and it slipped down to about 60%. It’s been made clear during testing that this headset can hit its advertised marks.
There is no shortage of virtual reality headsets to choose from. The questions worth asking yourself are really, how much money do you have and what do you want to do with a VR headset? You can obviously spend far less on a headset than $399 and get a pretty good experience, but you currently can’t do better than Lenovo’s Mirage Solo.
This headset’s launch couldn’t be more peculiarly timed, as the Oculus Go has just released. While similar in their top-level approach to cutting the cord and ditching the phone, Lenovo’s option is really in a league of its own by comparison, both in features and price.
The Mirage Solo is double to cost of the Facebook’s new headset, but easily features enough advances to warrant the difference, that is if they matter to you. Inclusions like 6DoF via WorldSense, a hearty boost in specs like the Snapdragon 835 and a microSD slot elevate it above the Go and every other headset out there – even what tethered headsets can handle.
At best, it will make you so glad that you didn’t drop $1,000 for a high-end PC and VR headset, as you can have some pretty immersive experiences here. None of what we’ve seen comes close to the graphical fidelity seen in the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive Pro, but WorldSense has the potential of thrusting the quality of mainstream VR into new territory.
Beyond this groundbreaking feature making its debut here, we’re pleased with the specs, performance and design of the Mirage Solo.