Although Google IO 2018 was mostly about software and AI, several hardware partners made announcements in tandem with the event. We saw JBL unveil a Soundbar with Google Assistant, a trio of manufacturers showed Smart Displays with Google Assistant due out in July, and Lenovo followed on the heels of Oculus Go by announcing their standalone VR Headset- the Lenovo Mirage Solo.
We spotted the Mirage Solo at the combined Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality tent at #IO18 where we put the new headset to the test. Here are some initial thoughts after using the Mirage Solo for a brief demo.
How does it fit?
I’m a new recruit of the “glasses not contacts” club and was happy to learn that the Lenovo Mirage Solo fits perfectly fine overtop glasses. After putting on the headset there are two adjustments you can make to ensure a snug fit.
The main fastener on the rear of the headset is dial-based, which I love. It tightens in small increments as it turns, gently clicking into each notch. This mechanism ensures a really snug wrap around my gigantic dome and one that won’t slip or come loose while in use. It rides higher on my head than other headsets, which seemed to take weight away from my face, but it felt a bit too high.
Luckily the second fastener mostly addressed this issue. While holding a button on the bottom left of the headset, you can move the headset further or closer to your face, accommodating various face and nose shapes and sizes.
This greatly improved the fit of the Lenovo Mirage, but it wasn’t perfect. It felt loose on the bottom, beneath my eyes, which was most noticeable when looking down. That may sound like a minor complaint, but it’s not. The goal is to be truly immersed in the VR world. A less than perfect fit is a constant reminder that you’ve got a big machine strapped to your face.
I wouldn’t rule out buying the Lenovo Mirage for this reason alone, though. Not yet at least. I only had 5 minutes to toy with it and there’s a good chance with some practice and fiddling it would fit fine. For others, like my #IO18 partner in crime Derek Ross, there were no complaints.
Fit and comfort are of ultimate importance in VR. At $400 it needs to fit properly. The primary tightening dial is a great inclusion and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this adopted by competitors, but the jury is still out on the overall comfort of the Lenovo Mirage Solo.
6-Degrees of Freedom
One key advantage of PC-driven virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive is room scale interaction. Sensors placed in the room interact with sensors in the headset, allowing users to not only move their head up, down, left, and right, but also move around in the physical world with the virtual world reacting appropriately.
Headsets like the Gear VR, Daydream View, and even Oculus Go don’t approach this realm. They focus only on directional head movements with clicks of a companion controller used to teleport you within the virtual space. The Mirage Solo does have a remote and can be used to move through space in the VR world, but it’s not a limiting dimension.
The Mirage Solo has built-in proximity sensors, two tracking cameras, and “WorldSense” positional tracking that understands where you are in relation to objects in the room. This allows a more seamless connection between the physical and virtual worlds and thus a more immersive experience. As explained by Lenovo:
Lean and duck to navigate your way through tight spaces; jump to traverse pitfalls and dodge to avoid incoming projectiles. Objects and landscapes stay fixed in place no matter where you tilt or move your head.
At least that’s the idea. In our demo we sat in swivel chairs, giving us the ability to explore a full 360 degree range of visibility, but without any lateral movements. Sure, we could duck our heads and see the 6-degrees of freedom in action, but not to an extent that shows its value beyond the competition.
This is an important distinction to be explored in a full review.
The primary difference between the Lenovo Mirage Solo and the Oculus Go is content. A VR headset is only as good as the apps and games you can get on it; the Oculus platform has 1,000+ titles to choose from while the Lenovo Mirage Solo – powered by Google’s Daydream 2.0 – sits at only about 250 titles.
That number will obviously grow, however there aren’t hoards of new and compelling VR experiences launching on the regular. It’s still early days in VR and Mirage Solo owners are very much early adopters. Release momentum will pick up when VR headsets themselves become more commonplace, giving developers more incentive to build on the platform. But guess what? I said that a few years ago when the HTC Vive originally launched and the ball is still rolling rather slowly… steadily, but slowly.
You can choose from a ton of video content via YouTube and Google Play Movies & TV, but watching 2D video in a VR headset isn’t the primary use case. Explore the types of content and experiences Daydream 2.0 offers right here.
Specs and Battery Life
The Mirage Solo is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 VR, 4GB of RAM, and seems to run Daydream 2.0 flawlessly. The visuals on the 5.5-inch LCD screen with QHD resolution were good, but expectations should be tempered- this is a dedicated VR headset but it still can’t compete with an experience powered by a full PC.
The Mirage Solo only has 64GB of storage but a MicroSD slot will allow you to ramp that up easily if you want access to more movies, TV, apps, and games. However much content you have, you’ll be limited to about 2.5 hours of continuous use with the Mirage Solo’s 4,000 mAh battery. That’s a little bit disappointing, but par for the course- consider it a built-in reminder to rest your eyes and tether it to an external battery if you really want to push its limits.
You’ll get audio by connecting a 3.5mm headset jack directly into the Mirage Solo and thankfully there are VR optimized headphones that come in the box. We didn’t have a chance to try these specific headphones, but for the best experience, you’ll likely want to select headphones of your own.
Size and Weight
Coming in at 1.42 pounds the Lenovo Mirage is heavier than its direct competitors. Its most direct competitor – due to the fact that it also has a built-in display that doesn’t require your phone – is the Oculus Go VR headset from Facebook. It weighs just 1.03 pounds.
Two other popular alternatives, the Gear VR and the Google Daydream View, require users to snap their phone into the headset, thus serving as the display. The Gear VR totals 1.09 pounds when accounting for the headset (.76 pounds) and a Galaxy S9 (.36 pounds) while the Daydream View weighs just .80 pounds split between the headset (.49 pounds) and the Pixel 2 (.31 pounds). Obviously if you’re using a heavier device the combined weight will increase, but they’re unlikely to approach the 1.42 pounds of the Lenovo Mirage.
It doesn’t feel dramatically heavier, though. It feels solid. Substantial. Built with purpose as its own hardware rather than an accessory that tags along. Unfortunately, you pay for those materials and that build quality.
Bottom Line: is it worth $400?
If you’re looking to purchase your first ever VR headset, Lenovo’s Mirage Solo is among the best places to start ($400 at Amazon). It’s a much better experience than the Gear VR ($90 at Amazon) or the Daydream View ($80 at Amazon), but is also 4X the price. If you’ve already got a compatible phone and haven’t tried VR before, I’d start with the Gear VR or View and upgrade if you feel compelled by the concept and want a better experience all-around.
The real competition is with the Oculus Go which is half the price and has 4X the apps and games. However, the Go doesn’t cooperate with Google’s Daydream ecosystem. It’s a tossup.
If you value the portability of a VR headset then you should absolutely pick the Oculus Go or one of the smartphone driven headsets over the Mirage Go. The Mirage Solo may be more sturdy and comfortable, but its design and materials are rigid, making it difficult to pack for trips unless you’ve got a lot of extra room.
At this point, I’d say start with the Gear VR or Daydream View if you’ve never tried VR; upgrade to the Oculus Go if you want something affordable, but better quality that you can travel with; and upgrade to the Mirage Solo if cash isn’t an issue and you want the best casual VR Headset for your home.
Which VR Headset would you pick?
Do you already own a VR Headset? Which one do you have, why did you pick it, and how do you like it? Let us know in the comments and share how you think the Lenovo Mirage Solo stacks up against the competition.