- Look ma, no wires!
- Crisp visuals
- Six degrees of freedom
- Expensive (twice the cost of the Go)
- Controller still 3DoF
- Daydream lacking in must-have games
In 2018 the virtual reality market is changing, and the Lenovo Mirage Solo is part of an interesting new trend. Whereas VR has until recently been split into VR that either relies on a PC, or a smartphone, a third category of standalone headsets is now emerging. These do everything out the box. They're more affordable than buying an Oculus Rift and PC. They're more convenient than your Samsung Gear VR. They could be VR's best chance of going mainstream.
Lenovo's headset arrives hot on the heels of the Oculus Go, itself an all-in-one costing that trades off some of the capabilities of more expensive systems for convenience. It will also later be joined by HTC's dog in this race, the Vive Pro, which too is cutting the wires for standalone VR later in 2018.
Read this: Best VR headsets
Oculus may have just beaten it to the punch, but Lenovo is a vanguard for standalone Daydream, Google's VR platform which has until now only run on Android smartphones. It's also the first to use Google's WorldSense tech, which allows you to move around in virtual reality. The Solo is in some ways more capable than the Oculus Go, yet falls down in others. But at $400, it's also twice the price.
Here's our full verdict on the headset, including our thoughts on the Mirage Camera, which Lenovo is also making available for budding VR filmmakers.
Lenovo Mirage Solo: Design
The look of the Lenovo Mirage Solo lands somewhere between the PlayStation VR and Google's own Daydream View headset. At 645g it is heavier than a lot of other headsets I've tried, something I've noticed during longer bouts of play time. The head strap is comfortable, easy to get tight and counterbalances some of the weight from the front, but it's still heavy and most of this falls on your face. This isn't just a comfort thing – it can make maintaining the "sweet spot" for optimum clarity a problem when the visor is sliding down your nose. Keep it tight, but try not to induce a headache.
On the right of the headset is the power button and two volume buttons. The power button needs to be held down for a few seconds to work, so there's little risk of accidentally switching it off mid-game. There's also something else you might recognise – yes kids, that curious little hole is a headphone jack. You might not see one on your smartphone any more, but because you can't pair Bluetooth headphones with the Solo, it needs one for audio. It's a shame the Mirage doesn't also have a built-in speaker like the Oculus Go does.
Flip it over and on left side of the headset is a USB-C port for charging and a slot for microSD cards – anything up to 256GB. Though I've done fine with the 64GB of storage built in so far, space is going to be more of a consideration with standalone VR. I'm already halfway full and I've not installed an awful lot.
To tighten the headset you turn a wheel on the back of the head strap – it's the same system as the PS VR – and there's a quick-release button on the bottom that will move the visor forwards and backwards, which helps you get a good fit and gives you a quick slither of reality if you need to check your phone or the whereabouts of your cat.
Let's also talk visuals. The Solo has a 2,560 x 1,440 display with a 110-degree field of view, and by those numbers it's up there with the big names. The picture is certainly sharp – we've no complaints there – and the field of view is the same as the Rift and the Vive. Finally, you've got a Daydream controller in the box. It's the same controller that comes with the Daydream View, with the clickable touchpad above the app and home buttons. There's nowhere on the headset to store it like the Daydream View can, so try not to lose it.
Lenovo Mirage Solo: Room tracking
This is one place the Solo gets the edge over the Oculus Go. The Solo has six degrees of freedom (often referred to as 6DoF) tracking which allows you to walk around in VR. It's also inside-out tracking, enabled by the two cameras on the front of the visor, meaning it's all done by the headset with no need to place sensors around the room. The Go only has 3DoF, so you can look around but you're always fixed in the same spot, unless the experience itself moves you. VR has come a long way in the last few years, and while a lack of position tracking helps Oculus keep its standalone headset half the price of the Mirage Solo, those three degrees make a world of difference – even if the play space is small.
This is actually Google's WorldSense technology at work, which maps a three-dimensional space around the headset, but it's not full-blown room tracking in the way the HTC Vive delivers. You've got about 1.5 square metres to manoeuvre in, so you can dodge, duck, dip and dive, but you can't really move all that much, and a grid will appear to demarcate your play space should you stray too far. There seems to be no reason this can't be extended, and hopefully it's something Lenovo will consider.
Also, not every game or experience is going to make use of this newly-granted freedom. This is actually the first 6DoF headset running on Daydream, so hopefully it's something developers will be quick to take advantage of. Something as simple as being able to hold an object to my face, and slightly tilt my head towards it – an unnecessary but instinctive reflex – can make VR feel so much more real. All that said, the controller is still only 3DoF – orientation, gyroscope, accelerometer; no depth – which will constrain developers from doing more interesting things. It also creates a bit of a disconnect in the experience.
Lenovo Mirage Solo: Games and apps
This is the Google Daydream show, so when you boot up the headset you'll be dropped in the same forest scene, complete with babbling brook, that you'll recognise if you've used the platform on a smartphone. From here you have a small handful of pre-loaded apps, but you'll want to sign into your Google account and start browsing the Play Store pronto.
Read this: The best Daydream apps and games
Daydream needs better games, but it's gradually stockpiling a collection of titles worth playing. There's a section of the Google Play store dedicated to WorldSense-powered experiences, and I'd recommend starting there.
There are also apps like YouTube and Hulu, and HBO has both its Now and Go apps on Daydream. In fact, I watched the latest episode of Westworld in the HBO Daydream VR cinema. It was pretty cool. BBC's Life In VR is an exclusive to Daydream that's worth exploring, especially if you're a fan of the likes of Blue Planet.
Lenovo Mirage Solo: Battery life
The Mirage can run for around two and a half hours in VR before it's time to charge it back up again. That's a good amount of time for a standalone headset doing what this does. The headset also "sleeps" when you take it off but don't power it down, helping to stretch that battery as much as possible. One night I took it off and forgot to hit the power, and when I came to pick it up again in the morning it was still going.
By comparison, the Oculus Go seems to come in just under the Mirage, but the difference is small. With the amount of juice you get out of the Mirage it feels robust enough to take to a party, have a few people pass it around, and get a good amount of use without having to worry about precious battery life.
When it is time to charge up you just plug in the USB-C. The controller charges using the same method, though this needs to be done a lot less often than the headset.
Lenovo Mirage Solo: Mirage Camera
The $299 Mirage Camera takes all the simplicity of a point-and-shoot and tries to bring it to the world of VR. The camera itself is comfortable to hold and use, which is just as well, as you're gonna be popping this thing everywhere.
There's no viewfinder, as it's taking a photo of everything in front of it with its two 13MP, F/2.1 lenses. That simplicity is carried over to the three buttons: shutter, function and power. You'll get up to 4K video for video and for live streaming, while your photos will come out at a max of 3016 x 3016.
There's also two hours of battery life. Lenovo's hardware is paired up with Google's software here, and much of that will stitch everything together and make it look good without you needing to get involved.
Transferring photos and video is done through either Google Photos or YouTube. However, even though videos transfer through Google Photos, we had trouble playing them in the Google Photos app on the Mirage Solo. When we could upload our videos, it was through YouTube. We did have a much better time viewing them through the Daydream View.
The quality on both photos and video is impressive, and you get a wonderful sense of depth while retaining crispness. There aren't many artefacts or weird stitching issues here, and you're not going to easily see the stitch lines in videos. Video in motion works pretty well, even though Google told me it thinks it has more work to do in that area. As for the stabilisation, you'll see some stutters every once in a while if you're moving a little too quickly, but it generally does the job.
While the Mirage Camera is an impressive, fun-to-use and simple camera, it's also pretty expensive. Especially when you pair it up with the Mirage Solo, as they're ideally made to be together. Still, the Mirage Camera is your best bet if you want to practise VR180 creation.
Additional words by Husain Sumra.
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