Last year Google announced that it was working with Lenovo and HTC on two standalone Daydream VR headsets. These were systems that would require neither a PC or a smartphone to work; you'd simply slip it over your face and depart for virtual worlds unexplored. Then HTC had a change of heart and decided it wanted to focus on conquering China, announcing it would no longer launch the Vive Focus globally. Good news for Lenovo then, which has the first, and currently only confirmed, Daydream standalone headset.
The Lenovo Mirage Solo may cause a little confusion in name as Lenovo already has something called the Mirage, which is its AR Jedi Challenges headset.
The Mirage Solo runs Google's Daydream platform, which until now has only worked with a small smattering of smartphones that need to be slotted into a headset. The beauty of the Mirage Solo is its simplicity: you put it on, pick up the controller, and voila, you're doing VR, baby.
Lenovo Mirage Solo: Comfort and tracking
If you think the Solo looks a lot like the PS VR, you're not going mad. The headstrap is almost identical. I asked Lenovo if the PlayStation VR design was a strong inspiration, but it didn't have much to say about it. It's nice and comfortable though.
The Solo has a combined resolution of 2560 x 1440, which will be the same as the Oculus Go when that launches later this year. For reference that's higher than the HTC Vive but not quite the level of the HTC Vive Pro; less "screen-door" effect, and pretty sharp. It also has a 110-degree field of view, the same as the Vive headsets. Oh, and it works with the existing Daydream 3DoF controller.
But there are limitations. For one thing it doesn't support full room-scale. There's about a 1.5m play space around you, which isn't big. The Solo has 6DoF tracking and uses Google's WorldSense technology, so you can dodge, duck, dip and dive and, but you can't really move too far from your starting point, and if you do a grid will appear to demarcate your play space. It's a restriction that left me a bit disappointed. Isn't moving around one of the big selling points of a standalone system like this?
Lenovo hinted this might change in the future, but the ball is in Google's court. The controller is currently just 3DoF, but Lenovo also suggested future software improvements could actually improve this. Consider us intrigued.
Still, as I opined in my HTC Vive Pro first-look, untethered VR feels like a bigger step forward than resolution or FoV bumps, and the unrestricted movement on the Mirage Solo felt great.
Lenovo Mirage Solo: And the games?
As for content, this is where Google comes in. The Daydream store is filling out, but it needs more. I tried a couple of games on the Solo, an SSX-style snowboard game which required me to lean side to side to guide myself. The second one was a short Blade Runner tie-in where I walked (well, teleported along) some streets of techno-noir LA.
Of course, as this is standalone it needs to store everything on the headset itself, so the Mirage Solo comes with 4GB of storage for games and movies. Because it's running on Daydream you'll also be able to connect to your Google Photo collection, and Lenovo says you can cast to a TV so other people can see what you're seeing.
"But what about battery life?" you might be thinking. It was one thing that was bugging me, and I was braced for disappointment, but Lenovo is saying seven hours of continuous use, which seems very reasonable. Is the price just as impressive? Right now Lenovo is saying "under $400", but when it first told us about the headset the price was pencilled in at $450. The Oculus Rift, which will be Lenovo's competitor here, is priced at $199, so the Solo is potentially twice as expensive, but that extra cash is getting you Google's Worldsense technology and a higher field of view to boot. Will it be worth it? Too early to tell.
With the benefit of being totally standalone, the Mirage Solo will appeal to a broader audience, which is what VR needs right now. But with the Oculus Go is set to launch this year for a much lower price, it won't stand alone. Lenovo might need to consider bringing down the price further, but there's no doubt in my mind that this is what VR needs in 2018.