Virtual reality has been a thing for a number of years at this point, but it’s always pretty much involved your smartphone in some way or another unless you bought something that could connect to your PC. That is, until the first standalone VR headsets came into play.
Without any wires tying you down or extra sensors placed around a room, standalone VR headsets offer somewhat of a freeing experience and enable more flexibility when compared to other offerings. This is pretty much why smartphones in VR headsets are so popular.
But what if you didn’t even need your smartphone? What if all the necessary sensors, cameras, trackers, and other internals were loaded right into the headset itself?
That’s essentially the premise of Lenovo’s new Mirage Solo headset, a $399 VR viewer that doesn’t require your smartphone to operate. Instead, it basically takes the guts of a smartphone and places them right inside the headset itself, therefore simulating a similar experience you’d get from an Android device paired with a standard VR headset. Plus, it means you can keep your phone in your pocket.
In practice, it does what Lenovo says it can, but I’m not sure if anyone other than serious virtual reality nerds needs it.
The design of the Mirage Solo is both clean and comfortable to wear, but its overall size is rather cumbersome. Maybe if the overall footprint of the headset were a bit smaller, it would look more appealing. But to me, it feels a tad oversized and, therefore, isn’t that appealing to pick up and use often.
When I do use the headset, I’m always impressed with just how comfortable it is. The padding on the inside of the headset and strap make for a very pleasant experience, especially during long periods of use such as while playing games or watching YouTube videos. The headset is also easily adjustable thanks to a large knob on the back, making for one of the simplest ways to size the viewer according to your head.
Of course, the design of the Mirage Solo is merely half the story. What makes Lenovo’s VR headset special is the tech inside, and there’s plenty of it. Things start with the 5.5-inch Quad HD display inside the viewer that acts like any normal phone screen by displaying VR content through two designated lenses. Interestingly, Lenovo opted for a specially-tuned LCD panel to reduce the chance of ghosting effects after extended use. Fortunately, the screen looks really good with great color reproduction and sufficient clarity.
Powering the experience is a Snapdragon 835 that’s been fine-tuned for the Daydream OS on board. The headset uses 4GB of RAM to handle tasks in the background and 64GB of storage to store all of your apps, games, and other content. As far as performance goes, it’s what you’d expect from an 835 with 4GB of RAM running a stock operating system from Google. In other words, it’s great.
During my usage, I never experienced any major hangups that prevented me from navigating to where I wanted to go in the Daydream interface. I also didn’t notice any stutters or issues while interacting with graphics-intensive experiences like BBC Earth: Life in VR or Blade Runner: Revelations. On the contrary, it was one of the smoothest experiences I’ve had in a while in virtual reality.
That’s impressive as it is since the headset doesn’t use your smartphone to operate, but Lenovo went even further with its WorldSense technology to track everything. Basically, the Mirage Solo uses what they call dual 6-Degrees-of-Freedom tracking cameras to determine the headset’s positioning in the real world and adjust the Daydream interface accordingly. A bunch of other sensors including a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer, and p-sensor accommodate. Collectively, the feature eliminates the need for any additional sensors or wires and makes the Mirage Solo a truly standalone VR headset.
In practice, WorldSense works really well. I didn’t have any major issues with Daydream tracking exactly where my head was positioned during my usage, although I did notice a repositioning-type stutter once or twice while gaming, but that was it. The feature works especially well while you’re sitting down, but things are also relatively precise while standing up and moving around often.
The controller that comes with the headset also ships with excellent tracking. I never once had any connectivity issues or miscommunications between it and the interface which I found extremely pleasant.
While using the headset’s technology to view commercial VR content is great, the viewer’s also super handy for checking out your own photos and videos. For our review, Lenovo sent us the Mirage Camera to try out. The $299 camera allows you to take 180-degree photos and 4K videos thanks to the two 13MP sensors on the front. It syncs to your smartphone to transfer your content to Google Photos where you can view all of your creations.
During my testing, I found the camera a pretty novel little accessory. It’s fun to go around and see what types of pictures you can take with it. For instance, I shot my sister’s birthday party in 180-degrees and now, she can go back and see what her face looked like when she blew out her candles. It’s little things like that you’ll appreciate if you pick up the shooter.
For juice, Lenovo packs a 4000mAh cell inside the Mirage Solo headset. While you’d expect a cell like that to last hours on end, it, unfortunately, only lasts around 2 to 2 1/2 hours of continuous usage before you need to top up. Honestly, though, you probably won’t even spend that much time in VR anyway so you should be good to go for a full day on a single charge.
As far as software goes, as I mentioned before, the Mirage Solo runs Google’s Daydream OS based on Android Oreo. It’s a good operating system with a variety of different experiences to try out. Of course, you aren’t getting the broad selection of high-end games and other content like you would on something like the Oculus Rift, but Daydream isn’t exactly meant for enthusiasts. Rather, it’s a more consumer-friendly operating system with more inviting titles.
That alone makes the Mirage Solo pretty difficult to recommend to the right person. On one hand, you have an overall experience that anyone with a slight interest in VR will fall in love with. On the other, you’ve got hardware and a price tag that position the Mirage Solo as something for serious virtual reality nerds. And yeah, I think $399 is probably the right price for a headset of this nature, but it’s hard to recommend considering its limited capabilities. After all, the same OS that comes on this $400 headset is available on various Android phones via a simple $50 headset.
And then you need to consider the Mirage Camera. While I am a fan of it, I’m not sure if I’d spend a full $300 on it. Personally, if both the camera and headset were reduced by $100 or if they were offered in a bundle, I’d buy them both. But otherwise, you’ll either have to choose one or the other or spend a whopping $700 on some simple dedicated VR hardware you may not use all that often.
In the end, unless you’re serious about VR, you should probably skip the Mirage Solo and Camera. While the headset does provide a great overall experience, it’s just a bit too extreme for something most consumers with an interest in VR can achieve with a simple smartphone. Still, both devices pave the way for more standalone VR headsets and content to come, and the future seems bright for it all.