No wires, no setup, just easy, standalone roomscale VR
As the world’s first completely standalone VR headset with inside-out tracking, the Lenovo Mirage Solo aims to bring you into the world of virtual reality without the need for wires, phones, expensive PCs or any kind of setup at all. Utilizing the existing Google Daydream VR platform and over 350 titles, the Mirago Solo is launching with 70 titles that support Lenovo’s WorldSense technology to further immerse you in the VR world, but at $399 it’s certainly not the cheapest entry fee in the world. Is it worth the cost?
Specs and What’s In the Box
Lenovo’s Mirage Solo is a completely standalone VR headset that requires nothing external to function. As such, all you’ll find in the box is the Mirage Solo headset, a standard Daydream motion controller, USB Type-C cable and a charging brick to plug into a power outlet. The same USB Type-C cable charges both the controller and headset. As the Mirage Solo is a completely standalone VR headset, it’s powered by similar components to what you’ll find in a smartphone. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC and 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM power the phone, while a 4,000mAh battery keeps things going for hours. 64GB of UFS-grade storage is included, and a microSD card slot can be found on the side for expandable storage with support for up to 256GB size cards.
On the front is a Lite-On 6BF 11238 dual camera system, which powers the WorldSense module, and an occupancy sensor can be found on the inner part of the headset, just above the lenses. These lenses are Fresnel-Aspheric with a 110-degree FOV, and behind them is a 5.5-inch quad-HD (2560 x 1440, 534 PPI) IPS LCD panel with RGB stripe pixel structure, 70% color gamut reproduction and 75Hz refresh rate. The headset measures 204.01 mm x 269.5 mm x 179.86 mm and weighs 645 grams. Ports include a 3.5mm audio jack and a USB Type-C port, as well as 2 microphones for audio recording, but no speakers at all. Daydream OS runs the show, atop Android 8.0 Oreo.
Headset and Tracking
Lenovo’s design language is most similar to the Playstation VR headset, with a large, separated forehead pad above the face pads, which connects to the single large ring headstrap. This head strap is a rigid plastic with padding in front and back, and its circumference is adjusted by twisting the knob at the back. The main head unit sits on the face via one large face pad that goes all the way around the face, with pads that fit snugly around the nose as well. I found these nose pads to be a bit too tight for comfort personally, but the extra tight “seal” around this part of the face means there’s absolutely zero light leakage from the outside world, unlike basically any other VR headset out there. The headset is able to slide either inward or out from your face by pressing the button on the underside of the headset, allowing room for glasses, or just different face types in general.
Vents are located up top, and keep the lenses from fogging while playing, as well as giving facial skin a way to actually breathe. Most VR headsets don’t feature such vents, which give the Mirage Solo a significant advantage when it comes to comfort. The USB Type-C port and microSD card trays sit on the left side of the headset, while the power/sleep button, separated volume up and down buttons, and 3.5mm headset jack are on the right side. An occupancy sensor is located inside the headset, which automatically detects the presence of a face and will wake the unit up or put it to sleep depending on what it detects.
On the front sits a pair of Lite-On 6BF 11238 cameras, which operate together as the WorldSense tracking camera. This pair of cameras is able to detect depth thanks to the distance between the sensors, much like our eyes, and is able to track your physical location in the room. This translates to actual movement within virtual space without the need for external cameras or other sensors, as have been needed for any kind of roomscale tracking since the beginning of VR. This type of tracking is also known as inside-out tracking since the headset is able to see out into the world and completely track your physical head movements 1:1. This represents a significant step forward for VR headsets, as it enables fully natural movement without any kind of restriction, and doesn’t require any sort of setup ahead of time either.
Chaperone boundaries are automatically setup, so there’s no need to talk around the room and draw any boundaries, but by default, this makes them a fairly small circumference. Walk approximately 2ft in any direction and you’ll find the screen fades slowly to black, letting you know that you’ve crossed said virtual boundary and should step back to your starting point. It’s a reasonable amount of movement for anything that’s available on the store right now, and we presume that Google will allow developers to tweak this distance, depending on the individual game design. There aren’t any tools to draw a specific area in the room, and it’s not likely the WorldSense cameras are designed for such specific boundaries anyway, more of a loose distance from the starting point rather than how the Vive or Oculus Rift chaperone boundaries work.
What’s rather telling is that these 2ft boundaries are just the default setting; going into Developer options gives users the ability to turn off the warning completely, meaning you can venture throughout the virtual world to your heart’s delight, but there will be nothing to stop you from running into a wall or errant piece of furniture, of course. Movement is registered at 75 frames per second, meaning ultra smooth and precise body movement makes it feel like you’re actually in the virtual world, moving naturally and precisely without feeling restricted in the way all other mobile VR headsets do.
Display and Lenses
Lenovo has opted for an IPS LCD display on the Mirage Solo, a decision we certainly put into question when it was announced, as all VR headsets we’ve used so far with LCD displays exhibit terrible blurriness and other issues that don’t play well with VR paradigms. What Lenovo has delivered, however, is a display that is sharper than almost any other VR display out there, all while maintaining the low pixel persistence required to keep motion sickness down in VR. The biggest tradeoff here seems to be in pure contrast and color saturation, of which LCDs typically struggle with anyway, so this isn’t much of a surprise considering how the technology works.
The display is utilizing an RGB stripe instead of a pentile matrix, which means the display is 100% of the actual resolution, rather than 20-30% less as a pentile display would be. In the VR world, this translates into a massive difference, as 20-30% more effective pixels means clearer visuals all around, especially when it comes to reading text. Background details are clearly visible, text is crisp and clean, and overall this is one of the absolute best displays in the mobile world for VR purposes. The downside again is contrast and saturation levels, and the screen also only reproduces 70% color gamut, so in the end, it can look a bit washed out, but it’s super sharp and clear.
Lenovo has opted for Fresnel-Aspheric lenses, similar to what we see in the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets on the PC. Many enthusiasts had issue with the Fresnel lenses used on these headsets at launch because they introduce a bit of light bleed into the image, also known as God rays, which appear as glowing or fogging in extra bright sections of the image. While this is certainly still true of the lenses in the Mirage Solo, the advantages of Fresnel lenses are far too many when compared to the disadvantages when weighing them for the purposes of a head-mounted display (HMD). Fresnel lenses are considerably more compact, lighter, and cheaper, all of which are three incredibly important factors in VR.
Fresnel lenses can also have the advantage of creating a wider “sweet spot” for the display, which is the area that features the clearest imagery without any sort of noticeable distortion. Lenses always have a bit of distortion near their edges, and the ribbing and layering of Fresnel lenses help cut down on these effects, and others, and produce an image that’s usually cleaner and clearer in most circumstances when placing them up against a display. As the pixel structure of this display is RGB stripe display at quad-HD resolution, pixel structure isn’t very visible at all, leading to an almost imperceivable screen door effect.
Like other Daydream headsets, the Mirage Solo has no adjustment for focal length or interpupillary distance (IPD). Google appears to have chosen automatic methods for adjusting these sorts of things, but it’s hard to tell whether or not they truly are universal methods of adjustment, or if it’ll cause some people headaches. Having the incorrect IPD will certainly cause headaches, as eyes have to cross to see the image properly, but there are a number of automatic corrective settings enabled by default that appear to help.
Toggling these options in Developer Options proved a clear difference for myself, personally. Without lens/distortion correction enabled, I got a headache within minutes of using the headset and had to take a break for some time. Re-enabling this option fixed it completely, and Google’s use of Asynchronous Reprojection and Asynchronous Timewarp most certainly have a positive effect on visual comfort. There is a slight gap for glasses, which can be adjusted with the button on the bottom, helping those that require corrective lenses to better see the VR world.
There’s absolutely nothing new about the Daydream controller that ships with the Lenovo Mirage Solo, and that’s the biggest problem with the package as a whole. While the Daydream controller isn’t bad, per say, it feels very dated, especially when pairing it with the Mirage Solo. The main reason here isn’t its limited functionality, rather its limited range of movement. The Daydream controller only moves on 3 axis’, versus the 6 degrees of freedom provided by the headset. The result is a controller that never feels like it’s in the right place, as it’s effectively virtually tethered to your physical location rather than floating on its own like a proper motion controller would.
The most obvious reason for this limitation is the lack of external sensors to actually see the controller itself, as you would have on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, for instance. Without this, the controller has to rely on the built-in sensors, and since it’s not large enough to have its own camera system like the Mirage Solo headset does, it’s basically stuck with a 3-axis system. As a result, you’ll find it basically behaves like a Wii remote, which is likely something just about everyone has used at this point in time, so it’s best for games where you point at things to click, or hold items like a gun or a firehose, for example. Games and apps that require more precise movements or more intricate movements will suffer from the controller’s inability to move in a more natural fashion.
The thing that’s likely the most jarring is the controller’s inability to move like the headset, resulting in a bit of a strange dichotomy of movement styles between the two. While you can move the headset exactly the way you would move your head in real life, the controller still feels very much like a video game controller, with the limitations that technology can sometimes place upon more natural human movements. Design is the same as before, since it’s the exact same controller, and features just a few buttons on its body. On the side are the ingenious volume buttons, which allow quick adjustment to volume levels, and on the front are two centered buttons, placed one above the other; a concave home button, and a convex action button.
Located above these two buttons is a circular touchpad, which also clicks in and acts as a traditional directional pad would on a video game controller. The touchpad effectively gives the controller nearly infinite number of ways to interact with the virtual world, although a trigger or additional button underneath would certainly help with to give the index finger something else to do, similar to how Samsung’s latest Gear VR controller is designed. On a positive note, it’s a very ambidextrous controller, so both lefties and righties will have no trouble with its design.
Interface and Setup
One of the most impressive parts of the Lenovo Mirage Solo is its distinct lack of need to be set up. This headset is designed for ease and quick play, and it’s obvious from the moment you power it on. With a quick first boot-up in seconds, the Mirage Solo is ready to go at a moment’s notice, as everything is done completely within the headset itself. No need to pair it with your phone or sign into your account somewhere else just to get it going. You’ll need a Google account to be able to access the Play Store, and from here you’ll be able to download over 350 titles including games and apps for the Daydream platform. Once you sign into your Google account, the Daydream dashboard presents itself, with a quick tutorial the first time you start it up. The interactive tutorial covers all the basics of navigation and movement, which are all as natural as you would expect.
On the main screen you’ll find a set of tiles, all grouped around checking out new and featured experiences from the Play Store. These sections can be navigated through via a swipe on the controller’s touchpad, and pages are navigated either by clicking in and dragging (like a book page) or just clicking the arrows on the side of the pages. Much of this navigation is similar to the “channels” layout that Nintendo used on the Wii and will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s used to that interface. You’ll find the library of installed titles down below, with this same grid-like interface of tiled thumbnails.
The biggest problem with the interface is finding exactly what you’d purchased on the Play Store, and then installing those titles. There appears to be no place at all to check purchase history, or what’s already on your account and ready to install. Scrolling through the loosely organized titles on the Play Store will show the usual “purchased” status on each app or game’s title card, but it’s still more work than should be needed for such a necessary task. The general organization of Daydream apps on the Play Store is also pretty terrible, as there are a handful of general categories for types of experiences, and a search if you know the specific name, but no easy way of listing all apps available, or more granular categories at large.
The Mirage Solo offers far more VR-specific options than any other Daydream-enabled device out there does, as it’s a fully-VR compliant skin of Android and only operates in the VR space. As such it presents options that aren’t available on other platforms, specifically because they are all system-level functions. Screenshots and video recordings are a quick button press away, by pressing two buttons in combination with each other to take a screenshot (home + volume down), or record a video (home + volume up). You’ll also find all sorts of performance monitoring tools and comfort adjustments within settings, and of course the ability to toggle things like forced 6DoF in all titles within Developer Options.
Comfort, Performance and Battery Life
While Lenovo’s Mirage Solo remains one of the heaviest VR headsets around, the head strap design generally helps mitigate that weight onto the back of the cranium. The biggest issues are going to come in the form of the pads around the nose, which often felt like they were squishing mine a little too much for comfort, and the inability to adjust interpupillary distance (IPD) could certainly cause headaches if you don’t fall within a certain percentile range of folks whose eyes measure a specific distance apart. There’s at least space in here for folks with glasses, which certainly adds to comfort for people who need corrective lenses, and could also help for different sized faces.
The biggest issue with the headset isn’t lack of comfort on the head though, it’s the fact that this isn't a very portable design, despite being a standalone headset that’s obviously geared towards portability in some way. The rigid plastic head strap doesn’t fold or bend in any way, so the HMD is always the same size no matter what. On top of this, the forehead pad extends the height of the HMD to a point where it doesn’t fit very well in most bags, leaving few ways of safely carting it around. On top of this, there’s nowhere to store the controller on the headset, meaning you’ll also need to remember to bring the controller and keep it safely tucked away. It’s easily the weakest part of the design as a whole and makes it difficult to recommend as a portable headset in any way.
Another weak point in the design is the inability to remove the padding anywhere on the headset, which certainly calls into question the sanitation of the headset after prolonged use. This problem becomes an even bigger one if you so decide to share the headset with another individual, especially if they are prone to sweating a lot. While there aren’t a lot of Daydream games that require physical exertion to the point of heavy sweating, as there are in the PC VR realm, it’s still going to be an issue to one degree or another. On the positive, however, is the inclusion of a ventilation system at the top of the headset. Most VR HMDs don't feature this sort of ventilation, which causes the lenses to get easily fogged. Fogging did happen from time to time after initially putting the headset on, but it was much less severe and didn't happen more than once after being wiped off.
As this is a standalone headset and doesn’t require plugs or cords at all, battery life is certainly something of a concern if you’re planning on using it for any length of time, or taking it somewhere to use. With a sizable 4,000mAh battery, which is around 30% larger than the average flagship smartphone’s battery, and sporting hardware that’s basically identical to the average flagship smartphone, you should expect some excellent battery life out of the Mirage Solo in any case. Couple this with the fact that the Mirage Solo doesn’t have a cell radio inside, which is something of a battery hog in phones, and you can expect several hours of play before needing to recharge it.
On average we saw the battery life rate around 6 hours of constant play time, and that’s likely to differ a bit depending on how it’s used. The Mirage Solo is also designed to be a quick pick-up and put-down headset, so it automatically goes into standby the instant it’s taken off the head, thanks to the occupancy sensor inside of the headset. Standby time is beyond stellar, with several days of standby time with little to no battery drain at all since the headset doesn’t need to constantly ping servers for connectivity or grab messages and other notifications the way a phone would. It’s easy to set it and forget it, taking it off as needed and popping it on your head, with a wake-up time in just 3-4 seconds on average, bringing you back into the action nearly instantly after you’ve taken a break, even if that break lasted quite a few days. A USB type-C port is found on the side and will fast charge the headset, with about 2 hours or so to fully charge it from empty when using the charger that ships with the Mirage Solo.
Folks who typically find themselves getting motion sick in VR might be pleasantly surprised at how smooth the Mirage Solo and Daydream are able to make mobile VR feel, although the experience here isn’t going to be quite as smooth as you’ll get on a Playstation VR on a PS4, or an HTC Vive or Oculus Rift on a PC. the 75Hz refresh rate of the display brings about the highest refresh rate in mobile VR, and Lenovo has paid special attention to the viewer’s refresh rate to ensure movements always stay at 75 frames per second, even if the actual content is rendered at a lower rate. At its lowest point in our testing, a few graphically intense games would drop down to around 45 frames per second for split-second intervals, but usually kept above 55FPS most of the time. The resulting look is that of choppier animations or models skipping around on screen a bit, rather than the viewer framerate dropping and causing motion sickness.
Great battery life
Ultra easy to use
Sharp, crystal clear display
Extremely convenient auto sleep and wake feature
Little setup and no configuration needed at all
Completely wireless and standalone
Movement accuracy is amazing
75Hz display is very comfortable on the eyes
Not very portable
Controller is very limiting
Daydream is still very basic in content and functionality
Lenovo has built an incredibly compelling VR HMD in the Mirage Solo; one that’s not only completely standalone and doesn’t require any console, PC or smartphone to hook up to, but also one that supports full 6 degrees of freedom movement. The caveat comes in three big places; it’s likely more expensive than some people will want to spend, isn’t very portable despite the standalone nature, and has a controller that’s very limited in its functionality. None of these issues keep it from being a good product overall, but at least one of them is enough to break the deal for many people, regardless of its ability to provide an incredible experience. That last part is really the shame of it too because what’s here is an incredible, easy experience that anyone can pick up and play without any need for configuration or another expensive gadget to pair it with.
It’s one of the most affordable ways to get into VR, and offers significantly enhanced functionality and horsepower over the other major standalone headset, the Oculus Go. Google’s Daydream platform, although it has come a long way in terms of content and features, is still quite a bit behind Oculus in both ways, and while Google has been constantly adding more quality of life features to Daydream, you’re going to get a more full-featured software experience and larger content library on that platform. Is the better tech itself worth that tradeoff? Probably not at this price, but the Mirage Solo is ultimately an incredible look at what the very near future of portable VR headsets will look like, and how good the experience can be.