the Lenovo Mirage Solo offers a premium experience and is more future-proof

Highs

  • Integrated display and computer
  • Complete freedom of motion 6DoF
  • Game console like experience

Lows

  • Less apps than Oculus Go
  • LCD Display, instead of OLED
  • A bit bulky for transport

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 8/10

Introduced at CES 2018, the Lenovo Mirage Solo is one of the first fully-integrated VR headsets to hit the market, and indeed the most powerful in the mainstream market ($400 and below). The promise of such a VR headset is to offer a console-like experience without all the disturbances and friction associated with using your smartphone as a VR platform. Does the Mirage Solo deliver on this promise? Let’s take a deep look.

Specification highlights

The Lenovo Mirage Solo is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 system-on-chip which can access 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. It is the same chip powering the Galaxy S8 handset. Our unit had 47GB available to the user, after the pre-loaded games and apps were installed.

Lenovo has included a microSD slot which is accessible on the side of the headset. With it, you can easily extend the storage by another 256GB advertised (it might be able to accept 400GB microSD cards as well), and even transfer files, possibly from Lenovo’s Mirage VR Camera.

The headset has dimensions of ~10.5 x 8 x 7 inches and weighs ~1.42 Lbs, which is a bit heavier than HTC Vive.

  • 5.5″ LCD display diagonal (2560×1440, 75Hz, 70% RGB colors)
  • 110 Degrees field of view (FOV)
  • 4GB RAM
  • WiFi AC/N + MIMO and Bluetooth 5.0 + BLE

Mobile VR and Google DayDream

In case you need to catch up with your VR options, it is essential to know the fundamental differences between PC VR and Mobile VR systems. Also, this headset runs on DayDream OS, Google’s version of Android dedicated to VR hardware and applications. This means that upon booting, you will find yourself in a visual environment which is VR headset-friendly and does not require you to remove the headset.

Mobile VR

There are many options for Mobile VR, and most of them today work with a “shell” (empty) VR headset in which you slide-in a mobile phone. This is inexpensive, and could even be made with cardboard, but they induce a lot of friction because the base user interface is built for hand-gesture, and not VR headsets. As a result, you need to remove the headset often, and sometimes remove the phone from its slot. This is quite inconvenient.

Google’s DayDream has been designed to be a native VR environment, and Google’s created its own VR headset in 2017. This year, 3rd party hardware like the Lenovo Mirage Solo is coming out with DayDream-compatible technical specifications. Because it is a native VR experience, there is minimal friction in the user experience. Once you put the headset on, you can do everything (in VR) with the remote, and only remove the headset when you are done.

Freedom of motion

Many mobile VR systems are designed for a “seated” experience, turn your head and point to things. This is three degrees of freedom because you can turn your head around 3 axes.

The Lenovo Mirage Solo is a next-generation mobile VR system which supports six degrees of freedom (6DoF) via Google’s WorldSense. It means that in addition to being able to look around by rotating your head, you can also move your body by walking around, leaning, crouching, etc. As you can guess, this brings the immersion to the next level, and when it comes to VR, immersion is everything.

Compared to PC VR

Given the size and processing power involved, it is evident that the level of detail of mobile and PC graphics are very different. In general, Mobile VR is much more affordable, and with 6DoF, it can offer a tether-free motion that is currently not prevalent on PC.

PC VR offers the highest VR graphics quality and tracking accuracy, but it comes at a steep (monetary) price and remains a mostly tethered experience since cables are required for data and power transmission.

Finally, PC VR with external motion/position trackers will tend to be more accurate and stay more accurate over time. It means that it is more suitable for high-accuracy games that involve aiming at something. Mobile PC controllers need to be re-centered more often and are great for pointing with a laser or a cursor. However, they do not require mounting external trackers which cost more money and space.

Display and Headset

The Mirage Solo has a high-resolution LCD display (2560×1440) which is similar to what Premium smartphones have. LCD displays are a bit unusual for Google DayDream because the original specifications required an OLED display, mainly because Google wanted to make sure that screens could hit VR-friendly refresh rates and has excellent response-time.

It looks like Lenovo was able to source an LCD screen that could meet Google’s requirement for DayDream. LCD probably has the advantage of lowering the price point of the handset, which is designed to cost just a bit more than a mid-range phone, while offering Premium-level performance. The display offers a sufficiently good user experience that I didn’t think about this once I started using it.

The downside of having an LCD screen is that the black levels are not as good as with OLED. Although some IPS LCD screens can be optimized for low black levels, this one is not particularly great at it. I will venture to guess that it is not possible to obtain much better black level at the required refresh rate and price point of this design. Lenovo has probably made the best pick, given all the constraints.

Like many excellent VR headsets, the Mirage Solo has a 110 degree field of view (FOV), which is very similar to the original Oculus and HTC Vive. You can see round borders, but in today’s state of Virtual Reality, this is considered to be very good.

The headset does a good job at blocking light, although depending on your facial features, it might not be perfect. There is also a little bit of light coming from the vents at the top and bottom, but in general, I found that the light leakage was overwhelmed by the screen’s brightness and this was not a problem (I tested this in a very bright room).

Controller

The controller is very similar to the one Google uses and has four areas of interaction. On the right side, you have the volume Up/Down controls. The rest of the controls are on the side facing the user, with a trackpad/button which is the main action control. The middle button serves as a Back button and the bottom button is the Home button. After ~5-10mn, I had a very good feel for it, and it became intuitive and easy.

Because the controller only relies on the internal motion sensor to track in which direction it is pointing towards, you will need to re-center it fairly often, depending on how picky you are with the aim accuracy. I wasn’t bothered by it because the apps don’t require precise aiming, without a visual marker. Games developers can work around this. Also, note that this system cannot track spatial movements like reaching towards something, just orientation.

There is a rechargeable battery inside, and you can charge the remote with a USB-C cable, just like the headset.

I think that the Oculus Go controller design with the trigger is more intuitive, thanks to the trigger button, but I am not sure that this would be a sway-factor.

Industrial Design

The headset is made of white plastic and is somewhat similar to other offerings in the same price range. Lenovo has also built Windows-compatible headsets, and even a Star Wars AR headset, so the company knows this type of ergonomics very well.

I really like that there is only ONE knob to turn to adjust how it fits on your head. We tried it on a medium and small size head, and it worked well in both cases. And since there is much more headroom in both directions, I’m confident that this design can fit most users heads (teen to adults).

Since the whole headset is pretty much one piece, it is easy to put on with one hand, but it will take more volume if you want to transport or store it. If you plan to use it mostly in a fixed location, then this design is great because you can hang it and it’s just more comfortable in general.

If you would rather want to use it on the go (train, plane) and need to have a more compact solution, maybe a design with fabric elastic bands would required less space but will feel less comfortable as well. The Google DayDream View headset might be a good example of this.

If you plan on sharing the headset with roommates or family members, you might want to think about how to clean the padding material. Lenovo recommends using a damp cloth or sanitizing wipes and wait until it’s dry. On trade shows, we have seen many kinds of disposable masks (Amazon link).

If you wear glasses, it might get a little tight in there, but that really depend on your glasses frame design. This is something worth looking into before ordering.

Connectivity

The Lenovo Mirage Solo connects over WIFI for data, just like a smartphone does. There is no cellular connectivity in this version since it is intended to be used indoors.

There is a USB-C connector for charge/data, although we used it mainly for charging, since there no real need to connect this to a PC for most people. Conceptually, screenshots or movie recordings could be copied that way. Upon connection to the charger, the LED light on the opposite side will light up to confirm that the device is indeed charging.

The 3.5mm audio connector is used with the earbuds (included in the box) or with your headphones. It is not as slick as having the integrated headphones, but it helps keep the cost down since everyone has this kind of accessory already.

Comfort

I found the Mirage Solo to be decently comfortable, even though it weighs 1.5 lbs. This is probably due to the one-knob attachment system which makes it feel more stable on your head. Your comfort perception may vary depending on your size/weight (I’m about 5’11 and 180 lbs) and more importantly how long you wear it.

After 20mn, the headset feels more substantial, and the general rule is that lighter would be better. However, the market doesn’t offer a much better option for VR headset + computer with the same functionality. This is more or less what consumer technology can do today.

Software

Setup

The Mirage Solo setup is effortless, and you don’t need a smartphone or anything other than the remote to complete it.

Upon booting, you land directly into the DayDream 3D user interface. From there, you can setup WiFi. The Settings menu is not very well indicated, but if you press the Home button from the home page, it will open a dialog with settings such as WiFi and more. You can use a virtual keyboard to enter your credentials, and off you go.

"THE MOST STRAIGHTFORWARD MOBILE VR SETUP"

Downloading new apps via the Android Market is very similar to what happens with an Android phone. Android users will definitely feel at home, and non-Android users can learn very quickly. The Lenovo Mirage has the most straightforward mobile VR setup to date.The Lenovo Mirage Solo feels like a VR Game Console and not a smartphone in a VR sleeve.

Chromecast support

Using VR in a group is much better thanks to the Chromecast support in the Lenovo Mirage Solo headset. The fact that someone else can see what the current player is looking at is beneficial to explain, help, direct or even debug if need be. There is nothing more annoying than having to remove and exchange the headset when trying to show a simple VR thing.

Apps

When Google announced their partnership with Lenovo for this VR headset, it mentioned 350 games and 70 that were using the WorldSense 6DoF technology. App reviews are a bit off topic for this review, but we recommend you to browse the games and maybe watch a few review videos to see if the content is to your liking. At the end of the day, the content is what makes the hardware worthwhile.

System performance and battery

" LENOVO'S 2.5 HRS BATTERY LIFE CLAIM IS TRUE"

With a battery size of 4000 mAh, the Lenovo Mirage Solo can go head to head with the best Premium smartphones from a performance/battery point of view. Although Lenovo claims ~2.5 hours of continuous use, it really depends on the content.

All VR games have to achieve a high frame-rate, but some have simple graphics that will not require 100% of hardware utilization, while more complex application will fire more transistors ,and therefore consume more power.

As a test, I played Blade Runner: Revelations (Android Market link), a relatively demanding 3D game for ~30mn and it consumed ~16% of the battery. That would extrapolate to ~80% battery for 2.5hrs of gaming and show that Lenovo’s 2.5 hrs battery life claim is true.

Conclusion

The Lenovo Mirage Solo (official page link) offers an excellent user experience as it is easy to use, has excellent build quality and is relatively affordable when compared to PC VR and Snapdragon 835 phone + VR headset. The Mirage Solo is a little heavier than I would like, and the display could be a bit better, but there isn’t a credible competitor at this price point.

There are even more affordable stand-alone VR options such as the Oculus Go ($200) which is inferior in a couple of ways. First, it does not support 6DoF, so the VR experience is that of a rotating head, and you cannot walk around, kneel and look closely at something. In short, the immersion is potentially less.

"AN EXCELLENT USER EXPERIENCE"

Secondly, Oculus Go uses Snapdragon 821, which is one generation behind what the Mirage Solo has. Potentially, this means that the most demanding games may not be able to run at optimum speed (VR requires a high graphics speed to avoid motion sickness).

Are those things worth an extra $200? It really depends on the content and on your personal preferences. It is undeniable that 6DoF is a much more immersive experience if you can find compelling apps/games. If you like apps, where you are just looking around, the value of 6DoF may not be as high. For instance, people even use their VR headset like a “big screen” to watch videos won’t be swayed by freedom of motion.

Overall, the Oculus Go is optimized for a very mainstream VR experience and price point. On the other hand, the Lenovo Mirage Solo offers a more premium experience and is more future-proof because it is technologically more advanced. Today, it is the best mobile VR experience you can get, without the hassle (and price tag) associated with a full-blown PC VR Experience.

Overall product rating: 8/10

Filed in Gaming >Reviews. Read more about Editorspick, Lenovo, Lenovo reviews, Virtual Reality (VR).

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