Don a smartphone-based virtual reality headset, or even an Oculus Go, and you’ll be transported to a another world. You can look left, right, up, down, and behind you — unfortunately, that’s it. You can’t lean in, and you can’t take a few steps toward an object for a closer look. Those limitations can make it a little tougher to feel immersed, especially in a space where immersion is key to the overall experience.
Six degrees of freedom (6DoF) — the ability to move up, down, side to side, and even walk around — has almost only been available in high-end virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift that require powerful gaming computers. That changes today with Lenovo’s Mirage Solo headset, which is powered by Google’s Daydream VR platform, and it costs just $400.
Don’t get us wrong, that’s still a lot of dough. But compared to other VR headsets, it’s quite affordable for what it can do. It’s not perfect, but the Mirage Solo is one of the first affordable VR headsets we didn’t want to take off.
Daydream, and the benefits of standalone VR
Before we dive into the headset, let’s talk about the Daydream VR platform briefly. Daydream is a virtual reality platform from Google, and it is based on Android. It first debuted with Google’s own Daydream View headset, which largely relied on a Google Pixel smartphone to work. Google then improved the Daydream View headset in 2017, adding a better heat management system, but the company also announced it would be working with third-party manufacturers to build standalone VR headsets.
The downside of a phone-based VR headset is that you need to use a phone, thus eating up the device’s precious battery life. You also need to install VR-specific apps and games — cluttering your phone up — and you’re limited to a short period of playtime because smartphones overheat quickly.
Standalone Daydream VR headsets aim to fix these problems. They have processor, display, storage, wireless connectivity, and more, all built in. There’s no need to use or connect to a phone, which means you can use the headsets for a longer period of time without worrying about battery drain or overheating. The Mirage Solo is also the first VR headset to feature Google’s WorldSense position-tracking technology, which means the headset knows where your head is in relation to your physical space, thanks to two cameras facing outward, and that’s what allows for six degrees of freedom.
A bulky headset
The Mirage Solo’s build material is a stark contrast to Google’s Daydream View headsets. Lenovo opted for hard plastic over cushiony fabric, with rigid mesh padding in the places where the headset rests on the face. It’s clean and visually appealing, but at the same time, its size and weight makes it look gargantuan next to Google’s Daydream View headsets, and it definitely isn’t as portable — something that’s best used at home.
The Mirage Solo is one of first affordable VR headsets we didn’t want to take off.
Like all VR headsets, the Mirage Solo looks a little ridiculous when worn. The white and gray color combination makes it look a little clinical. And the outward-facing cameras will make you look like a cyborg. It doesn’t help that it’s bulky — not only does the headset stick out on the front, but the adjustable strap is thick and there’s padding all over, even on the forehead. It essentially takes over more than three-quarters of your face, and if you’re inside a hot room, expect to sweat into the padding quite a bit. There’s no way to remove the padding for cleaning, sadly, so you may have to resort to wiping it with a damp cloth.
Putting the headset on and keeping it in place is easy — we’re fond of the rotating mechanism on the back to tighten the strap. The Mirage Solo fits comfortably when your first put it on, but with its almost 1.5-pound weight, it can feel a little heavy after wearing it for a some time. People who wear large glasses may find it uncomfortable to use at the get-go, as it can feel a little tight.
On the right edge of the headset sits a power button with an LED light that notifies you when the device is on, charging, or needs to be charged. Below it are two volume buttons, with a 3.5mm headphone jack to the right (the Solo comes with a pair of earbuds). On the bottom, you can push a button to move the headset closer or further from your head. On the left edge is where you can plug in a USB Type-C charger to juice up the non-removable 4,000mAh battery, and there’s also a MicroSD card slot in case you need more than the 64GB of internal storage.
The Mirage Solo does a good job of blocking outside light, but you have to make sure the fit is snug on your head. A bit of light can seep through the vents at the bottom, but we haven’t found it to be distracting or a problem. We like the build quality here, and the design — even if you look a little silly.
Immersive VR, thanks to WorldSense
The Mirage Solo has a 5.5-inch LCD display, and Google and Lenovo said it was specially-developed to prevent blurring when you pan side to side in VR. We couldn’t see much blurring, though we do occasionally see God Rays with white text on a black background. The screen has a 2,560 x 1,440 pixel resolution (1,280 x 1,440 per eye), which is on par with many other VR headsets, with a nice 110-degree field of view. It’s sharp and colorful, though we’d always love to see a higher-resolution screen like the one in the HTC Vive Pro. You’ll still notice the pixels.
We stepped into Google’s Arts and Culture app and leaned in close to famous paintings to look at all the details.
The Mirage Solo is powered by last year’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor (though it can run at faster speeds), with 4GB of RAM, and we haven’t encountered any major issues with performance. There’s the occasional stutter in some intensive games, but we’ve largely had a fluid experience.
But it’s Google’s WorldSense technology that steals the spotlight, and is what delivers an immersive VR experience that phone-based headsets weren’t able to provide. The two cameras on the front of the headset help identify where your head is in space, allowing you to duck, dodge, and lean in all directions. You can walk around a little — we often hit a virtual wall when we tried to walk away, and the software prompted us to return to the main area of the virtual experience we were in. The tracking is very accurate, but the movement is limited. Still, this alone makes the Mirage Solo so much more immersive than previous Daydream devices, as well as Samsung’s Gear VR.
For example, we stepped into Google’s Arts and Culture app and leaned closely into famous paintings to look at all the details; we dodged attacks in the game, Merry Snowballs; and we got down low with the board game-esque Toy Clash. These are all WorldSense-supported apps — there are about 40 at the moment — and there’s a section where you can find all of them in the Google Play Store. We’ve played and used some of these games and services before on mobile VR headsets, and the experience is much better with the Mirage Solo.
In regards to graphics quality, you shouldn’t expect too much more than what we’ve already seen on Daydream headsets for most apps and games. There are some titles that utilize Google’s Seurat technology, which compresses textures and polygons from high-end games to make them suitable to render in real time with mobile processing power. Blade Runner: Revelations, for example, is a game that uses Seurat, and while the graphics still look like a PC game from 2010, it’s still impressive considering the mobile chipset.
It’s not all about games, too. Perhaps one of the best experiences we tried was the BBC’s Life in VR narrative experience, where we followed a sea otter off the coast of California into the ocean depths. It was educational, and it encouraged discovery — we learned a lot about sperm whales. There are quite a few educational programs available on the Daydream platform, and plenty of VR content from media networks as well. We even enjoyed watching non-360 videos from streaming sites like Netflix and YouTube (presented as a small screen within the screen, so that is can provide the appropriate resolution for acceptable viewing), though we’ll likely stick to watching those on our laptops and smartphones.
One of the best things about the Mirage Solo is how easy it is to jump in and play.
One thing that holds the Mirage Solo back is its controller. It’s the same one you’ll find with the Daydream View, and while it handily does the job — and has an incredibly long battery life — it only provides three degrees of freedom. You can’t reach out to grab things with the controller, which could seriously elevate the experience of the headset even further. 6DoF controllers are available for higher-end VR headsets, so we hope Google or Lenovo offers an alternative controller soon — we may see one at Google I/O.
There’s also no voice control, which would have been useful for search purposes. Using the controller to manually punch in search queries, passwords, etc. proved cumbersome at times. There’s also no built in speakers, which is a little silly.
Daydream, and the importance of content
The Mirage Solo runs Daydream 2.0, and the interface is beautifully simple. It’s almost the same software as the smartphone Daydream experience, with version 2.0 adding faster access to recent content, the ability to record what’s onscreen, and the option to cast what you see to a Google Cast-enabled TV.
One of the best things about the Mirage Solo is how easy it is to jump in and play. Just put the headset on, and tap the power button. You’re instantly taken to the home screen, where you can choose your app or game, and jump right in. It’s so simple, and hassle-free.
The biggest downside, though, is content. There are a lot of good apps and games available for the platform, but currently that number sits around 250 apps and games, total. In comparison, the Oculus Go recently launched with more than 1,000 titles. It will take a lot of time for more developers to create apps for Daydream, but it’s an important point to consider when making the purchase. Virtual reality is only as good as the experiences available for it.
That being said, there are some fantastic games and quality apps on the platform. Rez Infinite, for example, is a great rail-shooter adventure game that’s available on plenty of other VR headsets, and it’s available on Daydream. Google told Digital Trends it’s continuing to work with its partners to ensure they deliver consistent content updates to their Daydream apps, and we’ve seen steady growth since the platform kicked off in 2016.
Unless you plan of escaping reality for six hours straight, you’ll be happy with battery life. We used the headset for 30 minute sessions, about four or five times throughout the day, and battery life went down to about 26 percent. The battery can drop quick when you’re playing an intensive game, but in general it should last you a few sessions.
It took us about an hour and 20 minutes to charge the headset back up to 100 percent with the included charger.
Price, availability, and warranty information
The Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream will set you back $400. It’s available for purchase from Lenovo and online retailers like Amazon. It will also come to physical retail stores such as Best Buy, at a later date (to be determined).
Lenovo offers a standard one-year limited warranty, and that protects you from manufacturer defects.Our Take
The Lenovo Mirage Solo offers impressive 6DoF VR tracking capabilities at a relatively-affordable price. It’s an easy way to experience immersive virtual reality, and while Daydream still needs more content, the platform has grown considerably since launch. The platform and headset still feel like early-adopter tech, and we don’t think the Mirage Solo will become a mass market item. It’s an important step in virtual reality, though, and we can’t wait to see what else is in store for the platform in the coming months.
Is there a better alternative?
Maybe. The Oculus Go only costs $200, but it doesn’t have six degrees of freedom, just three. So like mobile VR, you’re restricted to simply looking around with your head. That being said, it comes with more than 1,000 apps and games, so there’s plenty more content to sift through. It may be the better choice if you’re still on the fence about VR.
If you’re completely new to VR, we recommend starting with Google’s Daydream View, if you have a compatible phone (no iPhones), as it just costs $100. There’s also the similarly-priced Samsung Gear VR, though it only works with Samsung phones. Both offer 3DoF, but the Gear VR is powered by Oculus software, so you get access to a lot more titles. They’re a good way to try VR out without spending too much.
If you already have a Playstation 4, you can always buy the PSVR headset, which has 6DoF. It costs as low as $200. If you don’t have the console, the two could set you back more than $600. It’s the same story with the Oculus Rift, which only costs $470 at the moment. It requires a gaming PC, though, which will bump up the cost by a few hundred dollars if you don’t have one.
How long will it last?
The hardware is well-made, and while you should use it with care, it’s solidly built. Because Google handles the software, you can expect frequent and consistent updates for the headset as they become available, for at least two years, if not more. There will always be more apps and games added to the Google Play Store, and we’ll likely see new software features down the road that may enable new functionalities. VR is still a new platform and it’s constantly changing, so who knows where we’ll be two years from now.
Should you buy it?
If you’re fully vested in immersive virtual reality, but don’t have a PS4 or a gaming PC, the Lenovo Mirage Solo is the best way to jump right in.