Lenovo Mirage post transforms into a Daydream mini-rant

The Lenovo Mirage VR headset

As a part of our ENGAGE 2018 project to explore the potential of VR, AR, and MR in teaching and learning, we made some hardware purchases for our discovery phase. We already knew that the most immediate student use-case would be mobile VR (with web VR a close second) due to early experiments in 2017. This is due to the low likelihood that the University will have a large volume of complete Vive or Oculus labs in the near future. Although, there may be a Vive or Oculus use-case in the near-future when combined with Chromecast (or a similar solution), to enable a single user or teacher to project their VR experience on a large, classroom screen to instruct with. In alignment with this idea, we’re immediately exploring potential classroom use-cases for AR leveraging screen-casting.

So, onto the Lenovo Mirage, which was the last to arrive of the gear we ordered. The Lenovo Mirage device is an untethered, self-contained DaydreamVR headset. I was initially able to start it up in the office and immediately saw that the field-of-view was wider and sharper than our Google Daydream viewer (v.1), which was quite nice. But wasn’t able to explore much more in the office, so brought it home over the weekend for a more thorough examination. Fitting the headset into my satchel for the subway commute was a bit of a challenge, but after minimizing the plastic visor strap, I was able to get it in. Once home, I set the device to charge and download some test content from a curated selection of Daydream content on Google Play (more on this below).

The next morning I begin exploring the device. It’s a pretty comfortable headset with a good build quality and adjustability, but for some reason lacks speakers. I kind of get that choice, but earbuds (included in the bundle) inhibit easily sharing the headset (who shares earbuds?) if folks are trying to pass the device to a friend, such as taking VR turns while casting to a monitor. But the audio does sound good in headphones, and the volume can be controlled via the buttons on the Daydream controller. Although, the audio did not cast along with the visuals unless the earbuds were plugged in, which results in dangling buds when casting.

A quick note about Chromecast – it’s not compatible with enterprise wi-fi networks, so if you’re in an environment like our’s at NYU, the workaround is to use a devices wi-fi hotspot. This works for the Pixel 2 but in my effort to see if the Lenovo had a similar functionality (I know, why would it have a wifi-hotspot?) I could find nothing, so please comment if you know of a method. But it’s still possible to cast by using a second device with a wi-fi hotspot, to act as a bridge between the Mirage and the Chromecast.

Here I’d like to discuss the subject of the content acquisition experience. Basically, it seems Google is trying to create a closed, predictable space to reduce fragmentation and provide more consistent experiences, in the style of iTunes. This is likely a much easier approach from a service and support standpoint, but as a user, I find it limiting in two ways.

First, Daydream mode has no inclusion of Google Cardboard apps. On the Pixel 2, you have to leave Daydream VR to manually change the device configuration for Cardboard content. On the Lenovo Mirage it doesn’t seem possible at all to run Cardboard, though I have not tried sideloading yet. This immediately limits content to the relatively small Daydream library. As a former indie-dev, part of me welcomes this. We live in a time of such content abundance it can be impossible for individuals to get any visibility for their work, so in that way, the small curated selection is nice for developers trying to gain exposure. But in my opinion, a better option would be to have some type of Cardboard support, with greater recommendation refinement from user-specified preferences. Additionally, the most exciting feature, WordSense inside-out tracking, has an even smaller content selection. Another cool content option to expand the freedom of the Daydream VR experience would be the option to run certain standard games and apps in VR. By that I mean, in the same way you can watch non-360 videos in VR on a virtual screen, you could run non-VR apps on a virtual device. These concepts are mainly bridge-ideas until the Daydream library grows.

The second of the two primary limitations is again about content access, specifically the restricted, minimal web-access. The only web-access is through hyperlinks inside apps, which opens a mobile Chrome browser inside VR. As far as I could tell there is no other way to access the browser. I’m sure there may be a multitude of reasonable concerns for this, such as security, but I would recommend examining options for web access in future builds.

Anyway, forgive the little rant. Since I’ve been trying to finish this post in small windows of time for over a week, I’ll conclude with a bullet-summary of the pros and cons of the Lenovo Mirage. Note – some observations may be specific to my eyes and device.

Lenovo Mirage PRO’S:

  • Untethered, self-contained mobile VR
  • SD card slot to expand storage capacity
  • Improved field-of-view and sharper display than our Google Daydream viewer (v.1)
  • WordSense – inside-out tracking enables limited positional tracking
  • Good heat management

Lenovo Mirage CON’S:

  • No integrated audio
  • Bulky form-factor
  • The sharpness of the upper region of the lens seems to diffuse, causes text to “ghost”
  • No ability to adjust contrast/sharpness, leaving some content (especially things that rely on shadows, like the noirish Fire Escape) with washed out darks. I was told this may be a Daydream limitation, having to do with linear color space
  • WordSense – motion is extremely limited to maybe ten inches or so. I understand this decision (e.g., a person in untethered VR walking out a fifth-floor window), but maybe there are other solutions.

TEACHING AND LEARNING POTENTIAL – aligns with general mobile VR solutions for students, but not portable enough to comfortably transport from home to class. Also, is currently cost-prohibitive versus the alternative, where students leverage their personal devices for VR learning experiences. But moving forward as cost and device size reduce, this type of deployment has very good potential. And the WordSense remains a very promising possibility. Also, since I didn’t describe WorldSense in detail and I’ve run out of time, I’ll share this link to Lucas Matney’s review of the Lenovo Mirage for Techcrunch, which contains a good description of WordlSense.

Please share your thoughts. I’m interested in what other folks are experiencing with this device, and Daydream VR in general.

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Once home, I set the device to charge and download some test content from a curated selection of Daydream content on Google Play.