Google and Oculus are competing like never before.
As cool as it is to be able to put your phone in a simple headset and be transported to another world, sometimes you need your phone to be a phone. It's inconvenient to get to the end of the day and be unable to enjoy VR because your phone is nearly dead, or to have to take the protective case off of your phone every time you want to enjoy VR.
The solution, according to Google and Oculus, is to make headsets which have the hardware baked in. Google's platform, called Daydream Standalone, allows multiple manufacturers to build headsets free from using your phone as a brain. Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream is a prime example. The same can be said of the upcoming Oculus Go, which was announced late last year during the Oculus Connect conference. Now that both of these headsets are available to purchase, the challenge is figuring out which meets your needs so you know which to buy. After spending some quality time with both, we've got some answers for you.
Here's what you need to know!
At first glance, Oculus Go is immediately recognizable as an Oculus product. The straps designed to hold the computer-y bits to your face are distinctly Oculus, and that's a good thing because we already know they work well. The back straps are designed to hug the back of your head from multiple angles, while the front sides of the straps sit on rails that make sliding the headset on and off your face nice and easy. Unlike the Oculus Rift headset, which has separate headphones you pull down over your ears, Go has a pair of small spatial audio speakers on these rails designed to give you sound wherever you are. You can still use headphones if you choose, but this other option is always there.
Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream more closely resembles its Windows Mixed Reality counterpart than it does either of the original Google-made Daydream headsets. There's no fabric anywhere — using plastic instead — and the single halo-style strap for the headset is designed to be tightened onto your head with the adjustment wheel in the back of the headset. The advantage of this design is a better distribution of weight and less pressure directly on your face, which is nice when you want to use the headset for a long time. Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream includes a pair of cameras on the front of the headset for Google's WorldSense features, which allow you to move around in a small area instead of the typical seated VR experiences expected from phone-based VR headsets.
Here's a quick look at how the specs break down:
|Feature||Oculus Go||Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream|
|Field of View||90 degrees||110 degrees|
|Weight||1.03lbs (468g)||1.42lbs (645g)|
|Processor||Snapdragon 821||Snapdragon 835|
|Memory||4GB RAM||4GB RAM|
|Audio||Internal speakers, 3.5mm headphone jack||3.5mm headphone jack|
|Storage||32GB/64GB||64GB onboard storage, microSD slot|
|Display||LCD display (2560x1440)||LCD display (2560x1440)|
|Sensors||3DoF Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer||6DoF WorldSense cameras, P-Sensor, Gyroscope, Accelerometer, Magnetometer|
|Controller||3Dof Oculus Controller||3DoF Daydream Controller|
|Wireless||WiFi Wi-Fi 802.11 ac/n||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac/n, 2x2 MIMO Dual Band|
|Bluetooth||3.0||5.0 + BLE|
While it's clear on paper the Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream is a more capable headset, there are some design decisions to consider as well. The Mirage Solo headset design allows more light to enter the headset, and because the headset interior is white that light is a great deal more distracting than any of the light you get inside the Oculus Go headset. The headset straps are also an important factor, Lenovo's halo design keeps the headset from applying pressure to your face, while the Oculus Go straps are designed to create a secure fit against your skin. Oculus go is also smaller and lighter, making it easier to take with you wherever you go.
The limitation to Three Degrees of Freedom (3DoF) on the Oculus Go means you're not going to be walking around with the headset on. In fact, with no camera on the front like you get with the Samsung Gear VR you're likely to only want to use this headset while seated.
While it's true both of these headsets are going to offer some of the first phone-free, truly wireless VR setups, the software is going to be very different. Not just because Oculus and Google maintain their own digital stores, but because the approach to how both of these headsets will function is going to be very different.
Oculus Go is being built to be its own platform with its own games, but Oculus is also making it possible for developers who wrote Samsung Gear VR apps to port those apps to this new headset. Since Oculus Go is Android-based, the experience isn't appreciably different from building VR apps for the Gear VR. That means lots of Gear VR apps have made their way to Oculus Go, but there will also be lots of new apps made specifically for Oculus Go. When you go to actually play these games, it quickly becomes clear there is very little difference between the Gear VR experience and the Oculus Go experience inside the headset. In effect, Oculus is making a Gear VR that can be used anywhere without your phone.
While it is correct to call Oculus Go a standalone headset, your phone actually plays a fairly significant part in using the headset. Whether you have an Android phone or an iPhone, the Oculus Go app is used as the primary way to set up the headset and do things like connect additional controllers. You can also use the app as the primary way you purchase things from the Oculus Store, and have the apps install on the headset at the next sync.
Lenovo Mirage Solo with Daydream is functionally more capable than the standard Daydream experience. The addition of Google's WorldSense capabilities means there will be games that directly encourage you to jump around and duck like you would a PC-based VR system. Google also plans to make all 450+ current Daydream apps and games available on the Mirage Solo at launch, but the long-term plan allows developers to build apps and games with physical space in mind. Eventually, it's likely there will be more Daydream Standalone apps than standard Daydream apps, and while these experiences won't be visually superior to your average Daydream experience they will allow for a lot more interactivity.
Daydream Standalone does require a Google account to function, but does not require an Android phone or any external apps. The headset is entirely self contained, making it possible to use the headset without any other hardware involved.
It'll be a while before anyone is able to say which headset is going to offer the best games, but it's clear the plan for Daydream Standalone is considerably more advanced. That having been said, Oculus has a long history of scoring amazing games as exclusives for its platforms.
Which is best?
For a lot of people, choosing between Oculus Go and Lenovo Mirage Solo is going to depend wildly on how much it costs and what you are able to do with it. Oculus Go starts at $199 with an upgrade option to 64GB of internal storage for $249, while Lenovo's Mirage Solo comes in at $399 standard. Is the Mirage Solo $150-200 better than Oculus Go? Currently, no. Of the 450 Daydream apps available in the Google Play Store, only 70 take advantage of the limited WorldSense capabilities which make this headset special. Oculus Go, on the other hand, comes with over 1,000 apps in the Oculus Store all ready to be enjoyed.
Oculus Go is more portable, has more content right now, and is noticeably less expensive. Lenovo's Mirage Solo is more technically capable, is likely to be able to outperform the Oculus Go over time, and runs on a truly standalone platform with no phone required. As eager as I am to see Daydream Standalone improve, Oculus Go is my current recommendation.
Update May, 2018: We've updated this article after extended hands-on experiences with both headsets!