Lenovo Explorer Windows Mixed Reality Headset Review: A Low-Cost VR On-Ramp

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Conclusion: An Excellent Laptop Companion

When we evaluated Acer’s headset, we didn’t realize the implications of using a laptop to power a Windows MR device. The HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift are both compatible with gaming laptops, so we took it for granted that the Windows MR experience would be comparable to the competition. We didn’t consider the simplicity of Microsoft’s platform in this context. After spending time with the Lenovo Explorer tethered to the Lenovo Y720 laptop, we realized that these devices make perfect companions.

If your gaming system is a mobile computer, you probably wouldn’t want to lug around a cumbersome VR system unless you had to. We’ve seen dozens of trade-show setups with Vives and Rifts, and they work well enough, but the setup can be ponderous, to the point that hauling a full desktop PC doesn’t amount to much extra effort, and it could produce better results.

With a Windows MR headset, hauling a full desktop around becomes a silly exercise. You may achieve somewhat better performance from a top-tier desktop, but you really can’t beat the simplicity of putting your laptop on the table, plugging in the headset, and being ready to go. Not only will this sort of setup be easier for trade-show environs, but we believe it would give people an incentive to bring it with them when they travel. And we can see the appeal of working in the Windows MR environment while on a business trip, where we might not have access to multiple desktop displays.

Final Thoughts

Lenovo’s Explorer Windows Mixed Reality Headset would make a good VR HMD for a first-time buyer. It has a lot going for it, such as the crisp display, its lightweight materials, and its compact size. And, of course, the ease of setup is an attractive feature. However, Acer’s device also enjoys most of those merits.

The build quality of Lenovo’s headset exceeds that of Acer’s device--marginally. We noticed a creaking sound when handling the Explorer, though it doesn’t feel like a toy in the way that Acer’s Windows MR headset does. The hinge system is also marginally better, though we still worry about it long-term.

We also worry about the wireless controllers that come with the Lenovo Explorer. We couldn’t understand how these controllers passed Microsoft’s standards and how Acer didn’t think it should improve the design. We’re doubly confused as to why Lenovo would make the same mistake. The wands feel cheap, and we experienced a minor failure in our short time with the controller. With controllers like this, Sixense might actually find a market for its STEM system, if it ever manages to release its long-awaited magnetic motion-controller platform.

Bottom Line

Despite the headset’s shortcomings, we still think the Lenovo Explorer is worth looking at. Lenovo’s MSRP is $449, which (to our eyes) is too much when compared to the Rift with Touch controller at $399. But you can often find the Window MR headsets for much cheaper than the suggested price. A $100 discount, not unheard of for Windows MR headsets, would put this headset in a much more competitive position. If you don't have the money to shell out for a higher-end headset, Lenovo's Explorer would be a good introduction to the world of PC-connected VR.

MORE: Best Virtual Reality Headsets

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MORE: Virtual Reality Basics

 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years. 

  • justin.m.beauvais
    I agree with the idea that WMR is better as a portable VR solution. It is something I discovered after pairing my Acer WMR headset with my Helios 300. I can sit in my small office for work, watching movies, or playing games that I can remain seated, then move the laptop to the living room for room scale experiences. WMR excels at portability. Tracing out a play area, without worrying about lighthouses, and being able to turn on and off the boundary are great features. Having one of those fancy backpack PC's gives you as much play area as you have floor space. Just something to consider. I gladly trade a little tracking accuracy for a much more portable experience.
  • David_326
    I own an Oculus Rift and a Lenovo Explorer Mixed Reality Headset. If cost is the Same go with the Rift (But add 3rd Sensor). I was able to get Lenovo WMR for $199 from Microsoft. that was just too good of a deal to pass up. If you want to be able to play Vive Games WMR Controllers work better than Oculus Rift. Also you don't sweat as much in the Lenovo as the Rift because it does not cover your face as much. Both have strong point.
  • David_326
    Right now Lenovo Explore Mixed Reality Headset is $199 on Microsoft.Com. If you are considering getting in to VR. This is a great Starting point. it is Ranked the #2 Windows Mixed Reality Headset Right behind the Samsung WMR. But at this cost it is worth a try.