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

The Lenovo Explorer Windows Mixed Reality headset is a portable VR headset that's affordable and lightweight, and will fit on a small head. If you're looking for a headset to share with your kids, this is among your best bets right now.

Microsoft launched the Windows Mixed Reality platform in October, which added virtual reality and augmented reality to the Windows 10 operating system. Rather than build its own hardware, Microsoft focused on the software side of the platform and turned to a handful of hardware partners to take care of the headset manufacturing. The company partnered with well-established PC hardware designers such as Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Samsung to bring a variety of Windows Mixed Reality headsets to the market. Microsoft set the minimum specifications for the headsets, and it developed a reference controller design for the motion controllers, and it gave the headset partners the freedom to customize and improve the designs as they saw fit.

We recently took a good hard look at the Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset, and it left us with mixed impressions. The Acer headset features a crisp display, is lightweight, and is easy to set up. However, the build quality feels somewhat cheap, and we weren’t impressed with the reference-design controllers that Acer includes with the headset.

Lenovo’s Explorer Windows Mixed Reality Headset is in the same price range as the Acer headset, and it offers comparable features. And it happens to be the second Windows MR headset that we received for evaluation. Hopefully, Lenovo’s headset doesn’t fall short in the same ways that the Acer headset did. Let's see.

The Windows Mixed Reality Platform

Windows Mixed Reality is Microsoft’s immersive technology platform. It piggybacks on the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update and supports augmented-reality devices such as the HoloLens headset. But Microsoft’s partners are betting that most people will access Windows MR with one of the Windows MR VR HMDs.

The Windows MR platform provides a virtual environment from which to access your digital content in 3D. When you put the headset on, you’ll find yourself in virtual space that you can customize for your preferences. The default environment is called the Beach House, and it offers several rooms and workspaces. (For an in-depth look at the Windows MR platform and its Beach House environment, see our Acer Windows Mixed Reality Headset review.)

The Windows Mixed Reality platform is still in its infancy, and as such, there isn’t much to do with it yet. Microsoft boasts that more than 20,000 applications support Windows MR, but we’d argue that you won’t find much to do that’s practical in VR. Sure, you can open almost any UWP app in Windows MR, but most apps weren’t created with a 3D environment in mind, and they don’t offer much that you can’t do with a standard PC display.

When we received our Acer headset, we attempted to use it for productivity, but that was easier said than done. Ideally, we would have used Microsoft’s Office suite to write the review while wearing the headset. Unfortunately, there was a bug in Microsoft’s UWP Office applications that prevented us from opening them in the VR environment. Fortunately, by the time we started to evaluate the Lenovo headset, Microsoft had corrected the problem. Much of the review you’re reading right now was written in Word Mobile while wearing the Lenovo Explorer headset.

Working in Windows Mixed Reality has gotten better since we first looked at the platform, but it’s still not up to par with a traditional computing environment. We’re now able to work with Word Mobile and other Office apps, which is a great improvement from the initial launch. However, we’re still not convinced that Microsoft’s approach to productivity in VR works—especially now that Oculus’ Core 2.0 software supports virtual workspaces, too. It’s nice to see Microsoft’s native applications working in Windows Mixed Reality, but we don’t expect to spend much time working with our headset on. In fact, we couldn’t even compel ourselves to write this entire article in VR. We could see using Word Mobile in Windows MR to write short documents, or for quick edits. However, Windows MR doesn’t improve our productivity. If anything, it hinders our ability to work efficiently, and therefore we don’t see ourselves giving up traditional displays just yet.

We found that we had to lift the visor regularly to see the real world. Be it reaching for our mouse or searching for the right key on the keyboard—we found it more challenging than you might expect to reach for peripherals blindly. You may not think that visual cues play a big role in reaching for your mouse. We learned the hard way just how much our peripheral vision plays a role in our day-to-day computer use.

When we tested the Acer Windows Mixed Reality headset, we found that using the motion controllers to navigate applications was cumbersome. We attempted to use the mouse in VR, but that didn’t appear to work in our early tests. We’re not sure if Microsoft changed something, or if we somehow missed this feature, but we’ve since discovered that you could use your traditional mouse in Microsoft’s Mixed Reality environment. The mouse isn’t the ideal peripheral for 3D navigation, but it is still superior for 2D navigation. We much prefer using the mouse to access the menus in Word Mobile and other 2D applications.

When you use the mouse in VR, you can move it from window to window through 3D space. The mouse cursor remains at a static distance when hovering over an application. When you move beyond the app window’s barriers, the cursor jumps to the nearest flat plane—be that another window, a wall, the background in the distance, or even the floor. You wouldn’t think that moving a mouse in a 3D space would work, but Microsoft’s implementation works well.

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  • 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.