The Best Portable Projectors of 2019By Michael Desjardin, February 04, 2019
Unlike standard multimedia projectors built for bigger venues, portable projectors—also known as pocket projectors or sometimes “pico” projectors—tend to be small, lightweight, and engineered for flexibility. They can be particularly useful for traveling professionals who might need a portable projector for on-the-go presentations.
Alternatively, competitive gamers might see them as a way to set-up more screens at a tournament without lugging around an armful of heavy hardware. Basically, if you’re planning to hit the road with a projector, this is the type of projector to consider.
We tested several of the best-reviewed and most popular portable projectors with the business traveler in mind, dutifully sizing up their strengths, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies. In the end, the Anker Nebula Mars II (available at Amazon) outshone the competition, thanks to its stellar picture quality, its robust battery life, and its easy-to-use Android smart platform.
It’s important to remember that portable projectors are known for their simplicity and convenience—if you’re looking for an ultra-bright, better-performing display, you should either shop for a multimedia projector or take a look at the best TVs under $500.
Here are the best portable projectors we tested ranked, in order:
- Anker Nebula Mars II
- Optoma ML750ST
- Asus ZenBeam E1
- ViewSonic M1
- Vivitek Qumi Q3 Plus
- AAXA P2-A
Updated February 04, 2019
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Our pick for the best overall portable projector is the Anker Nebula Mars II, a battery-powered DLP projector (1280 x 720) that offers both hardware and software flexibility, respectable picture quality, and a friendly, practical design. Whether you're taking it on a business trip or setting up a private screening at home, the Nebula Mars II offers the best mix of quality performance and overall flexibility.
The Mars II clocks in at approximately four pounds, so it’s not exactly the lightest projector in our round-up. Still, the Mars II’s compact, lunchbox-like design leaves a small footprint, and the handle on top of the device makes transport a cinch.
Here’s what the Mars II offers from a connectivity standpoint:
• WiFi-enabled with Android 7.1
• 3.5mm audio jack
The Mars II is equipped with a 12,500mAh-sized battery and uses a proprietary cable for charging or for using the Mars II while the battery’s dead (you can expect roughly four hours of battery life). The Mars II’s back-facing ventilation system makes a gentle whirring noise while the projector’s in use, but it’s quiet enough to fade into the background, especially when the volume’s cranked (did I mention that the Mars II’s 10-watt speakers get really, really loud?)
Crucially, the Mars II is a top-notch performer—at least when it comes to the realm of mini projectors. You’re not going to see great results in a well-lit setting, but screenings in dimly-lit rooms and nighttime viewings will look great—there’s enough luminance that colors pop and shadows don’t appear as washed-out as they do on some of the other projectors we’ve tested.
My favorite aspect of the Nebula Mars II is its Android 7.1 operating system, which comes with popular streaming apps like Netflix, Youtube, and Amazon Video right out of the box—simply connect the Mars II to a WiFi network and you’re ready to go. The Mars II also comes with a small remote control so that you can navigate the software from a distance.
The Anker Nebula Mars II isn’t the most affordable projector we’ve tested, but thanks to its sleek design and its Android functionality, it’s the only one that feels like it belongs in our current technological landscape.
How We Tested
We approached the testing process like any potential shopper might, but we did so with an emphasis on business use and travel. Our reasoning was simple: Most people who shop for portable projectors need them for work, and these scenarios usually involve traveling, whether it's down the hall to a conference room or across the country to an important meeting.
First, we took into consideration each device’s features, including software, various connectivity options, etc. Next, each projector was unboxed, set up, and taken for a spin. For a projection surface, we used a portable white wall that our head scientist built for product testing. Since these projectors are typically used on spare walls in casual settings, we found it to be appropriate.
During testing, we paid close attention to throw distance, color, contrast, motion performance, and peak brightness (particularly as it compares to the manufacturer’s reported brightness). We also factored in the native resolution of the picture—most of the projectors we tested feature a standard WXGA resolution (1280 x 800).
Because these projectors aren’t built for performance as much as they’re built for convenience, our criteria was less rigid than it is for, say, televisions. Along with convenience, the portability of each projector was considered. For example, is the projector easy to set up and stow away? Does the projector come with any sort of carrying case? Essentially, we asked ourselves what it might be like to travel with these gadgets, be it across town or across the country.
Finally, as we do with all of the products we test, we took into consideration each projector’s price tag overall value.
Who Am I?
My name is Michael Desjardin, and I’m a senior staff writer at Reviewed who’s been specializing in electronics for five years. Having spent a good amount of that time testing and reviewing TVs, I’m well positioned to evaluate portable projectors, both in terms of their overall picture quality as well as their design.
How to Choose a Portable Projector
First thing’s first: make sure that an ultra-portable projector is the right fit for you. These projectors are designed primarily for small, personal spaces, and it’s important to understand the limitations of each. Pay close attention to the projector’s reported throw distance (the amount of distance between the device and a full-resolution image) and consider the size and layout of the rooms you see yourself using a projector.
Next, consider the type of content you’ll be watching and the hardware you’ll need to get the job done. Some projectors are equipped with nothing but USB and microSD ports, whereas others offer HDMI and VGA inputs, too. Additionally, are there any specific features that you absolutely need, like a headphone jack or WiFi streaming?
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ask yourself how much money you’re willing to spend. Most portable projectors settle into the $200-$400 range, though higher-end models can climb upwards of $600.
Other Portable Projectors We Tested
The Optoma ML750ST is a sleek, 14-ounce projector with a decent amount of upside, provided you’re willing to pay a little extra for it. The "ST" in its name stands for "short throw"—there's a more affordable version of this projector that requires more distance for a comparable image.
The ML750ST isn’t equipped with an on-board battery—it runs on an AC power cord. This shouldn’t be an issue for most people, but if you were hoping to do some spontaneous screenings in venues without a nearby wall outlet, you might want to consider a portable projector with an on-board battery.
Here are the ML750ST’s connectivity options:
• 3.5mm audio jack
The ML750ST’s small stature and light weight make it perfect for short- and long-distance travel—it weighs less than a pound and comes with a zippered carrying case that can easily be stowed in a briefcase or carry-on bag.
From a performance standpoint, this mini projector from Optoma isn’t as impressive as the Anker Nebula Mars II, but it’s 1280 × 800 WXGA resolution looks sharp from a distance of around ten feet. In a dark or dimly-lit room, the ML750T is bright enough to produce a picture with decent contrast, but as is the case with most mini projectors, the picture will appear flat and washed-out if there’s too much ambient light.
One of the ML750T’s bigger weaknesses is the projector’s tinny, 1-watt speaker—there just isn’t enough volume, even for the most modest of business presentations. And, compared to the Nebula Mars II’s 10-watt audio drivers, it’s downright quiet.
The Optoma ML750ST is a solid portable projector, but its online sale price is typically higher than the Anker Mars II. For reference, the Optoma ML750ST is currently listed on Amazon at $564 and the Anker Mars II is currently listed at $469.99. Unless you like the fit and finish of the Optoma more than the Anker, we think most people would be better off with the Mars II.
Asus ZenBeam E1
Asus ZenBeam E1
This sleek, metallic pocket projector from Asus is small enough to tuck into the pocket of a purse, weighs less than a pound, and comes with a thin, faux-leather carrying case. It's also equipped with a 6,000mAh-sized battery—no power cables required. From a portability standpoint, it's one of the most travel-friendly projectors we've tested.
Here's what the Asus ZenBeam E1 offers for connectivity options:
• 3.5mm audio jack
The ZenBeam E1 isn't the most flexible device, but we do love how much thought went into the design. From top to bottom, the ZenBeam E1 seems built for travel—the carrying case even has a cut-out so you can keep charging it while it's stowed away. Asus was even kind enough to include an HDMI cable.
That said, its portability and low price tag ($269 on Amazon) are the best things about the ZenBeam E1—its performance is another story. The picture quality isn't terrible, but it's far dimmer than most of its chief competitors; the ZenBeam E1 really needs a dark room in order for the picture to pop.
Still, we love how easy it is to take the ZenBeam E1 on the go, and professionals who need a no-frills, easy projector for business trips will appreciate the emphasis on portability.
Of all the portable projectors we tested, the ViewSonic M1 had the most interesting design: It’s a small, book-shaped device with rounded corners, and its swiveling lens cover also doubles as a stand that holds the projector up when it’s engaged. The M1 features a lithium-ion battery for cordless operation.
Here’s what the M1 offers for connectivity options:
• USB (Type C)
• USB (Type A)
• 3.5mm audio jack
The M1's innovative stand is easily my favorite thing about this projector; it's one of those rare, sensible design flourishes that's both aesthetically interesting and functionally appropriate. When the M1 is in use, the projector's auto-keystone software does a fine job correcting for off-angles—it might take a few seconds, but the M1 fixes the proportions of picture when projecting from a tilted position.
Unfortunately, the M1's lackluster performance doesn't quite live up to its ingenious design. The M1's total resolution (854 x 480) is vastly lower than most of the projectors we've tested to date,
We also weren't terribly impressed with the remote control included in the box. In a vacuum, I'd prefer having a remote control over not having one at all, but the M1's remote is so dysfunctional that I almost wish I didn't have it to begin with. You'll need a clear sightline from the remote to the projector's receiver in order for it to work, and even then, there's a good chance it won't.
Ultimately, the M1 is a decent option for people who aren't looking to spend a whole lot (you can get the ViewSonic M1 on Amazon right now for about $300), but if you're even the slightest bit concerned about picture quality, I'd recommend spending more on a better-performing projector.
Vivitek Qumi Q3 Plus
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Vivitek Qumi Q3 Plus
Not too long ago, Vivitek's Qumi Q3 Plus retailed for several hundred dollars, but these days, you can find it online for much less, particularly if you opt for a refurbished model. The Qumi Q3 Plus features an on-board 8,000mAh-sized lithium-ion battery and also comes with a small remote control.
Here's what the Qumi Q3 Plus is offering:
• 2x USB (Type A)
• WiFi-enabled with Android 4.4
• 3.5mm audio jack
We appreciate the design of the Qumi Q3 Plus—our review unit calls to mind a sports car with its fire-red paint job and glossy finish. The overall build quality feels sturdy, too, aside from the janky, sliding lens cap. And although the software is a bit sluggish, having the option to hop onto a WiFi network and access apps via Android is a welcomed addition.
Unfortunately, the Qumi Q3 Plus doesn't have any navigational buttons on the unit itself, which makes its remote control a necessity. This wouldn't be much more than a nuisance if the remote consistently works, but it doesn't. In fact, a quick online search reveals droves of users complaining about the remote, which might explain why it's so easy to land one of these projectors at such a heavily discounted price.
It's a shame because the Qumi Q3 Plus boasts a native 720p resolution and gets bright enough to accommodate rooms with less-than-ideal amounts of ambient light. Colors are well represented, too, and the image is sharp when thrown from the proper distance. The software, combined with the inconsistent remote control, really drag this projector down.
The AAXA P2-A is the smallest projector we've tested, but I'd argue that its cube shape makes it slightly more bulky to carry than the bigger, heavier Asus ZenBeam E1. The P2-A runs on a 1,800mAh-sized battery, but because of its limited capacity, I imagine most people will be using the P2-A with its power cord attached.
Here's what the P2-A offers:
• USB (Type A)
• WiFi-enabled with Android 5.1
• 3.5mm audio jack
I try to avoid the phrase "mixed bag" when reviewing products, but I can't think of a better way to sum up the AAXA P2-A's connectivity options. While it's disappointing that the P2-A's built-in hardware is limited to mini-HDMI and USB, it is nice to have WiFi and Android functionality baked into a projector of this size. It doesn't run apps with the speed of a standard streaming box, but the flexibility is appreciated.
The best thing I can say about the P2-A's picture quality is that it's surprisingly good given the device's cost and size. The P2-A's native resolution is only 854 x 480, which puts it on the lower end of the projectors we tested. As is the case with most portable projectors, the P2-A doesn't get bright enough for amply lit settings, so plan accordingly. The weakest element here is the P2-A's color production—things just don't look vibrant and properly saturated.
The AAXA P2-A is an entry-level, ultra-portable projector that's best suited for people who need something affordable and don't mind limited connectivity options and a worse-than-average picture. The price is low, sure, but it might not be worth the concessions.