Having a compact portable projector in the bag with you on your travels sounds like a great idea. Sure, most people know a portable projector needs to be small enough to pack easily and light so that it doesn’t become a hassle to carry. But there’s more. Portable projectors become even more outstanding travel companions when they feature Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, have long battery life, and double as a speaker. Whether for business presentations or as a movie theater on the go, you should check for these features before picking a portable projector to accompany you on the road. Know the essentials and choose well.
Clearly, the very definition of “portable” tells us the projector must be small and light. Pretty obvious but not that simple. There are portable projectors not much bigger than a power pack, but they have tiny single-lens assemblies and very simple internal components. They’re limited to low fidelity, low resolution projections and lack the capabilities that turn a portable projector into a smart, modern device.
On the other hand, you clearly can’t carry a fully-fledged top of the line projector with you, so where’s the golden median? Somewhere in the 500g-800g range, as of this writing. While only a rough guideline, portable projectors that weigh that much are likely to have very respectable optics and electronics, ensuring a complete projector experience.
Like any device, and especially those you take with you while traveling, portable projectors need to be simple to set up and use. You don’t want a complex interface or lots of buttons, nor a lens that requires ages to warm up and cool down. Portable projectors work best when they just come out of your bag and turn on near instantly at the press of a single button.
Here we get to the connectivity part. Because in this day and age, no device works well if it works alone. Portable projectors are no exception. They should pair with your smartphone, tablet, and laptop. They must be able to go online so you can access everything from company presentation materials to Netflix.
Thus, good portable projectors have Wi-Fi integrated, preferably dual channel 2.4GHz/5GHz. With wireless connectivity, the projector isn’t just a simple light thrower but a smart device that puts up a world of info and content up on the big screen for you, wherever you may be.
Those super tiny “projectors” we mentioned at the start of this article often run on USB, so they’re not entirely portable. They have to get power via a cord. Others can work on their own, but because they save on battery size and quality, they have battery life that’s barely enough to cover a lunch break.
Aim for portable projectors with at least three hours of battery life, and stay away from so-called portables that come with a power brick, as that’s a giveaway to their not-so-portable design. Ideally the projector should be able to charge directly through an internal adapter, not require hours to recharge, and have enough battery life for a lengthy presentation or binge session.
Since you’re looking for portable projectors with Bluetooth, better choose one with an onboard speaker. Because Bluetooth plus speaker translates into…Bluetooth speaker! So you get a portable projector that’s also a standalone speaker for streaming music or any other kind of audio from a plethora of devices. That’s two birds with one connection (we don’t like throwing stones at birds, for the record). Also, the speaker may prove handy in situations where you want to share a projection while headphones or other personal audio solutions aren’t viable. It could happen, whether at a board meeting, hotel room, or camping site. Just keep the volume down and be mindful of others.
Let’s go back to one of those tiny pico projectors. Due to current technological requirements and realities, you’ll be getting a simple single-lens LCD “projector” with paltry image quality and most likely a resolution in the neighborhood of 240p. Sure, it’ll do in a pinch but not very well.
For the same price or less you can get your hands on a well-rounded portable projector that has all the features we’ve listed above plus at the very least 480p native display with upscaling. Since good portable projectors use multiple-lens arrays, they have flexible resolution support and upscale very well to 1080p. If you stream Netflix or Prime Video on a good portable you won’t notice detail loss. A bad portable will make the same content look horrible. Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean you have to compromise so much.
Now you know more about what it takes to be a good portable projector and how to choose the right one. Don’t settle for the obvious small and light routine, as that invariably leads to too many cut corners. Be an informed shopper and savvy traveler!