3M launched its first pocket projector in 2008. Since then it has been busy miniaturising its hardware and software that can project digital images onto any nearby viewing surface. An important design characteristic of a handheld projector is the ability to project a clear image, regardless of the physical characteristics of the viewing surface. The company’s newest model marks the emergence of the latest, leading-edge pocket projector technology and is stirring up excitement among those that have been tracking pocket projection over the last few years.
What is it and who is it for?
Measuring 150 x 65 x 33mm and weighing just 338g, the PocketProjector MP180 is an all-in-one pocket-size LED projector for the on-the-go business professional. Not only can it operate like a regular projector by connecting to your computer, but the 4GB of built-in memory and microSD card slot let you transfer your presentation from a computer, mobile phone or smartphone and display it from the MP180 independently from these devices. It supports common business application file formats such as Microsoft’s Office and Adobe’s PDF, as well as standard movie and music files. If portability, convenience and wowing your audience with the latest gadget are important to you, you’ll immediately reap the benefits from the MP180.
Pricing & setup
The MP180 might be small in size, but its asking price of £399 (inc. VAT; £333 ex. VAT) isn’t quite as digestible. Another consideration for the busy professional is that the MP180’s non-replaceable lamp is good for about 20,000 hours. After that, it’s good for nothing. Setting up and operating the MP180 is a snap and 3M includes everything you need to start presenting out the box. There’s a cute table-top tripod, a selection of AV adapters (VGA and component), and a range of outlet adapters to attach to the bundled AC power adapter when required. A USB cable is also supplied, along with a much-needed soft protective carrying pouch. The weighty rechargeable 3-cell (2,600mAh) lithium-ion battery comes pre-installed, though you’ll likely need to charge this immediately before you can enjoy up to 2 hours power outlet autonomy (a full charge takes around 3 hours). If you’re after a more straightforward pass-through device, the MP160 (£250 inc. VAT; £208 ex. VAT) might suffice.
Does it do it well?
The MP180 is all about portability. It’s also a gadget aficionado’s dream. Unrecognisable upon first glance as to what it actually is, the MP180 is a sweet-looking gizmo that easily connects to your favourite digital media sources including MP4 players, PCs, DVD players, digital cameras and smartphones. Optional accessories even include an adapter cable for Apple products, a car charger, and a remote control unit.
Its build quality is superb and the colour 2.5-inch LCD touchscreen display is bright and clear. The projected image quality is also surprisingly good. Fully equipped for 120 minutes of battery life and capable of throwing a screen size up to 80 inches at a native resolution of 800 x 600 (supporting input resolutions up to 1,440 x 900), the MP180 is best suited to small meeting rooms—anything larger and it’s woefully inadequate. The stereo (0.75W) embedded speakers get the job done in a quiet environment, but there is a 3.5mm audio output jack for occasions where richer sound is required.
Getting data onto the MP180 is easy. The projector has 4GB of internal memory and a microSD card slot that supports up to 16GB cards. To use the internal memory you need to connect the MP180 to your computer and transfer files across. For data stored on microSD cards, you simply insert a card into the dedicated slot on the side of the MP180 and supported files then become accessible.
Operating the projector is done by tapping the control panel displayed on the resistive touchscreen. For ease of use there are icons and menus for each of the supported media types (audio, photo, video and most office documents including PDF). Alternatively, the control panel can be projected onto the screen instead if desired. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi settings can also be configured and the projector supports the Bluetooth object push and file-transfer protocols for sending and receiving files. The 802.11n Wi-Fi can connect to networks with WEP or WPA/WP2-PSK encryption.
A cool feature is the built-in Web browser. Before using the browser you must make sure you have established a Wi-Fi network connection, but once that’s done you can tap away on the on-screen keyboard to navigate pages. The MP180 also allows you to download files wirelessly from Bluetooth-enabled equipment.
Where does it disappoint?
Where the MP180 excels is portability. Performance and features come second. The projector is relatively noisy for such a compact device, and with a brightness of just 30 lumens it’s pretty useless is bright environments. We were amazed at the lack of any dedicated home key and the Web browser is extremely difficult to use—the control panel doubles as a mouse touchpad, with an icon for left mouse clicks and another to bring up a touch keyboard. Awkwardly, the keypad orients itself along the axis of the projector and the characters are too small to hit accurately. The way you have to toggle the screen to hit the virtual mouse button is a pain, too.
It’s also disappointing there is no Universal Plug and Play (UPnP) streaming support. And, surprisingly, there’s no HDMI input. Performance is adequate with decent brightness and contrast levels, although you still need a dark room for best results. PowerPoint presentations are well delivered and text-based documents are legible for small groups, but that’s the limitation of the MP180—push it with fast-paced video or even dark photos and it struggles.
Would we recommend it?
The MP180 is an attractive hand-held projector package for the on-the-go business professional. It’s compact and well built, and with its built-in memory and memory card slot you can probably leave your laptop at the office. The touchscreen control panel and lens focus dial make operation relatively painless—with the exception of appalling Web browsing—while integrated Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth compatibility enables further file transfer. It’s probably the ultimate in portable projection technology, but you’ll need to make sure the PocketProjector MP180 is right for you and your budget.