Portable projectors first got on my radar when some models began using Android TV software.
Features like auto-focus, Google Assistant and Google Chromecast are just a few of recent innovations that have come into the portable projector world.
Now these projectors — like all Android TV devices — are gradually moving into the world of Google TV.
I have spent a good part of 2020 and all of 2021 reviewing newer portable projectors from XGIMI, Nebula and a few other brands. My runner-ups picks this year are the Nebula Capsule Max, and Solar Portable.
Before that, I reviewed the BenQ GV1 and Nebula Capsule II and Nebula Mars II.
Here are my latest picks reviewed in 2021 and what to be aware of when you’re shopping for a portable projector.
Table of Contents
- Buying Advice for Portable Projectors
- XGIMI Halo: Best Portable Projector
- AAXA P6X: Budget pico portable projector
- Nebula Capsule II: Best Portable Projector for travel
Buying Advice for Portable Projectors
You should expect to spend at least $500 for a portable projector with enough brightness to show a watchable picture at dusk outside, or a semi-dark room indoors.
A decent home theater projector starts at around $1,000, and can go as high as three or four thousands dollars. You don’t have to spend that much for a remarkable movie night in your backyard.
Price is always an important consideration when you’re shopping for a projector.
While you don’t want to spend too much, buying a cheap projector in the $100-to-$200 range has its pitfalls. Many of these projectors have colors that bleed and generally overpromise on the picture resolution.
Brightness — or what’s referred to as the number of lumens — is going to be your second-most important metric. Home theater projectors range between 1,000 to 2,500 lumens, which is great but expensive.
With portable projectors, your range of lumens should be at least half that, but there are some good models that are less bright.
Everyone will have different opinions on what makes for a great picture, and have different price points on what they’re willing to spend.
Now that there is a generation of smart projectors equipped with Android TV or Google TV software, portable projectors are essentially portable Smart TVs capable of producing a much larger picture.
Their ability to stream Hulu, Disney+, Sling TV and YouTube TV without an added streaming stick or device also make them more portable and easier to use.
XGIMI Halo: Best Portable Projector
This year my pick for the best overall portable projector is the XGIMI Halo.
The picture quality is pretty exceptional for a projector of this size. Its maximum brightness is 800 ANSI lumens and delivers the crispest picture out of my three picks.
The Halo has 1080p picture resolution. It runs on Android TV software with Google Chromecast. The battery is advertised as having four hours of power. It lasted just under the three hour mark in my testing.
If you are watching with just the battery, the picture is slightly dimmer, but still delivers an excellent picture in the dark. You can also operate the projector with its adapter which will charge the battery while you’re watching a movie.
The Halo’s body isn’t big, but it’s probably something you want to handle with two hands. It weighs about 3 and a half pounds. The build quality is very good. The Halo doubles as a standalone Bluetooth speaker for music apps.
Since you have Android TV built into the projector, you basically have a built-in streaming device with native apps for Hulu, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube TV and many others.
The projector has Google Chromecast for casting apps from a smartphone or tablet.
Google Assistant is built-in to the remote control so you can search for movies and shows using your voice.
The version of Android TV on the Halo is Android 9.0; and if you’re familiar with Google Chromecast with Google TV; you will notice a couple of similar features.
During my last few months of testing out the projector, the Halo received two software updates that improved the Discovery tab. So, at this point, I can say with confidence that the Halo will continue to be a well-supported product after you buy it.
The home screen has recommendations from a number of free and subscription streaming services that you use. And there’s a Discovery tab that recommends movies and TV shows based on genre.
I’ve been setting up the projector about 10 feet away from a wall when I’m indoors, averaging a 100 inch picture. My outdoor screen — the Yard Master 2 by Elite Screens — has a 120 inch screen size.
The fan on the XGIMI Halo is very quiet. In fact, it probably has the quietest fan that I’ve tested so far on a portable projector. I haven’t noticed it at all while using the projector.
That’s a big deal. When I’m watching a movie, I want a really immersive experience and to forget about the hardware that’s running nearby.
The Halo has autofocus and keystone correction that supports vertical and horizontal screen adjustments.
These two features are among my favorites because it really cuts down on your setup time. So it doesn’t matter that you’re moving the projector around your house or backyard. The projector is going to adjust itself based on where you set it up.
Even while watching a movie, the projector will occasionally fine tune the focus if needed. The remote control has one of the best ways I’ve seen to adjust autofocus.
At the bottom of the remote, there is a small switch that you can toggle that makes the volume rocker a manual adjustment for focus; but, get this — when you move the switch to focus, that triggers the autofocus automatically. So if your picture is a bit off, that will probably solve your problem. But if you want to make a manual adjustment, then you can use the volume rocker to do so.
You don’t have to use the Android TV software. There is an HDMI port in the back so you could connect a different streaming device or a game console.
For audio there’s a pair of 5W harmon kardon speakers. There is a headphone jack that you could also use to connect some external speakers.
During both my indoor and outdoor testing of the Halo, the speakers included in the Halo were loud and very clear. I do wish the speakers had a little more bass. But overall the speakers delivered very good sound.
When you connect a Bluetooth speaker to the projector, it becomes the only source of audio, so you can’t set up a multi-speaker system using Bluetooth.
The WiFi radio on the Halo was pretty remarkable. While I was using the projector outdoors, I had it set up about 35 feet from my house and even further from my WiFi router inside. I had zero problems with streaming outside at that distance.
At the bottom of the Halo, there is a small hinge you can use to elevate the projector. But I’ve found that using a small tripod is going to make your life a lot easier with getting the picture horizontally even with your wall or screen. There is a universal tripod fitting on the bottom.
The Netflix conundrum
The one thing that’s missing from the Halo is a native Netflix app. I have yet to find a portable projector that’s been certified by Netflix to run its native app. I have read online that XGIMI is in the process of applying to get Netflix certified, but at the time of this review, you’ll need to plug in a separate streaming device to watch Netflix.
The XGIMI Halo debuted at $799, but I have seen this projector on sale for about $100 less.
The bottom line with the XGIMI Halo is that for now — given its price, brightness and features — I think it’s the best portable projector that’s streaming in 1080p so far in 2021.
- 800 ANSI lumens
- 1080p picture resolution (1920 x 1080)
- Keystone correction (vertical / horizontal)
- Dual-band WiFi
- Bluetooth speaker
- Battery (approx 3 to 4 hour playtime)
(Editor’s Note: May 16, 2022: XGIMI has released a newer model that I have reviewed called the XGIMI Halo+.)
AAXA P6X: Budget pico portable projector
My budget pick is the AAXA P6X pico portable projector. It’s made by AAXA Technologies and in the U.S. it’s priced at about $359.
The P6X has 720p native picture resolution, and supports up to 1080p.
The projector’s battery doubles as a power bank for smartphones, tablets and other rechargeable gadgets. The projector is just under two pounds. You can easily slip it into a bag and take it with you.
The P6X has manual focus with a small dial on the right side of the projector. The keystone correction is also manual and can be found on the remote control. The thing this projector really has going for it is its brightness.
AAXA uses an LED light source that’s rated at 1100 LED lumens. You should know that there is no standard for determining LED lumens.
But when I compared P6X’s brightness to the XGIMI Halo — with its 800 ANSI lumens — the brightness was pretty comparable.
I did a number of side-by-side screen tests, and there’s no question that XGIMI produced a better overall image, and had better color.
The colors produced by P6X were more saturated and lacked the subtlety and contrast that the XGIMI Halo was capable of producing.
But I think for the price, the AAXA provides a lot of value if you’re willing to sacrifice the bells and whistles that I prefer with a portable projector.
The software on the P6X doesn’t have any kind of streaming apps. But the HDMI port on the side of the projector lets you use any kind of streaming device you want.
During my testing, I had the projector connected to a Roku and a Google Chromecast with Google TV. Using your own streaming device or a gaming console with the projector really opens your options up.
On the front of the projector, there’s a slot for MicroSD or TransFlash cards. The rest of the ports are on the right side of the projector. There is a USB 2.0 port that can also be used to charge up a smartphone or tablet. The battery is a 54 watt lithium ion battery.
The projector’s software does let you adjust settings such as color and sharpness through the picture mode tab. There are two settings for brightness. I thought the ECO mode was a little too dim for my taste. The standard mode was a lot better, but the downside was the fan noise became more noticeable.
The remote control is really bare bones. It is functional. You can navigate the menu and control the volume on the projector. There is an input switcher, so if you have a Roku hooked up, you can get over to the Roku homepage in just one click.
There is a power button on the remote, but it only puts the projector to sleep. You need to use the switch on the side of the projector to actually turn it off.
There is also a control pad on the top of the projector that you can use if you don’t have the remote control handy.
There is a universal tripod fitting on the bottom. A tripod comes with the projector, but it’s barely functional.
The 4W speakers are usable, but the audio quality really starts to fall apart if you try to max out the range to 100. I kept the volume set at around 55. If you’re looking for something closer to a theater experience, then you’re going to want to plug in some decent computer speakers.
I connected a Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 THX Speaker System to the P6X, which made for a much better movie-watching experience.
Having said that, the AAXA P6X is a projector worth considering if you’re not ready to spend $600 or more, and can live without the bells and whistles of a smart projector. I wouldn’t buy this with and expect the same experience as a smart projector.
I think I like this better as an indoor projector than an outdoor one because you are going to be plugging in additional accessories to get the most out of it. But if you’re near electrical outlets on a patio or outdoor deck, then that may be less of an issue for you.
If you’re willing to live with a few concessions, the PX6 delivers a watchable picture at a much lower price than a smart projector.
Editor’s note: Since publishing a version of this review, the AAXA P7 has dropped in price to about $379, and makes it a better buy as a budget pick. It has 1080p native resolution and a built-in battery.
Nebula Capsule II: Best Portable Projector for travel
The Nebula Capsule II is the size of a pint glass. The battery life lasts 2 ½ to 3 hours as long as you fully charge it before you use it for the first time.
The Capsule II runs on Android TV software that’s been regularly updated since its debut in 2019. The latest software update added the Discover tab, which recommends movies and shows.
It has 720p picture resolution and 200 ANSI lumens.
Auto-focus and automatic keystone correction makes it very easy to quickly set up. And that’s a big deal if you’re away from home — maybe at a camp or on the road. There is a universal tripod fitting on the bottom, which I recommend using.
The remote control is similar to what you would get on a streaming device — it has buttons for power, volume, Google Assistant and navigation. It uses two triple AAA batteries.
There is an 8W Bluetooth speaker with really impressive bass. You can use the projector as a standalone speaker for streaming music on Spotify, Tidal or whatever you use.
The Capsule II is a quiet projector. The fan is barely noticeable.
So this projector has the lowest lumens rating out of my three picks. That means you will only want to use this in a dark room. If you’re outside, you can start using this around dusk, but pitch black is going to give you your best experience.
I’ve watched a lot of movies on the Capsule II, using both streaming services, and on an external hard drive. And I’ve been very pleased with the overall experience.
With Netflix, you do need to sideload the app by first downloading File Explorer from the Google Play Store. You can then launch Netflix through the Nebula mobile app. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it does give you a sideloaded version of Netflix that works, and allows you to even download content if you don’t plan on having an Internet connection.
Even though the Capsule II is the least brightest out of these three projectors, it definitely has the best audio — especially when it comes to bass. And it should because you have a 8W Bluetooth speaker inside it.
If you’re serious about HD picture quality, great audio but want something really small and portable, the Nebula Capsule II checks off a lot of boxes, and makes for a great little projector.
The Nebula Capsule II is priced at $579, but has gone on sale over the last year.
Price and availability
- XGIMI Halo for $799.00 at Amazon
- AAXA P6X for $359.99 at Amazon
- Nebula Capsule II for $579.99 at Amazon, or the Nebula store.
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Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble
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