The Acer C250i Portable Projector ($489) has a highly distinctive appearance for a projector. At a glance, it’s hard to tell what kind of beast the C250i is: A vase? A twisted log? An all-black barber pole? But for all its unique styling, form does follow function, and it’s a fitting design for an entertainment projector/Bluetooth speaker mashup that’s unusually versatile in how it can be positioned. When set upright, it can mirror a smartphone’s screen and project videos and other content in portrait mode—in what Acer calls Auto Portrait Projection. When placed on its side, it projects in landscape mode. It also can be tilted at a wide range of angles. It’s flexible; we just wish it were cheaper.
A Projector With a Twisty Style
At 7.5 by 4 by 4 inches (HWD), the C250i is larger than other entertainment mini-projectors we have reviewed recently, and is suitable for either portable or home use. As it can be positioned in several orientations, I am treating its height as its longest dimension, and standing-tall portrait as its default configuration. When so positioned, the center of the lens is 5.5 inches above the tabletop or other surface the projector is placed on, giving it exceptional clearance for a mini-projector. Above the lens is a small plastic focus wheel, which, alas, proved difficult to use to bring the image into precise focus.
The C250i has two threaded holes that can fit a tripod. One is on its base, and the other is on its side, a quarter of the way around from the lens. The second hole is for when the projector is in landscape orientation. The cylindrical-looking projector is actually 12-sided, with each side employing a twist that gives the C250i a stylish, swirled appearance. In practical terms, the projector can be set on any of its 12 faces, so that the lens can be pointed horizontally for wall or screen projection, vertically for a ceiling projector, or at various downward or upward angles.
High Resolution, Modest Brightness
As is typical of low-brightness projectors, the C250 has a DLP-based light engine with a long-lasting LED light source. The LED is rated for 30,000 hours in Eco mode or 20,000 hours in standard mode, which in either case should last you the lifetime of the projector. Its rated brightness is 300 lumens, higher than the 200 lumens that we saw in the Kodak Luma 350, the Anker Nebula Apollo, and the Anker Nebula Capsule II, but fainter than the AAXA P7 Mini HD Projector’s 600 lumens.
The C250i boasts a 1080p (1,920-by-1,080-pixel) native resolution, unusually high for a mini-projector. The Anker Nebula Capsule II is limited to 720p, while the most common resolution for palmtop and pocket projectors, found in the Nebula Apollo and Luma 350, is 480p (854 by 480 pixels).
On top of the C250i are the power button and volume control, a Bluetooth button, and a bay that holds an included wireless dongle. The projector’s base is loaded with ports and jacks. In addition to the tripod hole, there are one HDMI and one USB-C port, an audio-out jack for a pair of headphones, a microSD card slot, and a jack for the power adapter. On the projector’s side, near the bottom and on the opposite side from the lens, are a second power jack and a port for a USB thumb drive.
Although it is relatively large and heavy at 1.3 pounds, the C250i is still quite portable, and comes with a soft carrying bag. Built into it is a 9,000mAh battery, which, according to Acer, can last up to five hours between charges, which is a strong plus for its roadworthiness.
Unlike the Kodak Luma 350, the Anker Nebula Capsule II, or Anker Nebula Apollo, the C250i lacks a built-in control panel. Fortunately, the included remote control worked well, as long as I remembered to point it at or near the IR receiver, near the base of the projector on the same side as the lens.
The main menu highlights the connectivity range of the C250i, with buttons providing links (or for wireless connectivity, full instructions) for connecting to an Android or iOS device, a Mac, or a Windows PC (in most cases, either via Wi-Fi or over a wired connection). Also handled via these menu buttons: screen sharing via EZCast, running multimedia files—video, photo, or music—from plugged-in memory devices (USB or microSD), connecting over an HDMI or USB Type-C connection, and switching the speaker into Bluetooth mode.
One thing the C250i lacks, which we have seen in the Anker Nebula Apollo, the Anker Nebula Capsule II, the Kodak Luma 350, and the AAXA P2-A Smart Pico Projector, among other mini-projectors, is a built-in Android operating system, which for one thing lets you run Android apps directly from the projector. That said, you can mirror the screen of an Android or iOS phone, run apps from that device, and view them on the projector’s screen.
I set up the C250i for screen mirroring from my iPhone—the projector acts as its own hotspot and appeared in my iPhone’s network list, and I entered a password to connect with it. I can confirm its ability to automatically project in portrait or landscape mode, depending on the projector’s orientation. I also ran videos, photos, and music off of a thumb drive; videos and other content from my Dell XPS 13 over an HDMI connection; and music from my phone with the C250i in Bluetooth speaker mode, played over the projector’s 5-watt speaker.
Testing the C250i
In a dark room, I could project videos up to about 60 inches without notable degradation, with an optimal size of about 48 inches. With some ambient light introduced, the usable image size shrank to about 48 inches, with 36 inches being optimal.
Video quality seemed typical of a DLP/LED mini-projector of modest brightness. I noticed occasional rainbow artifacts—which we often encounter in single-chip DLP projectors—in scenes that tend to bring them out. This so-called “rainbow effect” was fairly modest with the C250i, though it still could prove distracting to people sensitive to the effect. Sound quality, whether from videos or music files, played either from a flash drive or from my phone while in Bluetooth speaker mode, was fine for casual use, though I occasionally turned down the volume due to mild distortion.
In viewing photographs, colors were decent, and the quality is good enough for showing off travel pics to friends and the like. (Click here to see how we test projectors.)
An Unusual Look, But a Pricey Proposition
Like the Anker Nebula Apollo and Anker Nebula Capsule II, the Acer C250i can operate either as a multimedia projector or a standalone Bluetooth speaker. It has 1080p resolution and supports a wide range of connection methods. The C250i’s unique design makes it unusually flexible in projecting at different angles, as well as in landscape or portrait orientation. It lacks the built-in Android, and the ability to directly run Android apps, seen in the aforementioned Anker models and some other recent mini-projectors. The C250i is worth a close look, although it’s on the pricey side for what it offers.
Acer C250i Portable Projector Specs
|Rated Brightness||300 ANSI lumens|
|Native Resolution||1920 by 1080|
|Inputs and Interfaces||Bluetooth, HDMI, USB, Wi-Fi|
|Dimensions (HWD)||7.5 by 4 by 4 inches|