Only a few years ago, the concept of having a projector small enough to take with you in your bag, let alone in your pocket, was just wishful thinking. But as projectors have come down in size, portable models have certainly come into their own, making it possible for you to project your data and video anywhere you go.
Not only that, but portable projectors encompass a surprisingly wide range in size, brightness, and features. Here, we will help you sort out their differences, as well as highlight our favorite models.
The Best Portable Projector Deals This Week*
*Deals are selected by our partner, TechBargains
Pico & Palmtop Projectors
Pico or pocket projectors are a little larger than smartphones. Because they can accommodate videos and photos for on-the-go entertainment, in addition to slides and charts for business or classroom presentations, these models can be thought of, essentially, as multimedia display systems. Though convenient and snazzy, they tend to be of low brightness and relatively expensive for their performance.
So-called palmtop projectors are larger (and brighter) than pico projectors, typically a bit too large to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand, even with your fingers outstretched. Still, they are lightweight enough that you wouldn’t think twice about packing one in a bag or a backpack. Most are brighter than, and have more connection options than, pico models.
Most pico and palmtop projectors can run files from a USB thumb drive and/or SD card, so you don’t need to lug your laptop with them. (If you do want to bring a laptop with you, though, check out our roundup of the best ultraportable laptops.) Some even have 1GB or more of internal memory for storing media files. Many can project content from a smartphone or tablet, either wirelessly or via an HDMI port that supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL). Several models come with built-in rechargable batteries so you can use them away from a power outlet.
How We Test Projectors
LED Models: Larger & Brighter, But Still Portable
Many manufacturers have introduced LED-based mini projectors that are generally a bit larger than palmtops, but considerably brighter. They pack a relatively high (WXGA, or 1,280-by-800-pixel) resolution, and their larger frames let them include more physical ports than their smaller brethren. Although a few have internal batteries, most run solely off of AC power.
The next step up from these, thin-and-light projectors, are as wide, deep, and bright as standard models but barely an inch thick, and they weigh in at about 4 pounds. They are highly portable, but you pay a premium for their svelteness, and they usually have a limited set of connection choices.
Finally, some standard projectors are still small and light enough to be easily portable, whether you’re moving them between classrooms or taking them on a cross-country flight. Many come with soft carrying cases, but they could just as easily be slipped into a travel bag or backpack.
Ready for Our Recommendations?
The projectors we highlight here are relatively lightweight, with the heaviest weighing just more than 2 pounds and the lightest right around 3 ounces. They vary considerably in size, brightness, features, and performance. Any one of these could be your favorite travel companion.
Pros: Highly compact and lightweight. 1080p native resolution. Built-in battery. Good data-image quality. Plays music and displays photos or video from memory cards or USB sticks.
Cons: Only so-so video quality.
Bottom Line: The AAXA P7 Mini HD Projector is a tiny 1080p model good for business presentations on the road, and it does a decent job at showing video and photos, as well as playing music.
Pros: Compact and lightweight. Good video and data image quality. Stylish. Abundant port selection. Bluetooth connectivity. Built-in TV tuner. Rechargeable internal battery.
Cons: 720p resolution is relatively low for an entertainment projector. Modest brightness. Soft audio. No zoom.
Bottom Line: The lightweight and portable LG Minibeam LED Projector (PH550) can project television shows thanks to its built-in TV tuner, has a wealth of connection choices, and boasts very good video and data image quality.
Pros: Compact. Portable. Modestly priced. Built-in touchpad. Good range of connection ports. Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Built-in rechargeable battery. Runs Android 5.1.
Cons: Oversaturated colors in video limits its use to shorter clips. Somewhat fuzzy text. Weak audio. Minuscule focus wheel.
Bottom Line: The AAXA P2-A Smart Pico Projector, despite a few flaws, is a triumph of miniaturization and a good value, its tiny frame bristling with ports and with a touchpad on top.
Pros: Runs the Android TV operating system. Can display video, games, and photos, as well as play music. Good, loud audio. Can serve as a stand-alone Bluetooth speaker.
Cons: Modest brightness output means best for use in darkened rooms.
Bottom Line: The Nebula Capsule II by Anker is an unusual entertainment projector: It runs the Android TV operating system, and can double as a Bluetooth speaker.
Pros: Slim and ultra-light. 1080p resolution. Good data and very good video image quality. Wi-Fi connectivity. Long lamp life for an LCD projector.
Cons: Very soft sound system, and no audio-out to connect to speakers. Can’t project 3D content.
Bottom Line: What’s thin, light, and bright, with 1080p resolution? Epson’s PowerLite 1795F Wireless Full HD 1080p 3LCD Projector, a highly portable model good with data-heavy media and excellent with video, but packing soft audio.
Pros: Very small and lightweight. 100 lumens. LED light source lasts the life of the projector. WVGA (854-by-480) resolution with 16:9 aspect ratio.
Cons: No battery. AC power adapter is an extra-cost option. Connecting to phones or tablets requires a separate connection for power.
Bottom Line: Hardly larger than a Tic Tac case, and rated at 100 lumens, the 3-ounce Philips Pocket Projector PPX4010 is an excellent laptop companion for deskside presentations.
Pros: Affordable. Stylish design. Minimal rainbow effect in video. Can project from multiple sources. Rechargable internal battery.
Cons: Low brightness and modest resolution. No tripod.
Bottom Line: The Kodak Luma 150 is a tiny, highly portable projector that can show content from a range of sources, both wired and wireless, but its brightness is low enough to crimp image size.
Pros: Budget price. Good video quality. Long lamp life. Built-in rechargeable battery. Stylish.
Cons: Low brightness and resolution. Soft audio. Blurred text in data images.
Bottom Line: The Magnasonic LED Pocket Pico Video Projector performs surprisingly well considering its low brightness, resolution, and price.
Pros: Tiny. Stylish design. Good tripod for a small projector. HDMI port is MHL-enabled for connecting to compatible mobile devices. Rechargeable internal battery.
Cons: Does not connect wirelessly. Poorly responsive touchpad. Underwhelming Android experience. Rainbow effect in video.
Bottom Line: The RIF6 Cube, a tiny, elegant projector that can mirror the screens of mobile devices and project content from a microSD card, is good for casual use, although its video quality could be better.
Pros: Good overall image quality. Sleek housing. Comes with leather case. USB Type-C port for charging. HDMI/MHL connectivity. Long-lasting bulb.
Cons: Pricey for what it delivers. Relatively low brightness. Limited connection choices. Wireless dongle not included.
Bottom Line: The Sony MP-CD1 Mobile Projector is a stylish, phone-size mini-projector with a built-in battery. It delivers good overall image quality at a somewhat steep price.