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Although
the palmtop-size ViewSonic M1 Mini ($169.99) throws a relatively faint image, physically this
projector is bright and cheery—matte white on the sides and bottom, with interchangeable top plates in gray, yellow, and teal. With a cleverly designed
built-in stand, above-average image quality, and a simple interface and media
player, this affordable, highly portable device is a good choice as an
entry-level projector for use in a family room or while on vacation. The M1 Mini’s modest brightness limits
its usable image size, and it works best in a darkened room.

Palmtop
DNA (With a Few Flourishes)

An
LED-based projector that uses Texas Instruments’ DLP technology, the M1 Mini has
a rated brightness of a mere 50 ANSI lumens. It offers 854-by-480-pixel (a.k.a. FWVGA or
480p) resolution, which is very common among micro projectors, at a 16:9
widescreen aspect ratio. The light source has a rated 30,000-hour lifetime,
which should more than last the life of the projector.

At
a glance, the M1 Mini has a very typical form factor for a palmtop projector,
squarish when viewed from the top and with rounded corners. Portable in
the extreme, it measures 1.1 by 4.3 by 4.1 inches (HWD). On the top of the
projector, above the lens, is an upraised, silver-colored disk, just under an
inch in diameter, with the ViewSonic name printed on it. The replaceable colored top panels each has a hole near one corner
that fits around the disk, which helps anchor the panels in place. Small pegs in the
covers’ other three corners fit into corresponding holes in the top of the projector’s
frame.

ViewSonic M1 Mini with top plates and remote

A Simple,
Innovative Hinged Stand

Most mini projector stands are tiny tripods that screw into a
projector’s base. ViewSonic took a different, and refreshing, tack with the M1
Mini, whose stand is built into the device itself.

When the M1 Mini is not in use,
the lens is hidden by a hinged arm with a 90-degree bend, which wraps around
most of the front and left sides of the projector. If you want to use the M1
Mini with it placed flat on a surface—where it rests on four tiny feet, each
less than an eighth of an inch tall—you can swing the arm upward and out of the
way to reveal the lens. When you swing the arm downward, it acts as a stand or
riser, with the “forearm” extending underneath the projector to support it.  Tilt angles range from about 10 degrees (when
the arm no longer blocks the lens) to about 60 degrees from the horizontal.

ViewSonic M1 Mini with stand extended

On
the projector’s right side (as viewed from the back), just behind the arm
joint, is a full-size HDMI port. The power switch is on the back, along with a
reset pinhole, an LED indicator light, and the IR sensor for the remote. On the
rear left corner is an indentation with a small metal bar to secure the cord attached
to a looped strap. You can thus hold the projector while walking with it by
wrapping the strap around your wrist.

On the device’s left side are a USB
Type-A port and a micro USB port, plus a micro-USB-to-USB-A cord for powering
or recharging. The projector has a built-in battery with
an estimated 2.1-hour runtime between charges in standard mode and 2.4 hours
in eco mode, according to ViewSonic. Those numbers seemed to pretty much match my experience.

ViewSonic M1 Mini with cord

In
the front left corner, next to the lens, is a small plastic focus wheel. Bringing
the projector to focus seemed tricky at first, but soon I found a way to
quickly achieve an accurate focus: I’d brace the ball of my index finger
against the projector’s frame and wedge the tip of my fingernail between the
teeth of two gears, so I could move the gear smoothly in small
increments. After doing this a couple of times, it became second nature.

ViewSonic M1 Mini remote control

That
Precious Remote

The
only physical controls on the M1 Mini are the on/off switch and the focus
wheel. You control the settings and media player menu with a tiny remote,
smaller than a credit card. Its buttons include power, home, back, settings, up
and down volume, and a four-way arrow controller with an OK button in the
center. When I pointed the remote at the back of the M1 Mini, the projector
proved responsive to its commands.

Just don’t lose the remote—it’s the only
way to control the projector. As of this writing, replacement or spare remotes are not being sold as accessories, but ViewSonic says it is working to introduce them.

When
you turn the M1 Mini on, you’re taken to the home screen, a blue screen with
five functions displayed as labeled icons: Photo, Music,
Movie, HDMI, and Setting. (A battery icon in the corner shows how charged your device is.) The first three items comprise the
media player, from which you can access and play content from a thumb drive
inserted in the projector’s USB Type-A port.

ViewSonic M1 Mini home screen

Clicking
on Photo brings up a list of photos stored on the flash drive. From there you
can navigate to the image of your choice and press the OK button on the remote
to open it. Beneath the image is a media control bar, with icons for back,
play, next, pause, zoom in, zoom out, and stop. The same control bar appears at
the bottom of the screen for Video and Music content, except that the zoom
controls are replaced by fast forward and rewind.

There are some nice
touches here. In music, for example, tapping a filename in the menu reveals (for commercially produced tracks) the album name, song title, bit rate, artist, sampling,
and year, and when you open the file, a waveform and a thumbnail of the album cover
(if available) are displayed. Sound quality from the 2-watt speaker was fair,
although I noticed a trace of distortion at higher volumes.

ViewSonic M1 Mini video

The
M1 Mini has a good range of supported formats, especially for video. These
include AVI, MP4, TS/TRP, MKV/MOV, MPG, DAT, VOB, and RM/RMVB.  For music, formats include MP3, WMA, and
M4A/AAC, and for photos, JPEG, BMP, and PNG.

None Too
Bright, But With Pleasing Colors

I
tested the M1 Mini under various lighting conditions, in darkness and with varying
amounts of ambient light, and viewed a variety of content including movies,
images, and web pages from a memory card or from my computer over an HDMI
connection. I also listened to music.

An ideal image size for a darkened room is
about 36 inches (measured diagonally). When I went up to 48 inches, the image
began to look faded. With ambient light added, a 24-inch image looked
reasonably bright, but appeared more washed out when I increased the image size
to 36 inches.

In general, image quality was good for a low-brightness projector,
with fairly realistic colors. Both photos and video were nearly free of the potentially
distracting rainbow artifacts that are frequently seen in images from DLP
projectors. (See how we test projectors.)

ViewSonic M1 Mini HDMI port

A Modest Yet Appealing Palmtop Projector

In
image quality, the M1 Mini proved similar to the somewhat brighter and slightly
more expensive Kodak Luma 150. They each have 480p resolution, and each
projected a similarly small usable image in my testing with reasonable color quality. Both have 2-watt speakers, but the Luma 150 adds an audio-out
jack. While both projectors have HDMI, USB Type-A, and DC-in micro USB ports,
the Luma also has a microSD card slot and direct wireless connectivity, and adds a control panel built into the top of the projector. The last may not be as
convenient as the M1 Mini’s remote, but you needn’t worry about losing it. The
M1 Mini doesn’t have as robust a feature set, but it has its innovative stand,
while the Luma 150 doesn’t even include a tripod.

ViewSonic M1 Mini projecting

Other,
more powerful mini projectors are available for more money. The Editors’
Choice AAXA P7 Mini HD Projector ups the resolution to 1080p and the rated
brightness to 600 lumens. It adds a microSD card slot, a VGA adapter, and two
2-watt speakers. Although it is primarily a data projector, it also does well
with video. The entertainment-oriented LG Minibeam LED Projector (PH550), also an
Editors’ Choice, has 720p resolution and 550-lumen rated brightness, plus a spate
of ports including audio-out, a legacy VGA port, and a coaxial connector (the last for
connecting to a cable box or an over-the-air TV antenna).

The
ViewSonic M1 Mini is much more basic than the AAXA P7 and LG PH550, but it
sells for less than half their prices. If you’re fine with connecting via HDMI
or running files from a USB thumb drive, and you need a portable projector for use in a small room
that you can darken if necessary, the M1 Mini will do the job. 

ViewSonic M1 Mini Specs

Engine Type DLP
Rated Brightness 50 ANSI lumens
Native Resolution 854 by 480
Inputs and Interfaces HDMI, USB
Weight 0.7 lb
Warranty 1 year

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Further Reading

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