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Best portable projector: The best pico and handheld projectors

Consider this: you’re after a big screen experience, but don’t want to pay too much and don’t have the space for a dedicated home cinema projector? What’s available in the market? A solid option is to go down the route of a portable (or pico) projector.

Pico projectors are small, portable efforts that offer flexibility in terms of where you can take them and where you can place them in a home. If you fancy having an impromptu cinema night over at a friend’s house, then this is where a portable projector shows its true worth.

And it’s a market that’s been growing in popularity, with more options available. More options means more choice, which is why we are here to provide an assist, reviewing a number of pico projectors each year to determine which portable candidate is worth your while.

We test portability, build quality, smarts and connectivity along with picture and sound quality to understand which portable projectors offer the best performance. We’ll compare with other similarly priced projectors to ascertain which model offers the best value, and the ones that do end up on this very list.

If this is the start of your journey in buying a projector, why not check out our best projector page that feature affordable and premium options. If you’re interested in outdoor efforts for the garden, our best outdoor projectors will cater for that.

Best portable projectors at a glance

How we test

Learn more about how we test projectors

We test projectors by, well, watching lots of movies on them. But not just movies: we watch sports and TV programmes to get a sense of how they work in terms of motion, sharpness, detail and overall image fidelity.

Depending on the projector, we’ll test them in a bespoke home cinema room or in our own rooms and gardens to see if they live up to the manufacturer’s claims about their performance.

If it’s an HDR projector, we’ll watch plenty of HDR content to determine if colours are correct and whether the projector can do a decent approximation of HDR. If it’s a gaming projector we’ll test the latency to determine how responsive it is.

We’ll also assess the projector in terms of its size and whether it needs a dedicated installation, as well as how much noise it makes during operation and whether that can be a hindrance to watching content. Are they easy to use? And do they require more expert knowledge to operate are considerations we also take into account.

With our reviewers knowledge of previous projectors tested, they’ll be considered to what’s come before to determine whether they offer good value, regardless of how much or how little they cost.

Samsung Freestyle

Best portable projector
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Pros

  • Easy-to-setup big screen images
  • Surprisingly good sound
  • Built-in streaming apps

Cons

  • Limited to Full HD resolution
  • Colour gamut could be wider

The Freestyle’s cylindrical shape and stand allow it to be easily carried to and fro, the adjustable stand can be used to angle the projector’s beam from 90 to 180 degrees, along with an image size that can stretch from 30- to 100-inches making the Freestyle a versatile, easy to set-up and accommodating projector for wherever its placed. Our reviewer found the chassis felt rather robust, so it could survive a few knocks, and controls are kept simple and accessible with touch sensitive buttons for power, casting and volume, as well as a switch for activating the microphone.

Connectivity here is also kept nice and simple with a Micro HDMI port that supports HDR signals and eARC for connecting a Dolby Atmos soundbar. The USB-C port is only for connecting the Freestyle’s power adaptor. For wireless connections there’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.2 and Apple AirPlay 2, offering a range of ways to connect mobile devices to the Freestyle. Wi-Fi support also allows Samsung’s Tizen smart interface with access to apps such as Netflix and Disney+, plus there is convenience on offer with as well as Bixby and Amazon Alexa for voice assistants.

During testing, we found the picture to very good with a clean and detailed performance, producing punchy HDR colours when called upon. The 500 lumens of brightness it has at its disposal is fine, but not as bright as either XGIMI Elfin or Philips PicoPix MaxTV, both of which get close to 1000 for a more illuminating picture.

We measured input lag at 44ms which is fine for a projector but wouldn’t appeal to those in need of a faster, high-end performance. We also measured noise level at 25dB at a distance of 2ft, making for a decently quiet experience when in operation. The built-in speakers sound good for such a small projector, the size of the sound is extended beyond the projector for a bigger sound than was initially expected.

Reviewer: Steve Withers
Full Review: Samsung Freestyle

XGIMI Halo+

Best Android portable projector
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Pros

  • Bright
  • Clever automatic setup
  • Clear image
  • Decent audio

Cons

  • Expensive
  • No native Netflix

Compare the XGIMI Halo+ to the original Halo and the brightness has been upped to 900 lumens from 800, making it a brighter option than the Samsung Freestyle. While the boost in brightness is not massive, it does helps a little bit more in using it in darker rooms.

Image size can go as far as 200-inches, though we found half that size to be more than adequate. Like the other projectors on this list, the XGIMI supports resolutions up to Full HD, and we found it produced bright images with vibrant and rich colours, especially when dealing with brighter content. Contrast is generally good, although blacks do veer to grey at times and it can be difficult to get a sense of detail in darker scenes – the addition of HDR10+ does help in that regard by optimising the image to reveal more detail.

Packing dual 5W Harman Kardon speakers, the audio quality was decent with good volume and clarity. The lack of bass puts a spanner in offering a true cinematic experience but for casual viewers it’s a solid performance. Battery life we found to be around two hours when unplugged from the mains, which means average length films should be fine but the Halo+ will likely struggle with more epic runtimes. The XGIMI’s LED lamp can last for much longer, rated at 30,000 hours, which is around ten years of use if the XGIMI were to be used for eight hours a day.

For a portable projector there’s convenience in the form of an automatic procedure that optimises the picture when the Halo+ is moved, meaning you won’t have to worry about fiddling with the image each time. There are smarts with Android TV supported with its convenient and intuitive layout, and although there’s access to Google Play Store library we found that Netflix wasn’t supported for this projector an apps such as NOW aren’t available, so consider adding a Fire TV Stick or have a look at Freestyle, which has more supported apps.

In terms of its size the Halo+ can fit into a bag or suitcase, but is pushing at the threshold of portability considering it lacks a handle like the Anker Nebula Capsule Max. There is a room for positioning the projector, as it can be placed on a flat surface, used with its integrated kickstand to angle the projector up, or propped on a tripod mount.

Reviewer: David Ludlow
Full Review: XGIMI Halo+

Anker Nebula Capsule Max

Best portable projector under £500
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Pros

  • HD resolution
  • Great build quality
  • Good battery life
  • Nice app
  • Android built-in

Cons

  • Not very bright
  • No Google Play Store
  • No lens protector

By the standards of portable projectors, the Anker Nebula Capsule Max is tiny. At 15cm tall, with a diameter of 80mm, it’s smaller than a good proportion of Bluetooth speakers. Its weight of 737g means it’s lighter than most portable projectors, making it easy to carry around or stash in a bag.

Control are kept simple on the device itself with buttons controls for volume, cursor keys, select and back that are handy for quickly pausing or changing something but both the remote control and Nebula Connect app offer more extensive means of operation. Around the back of the unit is a port for power, 3.5mm audio output, a USB port for connecting external storage and an HDMI port. The Anker runs on Android 8.1 which allows access to a good set of apps, with the likes of Netflix and Prime Video, although at the time of review there was no Disney+.

The Capsule Max can automatically adjust its focus and keystone to make optimising the image much simpler and convenient for those who a desire a no-fuss experience. While we didn’t measure the fan noise, it was noticeable even when we weren’t watching anything. There’s a built-in battery for true portability, able to run for 90 minutes on full brightness or 4 hours when the brightness is reduced.

Sticking on the theme of brightness, the quoted brightness of 200 lumens is okay for general viewing and we found we could only go the 100-inch screen size when it was dark to get the best from its picture performance. Contrast is fine, though like the Halo+ blacks tended to err towards grey. Colours proved to be reasonably accurate with decent vibrancy, and sharpness and resolution (720p) was a step up on the original Nebula Capsule for a more detailed image.

With an 8W speaker, the Anker provided good volume and surprisingly meaty bass. Provided the room you’re watching is quiet, it’s a decent performance, but its 3.5mm audio there’s the option of adding an external sound system for a better, louder experience.

Reviewer: David Ludlow
Full Review: Anker Nebula Capsule Max

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FAQs

Are pico projectors any good?

Yes they are! Especially if you don’t have much space for a more dedicated installation, then a pico projector can work its magic by offering more flexibility in terms of placement. They’re not as good as dedicated projectors, but are fine, affordable efforts for more casual viewing.

Comparison specs

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First Reviewed Date
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Resolution
Projector Type
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