They’re expensive given their dimness and I’d rather spend 2-3 times as much for 10-30 times the brightness. But if I absolutely needed a small, portable pico projector, I’d buy the Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector.
What do I know about projectors?
I base this on multiple reviews and my experience with projectors in the category. I’ve reviewed dozens of projectors expensive and inexpensive for multiple magazines and websites over the past 12 years.
What is a Best ultra portable projector?
First: a word on nomenclature. There seems to be no consensus about what to call these tiny projectors. For our purposes, we consider “pico” projectors to be battery-operated and able to fit in a pocket. Alternate names are “micro,” “mini,” and “pocket,” among others. To add to the confusion, some companies use the term “pocket projector” to describe iPhone-compatible products. We consider pico projectors one step up from (though related to) iPhone sleeve-style projectors.
While tiny, inexpensive projectors are cool (and temping for those looking for an inexpensive big screen) they offer only a tiny fraction of the performance of projectors that cost just a few hundred more. If you’re just looking for an inexpensive projector, a few hundred dollars more will get you substantially more performance. We’ll discuss a few options along those lines later on.
Brightness is the main metric. Company-provided brightness (“lumens”) and contrast ratio numbers are almost always complete fabrications, but the supplied numbers for pico projectors are telling. The Brookstone is rated at 85 lumens. The Optoma HD20, our old pick for projector, is rated at 1,700. It’s substantially brighter.
What does this mean in the real world? I didn’t have the Brookstone on hand, but did have the 3M Streaming Projector, another pico we’ll discuss further down. It’s rated at 60 lumens, very close to the Brookstone’s 85.
Here is an image with the 3M creating a 102-inch image. Next to it, on the same screen, is the 1,300 lumen JVC DLA-X35. The JVC creates a pleasingly bright image at this size, but is still less than half as bright as the average LCD TV. The top part of the image is with the lights off, the bottom is the same setup with some lights on (maybe a little higher than what most people would classify as “mood” lighting).
This next picture is the 3M creating a 42-inch image. As you can see, it’s still not as bright as the JVC, even creating this TV-sized image. The object in the shot is the 3M projector itself. These projectors have no zoom, so to make an image larger or smaller, you need to move the projector away from or closer to the screen. For a 42-inch image the projector was about 5 feet from the screen (about 10 feet for the 102-inch image).
In fairness, in a dark room, the 3M (and by extension, the brighter Brookstone) will create a watchable image even at 100 inches. It’s just not very bright, and it can’t compete with any ambient light. As long as you keep these limitations in mind, pico projectors can be quite fun. If you’re looking for something portable or to create smallish images anywhere, the Brookstone is very cool. If you’re looking to get into the wonderful world of projection, pico projectors don’t yet offer decent picture quality for serious viewing. For that, the inexpensive Optoma is a much better option.
If you find it weird that the staple of every mall, Brookstone, sells a product that beats out products from companies that specialize in projectors, well… so do we. But it does. Why? A rare combination of relatively high brightness and battery life.
Though all pico projectors (by our definition) have batteries, very few can last the full length of the average movie. This seems a logical expectation for a projector like this. This movie-length battery requirement disqualifies otherwise interesting projectors like the Aaxa P-4X (95 lumens, but only 50 on a battery that lasts a claimed 75 minutes). The Optoma PK301plus has a claimed 90-minute battery life in ECO mode, which is reasonable, but only puts out a dim 20 lumens in this setting.
The Brookstone, conversely, is rated for (and, per reviews, actually holds) a two hour battery life at the claimed 85 lumens.
Who else likes it?
Reviewers consistently pick the Brookstone over other picos. CNET’s David Carnoy in his 4/5 review: “The Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector is very compact, produces a decent picture, and is simple to set up and use. Its built-in rechargeable battery delivers 2 hours of projection time and can also charge portable devices via the integrated USB port.” He concluded, “I’ve had some serious reservations about most of the pico projectors I’ve reviewed in the past. The Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector still comes with a few caveats given its price, but as these tiny projectors go, it’s one of the better ones. Yeah, it would be nice if the resolution were higher, battery life were better, and the price were closer to. But it’s a very compact product that produces a decent picture and is relatively easy to set up and use. That makes it something I can recommend.”
Laptop magazine rated it 3.5/5, finding its brightness to be fairly close to other small projectors, and that “Colors were fairly balanced, too. The grass of the Shire in a trailer for The Hobbit looked pleasingly green and lush, as were the reds and oranges in the fires of Mordor.” They concluded, “All told, those who plan to use their phone or tablet to give a presentation or watch a movie in their off-hours will like the Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector.”
Projector Central’s Laura Clinton opined, “Brookstone has successfully styled the mullet of projectors: business up front and party in the back.” Further heaping praise on the pico with “Brookstone and Texas Instruments have once again raised the bar in the world of pico projectors.”
Chuck Lawton of Wired had this to say: “Its portability and ease of use are amazing. It is incredibly simple to operate and the inclusion of a tripod mount is thoughtful. The battery power is more handy than I would have thought.” He further said the Brookstone was, “Small. Bright. Portable. Convenient. Perfect for mobile video from iOS and Android.”
Amazon reviewers rate it highly as well, with an 4.4/5 average (70% 5/5, 20% 4/5). “Alex Su” gave the Brookstone a 5/5 and saying, “All in all, this is a worthwhile projector to have, at times I really do not believe that the image was projected from such a tiny device and that the brightness rating was just 85 lumens (it feels brighter than that).”
Though not unique in this regard, the Brookstone’s 3800 mAh battery can be used as a portable battery back, charging your phone or other mobile device via USB.
While the Brookstone is a great projector, it requires a source for video. This can be anything from a Roku box to your iPhone. Some pico projectors come with the ability to play back movie files, but since there’s no truly legal way to convert movies to files, I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask.
If you want a single device to project content (i.e., without an external source), the 3M Streaming Projector is great. This PJ is similar in size to the Brookstone, though taller (4.3 x 4.2 x 2.0-in). The main difference is the inclusion of a Roku Streaming Stick, that lets you stream Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, and more wirelessly over WiFi (or data-tethered to your phone). I reviewed this projector for Sound + Vision, eloquently finding, “I review a lot of projectors, and rarely am I as amused or excited by them as I am by the 3M Streaming Projector. It’s so. . . neat.”
However, those that have done side-by-side comparisons between the 3M and the Brookstone have found the latter brighter, with a more detailed image. It also had a longer battery life. YouTube user “chubs2Doggers” made a surprisingly in-depth video review of the 3M vs the Brookstone, and came away liking the Brookstone better.
If you don’t want to use your phone or laptop as your source, but still want to stream content without wires, the 3M might be a better option. However, its performance isn’t as good overall compared to the Brookstone. It’s not as bright, and the battery life, though a claimed “over 2 hours,” was found to be between 1.5 and 2 hours in reviews.
For a step up, I recommend the BenQ Joybee GP2. This projector is sort of a best-of-all-worlds pick, with a price commensurate to its usefulness. Though primarily a plug-in projector with 200 lumens, an optional battery pack is available. Running on batteries, the Joybee puts out 100 lumens and lasts a claimed 3 hours. It has a built-in iPhone dock and an HDMI input. Why isn’t this our pick? At a system price, it’s a lot more expensive than the Brookstone, and it’s somewhat less portable (though still quite small at 5.5″ x 5.1″ x 2.1″ alone, or 5.5″ x 6″ x 4.9″ with its battery). This is a great pick if the money isn’t an issue. PCMag gave it 4/5, concluding “The JoyBee GP2 is versatile, highly portable, and a lot of fun—well worth considering, particularly if you want to go small.”
However, 200 lumens still isn’t a lot, and for a little more money, you could get a much brighter plug-in portable projector. For example, the Epson Home Cinema 710HD is and rated at 2800 lumens (note that a newer version, the 750HD, is due soon, but will be more expensive). This doesn’t mean the Epson is 14x brighter (it’s not linear like that) but it’s likely around 10 times brighter.
Amazon reviewers rate it a collective 4.3/5. PCMag gave it a 4/5 and an Editors’ Choice award, concluding, “The Epson PowerLite Home Cinema 710HD’s balance of price, brightness, image quality, connectivity, and built-in sound system, will be hard to beat for watching a large image in a fairly bright room. That’s easily enough to make it Editors’ Choice.” Projector Central said, “The 710 HD, at, is an outstanding value. A bright picture stands up well to ambient light, and accurate default color keeps the image looking natural and well-saturated. Useful for movies, sports, games, and photos, the 710 HD is as versatile as it is powerful.”
There are lots of other projectors in this category, and most don’t live up to the Brookstone’s combination of light output and battery life. 3M’s MP220 has a slightly higher resolution (1,024×600 instead of 854×480), but has lower rated brightness (65 lumens) and lacks an HDMI input. The Aaxa P3 only has 50 lumens, and a claimed 75-minute battery life. The Optoma PK320 is rated for 100 lumens when plugged in, but only 25 when running on the battery (which only lasts a claimed 45 minutes. In ECO mode, the battery lasts a claimed 90 minutes, but the image is even dimmer.
Even smaller projectors
If instead you want something smaller and/or cheaper, the 3M Projector Sleeve slides onto an iPhone 4 or 4S like a case (yes, it won’t fit an iPhone 5.) It’s rated for 35 lumens, more than double what many “sleeve” sized projectors offer. PCmag gave it a 3.5/5, saying, “Projects photos or videos seamlessly from an iPhone. Compact and convenient. Reasonably bright.” They weren’t too impressed, finding the concessions to size not worth the loss in performance “You can display iPhone (and other smart phone) content from many projectors using an HDMI or composite video adapter. Or you can use a projector with a built-in iPhone dock, like the BenQ Joybee GP2…” “But nothing beats the 3M Projector Sleeve for sheer convenience and compactness.” Battery life is a little short, at claimed 100 minutes (PCMag got about 90 minutes), and you can use the Sleeve to recharge your phone. The Amazon reviewer average is 3.8/5.
A non-iPhone option that’s also a little cheaper, is the Optoma PK-101. It only offers 11 lumens. Amazon rates it at 3.7/5. Once again, PCMag has one of the only reviews. They gave it 3.5/5, saying, “The PK101 is well designed from both a technological and an aesthetic perspective.” They do mention the brightness, though: “I was able to watch a one-hour television show in a darkened room with a 24-inch diagonal image, without eyestrain and without feeling that the image wasn’t up to par. Consider the 24-inch size a conservative minimum. I picked it because larger images seemed a bit dim, although they were still useable. Even at 24 inches, some details got lost in dark areas in scenes that weren’t well lit. But the key point is that the image was bright enough to be comfortable to look at for an extended period. The projector did well on image quality too. Colors were fully saturated, skin tones were realistic.” Optoma claims “up to 1.5 hours per battery.”
Wrapping it up
Once again, if you don’t need portability or the ability to run off of a battery, I recommend spending a bit more and getting a “real” projector. But if you’re committed to the pico category, a combination of decent brightness, long battery life and HDMI input makes the Brookstone HDMI Pocket Projector our pick.