If you want to watch a movie or catch up on your favorite show, you no longer need to be near a television to do so. Phones and tablets have become so much more than "second screens" — for many of us, they're our main screens now. But if you'd like something that offers a bit more flexibility whether you're at home or on the road, there's a new option from ZTE: a smart projector called the Spro 2. It's the next version of the company's first mini projector (the Spro), and it will be initially available exclusively through AT&T. We saw it for the first time at CES this year, but a final version of the unit made it to our office on Friday, so I took it for a spin.
It's a small and light mobile projector, measuring 5.3 inches by 5.2 inches by 1.2 inches thick, and it weighs just a little over a pound. That's not small enough to fit in a pocket, but it will easily fit into your bag. It's Wi-Fi enabled and has an LTE radio (the Spro 2 works exclusively with AT&T for now) that can be used as a hotspot, and on the back of the device there is a micro SD card slot as well as ports for audio, USB, and HDMI.
The Spro 2 can handle just about everything
That means that, despite the small package, the Spro 2 can handle just about everything you throw at it. I watched video files from my Google Drive account, used Netflix and Hulu, and even plugged in a PlayStation 4. The performance was fluid and never stuttered, the fan noise was negligible, and it never got too hot. The Spro 2 runs a custom version of Android 4.4 KitKat, so you can access any media that you would be able to watch on your phone, and you control it all through a rather nice 5-inch 720p touchscreen display. Its 6300 mAh battery will last over two hours while streaming content, too, and up to 16 hours on standby. And there's an on-board speaker on the bottom of the device, but you won't want to use it — the best solution would probably be to connect the Spro 2 to some Bluetooth-enabled speakers.
The biggest limitation of the Spro 2 is, unsurprisingly, brightness. It's woefully dimmer than a television screen, and at least 10 times dimmer than most standard home cinema projectors. It reaches 200 lumens when it's plugged in, but you can only set it to medium brightness or lower when it's not. While that's brighter than most competing mini projectors, you're still going to struggle to see the image if there are any other competing light sources in the room.
In a truly dark room, however, the picture looks great — provided you have a smooth white wall or a screen. It projects a 720p image up to a size of 120 inches that stays clear throughout, although the colors wash out a bit. There's an autofocus feature that works well and an "auto keystone" feature, which keeps the image rectangular no matter how high or low you point the projector. (There's no side-to-side adjustment, however.)
The Spro 2 is definitely capable, but it's not cheap. You'll be able to buy it starting April 24th for $399 with a two-year contract on AT&T, or $499 without one. That's more expensive than competing portable projectors, but you get many more features in a much sleeker design. The price almost bumps up against that of the the cheapest home cinema projectors, which offer much better image quality but take up more space, are louder, and aren't portable.
So the question here is who, exactly, is this thing for? If it offered a better picture in any room, it would be a compelling purchase for anyone. As it is, it's probably only for heavy travelers who need a presentation device, reliable connectivity wherever they go, and also don't want to use the decade-old television at the foot of the bed in their hotel room. There might even be a place for it in the home — after all, this thing is capable enough to replace your Apple TV, Roku, or other streaming device, and you can more easily bring it from one room to another. But even if it's the right device for those people, the rest of us will get by just fine with the screens we have.