3M’s handheld projector best for displaying digital photos

“Do you have a projector in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” The phrase crosses my mind as I remove 3M’s Micro Professional Projector from its packaging.

Small enough to fit in the palm of my hand, the projector would be easy to slip into your pocket and transport anywhere.

It could come in very useful for those who tote around digital cameras, small screen-size laptops and other digital devices, and who also want to share video clips or images with others.

With this device on hand, you no longer have to hope there will be a compatible display to use with your gadgets – because there’s one in your pocket.

The device is just a bit longer and about twice as thick as a cell phone. It is 115 mm long, 50 mm wide and 22 mm thick. It weighs a mere 160 g.

In the box, you’ll find the projector, a battery charging cable, a composite video cable with a VGA adaptor that allows male-to-male connections, a VGA cable and the lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

First impressions

Since this device is supposed to be easy to use, I figure I’ll initially take a stab at setting it up and putting it to work without reading the manual.

That’s easy for anyone who has ever used a projector, as the device is straight-forward to use.

I hook it up to my laptop running Windows XP by plugging the VGA cable into the secondary monitor output. To activate the device, I go into my monitor settings from the Desktop, set the secondary monitor to “attached”, and apply the settings.

The device responds right away by changing from a blue background with a red 3M logo to a different, unique background.

Now I can drag windows onto this space that has become part of an extended Desktop.

I have the projector pointed at a blank wall that is about two meters away. It is easy to adjust the focus with the small wheel that is just above the lens. To focus the image on my wall, I have to crank the wheel to be at its most-distant focus position.

At this distance the projection looks a bit dim and the focus isn’t quite perfect, but it looks OK.

Using the VGA cord to connect my laptop with the projector proves a bit awkward. The cord is quite stiff and I find because of the projector’s light weight, I can’t actually get it to sit flat on the table. The cord pulls at an angle and this makes the projector tilt. When I touch the projector to rectify that, the connection is broken easily and I have to reset the device to restore the connection.

Image quality

Image quality is what you might expect from a projector that’s just a fraction the size of a typical, full-size projector.

After reading the manual, I discover the projector should be no more than 1,800 mm (just shy of six feet) away from the wall. Also, it should be at least 305 mm (one foot) away from the wall it is projecting on.

The image width will range from 163 mm at the closest distance to 975 mm at the furthest distance. Not surprisingly, brightness of the projected image will decrease as the device moves away from the wall. To view my image at the maximum distance, I sat in a darkened room.

The 640×480 resolution of the projector doesn’t make this ideal for use in a desktop environment.

Web browsing is awkward and I have to rely on scroll bars to navigate ITBusiness.ca. But viewing videos at full screen is okay with this resolution.

The colour delivered seems fine for the basic Web graphics and text, but not for video. In the video I’m streaming from the Web, skin tones have a pastel quality. Other gradients in richer graphics also appear pixilated.

Use with a camera

The strength of this device came through much more when using it with my digital camera, a Canon EOS 20D. I could definitely see adding a device like this to my camera bag to have a way to preview my photos and share them with others on the go.

Connecting the projector to my camera with the composite cable and RCA adaptor is a breeze. As soon as I turn it on, my photos show up. This time, I’m projecting on to a white sheet of printer paper about 18″ away.

The image takes up about three-quarters of the paper size and looks nice and crisp after adjusting the focus.

I prefer this video cable much more. It is more flexible and I can rest the projector flat on the table. I also feel comfortable holding the projector in my hand, without losing the connection.

Viewing the photos like this is a satisfying experience. The colours look good and the image is clear and sharp. 

Battery

As the device is meant to be portable and used on the go, the battery is critical to its performance.

The manual recommends fully charging the battery by plugging in the projector to the AC adaptor for at least two hours. While charging, the LED light on the device will appear orange. When fully charged, it will turn off.

The power cable can be used while you’re operating the device, but it is only about three feet long. That makes it difficult to find a convenient outlet near to where you want to project from.

After an hour of use that includes Web browsing, video watching, and reviewing photos, my projector flashes a red light on its LED. At this point, it won’t project any more and it’s time to recharge the battery.

Final thoughts

At $399 with a $50 mail-in rebate, this product is priced for professionals who need to display digital images on the go.

I can imagine how useful it would be for the salesman who needs to display a slideshow at any time, or a photographer who needs the option to share photos with people or even review the images themselves.

This is definitely not an entertainment device, as the projected image just doesn’t have the candle power (it is 10 lumens), the resolution, or the colour quality to properly display video. But it is certainly adequate for graphics and photos.

A battery that takes two hours to charge and then lasts for one hour isn’t ideal. Buying a second battery to carry around isn’t too convenient, as replacing the battery requires removing a screw.

Finally, it is somewhat awkward to get the image projected squarely at your target, especially using the VGA cable.

I would’ve liked to see some sort of flip-out stand on the projector so it could be placed on a table and project an image without obstruction. I found myself propping up the device with random objects available around the room.

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