Only a few years ago, the concept of having a projector small enough to take with you in your bag, let alone in your pocket, was just wishful thinking. But as projectors have come down in size, portable models have certainly come into their own, making it possible for you to project your data and video anywhere you go. (Even if “anywhere” these days means just around the house.)
Not only that, but portable projectors encompass a surprisingly wide range in size, brightness, and features. Here, we will help you sort out their differences, as well as highlight our favorite models.
Pico or pocket projectors are a little larger than smartphones. Because they can accommodate videos and photos for on-the-go entertainment, in addition to slides and charts for business or classroom presentations, these models can be thought of, essentially, as multimedia display systems. Though convenient and snazzy, they tend to be of low brightness and relatively expensive for their performance.
So-called palmtop projectors are larger (and brighter) than pico projectors, typically a bit too large to fit comfortably in the palm of your hand, even with your fingers outstretched. Still, they are lightweight enough that you wouldn’t think twice about packing one in a bag or a backpack. Most are brighter than, and have more connection options than, pico models.
Most pico and palmtop projectors can run files from a USB thumb drive and/or SD card, so you don’t need to lug your laptop with them. (If you do want to bring a laptop with you, though, check out our roundup of the best ultraportable laptops.) Some even have 1GB or more of internal memory for storing media files. Many can project content from a smartphone or tablet, either wirelessly or via an HDMI port that supports Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL). Many models come with built-in rechargable batteries so you can use them away from a power outlet.
Many manufacturers have introduced LED-based mini projectors that are generally a bit larger than palmtops, but considerably brighter. They pack a relatively high resolution—generally from 720p (1,280 by 720 pixels) up to 1080p (1,920 by 1,080 pixels)—and their larger frames let them include more physical ports than their smaller brethren. Although a few have internal batteries, most run solely off of AC power.
The next step up from these, thin-and-light projectors, are as wide, deep, and bright as standard models but barely an inch thick, and they weigh in at about 4 pounds. They are highly portable, but you pay a premium for their svelteness, and they usually have a limited set of connection choices.
Finally, some standard projectors are still small and light enough to be easily portable, whether you’re moving them between classrooms or taking them on a cross-country flight. Many come with soft carrying cases, but they could just as easily be slipped into a travel bag or backpack.
The projectors we highlight here are relatively lightweight, with the heaviest weighing just more than 2 pounds and the lightest right around 3 ounces. They vary considerably in size, brightness, features, and performance. Any one of these could be your favorite travel companion.
The Best For Road Warriors
AAXA P7 Mini HD Projector
The Best For Entertainment Anywhere
Anker Nebula Apollo
The Best For Movie Watching at Home or While Traveling
Kodak Luma 350 Portable Smart Projector
The Best For TV and Multimedia Buffs
LG Minibeam LED Projector (PH550)
at Dell Technologies
The Best For Casual Gamers and Video Watchers
Anker Nebula Capsule II
The Best For Teachers, Corporate Presenters
Epson PowerLite 1795F Wireless Full HD 1080p 3LCD Projector
The Best For Cranking Out Tunes
AAXA BP1 Speaker Projector
The Best For Video Watching in a Darkened Room
Magnasonic LED Pocket Pico Video Projector
The Best For Off-the-Cord Presenters
Sony MP-CD1 Mobile Projector
The Best For Multimedia Consumption On the Road
ViewSonic M1 Mini
Pros: Highly compact and lightweight.
1080p native resolution.
Good data-image quality.
Plays music and displays photos or video from memory cards or USB sticks.
Cons: Only so-so video quality.
Bottom Line: The AAXA P7 Mini HD Projector is a tiny 1080p model good for business presentations on the road, and it does a decent job at showing video and photos, as well as playing music.
Pros: Reasonably priced
Long battery life between charges
Runs Android 7.1
Multiple control methods
Doubles as a Bluetooth speaker
Cons: Modest brightness
Oversensitive touch pad
Occasional audio distortion at high volume levels
Bottom Line: The Anker Nebula Apollo entertainment projector can project videos, photos, and Android apps, as well as play music and operate as a Bluetooth speaker. Its long battery life makes it ideal for portable, on-the-go use.
Pros: Runs the Android TV operating system.
Can display video, games, and photos, as well as play music.
Good, loud audio.
Can serve as a stand-alone Bluetooth speaker.
Cons: Modest brightness output means best for use in darkened rooms.
Bottom Line: The Nebula Capsule II by Anker is an unusual entertainment projector: It runs the Android TV operating system, and can double as a Bluetooth speaker.
Pros: Slim and ultra-light.
Good data and very good video image quality.
Long lamp life for an LCD projector.
Cons: Very soft sound system, and no audio-out to connect to speakers.
Can’t project 3D content.
Bottom Line: What’s thin, light, and bright, with 1080p resolution? Epson’s PowerLite 1795F Wireless Full HD 1080p 3LCD Projector, a highly portable model good with data-heavy media and excellent with video, but packing soft audio.
Pros: Android 6 OS lets you download, run apps (including control app)
Lightweight and portable
Includes remote control, built-in battery
Projects a decent-size image for its brightness
Above-par photo quality
Cons: So-so video quality
Mere one-year warranty
Controls on projector itself are limited
Bottom Line: The Kodak Luma 350 Portable Smart Projector is an Android-based palmtop that throws a larger-than-usual usable image given its brightness output. It does well in projecting photos, and its video quality is fine for casual use.
Pros: Compact and lightweight.
Good video and data image quality.
Abundant port selection.
Built-in TV tuner.
Rechargeable internal battery.
Cons: 720p resolution is relatively low for an entertainment projector.
Bottom Line: The lightweight and portable LG Minibeam LED Projector (PH550) can project television shows thanks to its built-in TV tuner, has a wealth of connection choices, and boasts very good video and data image quality.
Pros: Modest price
Long-lasting rechargeable battery
Good Bluetooth speaker sound and functionality
Easy-to-use media player
Many connection choices
Cons: Low brightness and resolution
Labels are hard to read
Bottom Line: The AAXA BP1 combines a multimedia projector with a Bluetooth speaker in an easily portable package. While its speaker system rocks, as a projector it suffers from low brightness and a small usable image.
Pros: Budget price.
Good video quality.
Long lamp life.
Built-in rechargeable battery.
Cons: Low brightness and resolution.
Blurred text in data images.
Bottom Line: The Magnasonic LED Pocket Pico Video Projector performs surprisingly well considering its low brightness, resolution, and price.
Pros: Good overall image quality.
Comes with leather case.
USB Type-C port for charging.
Cons: Pricey for what it delivers.
Relatively low brightness.
Limited connection choices.
Wireless dongle not included.
Bottom Line: The Sony MP-CD1 Mobile Projector is a stylish, phone-size mini-projector with a built-in battery.
It delivers good overall image quality at a somewhat steep price.
Pros: Highly portable
Simple yet innovative stand
Interchangeable top panels in three colors
Media player handles photo, video, and music files in a variety of formats
Cons: Can project images only at modest size
No on-body control panel
Tiny remote is easily lost
Bottom Line: ViewSonic’s M1 Mini is a highly portable palmtop projector that counters its modest brightness with a cleverly designed stand, decent image quality for photos and videos, and the ability to play music files.
Senior Analyst, Printers, Projectors, and Scanners
As Analyst for printers, scanners, and projectors, Tony Hoffman tests and reviews these products and provides news coverage for these categories. Tony has worked at PC Magazine since 2004, first as a Staff Editor, then as Reviews Editor, and more recently as Managing Editor for the printers, scanners, and projectors team.
In addition to editing, Tony has written articles on digital photography and reviews of digital cameras, PCs, and iPhone apps
Prior to joining the PCMag team, Tony worked for 17 years in magazine and journal production at Springer-Verlag New York. As a freelance writer, he’s written articles for Grolier’s Encylopedia, Health, Equities, and other publications. He won … See Full Bio