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Does This Tiny Gadget Deliver Portable Projector Perfection?

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Photo by Will Sabel Courtney

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Samsung’s pint-size projector can go almost anywhere, and works seamlessly — with a catch or two.

Projectors don’t have quite the panache they used to, and there’s a very clear place to place the blame: the ever-growing size of televisions. Over the last 25 years, the average television’s width has ballooned as their depth has shrunk, transforming from bubble-screened CRT boxes to paper-thin science-fiction displays. These days, the average new TV bought in America stretches 55 inches across the diagonal, according to Angi, and that’s expected to rise to 65 inches in the near future.

Still, there are reasons to consider an image-thrower over a black mirror. Perhaps most importantly, portability. TVs may be thinner than they used to be, but they’re still much heavier and bulkier than a projector; while your delicate flatscreen is more or less fixed in place, a projector can be moved from room to room or even house to house relatively easily. So long as you have power, input and a flat surface to project upon, a projector can give you an image.

It’s here where Samsung’s Freestyle projector plays its ace. Unlike the boxy projectors you might be familiar with from a family movie room or your high school auditorium, the Freestyle is compact enough to be held in one hand with ease. In addition, it’s crammed with smart features designed to take much of the legwork out of setup; it’ll scale, resize and adjust its picture for proper aspect ratios and focus all by itself. Really, all you need is an input and a power source.

To find out if this compact, portable projector is worth the outlay, I spent a few weeks trying it out. Here’s what I learned.

The Samsung Freestyle: What We Think

By taking the troubles of focusing and calibrating out of the equation, making it easy to hop onto WiFi to stream content and providing built-in apps for many streaming services, the Freestyle makes projecting easy-breezy. Integrated video gaming for certain Xbox titles is a nice add-on for gamers interested in making their parents happy, too — fine, Mom, I’ll play outside!

It’s still a projector, with the limitations of the breed — it’s only good in dim light or darkness, and connecting via HDMI can be tricky just like in A/V club of yore — but it opens up new worlds in terms of where you can bring big-screen content and entertainment. And that’s pretty damn cool.

The battery base pack costs an extra $190, but it adds up to 3 hours of use time far away from any outlets. Photo by Will Sabel Courtney

Ease of use & portability: the Freestyle’ takes a lot of the pain out of projector life’s ace in the hole

My previous experiences with projectors, as with many of us, have generally been of the traditional, bulky sort. (I’m actually old enough to remember my parents showing me slides from my youth on a massive Kodak carousel projector.) So when the Freestyle showed up at my door in a box only a foot high and six or so inches wide, I briefly wondered if the rest of the device had been lost in the mail.

The central cylinder is roughly the size and weight of a 200ml DSLR lens; it’s easily held in one hand, either by its stand or by its body. Opt for the add-on battery base power pack that serves up three hours of viewing on a charge, and the weight roughly doubles, but it’s well-distributed enough that it never feels unwieldy. You could easily pop this into a backpack for an hour-long hike and never realize it was there amongst your water bottles and Clif bars.

One of the handiest tricks that this modern projector packs is an auto-focus, auto-orientation feature. In essence, it makes setup idiot proof; just point the beam at any flat surface — vertical or horizontal — and it’ll automatically correct itself to create a flat, undistorted screen. A screen, I might add, that can go as big as 100 inches and still maintain fidelity, according to the brand. (It can also go as small as 30 inches, should that be of interest.)

The Freestyle’s head can pivot through an arc of 180º.Photo by Will Sabel Courtney

Not only can it pivot to a wide variety of angles, it also packs its own internal sound system — a speaker mounted at the tail end of the cylinder. It’s not a spectacular system, as you’d expect from what amounts to a small Bluetooth speaker, but it serves well enough in a pinch for a backyard movie viewing or in a dark, quiet room.

Like all projectors, the Freestyle isn’t well-suited for bright environments. Samsung makes no bones about it, admitting right up front in the product description that it “works best in dimly lit rooms. For outdoor use, The Freestyle works best at dusk/night.” I tested it in both dark and dim rooms — a home movie theater and my living room, among other — and found that while it’s definitely able to project inside during daylight hours, you’ll need to draw the blinds tight for it to deliver an experience anywhere close to a TV.

It’s easy to use, if you stick with Samsung’s built-in ecosystem

As with Samsung’s televisions and computer monitors, the Freestyle comes packed with built-in software for streaming all kinds of content. Boot it up — which you can do using the haptic “buttons” on its face, but I suggest using the included remote control both for ease of use and to keep the black plastic face fingerprint-free — and you’re met with the same menu you’ll find on Samsung products from the Odyssey gaming monitor to an QLED 8K TV.

Front and center lie most of the streaming apps that you probably already have and use — Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, YouTube, Prime Video and so forth. Setting up those accounts is no different than doing so on any smart TV; it’s just that, with this baby, you can carry your smart TV around anywhere you want. Use your phone as a mobile hot spot, and you can be watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe practically anywhere in the universe. (Well, anywhere you’re actually likely to go.)