Innoio Smart Beam Pico Projector

Even by the standards of pico projectors, this thing is tiny: an actual projector of images barely larger than a crabapple.

Battery powered and with an HDMI input, it's a mighty mini...

maybe.

I should mention up front(ish) that the Innoio Smart Beam is a little tricky to find. I didn't know this when I started the review. It's on Amazon in multi-color form, eBay, and some other places. It should have wider US distribution in a few months. I thought it was cool enough to check out though, so...

Holding the Smart Beam in your hand, it's hard to believe it's actually a projector. I've seen some small picos before, even reviewing the ultra-cool 3M Streaming Projector, but this is even smaller. On one side is a micro-USB input for charging, and a tiny focus wheel. The latter does allow for precise focusing, but it's really easy to move, making said fine tuning a study in patience. On the other side is the power button, and a micro-HDMI input (that's also MHL).

Somehow, inside, they fit a 2-hour (claimed) battery, an LED light source, a tiny speaker, and the DLP chip. Though perhaps the latter isn't as much of a feat. Check how small it is:

Sporting a 4x3 resolution of 640x480, it's not exactly winning any resolution races. But of course, that's not really the point of this wee wonder.

There's no zoom (other than moving it farther/closer to the screen), and no picture adjustments or menus. Not a big deal, I guess, but even the 3M had a few settings (and was cheaper and brighter).

Performance

Rated at a fairly meager 35 lumens, I wasn't expecting much from the Smart Beam. And indeed, "not much" is exactly what I got. On my 102-inch 1.0-gain 16x9 Stewart StudioTek 100 (using only the 4x3 portion in the center), I measured a maximum light output of 1.66 footLamberts. Compare this to the 1.945 ftL I got from the 3M, though that is rated at nearly double the lumens. So either the Smart Beam is brighter than they're rating, or the 3M is somewhat dimmer than they do. The black level was expectedly low, at 0.0018 ftL, for a decent-but-not-great contrast ratio of 922:1. This is higher than some projectors and similar to some LCDs we've reviewed, but much lower than most (this is typical of the pico projector category, though).

True, it's hardly fair to expect something so small to perform on such a big screen. Creating a 60-inch image, it puts out roughly 5.6 ftL. Not a lot, but bright enough for a dark room.

Color temperature was surprisingly accurate, averaging 6353 Kelvin. Normally projectors like this jack up the color temp in an effort to get more perceived light output. I've measured big projectors that were further off than this one.

Color, on the other hand, wasn't nearly as close. Most were oversaturated compared to their HDTV recommended amounts. We'll have full measurements up later this week.

I plugged in my HTC One, and fired up HBO Go. Projecting a TV-sized image on the wall of my office, The Dark Knight Rises was still soft (to be expected), but overall looked decent. The black letterbox bars were noticeable. I wish there was a way to switch the audio from the tinny built-in speaker to the unexpectedly decent speakers in the phone.

Netflix worked too, of course. A few old episodes of Top Gear fared well, mostly because they were in SD originally and not as much was lost. Moving to my theater an blowing the image up to projection-screen sized (66.7 x 50-inches, the 4x3 version of a 102-inch diagonal 16x9 screen) Avengers looked very soft. On bright scenes, I could make out pixels. The shadow detail was crushed, and it was definitely oversaturating the colors. If this were a "real" projector I'd be unimpressed, but for something the size of a shot glass, I find the performance perfectly acceptable.

The Smart Beam mirrored everything on my phone's screen, so I could surf Facebook and Twitter, look at images, and check email from a much larger screen. Ironically, the big image was 640x480, while the little image (the phone) was 1,920x1,080. This was amusing to me. More amusing was activating the phone's camera, and then aiming the camera at the screen (like looking at two mirrors aimed at each other). Yes, I'm 10.

Bottom Line

I can't help but be impressed by the form factor of the Smart Beam. Even though it's slightly less useful than the 3M Streaming Projector, the difference in size is surprisingly significant. I could see tossing this in a backpack just to have on hand for a trip or night camping. It's just that little bit more pocket-friendly, which for this class of projector is important. I wish it had some sort of picture adjustments, but that's not a dealbreaker. In the end, the ability to project videos on any surface from something half the size of a Bluetooth speaker is inherently cool. 

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