Carrying our multimedia experiences everywhere we go has become common. And in an attempt to capitalise on this trend, we have had the emergence of portable projectors. We took a look at the BenQ GV1 beforehand which was an underwhelming experience to say the least. But does the Viewsonic M1+ bring much improvement?
Swivel design is almost the best
The Viewsonic M1+ manages to cram a lot into quite a portable form factor, just slightly bigger than a typical smartphone of this era. The surface of the projector is made of perforations primarily for the Harman/Kardon powered speaker. Aside from these you find indents all around for keeping the projector cool when in operation.
The rear of the projector has four buttons, which include the power, volume and the back function key. Alongside this row of buttons, there is also a 5-dot LED indicator for users to easily check on the projector’s battery. Bringing the design all together is the swivel. It acts as the cover for the projector lens and motion sensor up front, but can also be used to prop the projector in various orientations when in use. The rubber pad helps with gripping when the projector is placed on a surface. But this only works when it is placed in a perpendicular fashion so it is not useful if you were to place the projector at an angle. And just off to the side of the swivel is a knob to adjust the focus of the projector.
Given the design, Viewsonic has produced a clean looking product. However, manually pulling the tab on the projector to access the ports is not convenient. The port selection includes a 5V Type-A USB port, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, an HDMI port, a Type-C USB port, the power input and the micro-SD card tray. Often times, having ports on the side of a projector does not make sense and constantly having to deal with a flap when plugging in multiple cables can get annoying. This is especially true if the projector is mounted onto a stand permanently. A better design perhaps would have been to have the ports accessible at all times with the buttons placed on a different edge.
Easy setup process
For anyone who is not familiar with a portable projector, the Viewsonic M1+ is easy to set up. Bundled with it, you find a power cord that has an in-line power brick and a Type-C to Type-C USB cable. This is gold plated on the outside and is made from a high quality material although I wish it was a bit longer. With this cable, you can easily connect your computer or smartphone to the projector directly. Of course, you can use an HDMI cable to do the same if you prefer. However, for Apple iPhone users, you will need to invest in a Type-C USB to Lightning cable if you want a direct connection.
Once the swivel is opened, the projector automatically turns on and you are greeted with the settings menu. With the remote control that comes in the box, navigating through the user interface is made relatively easy. The reception between the remote and the projector is fairly good however you will need to be in close proximity to the device, preferably pointing at its front directly. Aside from powering the projector and having it connected, you may also want to connect it to your home Wi-Fi network.
Display resolution and features
The Viewsonic M1+ supports a native resolution of WVGA or 854 x 480 pixels. However, it can support resolutions ranging from VGA (640 x 480 pixels) to Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels), which means for higher resolution footage, the projector down-scales its output. Inside, you find an RGB LED lamp with a low brightness of 300 lumens. What this means in real-world usage is that the projector will struggle with a lot of ambient light. But in a dark room, it is quite usable for casual media consumption. For me, this included watching YouTube videos and football games. However, I do see this being useful even in office environments for presentations on the go.
Out of the box, the projector also supports vertical auto-keystone. This means its screen can adapt to its orientation to adjust how the display looks. While this avoids a greatly distorted look, I believe its function could have been better implemented. In my particular case, I am forced to place the projector at a slight incline which tapers the output screen. Perhaps having a horizontal keystone feature, manual or auto could have addressed this issue. The other drawback to the display is the lack of a zoom lens. You can only adjust the projector’s focus whereas the machine will automatically detect picture size from 24-inches all the way to 100-inches based on distance. This means you have less flexibility when it comes to the placement of the device which should not be the case for a portable projector.
Digging into the settings further, the projector provides a decent variety of display settings. Auto-keystone and aspect ratio settings are among them. But you can also tweak brightness, contrast and the projector position settings, the latter being useful depending on where you place the Viewsonic M1+. You get different display modes based on what you are watching but I liked standard the best. There is also an eye protection option for those who need it, which I just kept turned on during usage.
Excellent audio quality
If there is one thing that cannot be disputed about the Viewsonic M1+, it is its audio. As mentioned earlier, it comes with a Harmon/Kardon tuned speaker which works wonders. If you are planning to fill up a medium sized room, the speaker on-board should be plenty loud. For extremely large rooms though, you may need to invest in some wired speakers. And I say that because the projector cannot connect to speakers wirelessly via Bluetooth when in operation.
In the settings menu for the projector, you find a number of audio options. You can tune your audio depending on whether you are watching a movie, listening to some instrumental music or want hard hitting music with bass. For regular video use, I preferred sticking to the ‘Movie’ preset. There is also a music only option which turns off the projector screen to only play music. This is useful if you want to use the device exclusively as a speaker, which will save battery life. When doing so, the projector connects to your device via Bluetooth.
Mixed usage experience
When it comes to wired display connections, the Viewsonic M1+ performs great. It gives you media playback options via a number of sources. However, it does not auto-detect a source when plugged in. Something I also like is the device’s 16GB of in-built memory, 12GB of which is usable. With this, you can easily store between 8-10 movies for consumption on the go. The fact that the projector makes fairly minimal noise and stays relatively cool is also a big advantage. Over to user interface, it is fairly simple. However, it is just enough to get through. In essence, the device is running some version of Android. It offers a basic level of customisation with users being able to change the wallpaper on screen. But apart from that, one of the more crucial options is the Apps Center.
This allows you to download some applications to the device via AptoideTV. In all honesty, the level of variety is low and navigating through the store is choppy. Some applications of note that are available include Twitch, BBC iPlayer and WatchESPN. However, using them is not smooth and more often than not, I would end up accessing the relevant websites on my PC and just connecting the projector to it. The other big feature is screen mirroring. While the device says it supports both Android and iOS devices, it seems to work only with iOS. I tried multiple Android phones with no success, even after downloading Google Home as suggested by the Viewsonic M1+. For iOS, the connection is made natively through the phone’s screen mirroring option in the settings.
Having tried connecting via the iPhone 11, the projector seems to function well for still images. You suffer from considerable latency even when navigating the user interface on the phone. So, while there is a use case to maybe show your holiday photos, I would not recommend wireless connectivity to watch dynamic content.
Underwhelming battery performance
If you plan to put the Viewsonic M1+ next to your bedside table and keep it plugged in, this section should not put you off. But being a portable projector that comes with an excellent carry case, I put it through its paces in that manner. When testing battery performance, I used the device’s highest display settings to get the best out of it.
When doing so, the projector lasted a little under 2 hours of usage. This is not the best considering it would barely last you through a movie. Toning down the display settings, you do suffer from lower brightness and quality. But by doing so, you can push the battery life to just under 4 hours. Using the device exclusively as a speaker, you should see longer endurance. Recharging the device is done via a proprietary connector and that takes between 2-3 hours.
At a glance, the Viewsonic M1+ is an average piece of kit. Its unique design paired with above average functionality makes it a viable option for a lot of people but not an all out recommendation. Availability in the UAE is mixed having seen prices ranging from Dh1,100 all the way to Dh2,000. If you do find it at the price closer to the upper bound of that range, it may not be worth it. But around the Dh1,100 mark, it is a fairly decent purchase. I think what puts me off from recommending it fully is its sluggish performance in user interface alongside the inconsistency and latency in wireless connections. And if Viewsonic can improve on this in the future, the device would earn a firmer recommendation.