News Column

MP180 Pocket Projector Takes Cue from Smartphones--but Was It Enough?

Dec. Issue

J. Nisen -- Contributor

The MP180 Pocket Projector by 3M is perhaps a lesson against getting your hopes too high. The device has fine value, especially for a road warrior, but the reality of what excited us about this alluring handheld projector—its smartphone-like features and associated promise of convergence—did not live up to our expectations. Even so, a projector that can work independently of a computer is a fine idea, and road warriors should consider this device to enhance their presentations on the go.

The MP180 is slim and light for a projector; at 0.75 pounds and 6.9 inches by 2.6 inches by 1.3 inches, it's very comfortable to hold and place and doesn't need much surface space devoted to it for performance. Four gigs of onboard memory are great; you can store your files directly on the device if you wish, as well as connect it to a computer. The projection is clean and bright, the onboard fan doesn't make too much noise and the speaker system is surprisingly robust for such a small thing.

Fantastic Idea

Putting a smartphone-like touchscreen on a projector is a fantastic idea. With the advances in touchscreen technology and design interface, especially since the dawn of the iPhone, it seems only natural that such a control would have a home on a projection device that can show anything from video to PowerPoint presentations to PDF files. In fact, while the unit comes with a "getting started" guide, the more extensive version of a user manual is actually on the device, waiting to be projected. Moving past the simple dedicated buttons and remote controls of classic pico projectors and into something touchscreen and icon-based is a natural. Unfortunately, the MP180's touchscreen, while slickly designed in a graphic sense, doesn't hold a candle to the modern smartphone in performance. I found the controls awfully hard to manipulate, which made accessing wondrous features that the projector has, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, an exercise in frustration. Entering my WEP code to access my Wi-Fi, for instance, took much longer than it should have; numbers nowhere near the keys I was pressing were magically input instead of my intended info. When I resorted to using an old stylus instead of my fingers, I had a lot more success—but this raises the question of whether, in this era of amazingly responsive touchscreens, I should have had to do so.

The Wi-Fi can be used to browse the Web via a projection screen; once I got through my Wi-Fi trials, this was OK, although it's an old browser that doesn't seem 100 percent compatible with some of the snazzier new websites. However, it's perfectly serviceable for, say, showing a client your online product or when used in a teaching capacity. My advice: Put the websites you'll be going to in the "favorites," because you don't want to navigate that pokey touchscreen's keyboard to input URLs on the spot during a presentation.

The system also hung quite a bit when using certain functions: accessing websites, accessing videos, turning on Bluetooth.

Valuable Features

Despite these snags, the MP180 has a lot of valuable features. The versatility, small form factor, and ability to link up to the Web or get files via Bluetooth are fantastic options, despite some clunkiness in doing so. Also, there is a microSD slot, another fine option for transporting your files to and from the projector. Two hours of battery life should suffice for most presentations, and there is, of course, direct plug-in if necessary.

This is the reality of progress: Not every feature on a cool new device is necessary, and not every cool new device is for everyone. However, I'd imagine this very device is perfect for the traveling salesperson or educator who needs to be ready for any kind of room conditions, and any kind of questions, without always being weighed down with a bulky laptop.

In addition to determining how much utility an owner would get out of the device itself, a cost-benefit analysis may further dissuade a potential customer: At about $450, the list price seems in line with what it promised, but not the reality. Then again, with the marketplace of online deals—a casual look at Internet stores carrying the MP180 shows prices closer to $340—the cost is more in line with what you are getting


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