Anker Nebula Mars II Pro
Best mini portable projector overall
Anker Nebula Capsule
Best cheap mini projector with a battery
I didn’t realize projectors could be awesome outdoors until I tried one. The best portable projectors are easy to set up in any room of your house or in the great outdoors (or at least your great outdoors). Don’t worry about picture quality: Projectors have come a long way.
Whether you project onto a blank wall or a projector screen, you can capture the picture quality you crave without getting weighed down. They also offer a handful of connectivity options, including Wi-Fi, HDMI and Bluetooth, and typically run on batteries. Many mini projectors can give you access to Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, Hulu and other streaming services without you having to connect a streaming device or laptop.
Portable projectors do come with some drawbacks, though. One is that many are relatively dim, lacking the brightness of a traditional home theater projector. Meaning they can’t project as large an image as the big guys. Another is that most portable projectors, especially the cheapest ones, often have lower resolution than their larger counterparts, especially 4K projectors. If you’re never going to be far from an outlet, a standard projector will get you a much bigger, brighter and better image for similar money. But if you want something compact, portable and maybe battery-powered, here are our top picks for the best mini projector.
The Mars II Pro is our favorite portable projector here due to its light output, overall image quality, ease of use and affordable price. This mobile device is a bit bigger than most other portable projectors here, but still small enough to hide completely under a six-pack of Coke.
The built-in 12,500-mAh battery is good for about three-and-a-half hours, longer if you just run it as a Bluetooth speaker. There are apps built in, some of which consider the Mars II a portable device, meaning you can download content to its 8GB internal memory for offline watching. The faux-leather strap also makes carrying the outdoor projector around super easy.
I like the top projector better but the AAXA P6X is my pick when money is tight. Not only is it less expensive than the Anker above, it’s also brighter with superior battery life. This mini projector fits in my hand, creates a 720p image, and has a huge 15,000-mAh battery. An HDMI input and USB connection lets you connect and power a streaming stick. The stick connection is important because the AAXA lacks built-in apps.
Light output is impressive for its size and price, about 50% more than the Anker Mars II Pro, though its contrast ratio is a bit less. The internal battery should last around 90 minutes in the mini projector’s brightest mode, and an impressive 240 minutes in Eco mode — probably a little less if you’re also powering a streaming stick. The internal speaker isn’t great, but there’s a headphone jack you can connect to a portable speaker.
The Xgimi Halo Plus is a little large to truly be considered “mini,” but it is fairly small. “Easily portable” is probably a more accurate description. It projects a 1080p picture and has a two-and-a-half-hour battery. It has Android TV built-in, so streaming is far easier than with many other portables. It performs far better than most mini projectors, but it’s also way bigger and costs a lot more.
Unlike many of the other projectors on this list the AAXA P8 can’t run on a battery — you need to plug in its power adapter — but it’s so small, bright and cheap it makes the list anyway. There are certainly less expensive projectors out there, but nothing we’ve seen at this price or lower, with the exception of the Vimgo P10, is worth recommending.
The P8 is absolutely tiny, roughly the same overall volume as the Anker Capsule (which does have a battery), though obviously rectangular instead of cylindrical. It’s significantly brighter than the Capsule. It even has a few streaming apps built in, plus an HDMI port for connecting an external source. The image quality is OK but for the size, price and relatively high light output, it’s hard to knock it.
The Anker Nebula Capsule is smaller than a can of soda, but can create a big image. Well, maybe not “big,” but “TV-sized” certainly. It’s not particularly bright, nor loud, but for something that can fit in your pocket it’s great. The other options here offer a far brighter, better image, but if size is your main concern, the Capsule looks better than you’d expect for its price and stature.
Note that you can save $30 right now at Amazon by activating the instant coupon on the product page.
The Vimgo P10’s price fluctuates between $170 and $270, in the same ballpark as our favorite cheap projector, the AAXA P8. It’s a lot larger than the P8, the largest cheap projector we’ve tested actually, making it far less portable. It’s still “small” compared to full-size and more expensive projectors, however.
Picture quality is better than the P8 in some ways, worse in others. The Vimgo P10 has a great contrast ratio and decent brightness, but the color is remarkably terrible. The center of the image is noticeably sharper and brighter than the rest of the image. It’s not great.
But the price is. A perfectly watchable image, and right now you can pick it up for $230 when you activate the instant coupon on the product page. Plus, it even has Netflix built in. The main downside is that, like the P8, it lacks a battery.
Other products we’ve tested
Anker Nebula Solar Portable: We didn’t like the Solar Portable as much as the BenQ GS50, Xgimi Halo Plus or even its sibling, the Mars II Pro. Its main disadvantage compared to others on this list is its relatively dim image, which means it can’t project as large a picture and still look good. If you want a sleek, budget-friendly portable with 1080p and plan on keeping the image on the small side, however, this is a solid choice. Read our Anker Nebula Solar Portable review.
BenQ GS50: The GS50 is roughly the same size as the Xgimi Halo Plus, and is also 1080p and has a built-in battery. You can even use it as a Bluetooth speaker. However, it’s dimmer than the Xgimi Halo Plus for similar money. Read our BenQ GS50 review.
LG CineBeam PH30N: The LG PH30N is tiny even compared to other portable projectors, even smaller than the AAXA. It’s not particularly bright, however, nor does it have built-in apps. The battery doesn’t last as long as the AAXA either although it is a bit cheaper. Read our LG CineBeam PH30N review.
Samsung Freestyle: The small, cylindrical Freestyle is an interesting idea, but it comes up short. About the size of a Bluetooth speaker, and in fact can double as one, the Freestyle can pivot on its stand to project an image at any height on walls and even the ceiling. Its built-in streaming is far better implemented than most portable projectors. However, it lacks a battery and its performance is average, at best. Worse, its price is a good 50% higher than it should be based on how it looks and performs. Read our Samsung Freestyle review.
Xiaomi Mi Smart Projector 2: Another relatively expensive small projector we didn’t love, the Xiaomi at least has a gorgeous, Apple-like design going for it. We appreciated the compact size, 1080p resolution and built-in Android TV streaming, but the cons outweigh the pros. It’s relatively dim, especially for the price, and it lacks both a built-in battery and compatibility with a USB power source, so it’s not truly portable. Read our Xiaomi Mi Smart Projector 2 review.
Anker Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K: Since it has a handle and a compact size, the Cosmos Laser 4K is technically portable, but it’s hardly mini at more than 10 pounds. There’s also no battery so you’ll need to plug it in. It’s nice and bright, but the other downsides — lack of zoom, average overall image quality and a steep price for what you get — keep it off this list. Read our Anker Nebula Cosmos Laser 4K Projector review.
BenQ HT2050A: The HT2050 isn’t technically a portable projector at all, but it is compact and roughly the same price as one of the more expensive “portable” options. Its picture is also much better in pretty much every way, so if you’re looking for a projector for use around the home, or maybe backyard, and you don’t need battery power, it’s worth considering. Read our BenQ HT2050A review.
How we test portable projectors
Every projector we review goes through elaborate objective and subjective testing. CNET editors pick the products and services we write about based on editorial merit. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Read more: How CNET Tests Projectors
What makes a mini projector different from a full-size projector?
The biggest difference is light output. Traditional, full-size projectors can get much brighter than any portable mini projector. Most portable projectors use an LED lamp, while full-size projectors have either UHP lamps (which are basically high-powered light bulbs) or laser light sources. Projector light output is measured in lumens. The brightest portable projectors we’ve reviewed measure about 350 lumens, while a traditional home theater projector measures 1,500 lumens or more.
A bright projector can produce a larger image, and looks better when there’s some ambient light around. For that reason dimmer portable projectors are best enjoyed with smaller images and in as dark an environment as possible.
Beyond brightness, mini projectors are much smaller (of course), can run on battery power and usually include built-in streaming and decent speakers. Traditional projectors have more lens adjustments, including focus, zoom and lens shift, and can run louder.
Are all mini projectors portable?
In that you can take them with you places, sure, but some are more- or less portable than others. Mini-projectors range in size from absolutely tiny pico projectors like the AAXA P8 to models like the Anker Nebula Cosmos 4K that does have a handle, and is billed as “outdoor,” but is expensive, heavy (10.7 pounds) and would require a big backpack to lug around. Many portable projectors have batteries but some, especially cheap models, do not.
Does a mini projector have to be plugged in?
It depends. Many portable projectors have built-in batteries that can run for two or three hours before needing to be plugged in. Some can also attach to external USB battery packs that allow them to be run without plug-in power. On the other hand, many smaller portable projectors, especially cheaper ones, don’t include a built-in battery or work with battery packs. They will need to be plugged in to work.
Can you watch Netflix on a portable projector?
Yes. Many mini projectors have built-in streaming that allow them to show Netflix and other streaming services when connected via Wi-Fi. For projectors that don’t have built-in streaming, you’ll need to connect another streaming device, like a Roku or Fire TV Stick, to the projector’s HDMI input to stream Netflix and other services.