Gadget Review – The 3M PocketProjector MP180
Last week I published a review of Visualize This, the new visualisation book and I’m continuing on the review trail today but this time its about a very different subject. The 3M PocketProjector MP180 is a gadget that will be extremely useful to any visualisation or design professionals who need a hyper-portable presentation solution. I was very grateful to be offered the chance to road test one of these devices straight off the production line and so wanted to offer some thoughts about its benefits and potential value to readers of this site.
The MP180 is a portable-sized projector described as ‘your office on the go‘ and claims to introduce a whole new world to projecting. It is not intended to be a replacement for full-powered projectors you in the office, rather an invaluable tool for those working in a mobile environment. Having the ability to present design work, share ideas or even make an impromptu pitch outside of the limited space offered by a laptop screen would seem a great advantage and that is something a pocket projector of this nature can offer.
I’m not going to go into great detail about the device’s specifications, you can find those out if on the 3M site if you wish. Instead, I’m offering some personal observations about how well the device performs and how useful it proves to be.
The MP180 is packed with functionality and claims to offer several features that no other pocket projectors offer including WiFi, Bluetooth, PowerPoint/pdf/MS Office viewers, and a touchscreen interface. You can play movies, image slideshows, audio files and project office documents with good quality results.
One thing that stands out as a major advantage of the MP180 is its versatility, compatibility and connectivity with so many different formats and devices. With 4GB internal memory and a micro SD card slot, it provides a great platform for storing your documents or presentation material on the decide and providing complete freedom from cables or connections. However, if you do wish to connect up to other devices you have SVGA and mini-USB connectors to hook up to and project from PCs, laptops, and smart phones (including the new 3M Apple Cable for iPhone/iPad).
I found the menu navigation and icon selecting no trouble at all, despite reading reviews to the contrary. The evolving display brings greater potential and flexibility than any fixed alternatives. I did, however, find the touchscreen quite fiddly to use and awkward to get achieve complete accuracy of touch. This was particularly evident when it came to using the in-device Browser, which I don’t personally see a great need for nor value – it strikes me as an example of feature creep, best to leave this to projecting from a PC/Laptop.
Like a couple of other reviews I have read, I found the transfer and projection of video a bit fiddly and frustrating as I had to reconfigure all my original video file formats. The MP180 plays MPEG4 files with resolution no greater than 720×480(NTSC) and a frame rate no greater than 40 frames per second and so you may need to reformat your files using the recommended Handbrake or iWisoft software.
One note about the Bluetooth feature – the device supports Bluetooth 2.0 file transfer but the Apple iOS does not so the Bluetooth on 3M MP180 does not work with iPhones.
As the name suggests it is a pocket sized projector - but I guess it depends on the pocket in question! Semantics aside, it is a very portable product, especially when you consider the sofa-sized beasts hanging precariously from ceilings in office conference rooms around the world. As the pair of images on this page show, it is certainly a nice convenient size but I’m not convinced it is sufficiently handy to enable you to project from the palm of your hand – unless you are an accomplished street performer with world-class standing-still skills, your viewers are going to quickly feel travel sick. A useful little stand comes with the device as standard to avoid the need for this. Of course with each additional stand, battery pack and set of connecting leads, this adds to the amount of kit you are having to carry around with you.
Unlike the sort of reviews you get in gadget magazines, I can’t offer comprehensive test results to reveal how well the MP180 performs in its project quality against comparable devices. It provides 32 lumens of brightness – I have no real sense of judging this other than to say the nice, bright and crisply-detailed pictures I projected were absolutely perfect for my needs. It provides a much bigger vista to demonstrate or present work than a 13inch laptop screen does, with an 80″ (approx) screen size being possible. There is a handy focus wheel on the front enabling you to quickly adjust the settings to suit your position. Its worth remembering that, as with any projector device, you can have the most powerful and impressive features to hand but you’re projected picture quality is only going to be as clear as the light level and wall/screen texture allows.
The MP180′s battery life is said to last for about 2 hours of continued use. As I said above, it doesn’t claim to be a replacement for a full blown project, rather it is a device that can really help you in those spontaneous or short-lasting situations where a quick projected presentation is advantageous. To that extent, you don’t really need anything much longer than 2 hours and can most likely happily leave the office without feeling the need to drag along the charging plug. That said, I did notice a certain amount of battery drain during periods when it was not being used. Apparently, when the device is switched off it actually enters a kind of sleep mode to enable faster reboot and this means energy continues to be consumed. I would therefore recommend keeping it charged up to the point when you set off for your meeting, demo etc. and then flicking out the battery pack when not using it. A battery that is fully drained will take 3 hours to charge while not in use.
Another key point here is a really critical piece of advice for any users of this device. When you leave the battery pack inserted in the device and perhaps pack it away in your bag, you run the very likely risk of the device switching itself on as the on/off button is very sensitive to any touch or pressure. On a number of occasions already I have discovered the device both on and projecting in my bag, tucked away in the leather pouch this creates a lot of heat and in my mind could prove quite dangerous. In my mind there should be a more rigorous on/off button that reduces the risk of it being launched accidentally.
Some recent prices I found (inc. VAT) included Amazon.co.uk at £369.99 and a cheaper rate on PersonalProjector.co.uk at £347.99 (there is an exclusive additional £29.99 discount available for visualisingdata.com readers, see below). This price appears to position the MP180 at the higher end of the mobile projector market, but then it does offer a great deal more than the standard products in terms of features and functionality.
When all factors are taken into account I must say was impressed with the performance and portable nature of the MP180. I feel it adds particular value in situations when you are otherwise having to squeeze a number of people around a laptop screen and it did seem to impress those viewing with me when I used it.
I feel there are some unnecessary features, such as the browser, that are included because they can, rather than because they should, but the essential functions are done very well. It projects a really clear and crisp picture doing justice to original photo images, for example, and videos (inc. sound) are slick. The video formatting issue was annoying but this kind of reflects the lack of standard across video formats which crops up in many other circumstances.
The MP180 offers great compatibility, portability and connectivity which you really need when on-the-move. Despite the battery drain when in off/sleep mode, the 2 hours continual use is absolutely fine. The on/off button issue is a real concern, though, and I think the potential of the device launching accidentally should be designed out in future developments.
Overall, if your budgets are tight or if you need to upgrade other pc/laptop equipment as a priority, you would probably see this as a luxury gadget. However, if you’re already well stocked on well-performing kit, I would recommend the MP180 should prove a tempting addition .
Chance to win or buy at a discount!
Does this sound like the sort of device you would find useful? If you’d like to get your hands on a 3M MP180 there are two ways you can do this:
1) The conventional way: 3M have teamed up with Personal Projector, the Pocket Projection specialists, to offer an exclusive £29.99 discount on the 3M PocketProjector MP180. Additionally this offer also includes a 3M iPhone/iPad AV cable, worth £34, to connect to your projector. Click here to visit the site and use the code 3m14 before August 31st to claim your discount.
2) The contest way: I am about to publish a follow-up post which will provide details of a rapid and simple-to-enter contest where you could win your own 3M PocketProjector MP180. The closing date for this contest will be 17th August so if you’re not victorious there will still be plenty of time to take advantage of the above offer.