- A novel ultra-portable projector that’s slightly let down by a buggy Android OS and the limitations of putting a 500 Lumens LED inside a tiny battery powered box.
- Highly portable
- Battery powered
- Android OS
- Gets hot
- No Google Play store
Projectors offer a practical means to transport a large display without the logistics required to handle a big TV. With the arrival of LCD projectors, briefcase-sized devices became common. With the advent of LED and DLP technology, ultraportable projectors are available that can fit in a jacket pocket.
The Vivitek Qumi Q3 Plus is an example of the latest generation of ultra-portable projectors, and this one is even battery powered. It retails at $499 in the US, or around £480 in the UK.
The Vivitek Qumi Q3 Plus is roughly the size of an old Sony Betamax videotape. That’s 176 x 103 x 28mm for less mature readers, a remarkably compact size for a projector that can throw an image which is 100-inch (2.6m) across the diagonal.
Weighing just 460g, it’s also a very portable solution that Vivitek claims can operate on an internal battery for up to 2 hours.
The natural resolution of the projection is 720p (1280 x 720), though it will accept a 1080p 60Hz signal through HDMI.
The outer skin is mostly plastic with a metallic paint, though there are various metal grills and a metal cover that protects the lens while in transit. The review model was gold, but other colors are available including black, white and red.
On the rear are two Type-A USB ports, useful for connecting extra storage or input devices. There is also a 3.5mm audio-out jack that doubles as an AV-in, a microSD card slot, and a full-size HDMI input on the rear.
The full specification reads much like that of an Android handset, and the similarities aren’t wholly coincidental.
At its heart, this unit is an ARM v7-based Android 4.4.2 system, with a custom launcher and subset of Android applications pre-installed.
We’ll talk more about the Android side later, but it is interesting to see how these ARM SoCs and Android builds are now becoming all-pervading smart components.
The other notable aspects here are a tripod mount on the underside of the device, and a small plastic foot that can elevate the angle of the Qumi Q3 Plus to clear any nearby objects.
The foot is made of a flexible rubberized material and has all the hallmarks of being a prime candidate for the first thing which is likely to break.
As slick looking in appearance as this device is, Vivitek made some design choices that made us scratch our heads somewhat.
An obvious one is the decision to mount the internal speakers at the front when surely people will be sitting behind the projector? Our logic is supported by the locations of the headphone socket and the remote control sensor, as both are on the back.
Some aspects seem better considered, like using the remote to control focus instead of a mechanical wheel.
The remote is small and cheaply made, but does just enough to navigate the interface. Where things become more challenging is when using the remote to input Wi-Fi passwords, as using it as a cursor is very finicky indeed. The obvious solution was to use a USB keyboard (UK layout), but we discovered that for whatever reason it would not give us shifted characters. A USB mouse proved to be a more helpful accessory, as it facilitated a fast moving pointer to use with the screen keyboard.
As soon as you turn the Qumi on, the fan inside starts to make a very audible sound. That noise might be drowned out by a game but could become irritating during a quiet movie.
We suspect that the issue here is that due to the small scale of this device, the fans are also small, forcing them to rotate rapidly to get enough cooling air through. Even with them spinning at full speed, after 90 minutes or so of operation, the Qumi Q3 Plus got noticeably warm to the touch.
To avoid having to fashion an operating system, Vivitek has fallen back on Android as the underlying software infrastructure. There’s a custom launcher sitting on top of Android 4.4.2 (KitKat) all driven by a quad-core 1.5GHz ARM CPU with 1GB of RAM and 8GB of flash storage.
Vivitek wasn’t magnanimous enough to give its platform access to the official Google Play store, but there are a few apps available for the likes of Netflix and YouTube.
That said, the YouTube tool is a nasty ‘YouTube for TV’ release that can’t play HD content and seems to have a predilection for Chinese content.
You can side-load applications using a microSD card. But how well they’ll work is something of a lottery.
We installed Gmail successfully, but couldn’t get a Google account working to make it operational. With apps that do work, despite the device having a reasonably powerful ARM CPU, the Android experience is often sluggish. Using YouTube, in particular, can be a painfully glacial exercise, for no obvious good reason.
By using a relatively old (2013) Android release, the vendor also missed out on some critical functionality, like inherent casting.
To provide the latter functionality Vivitek pre-installed a software casting alternative called HappyCast. For this to work the Android device must also have the tool installed (although it’s worth noting that it does cast games as a bonus).
The OS is an area where Vivitek could make some valuable improvements, as a Play Store-connected version of Android would be a very desirable addition to this projector.
What’s frustrating is that a 1080p MKV file accessed through a microSD card or a USB storage device will play back flawlessly using the built-in Android video player. That shows the hardware has the capabilities it needs, should the software side of this equation ever properly balance.
A historical issue with projectors has been the lifespan of their bulbs, which are often as little as 2,000 hours use before a replacement is required.
The Qumi Q3 Plus addresses that point by using an LED light source, and Vivitek expects that bulb to last 30,000+ hours before it expires. That’s 20 years of longevity assuming four hours a night usage, should the rest of the device stand up to that prolonged usage.
That is the effective lifespan of the device because the LED can’t be replaced if it fails.
Another useful detail about this design is that the Qumi Q3 Plus isn’t a short-throw projector. It surprised us how far back we needed to be in order to get the 100-inch screen that’s referred to in Vivitek’s promotional material.
The throw ratio is 1.66 to 1, translating into a 15-foot throw to create a 100-inch projection, though with daylight outside you’d need to shut all blinds or curtains to see an image that size with full clarity.
Dropping the projected width to 60-inch reduces the throw to 8-foot, and is also highly readable without aggressively darkening the room.
It’s worth noting that many projector makers quote the Lumen output of their light source, rather than the light projected back off the wall, which can be radically different.
In our testing, we projected white and black images onto a white painted surface in a blacked-out room, and used a light meter to record the projected light levels.
Balancing white against black results and factoring the square meters of the projection, we estimated that the Q3 Plus generates around 145 Lumens when using the ‘bright’ display mode (Qumi’s spec rates the brightness at 500 Lumens).
There is an even brighter ‘user mode’, although the reduced contrast at greater than 80% brightness makes this of limited value.
It’s also significantly brighter when powered directly compared to battery power, where the amount of light drops by about a third. That’s something to consider if you intend to project somewhere with lots of natural light.
The claimed two hour battery life is also mildly optimistic, although to be fair, it’s rated as ‘up to two hours’. In our testing, the device usually gave out somewhere between 95 and 100 minutes.
While still a useful amount of longevity, it’s not quite enough to watch a typical movie all the way through.
As portable projectors go, the Qumi Q3 Plus is an elegant looking solution that delivers a sharp and colorful image at short range – even when operating from the internal battery.
Vivitek’s decision to use Android as the operating system was a good one, even if its software engineering leaves many things to be desired.
The Q3 Plus won’t generate an enormous projection that’s visible in bright sunlight, but then the projectors capable of doing this aren’t pocket-sized, and neither are they battery powered.