Review: The 9 Best Portable Projectors for Your Next Outdoor Movie Night

couple watching movie on projector
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In this shopping guide, SPY.com reviews the best portable projectors based on rigorous product testing. When reviewing tech products like this, we’re always honest about the benefits and drawbacks we discover during testing. Below, we’ve shared the top portable projectors and some insight into our testing process.

Portable projectors have been around even longer than the iPhone, but the idea of being able to fit a movie-streaming machine into a backpack or even your pocket is still mind-blowing. And while summer’s still in full swing, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a movie night or even a gaming binge outdoors, with your portable projector sending a bright clear image against a portable screen or even the side of your house.

While you might not want to replace your 65-inch TV with one of these — save that notion for the ultra-powerful short-throw projectors — a portable projector is a potent addition to your entertainment arsenal. Outdoor movie nights are always fun, and a portable projector is also a great bring-along for a party and can save a work presentation from being at the mercy of the IT department.

Many of the best portable projectors also have a built-in media platform, such as Android 7.0 or Android TV, meaning they don’t need to be connected to a media device to enjoy your favorite streaming services. Beyond streaming capabilities, portable projectors have multiple connectivity ports, making them perfect fits for the home and the office.

A portable projector won’t take up too much space in your house or, with some exceptions, your budget. So if the idea of a backyard movie night sounds appealing, then keep scrolling to find SPY’s picks for the best portable projectors of 2022. Keep in mind that for the best results, you should also invest in a portable projector screen.

  

The Best Portable Projectors At a Glance

1. Best Overall: Epson Epiqvision Mini EF12 — $899.99 at Amazon

2. Runner Up: Nebula by Anker Capsule Max — $375.99 at Amazon

3. Contender: XGIMI Elfin Smart Projector — $649.00 at Amazon

4. Budget Buy: ViewSonic M1 Mini Plus — $199.99 at Amazon

5. Best New Release: Kodak Luma 350 — $299.99 at Amazon

6. Best Value: Groview BL43 — $129.99 at Amazon

7. Best Under $150: Gamma Bai Joy — $139.99 at Amazon

8. Pocket-Sized: aaxa LED Pico Pocket Projector — $129.99 at Amazon

9. Amazon’s Choice: Nebula by Anker Mars II Pro — $549.99 at Amazon ($50 Off Coupon Available)

  

What To Look For When Buying a Portable Projector

If you want to make the most out of this visual tech investment, here are the features we looked for when we chose the best portable projectors. All of the products featured below received high marks on these four categories specifically.

Brightness: Portable projectors are, by nature, used in various settings, meaning that the lighting might not always be optimal. Smaller projectors have smaller bulbs and are less bright than larger or short-throw units. Decide where and when you will use your portable projector and research the number of lumens projected. More lumens equals a brighter display.

Resolution: 1080p resolution and even 4K can be found in portable projectors, but you will have to pay accordingly. For a portable projector, you can get away with 480p if you’re not overly particular about needing the image to be that crisp.

Connectivity: The best portable projectors have onboard access to streaming services like Netflix and Amazon. This eliminates having to bring your laptop or daisy-chain your phone to your smart projector with an assortment of cables.

Portability: Without being painstakingly obvious, even though these are “portable projectors,” you’ll want to make sure they are, in fact, light enough, small enough and have enough battery power to work on the go.

  

1. Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12

BEST OVERALL

Best For: Big-projector performance in a portable.

Why We Chose It: Best high-end choice while retaining portability.

Best Portable Projectors, Epson-Epiqvision-EF12 Best Portable Projectors Mike Fazioli | Spy

If the Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 didn’t have “mini” in its name, we might have overlooked it as we gathered portable projectors to compare and test. What a mistake that would have been. The EF12 might not be able to fit in your pocket or even your backpack, but at 4.7 pounds, it is most definitely in the portable class, and as such, it is hands-down the best of the bunch.

When it comes to the all-important brightness, the Epson blows away the field with 1000 ANSI lumens. Even in a partially lit room, the Epson overcame the light pollution to deliver a bright and clear image. The 1080p resolution comes through in those conditions, but it’s truly a gorgeous image in a dark room. The 200000:1 contrast ratio is also far and away the best in this group, maintaining crispness over an image area of up to 150 inches.

Is there a bottom line to getting a portable projector that dominates its class? At $899.99, the Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 is an investment, not a toy. But it’s a worthy investment for a portable projector of this caliber — one that could most definitely replace a large-screen TV.

Pros:

  • Best image and performance, hands down
  • Superior brightness and contrast
  • Excellent sound, does not require external speaker enhancement
  • Comprehensive connectivity with two HDMI ports, two USB jacks, Bluetooth and WiFi
  • One of the only portable projectors with an HDMI port

Cons:

  • Expensive

Specs:

  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Lumens: 1000 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 200000:1
  • Size and weight: 5.3 x 6.9 x 6.9 inches, 4.7 lb
  

2. Nebula by Anker Capsule Max

RUNNER UP

Best For: Anyone wanting a portable, easy-to-use iPhone projector

Why We Chose It: Anker’s growing brand reputation for quality small electronics

Best Portable Projectors, Nebula-by-Anker-Capsule-Max projector Mike Fazioli | SPY


There’s something deeply appealing about the canister design of the Nebula by Anker Capsule Max. Maybe it’s because it indicates how easy the Capsule Max is to carry, set up, and use? If that’s the case, the design does not lie — the Capsule Max is a champ right out of the box — the setup and super-intuitive interface screen immediately won us over.

Bear in mind we’re still dealing with a mini portable projector and small bulbs here; the Capsule Max’s 200-lumens brightness will not blow your hair back like the Epson. You’ll have to lower your expectations and place the Capsule Max in a dark room or a nighttime setting, though you’ll love it. The picture was sharp and easily adjusted by the Capsule Max’s autofocus feature, and the sound is excellent, easily overperforming for its small size. Plus, it has every app we wanted or needed already built into the Android TV 9.0 interface. The battery-powered Nebula Capsule Max also lived up to its advertised 2.5-hour battery life.

Pros:

  • Fantastic sound
  • Easy setup and connection to external devices; excellent interface
  • Autofocus and keystone adjustment paired with sharp 720p resolution
  • Cylindrical design and size make it easily portable

Cons:

  • Even at 200 lumens struggled in a dimly lit room
  • High price point

Specs:

  • Resolution: 720p
  • Lumens: 200 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 600:1
  • Size and weight: 3.15 x 3.15 x 5.91 inches, 1.5 lb
  

3. XGIMI Elfin Smart Projector

CONTENDER

Best For: A worthy competitor to the Epson EpiqVision EF12

Why We Chose It: The ideal messenger-bag companion projector

Best Portable Projectors, XGIMI-Elfin-Smart-Projector Mike Fazioli | SPY

Like the Epson, the XGIMI Elfin Smart Projector sneaks into the portable category despite its (relatively) large size. It’s not huge by any means at just under 2 pounds and 7.6 x 7.6 x 1.9 inches, and it’s not going into your pocket, but unlike the Epson, it still fits easily into a messenger bag, and at a hair under 2 pounds it is half the weight of the Epson.

We put the Elfin Smart Projector toe to toe with the Epson and it held up admirably, with 800 lumens of brightness, autofocus, and auto keystone correction, making the image perfectly rectangular and not a distorted trapezoid. We maybe expected too much of the sound when we saw the Elfin came with Harmon Kardon built-in speakers, but they gave a good and not outstanding performance, leaving us to struggle to hear the projector over background conversation.

The Elfin also packs big-projector performance into a small package, and we love the unit’s size and shape, making it the ideal projector to throw into a messenger bag or duffle to take on the road. Again, you pay for that performance — slightly less than the Epson but far above the rest of the competition here. But the picture, the versatility of its connection options, and the ease of setup and carrying make the Elfin a solid buy even at a higher price point.

Pros:

  • Bright, crisp picture, even with some light interference
  • Auto keystone correction and focus
  • Unit runs quietly compared to other smaller projectors

Cons: 

  • Expensive
  • Harmon Kardon built-in speakers underwhelming

Specs:

  • Resolution: 1080p; supports 2K
  • Lumens: 800 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 1000:1
  • Size and weight: 7.6 x 7.6 x 1.9 inches, 1.98 lb
  

4. ViewSonic M1 Mini+ Ultra-Portable LED Projector

BUDGET BUY

Best For: Drama-free setup, cool design perks

Why We Chose It: The Viewsonic has a small, compact size and an even smaller price tag.

Best Portable Projectors, ViewSonic-M1-Mini-Plus Projector Mike Fazioli | SPY

You can easily mistake the ViewSonic M1 Mini+ Ultra Portable Projector for the Kodak Luma 350 at first glance. Same shape, virtually identical size. When it came down to needing to list one in front of the other, we weighed the Kodak’s very narrow performance win against the ViewSonic’s price tag and decided that, in this case, money talks.

The ViewSonic set up with ease, and we were taken with the built-in kickstand that doubles as a handle. Unlike some of the other portable projectors listed here, the ViewSonic is a short-throw projector. Place it close to the wall or screen; otherwise, it’s not getting anywhere with only 50 lumens of brightness. As a short-throw projector, aided by that built-in stand? It’s absolutely solid.

As fun as the design is, we’d have preferred having actual buttons on the unit rather than being left at the tender mercies of a tiny and easily misplaced remote. Do not lose the remote. Otherwise, you can’t control the ViewSonic.

Pros:

  • Up and running in no time flat
  • Built-in handle/stand
  • Solid short-throw performance

Cons:

  • No control buttons on the unit; must use remote
  • Only 50 lumens of brightness

Specs:

  • Resolution: 480p
  • Lumens: 50 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 120000:1
  • Size and weight: 1.1 x 4.3 x 4.1 inches, 0.7 lb.
  

5. Kodak Luma 350 Portable Smart Projector

BEST NEW RELEASE

Best For: Reliable performance and durability

Why We Chose It: Super portability and Kodak brand name

Best Portable Projectors, Kodak-Luma-350-projector Mike Fazioli | SPY

The Kodak Luma 350 is a case study in patience. There is a really good performance to be had from this portable mini projector, but to get to it, you must first endure the hair-pulling frustration of setting it up.

We’ll skip that for the moment and talk about the good stuff. The Luma 350 delivers on the Kodak brand reputation: This is a very well-built, sturdy unit, and when you get to the actual projecting, it’s pretty darn good. At 150 lumens, it’s hardly going to blind you, but in a dark room or setting, you’ll notice and love the 1080p resolution immediately. The sound is almost shockingly good, considering the small size of the unit. The overall performance is exceptional.

Getting there, however, is borderline maddening because the interface is beyond janky, and connecting to WiFi requires a lot of patience. Word to the wise: skip WiFi entirely; go straight to the streaming stick or gaming console via the HDMI input and have a blast.

Pros: 

  • Small size
  • 150-lumens brightness from a tiny unit
  • Well-built

Cons:

  • Frustrating interface

Specs:

  • Resolution: 480p
  • Lumens: 150 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 3500:1
  • Size and weight: 1.1 x 4.4 x 4.4 inches, 0.8 lb.
  

6. Groview BL43

BEST VALUE

Best For: Portable projection on a budget

Why We Chose It: 1080p resolution at this price point merits a look

Best Portable Projectors, Groview BL43 Best Portable Projectors Mike Fazioli | Spy

We had to see the Groview BL43 to believe that you can get a portable projector with 1080p resolution at this low price point, and it did not disappoint — the picture was, in fact, super crisp. And as a larger (but still portable) device with larger bulbs, it delivered that resolution with a respectable 230 lumens of brightness. While it can’t quite compare to premium home theather projectors like the LG Cinebeam, we wouldn’t expect it to at this price.

Getting to that picture was a breeze — the Groview BL43 sets up quick and easy. And in a world of high-tech automatic features, we liked the manual focus and keystone adjustment. Can the Groview hang with the more expensive big-name portable projectors? Yes, but with one fairly big caveat: You 100% need a Bluetooth speaker to pair with the Groview. Its built-in speaker is loud enough, but the sound is dead flat. The more significant issue is the cooling fan: That sucker is loud. Grab a Bluetooth speaker (the connection is easy) and set it far enough away from the unit that it doesn’t get overpowered by the loud whirring sound.

Pros:

  • Great resolution
  • Manual focus and keystone adjustment
  • Overall strong performance for the price point

Cons:

  • Exceptionally loud cooling fan

Specs:

  • Resolution: 1080p
  • Lumens: 230 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 10000:1
  • Size and weight: 12.91 x 10 x 5.9 inches, 4.4 lb.
  

7. GammaBai Joy Mini Portable Projector (2022 Upgraded)

BEST UNDER $150

Best For: Comprehensive connectivity

Why We Chose It: Super solid choice at a bargain price point

Best Portable Projectors, Gamma Bai Joy projector Mike Fazioli | Spy

We didn’t expect much from a mini portable projector at this price point, so maybe the GammaBai Joy 2022 Upgraded Mini Projector benefits from having a low bar to clear. But honestly, we liked it. A lot. It’s not tiny, weighing 3 pounds and about the size of a small home theater speaker, although the handle adds several portability points. And it’s a loud device — the fan noise can be overwhelming, so it begs for a Bluetooth speaker to augment the sound.

But the picture is solid, to the point where it outperforms far-costlier units. The Bluetooth hookup to our cellphone and tablet was a snap to secure, and it remained stable throughout YouTube videos and streaming apps like HBO Max and Netflix. It’s also great for streaming sticks and gaming consoles.

Pros:

  • Picture significantly overperforms its price tag
  • 720p native resolution and support for 1080p
  • Carrying handle alleviates largish size

Cons:

  • Very loud fan
  • Gives off a large amount of heat

Specs:

  • Resolution: 720p, supports 1080p
  • Lumens: 120 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 1300:1
  • Size and weight: 6.61 x 5.71 x 6.65 inches, 3 lb.
  

8. AAXA LED Pico Micro Video Projector

POCKET-SIZED

Best For: Anyone who absolutely, positively needs it to fit into a pocket

Why We Chose It: To see just how small we could go

Best Portable Projectors, AAXA LED Pico Pocket Projector Mike Fazioli | Spy

When we started calling in portable projectors, we wanted to find the smallest one possible. That led us to the AAXA LED Pico Micro Video Projector — at all of 0.4 pounds and less than an inch of thickness, it is a tiny device that fits in a shirt pocket.

What did we love? The included flexible tripod that easily screws and unscrews into the bottom of the unit; the clear and easily worked control panel atop the unit; and the 720p resolution, which honestly amazed us coming from such a small, light machine.

What didn’t we love as much: 25 lumens. While we know we can’t expect a small projector to have large bulbs, these are really small. Also, the unit feels almost flimsy, so while it’s nice to be able to throw it into a coat pocket or even a shoulder bag, we worry it may break if not handled with care.

Pros:

  • Absolutely teeny in size, super light, portable
  • Included detachable tripod
  • 720p resolution, manual focus knob

Cons:

  • Does not work while charging
  • Lightweight construction, feels fragile

Specs:

  • Resolution: 720p, supports 1080p
  • Lumens: 25 ANSI
  • Contrast ratio: 1000:1
  • Size and weight: 4.5 x 2.4 x 0.8 inches, 0.4 lb.
  

9. Nebula by Anker Mars II Pro

AMAZON’S CHOICE

Best For: Shoppers who want a Nebula by Anker portable projector and have a higher budget

Why We Chose It: Even compared to the super-compact Capsule Max, also by Nebula by Anker, the Mars II Pro is still highly portable and offers impressive illumination

Nebula Mars II Outdoor Projector Courtesy of Amazon

Nebula by Anker sells an entire line of portable mini projectors, and no matter which model you choose, you’ll be getting one of the best portable projectors in the world. We’ve tested most of the Nebula by Anker line, and while we don’t have a published review of this projector on the site, we have had positive experiences with this upgraded projector. We couldn’t include every Nebula by Anker projector in this review, but the Mars II Pro offers several upgrades over the brand’s smaller, less expensive models.

When connected to a power source, this projector boasts 500 lumens of illumination. Most importantly, our testing found that it’s incredibly easy to set up and connect. You have a number of options for playing media — USB, HDMI and Bluetooth. The Nebula Connect app is compatible with both Android and iOS, although the device itself runs on an Android TV OS.

Pros:

  • Very easy to use
  • Excellent illumination for its size

Cons:

  • No 1080p resolution
  • Heavier than most portable projectors
  • Only 200 ANSI lumens when running on battery

Specs:

  • Resolution: 720p
  • Lumens: 500 ANSI lumens
  • Throw ratio: 100 in at 8.73 ft
  • Size and weight: 7 x 4.8 x 5.43 inches, 3.94 lb.
  

Will You Might You Need a Projector Screen?

You can use your portable projector against a bare wall and rely on its built-in sound. But some need an assist with sound boost. A portable screen is a small expense compared to a projector, and many budget models are readily available. Another addition that can make a big difference is a Bluetooth speaker; ensure your projector can connect to one. If it does not have Bluetooth, many portable projectors will have a 3.5mm audio-out jack so that you can hardwire it to a portable speaker or a sound system. And don’t forget that Lightning to HDMI cable for iPhone hookups.

  

How SPY Chose the Best Portable Projectors: About Our Testing Process

iPhone projectors group shot Mike Fazioli | Spy

This summer, SPY has been hard at work testing the world’s best projectors, and we’ve used different criteria based on the category: short throw projectors, portable projectors, and the best iPhone projectors. For portable projectors, we looked at factors such as brightness, smart features and connectivity, color clarity and overall picture quality. In addition, we made sure to test it with a variety of media types.

To find the best portable projectors of 2022, we compared the top products side by side. Each of the products was scored according to the criteria below.

Resolution and streaming: We played YouTube videos, streamed live TV, and streamed movies on each unit, in both daylight and nighttime conditions, to assess the clarity and sharpness of each unit.

Sound: We tested each unit without external speakers, sitting both nearby and 5 to 10 feet away from the unit, to assess volume and clarity of sound and also to see how well it could be heard over each unit’s internal fan.

Ease of setting up: We connected our iPhone 13 to each unit, both hardwired and (where applicable) Bluetooth. All units with WiFi were connected to the same home WiFi system. We tested for ease and speed of connection.

Ease of use: Beyond the initial setup, we tested each unit’s interface, apps (where applicable), built-in control buttons and remote control (where applicable). We looked for ease of basic commands like play/pause/stop, volume, switching between inputs, and others.

In terms of ambient light, the room we tested these projectors in has two east-facing windows and a wide glass doorway. When testing these portable projectors, the brightest of which threw 1000 lumens, we covered the glass doorway with a blanket to block the light.

Our target wall is 12 feet wide by 8 feet tall, perfect for projector tests. The units were tested during daylight (for partial light distortion) and nighttime hours.

  

Why Trust SPY When Shopping for Portable Projectors

SPY is always on the lookout for the latest and best tech products, and this year we have tested dozens of projectors. We’ve ranked the best home theater projectorsshort-throw projectors and iPhone projectors, in addition to reviewing larger projectors like the Samsung The Premiere LSP9T 4K. When testing products, we’re always honest about both the pros and cons, and we’ve been on a mission to find the best portable projector for every budget. We never recommend a product we wouldn’t buy ourselves, and all of the products featured in this review have been thoroughly vetted by SPY’s product testers.

  

About the Author: Mike Fazioli

Mike Fazioli is an experienced freelance author, editor, and product tester for SPY.com. He indulges his inner nerd by testing and reviewing tech gadgets and gear, like the Lomi and other electric composters, the Backbone One iPhone Gaming Controller and the Nursal 24-Mode TENS Unit Muscle Stimulator. Before working with SPY.com, Mike was the managing editor for big magazine brands from Men’s Health to Car and Driver and Road & Track.

  

Updates: This review was last updated on July 29, 2022. At that time, we introduced an entirely new product selection after conducting extensive testing of the top products from Nebula by Anker, ViewSonic, Kodak and other brands. We selected the Epson EpiqVision EF12 as the best portable projector and the Nebula by Anker Capsule Max as our “Runner Up” selection. We’re still in the process of testing additional projectors, and we’ll update this guide as we review new products.

  

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