I’ve been eyeing up pico projectors for many years now, but not one of them seemed suitable for camping off-grid. They were heavy, bulky and more importantly didn’t really have the battery life for watching a full movie. Well, actually neither does the Aiptek Projector, but does run effectively for long enough from an external power pack.
The Aiptek A50P is a pico projector designed specifically for Android devices, requiring a micro USB socket to feed the video image. The connecting cable is tidily built in, so you don’t have to worry about carrying any extras, although the cable is extremely short. There’s also a handy HDMI adapter so you can connect anything to this that uses HDMI.
There’s a single button – that switches the projector on, as well as changing settings such as the aspect ratio. The ony other control is a manual focus, that does it’s job.
It’s also striking how tiny this projector is. Older projectors were ‘portable’, but this fits in your pocket it’s that small. It’s a little narrower than my Sony Xperia Z, thicker and a similar length, as you can see in the pics below. It only weighs a paltry 168g, which is negligible in the big scheme of things. The battery pack I carry is a good 100g heavier.
The battery life is meant to be 90 minutes, but we found that the projector got temperamental once the battery started to get low, so we decided to use it only on power-pack, which suits us fine. The battery however does seem to lose charge rather too quickly for our liking, draining within a couple of weeks even if not in use, which is a major design flaw. You can use the projector as a battery pack in an emergency, so you can charge your mobile with it if it came to it provided that the battery hadn’t lost it’s charge.
On connecting it to your mobile, you should get on screen prompts that asks you what you want to do next, although that’ll depend on your phone and whether you need to change any settings. It’s also essential that the mobile battery is fully charged before you try and use it as well as ensuring the battery saving mode isn’t on as we had some initial teething troubles that we suspected interfered with the signal after 5 minutes.
The image won’t blow you away in pure quality and brightness as it’s only 640 x 480 (VGA) resolution, but the simple fact that it’s being produced by such a tiny bit of tech is impressive in itself. The manufacturer states that the projector produces 45 lumen, which means you really need to be in a dark room at night to make use of it. Making it useless for PowerPoint presentations at work, thankfully, but perfect for use in a tent at night.
Visually, we had no issue with the quality, but in a tent you’re invariably going to be improvising a screen, which is the one other thing that can let the image quality down, no matter how good the projector. The image below was taken in the tent, but we didn’t have a tripod to take a proper image, or the sense at the time to pause the video! It was also projected onto the rear of a waterproof OS map through the inner mesh of the tent! Even so, it was a lot of fun to watch a film in the tent, and the novelty of doing so outweighs the quality.
Not an issue for the projector, but you do need to make sure the phone is fully charged before starting as you can’t charge it while connected to the projector as a two hour film left me with about 20% battery life left from around 80% to start with.
The projected screen is the equivalent of a 28-32″ TV, with the only limitation being the size of the surface we had to project upon. Of course, the smaller the image, the brighter it becomes, and we found that the above size to be about the right balance between size and balance. Officially, you can project up to 150cm wide, which would mean you were camping in a marquee rather than a tent.
We took a picture below at home, projected against a cream wall at around the same estimated distance as we did in the tent.
There isn’t a speaker so you use either the internal speaker on your phone, an external speaker or headphones. We used the Veho tiny external speaker, and this was more than sufficient.
Be warned though that whatever you choose to watch on the projector has been licensed for you to do so. Some media, such as the Sky Sports App, don’t allow you to display the content on an external screen. Google Play was fine with purchased content, as was the now downloadable content from iPlayer which are what we’ve photographed. Just something to be aware of if you’ve got your heart set on using it for a specific purpose.
Finally, we didn’t manage to get ourselves set up with a decent projector screen suitable for use inside a tent. We’ll be trying to create one out of a white sheet and some clips for now, but that’s still not going to do this justice. Ideally, you could find a broken projector screen and cannibalise that for parts, using clips to secure the screen inside the tent. The cheapest we found was £30, and it would be a shame to hack that to bits.
Overall, this is a novel but very expensive addition to your wild camping entertainment, with the only drawback in the hardware being the battery draining issue. We could also do with a longer battery life built in that meant you could watch a 2 hour movie without worrying through the final half hour that it’ll switch off. Some may not like the idea of taking a device like this camping – which is fine if you don’t take a radio or book with you on a trip, but this is just another form of entertainment with novelty value that might just make those long, dark winter wild camps tolerable! It’s also great for kids, of all ages!