Pico projectors are now inside an array of electronics. We have watched this trend affect smartphones, camcorders, and now tablets. Although the reception has been mild at best, these devices offer not only an enhanced entertainment value, but also practical applications for daily life.
Currently, I have been toting around the handy SmartQ U7 projector tablet. Weighing less than a pound, this compact tablet can accompany the user to any function. It uses the Android operating system and offers a USB OTG slot and cable, which allows you the option of connecting peripherals or hooking into your computer. In addition to these features, it also contains a mini-HDMI output and micro SD card slot. The jewel, however, in this seven inch, Android tablet is the DLP pico projector nestled inside of it. Leading a double life as a projector, this tablet tackles the obstacles that plague its kind.
Notorious for putting pleasure before business, I spent the first two weeks with the U7 tablet watching episodes of Orange is the New Black. According to Smart Device's website, the best image size for the projector is between 5 and 50 inches diagonal. I found that 60 inches was more ideal. At this size, the colors remained vibrant, and I was still able to keep the picture in focus. Sitting roughly 8 feet from the projected image provided the best viewing experience. With a brightness of 35 Lumen, you need a dark room. The tablet has an option to adjust the projector brightness. Even turned up to the max, it's still no match for ambient lighting. I also found that the volume is sufficient for a single person in a civilized household, not one living with a pack of wild children. However, with the U7's Bluetooth connectivity, I was able to connect my Matrix Audio One Bluetooth pocket speaker and block out the chaos in my home. My prior experience with embedded projectors has shown the battery life to be a sticking point. With the U7, I was able to use the projector for a little over 3 hours before it needed a battery recharge. My rule is that if you can watch the movie Titanic without the device dying, it's a contender.
With the U7 tablet, you are able to control the projector with an on/off switch. This feature allows you to project your entire activity while using the tablet. My past experience with these devices has been that the touchscreens would go dark when the projector was in use, or if you were to touch the screen, the projector would turn off. While watching movies, I would turn off the primary display simply because the touchscreen was distracting. However, when using the tablet in an educational or business aspect, having access to the touchscreen was extremely beneficial. For example, you can easily walk a class of ten year olds through an algebraic equation step by step while you make corrections on the touchscreen. Also, you can use the tablet to project the math problems for the infamous board races in second grade. Many of the schools in my area have been equipping their students with iPads. Can you imagine the possibilities if the students and teachers were given the U7 tablets with a built-in projector? Districts could not only save money, but also space. The tablets are small enough to fit inside of a purse or backpack, yet can project an image large enough for an entire class of school kids.
We have seen the concept of mobile offices and workspaces become a reality in the past ten years. I have seen a brick and mortar office disintegrate and emerge in the back of a stylish minivan. Board rooms have turned into booths at the nearest restaurant or in clients' living rooms. For mobile professionals, portability and functionality are a must. The U7 tablet offers both of these attributes. While using the tablet to project an excel worksheet containing the month's financial report, I was able to not only make adjustments, but also highlight the areas of concern for the attendees. By tapping on the touchscreen, I used my finger as a mouse. Also, a green arrow appeared on the projected image as a type of pointer to show the audience where to look. We were also able to make changes to a mission statement with the entire board involved. Before everyone had left, the final documents had been approved and emailed to the clients. With the tablet, I did not have to worry about having access to the meeting room with the projector. I simply needed a dim room with an empty, white wall.
The U7 has three weaknesses worth noting. First, like most picos, the volume is sufficient for just one or two viewers. To be practical, you will need to connect an auxiliary speaker. Second, the focus slide button on the tablet is a bit touchy. I found that it was very difficult to find the correct adjustment. It would easily slide from one extreme to the other, but the middle ground was quite an ordeal to locate. Fortunately, once I was able to find it, it would remain in focus. For the first time, I found myself wishing for a focus wheel.
Finally, you can only charge the U7 with the AC adapter. Not being able to charge via the USB connection is a huge drawback for me. Being that I live the majority of my life in my car, I need to be able to plug it into my USB adapter and charge as I drive from soccer fields to fast food restaurants. Being chained to an electrical outlet is definitely not in my daily itinerary. Fortunately, the battery life is over three hours, so you can plan your adventures accordingly.
At $300, the SmartQ U7 projector tablet is definitely a smart buy. From a business presentation in the morning to a movie in the evening, this tablet seamlessly fits into any situation. With a native resolution of 854 x 480, it will not compete with the home theater projectors for picture quality, but the tablet takes first place when it comes to convenience and practicality. With the recent approval of Apple's patent for projector technology, it is only a matter of time until we see more of this embedded technology in our devices. For now, the U7 tablet is a worthy contender with a reasonable price tag.