Some gadgets are clever, some are functional, and some are both. There is a fundamental tension in gadget-ology between the useful and the merely cool, and this is precisely the issue with the Samsung SP-H03 pico projector. It’s undeniably awesome looking, with a blackout brushed aluminum finish and vanishing white-LED touch-sensitive controls packed into the tiniest box imaginable. But actually working with it reveals frustrating shortcomings that limit its usefulness.
Introducing the SP-H03
The SP-H03 belongs to the species Pico-Projectorous Niftensis, the business equivalent of a Smart car or miniskirt. These tiny wonders are what they appear to be (a projector, an automobile, and an article of clothing, respectively) but are trimmed to the absolute minimum. In fact, they’re all three trimmed past the absolute minimum for the majority of consumers. This is fine if they fit your life, but none are suitable for the mass market.
The SP-H03 packs a WVGA (854 x 480) widescreen projector, a 30 Lumen white LED, 1 GB of memory, and a variety of inputs into a square box much smaller than a coffee cup. The projector itself is 70 mm (2.76 inches) square and just 27.5 mm (1.08 inches) tall. In person, it’s astonishingly, unbelievably tiny. Attach the 10 mm (0.4 inch) battery sled and you’re ready to hit the road with the smallest self-contained projector anyone is likely to have encountered.
The projector is controlled by disappearing touch controls on the top surface and has a manual focus slider and no keystone adjustment. On the side is a Micro SD card slot that can add up to 32 GB of internal storage with a Micro SDHC card.
The projector comes with a carrying case, power brick, and various connectors for expansion. The power supply is smallish but easier bigger than the projector when the long coiled cords are included. And external sources (VGA or Composite video) each require their own dongle. A USB flash drive (nothing drawing much power, please) can also be connected via an included dongle.
The SP-H03 is best appreciated in standalone battery-powered mode. Load it up with PowerPoint presentations and video files and wow the world with a portable A/V experience. There’s even a tiny internal speaker!
But things get hairy once additional projection time or an external input is required. The SP-H03 lasts about 2 hours in “Eco” (dim) mode when running on the battery, and connecting an external input drains it even faster. Put simply, it’s desirable to bring along the power brick and dongles “just in case” when traveling.
Add in a mini tripod, VGA cable, composite A/V cable, and Micro SD adapter and your travel weight just went way up. My projector kit bag (thus equipped) quadruples the size. Although it’s still far smaller than even the tiniest bulb-quipped projector, it’s no longer pico-sized!
The limitations of the SP-H03 don’t end there, however. Between touchy controls, poor balance, battery drain, and a funky user interface, t’s not exactly the easiest device to live with.
The clip-on battery “sled” is a great idea with awful execution. It’s finicky to attach, requiring just the right angle-and-click move to keep from falling off. And once it’s attached, it constantly drains whether or not the projector is in use! There’s a blue LED showing full charge that never goes out, but I believe there is more than that diode draining the juice. The simple fix is to leave the battery disconnected (just flip it over and it still fits in the travel case) but this is a puzzling issue.
The small size of the projector causes issues, too. Although solidly built, it’s difficult to keep it in place, especially on a table but even when using a tripod. The VGA, composite, and USB dongles and power cord attach at the rear, destabilizing the projector when they are attached. And every touch of the controls shakes the whole setup – it’s best to keep hands-off!
The magic touch controls are a feast for the eyes but a pain for the fingers. With no tactile sense at all, one must keep one eye on the control panel and another on the screen when navigating the menus, a tough trick! One pointer: glide a whole finger across the top to cause the controls to light up without guessing.
The user interface is simple but odd. It is organized by source: “PC” or “AV” in one menu, Internal memory, USB, and Micro SD in another. Stored content is categorized into “Videos”, “Photos”, and so on and then by filesystem tree.
I had trouble reliably playing video off a USB drive, and just 700 MB of internal memory is usable, so I recommend copying content onto a Micro SD card. But not all cards are compatible: My 8 GB Kingston works fine, but the generic 2 GB card that came with my Zoom H1 audio recorder is unrecognized. On the plus side, the SP-H03 can handle a large variety of media formats, including WMV, MPEG4, and H.264 as well as PDF and office (PowerPoint, Excel, and Word) documents including the new “x” formats.
Overall, the SP-H03 is a great but flawed super-portable projector. If you need to quickly show off a PowerPoint deck or video file indoors, it’s hard to beat. It’s also great for entertaining the kids on the road, but don’t expect too much of the battery or brightness.
The 30 Lumen LED is brighter than some competing projectors, but it’s definitley in the “turn off the lights” category. Many pico projectors don’t have VGA, SD card support, or internal memory either, making them much less useful in practice. And at $300 retail, it’s hard to argue with the price. It’s much cheaper than the comparable Optoma PK301.
Overall, the SP-H03 is a reasonable bur not great choice for a business traveler like me. I’ll keep it in my bag (with the battery disconnected), ready to bring it out in a pinch. But I definitely prefer a full-size projector if one is available!
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