Review: ZTE SPro

Introduction and design

For those who don’t need a 4G LTE connection on their mobile projectors, the WiFi-only ZTE SPro is now available as a follow-up to the $450 (£305, AU$590) Sprint LivePro. Like the LivePro, the ZTE SPro is a compact all-in-one pico projector. At $400 (£270, AU$530), the LivePro ships with Google’s Android operating system, a capacitive touchscreen to control the projector, speakers, and a built-in battery.

These features allow the traveling professional to conduct impromptu presentations without requiring a bulky setup such as a laptop, a larger and heavier mobile projector, and all the cables and adapters needed to wire everything together.

As an all-in-one unit, you can pull your files from the cloud through apps like Google Slides, connect a Bluetooth mouse to control your presentation without having to reach for the touchscreen, and wow your audience. The projector takes up little space with its compact 4.7 x 4.7 x 1.1-inch (120.6mm x 120.6mm x 28.5mm) footprint, making it ideal for small spaces when you’re on the go.

ZTE SPro review

And if you have any downtime at home or back at the hotel, the full Android OS allows you to download multimedia apps such as YouTube, Netflix, HuluPlus, or Sling TV, and project your video to a blank wall. This makes the SPro a versatile tool that’s great for work and fun.

At just 14.1 ounces (400 grams), the SPro is lighter – and smaller – than most mobile projectors on the market today. For comparison, the $599 (£385, AU$738) Epson EX7235 Pro weighs 5.29 lbs (2.68 Kg) and measures 11.7 x 9.0 x 3.0 inches (297.2 X 228.6 X 76.2mm).

Weighing 1.1 lbs (490 grams), the $555 (£360, AU$708) Vivitek Qumi Q5-RD is closer in weight to the ZTE unit. The Qumi Q5-RD measures 6.3 x 4.02 x 1.27 inches (160 x 102.4 x 32.3mm)

The Android feature of the SPro makes it similar to AAXA’s $555 (£360, AU$708) LED Android projector. The AAXA unit is most similar in size to the SPro, measuring 5.9 X 5.2 X 1.4 inches (149.9 X 132.1 X 35.6mm), but it weighs more at 1.5 pounds (0.68kg).

Design

The S Pro is encased in an unassuming black box with ribbed plastic sides and a touchscreen panel on top. The design isn’t unattractive, but it feels a bit too buttoned-up, especially when compared to the silver Vivitek Qumi Q5-RD with red trim.

ZTE SPro review

The front of the device features the ZTE logo and has the opening for the projector to shine through. On the left side, you have a silver wheel to focus the projector, a slot for a micro SD card slot, the power button, and also a button to activate the projector’s battery. When you activate this second button, the projector serves as a power bank and you can plug your smartphone or small gadget into the USB port on the rear to charge devices on the go.

On the rear, in addition to the USB port, you have a port for the charging cable to charge the projector, a full-sized HDMI port, and a 3.5mm audio-out port. The right side of the device is clean, except for a concealed vent opening.

On the top panel is a 4-inch WVGA resolution (800 X 480-pixel) touchscreen along with capacitive touch Android navigation keys. The touchscreen allows you to use the projector as a handheld Android device without having to turn on the battery-draining projector lamp.

ZTE SPro review

Just below the Android navigation keys are capacitive buttons to navigate the projector. There are volume buttons, a circular button to toggle the Android display on top, and a button to fire up the projector lamp.

Four rubber feet on the bottom of the projector enable you to place the device on a smooth surface without worrying about the unit sliding around. A small speaker is embedded on the bottom. There is also a pull-out plastic kickstand that allows you to angle the projector, and a tripod mount for better height control.

Specs and Performance

What differentiates the SPro from most other projectors on the market is that it ships with Google’s Android operating system and has built in WiFi. If you’re traveling to give a presentation, this small unit can replace your laptop or tablet, a larger mobile projector, and all your cable clutter.

The versatility allows you to grab files, videos, photos, and slides from Google Drive or any other cloud storage service, similar to an Android smartphone. You can also plug in a memory card or USB flash drive to access your content.

Specs

The ZPro comes with a DLP lamp rated at 100 lumens with a 20,000-hour lamp life.

In comparison, the Epson EX7235 Pro is much brighter with 3,000 lumens. In use, the overall features of the SPro are comparable to the AAXA LED Android projector. Both the ZTE and SPro models are powered by Android 4.2, but the LED Android projector delivers better image quality with 550 lumens and a resolution of 720p. The SPro offers more versatility than the AAXA unit in that you can use the ZTE device without having to turn the projector on given its built-in touchscreen.

ZTE SPro review

The SPro comes with 4GB of internal storage and 1GB of RAM. The Android 4.2.2 operating system on the device is powered by Qualcomm’s dual-core Snapdragon 400 processor clocked at 1.2 GHz, giving it plenty of power to drive video, presentations and images. Given the size of the unit, you likely wouldn’t use the projector as a handheld gaming device without the addition of a Bluetooth game controller.

The built-in micro SD card slot and USB port allow for expansion. With the USB port, you can plug-in a flash drive and use the pre-loaded file reader, or download a file manager of your choice through the Google Play Store, and pull up your documents easily.

The HDMI port allows you to connect a laptop if you would rather just forego Android and drive your presentation from your notebook.

Performance

When it comes to projector performance, the SPro delivers mediocre image quality. The projected image displays at a more conservative 854 X 480 resolution, so it doesn’t quite match the higher 720p or 1080p output found on larger, expensive rivals.

For comparison, the compact Vivitek Qumi Q5-RD has a brighter 500-lumen lamp that’s capable of outputting video at a higher 720p resolution. However, Vivitek’s solution lacks WiFi and the native Android OS found on the SPro.

ZTE SPro review

The SPro can project images to a display size of between 10 inches to 10 feet (254mm to 3m). Images are displayed in 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio. This makes it ideal for showing off HD video, which are captured in 16:9, or for displaying photographs, which are often shot in 4:3.

Though its image quality may suffice in a pinch, I found the SPro’s relatively meager 100 lumens of brightness output makes it harder to use in a room that is not dimmed. The brightness is less of an issue for smaller projections, but when I projected a 10-foot presentation, it was harder to see the image unless the ambient lighting was dimmed low.

You’ll definitely want to turn the lights down – if not completely out – before you begin your “feature presentation.”

Additionally, with the HDMI port, I can also connect a smartphone, laptop, or tablet to project content from those devices. I was able to connect my Windows laptop and an Android tablet to the projector using both a wired HDMI cable and wirelessly with Miracast.

ZTE SPro review

Using an iPhone with a Digital AV adapter, I was able to display some content – like photos and presentations – but not others. Copyright-protected movies purchased through iTunes would not play on the projector through the HDMI connection.

The built-in speaker delivers decent audio quality that’s surprisingly loud. The downside, however, is that the fan on the SPro spins louder than the audio output and overpowers the speaker.

The fan kicks in immediately when the projector is turned on. To overcome fan noise when playing movies, I connected a Bluetooth Jambox Mini. Speakers can connect to the SPro wirelessly with Bluetooth or via the audio-out jack.

The SPro is powered by a 5,000mAh battery. Although the battery size seems robust considering most high-end Android phones come with a capacity under 3,000mAh, I only get about an hour and a half of video playback. For still images and presentation slides, the total run time comes closer to two hours on a single charge.

Because the SPro doesn’t charge through micro USB like a standard phone, you’ll need to be near a wall charger if your sales pitch runs long.

Verdict

The ZTE SPro is a unique device in its class. Given its versatility, the SPro is a jack of all trades, but the tradeoffs to make it portable make the projector a master of none.

This results in the SPro’s more limited niche appeal. If you’re a road warrior looking to shed the weight of a bulky gear bag or if you just like the novelty of an all-in-one projector and appreciate a nearly cable-free design, the SPro is valuable.

With Android and built-in WiFi, you can drive your presentation from Google Slides or Office for Android without requiring a laptop.

We liked

With a mobile-first approach, the sum of the SPro may be greater in value than the projector’s individual parts.

As an all-in-one unit, the SPro is highly versatile and allows you to leave behind your laptop, a heavier mobile projector, and cables in favor of a simpler setup for presentations on the go. All you need for your next sales presentation is a 14.1-ounce (400 grams) box.

Because the 100-lumen DLP bulb isn’t as bright as bigger units, the SPro won’t replace a dedicated projector in a conference room, but if you can control the lighting in your presentation space and dim the ambient light, you have a capable all-in-one projector that allows you to show off your PowerPoints, photos, videos, and even stream Netflix when you have some downtime.

We disliked

If portability isn’t high on your list, there are other projectors on the market that deliver either a lower price or better image quality. To achieve the SPro’s portability goal, ZTE made tradeoffs in the projector’s image resolution and lamp brightness.

The result is that the SPro can project an image that isn’t quite as sharp, and one that requires a dimmed room to be viewable, especially if you’re projecting an image closer to the 10-foot size rather than the 10-inch output.

Image quality isn’t the only thing suffering. When the projector is turned on, the SPro’s fan immediately starts whirling, which not only is distracting during a presentation, but can overpower audio output from the projector.

If you’re using the projector to play videos or movies, you’ll likely need to carry compact speakers to overcome fan noise.

Although the SPro comes with a capacitive touchscreen to navigate the Android OS without requiring the projector to be powered on – unlike the competing AAXA unit – ZTE didn’t throw in a carrying case. Given that projectors are sometimes hastily thrown into a bag, the lack of a carrying case could result in a scratched touchscreen.

Final verdict

The SPro is a divisive device. On one hand, you can find better performance for a similar price. On the other hand, you can find a better price for a projector with the SPro’s WVGA resolution output and 100-lumen bulb.

However, only the SPro will deliver an all-in-one that serves as an Android handheld when not in use, a power bank to charge your other gadgets, and a cloud-connected projector for impromptu presentations and slideshows.

The value proposition is clear if you’re after portability. In this case, the SPro delivers a good balance between portability and functionality.

Given ZTE’s early 2015 release of the WiFi-only SPro, you may be better off waiting a little longer until AT&T launches the SPro 2 in the US this year. The carrier has not announced pricing or exact availability for the SPro 2 yet.

The SPro 2 was announced in early January and remedies many of the shortcomings of the first generation model if you’re in the market for a projector that’s versatile, highly portable, and allows you to travel light.

The successor increases the output resolution to 720p, comes with a DLP bulb that offers twice the brightness at 200 lumens, and comes with a beefier battery at 6,300mAh. Image brightness and resolution will make the SPro2 more competitive against the Vivitek and AAXA models.

The SPro 2 also has a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 processor, though you likely won’t be loading any taxing programs on a projector to notice any performance differences.

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