This story is part of our Summer Gear Guide issue, covering everything from cold brew to grill hacks to the perfect outdoor projector. For the full list of stories, click here.
If you’re looking for a portable outdoor projector, Anker has a few of your best options. There’s the Nebula Capsule II ($580), which is the size of a soda can (it’s called a “pocket cinema” for a reason), but also the Nebula Mars II ($499), a slightly larger and more affordable portable projector that’s actually capable of throwing a bigger and brighter screen. Both onboard Android operating systems and can access apps like Netflix and Youtube right from the get-go; or you can connect your smartphone, laptop or even gaming console to either of them. Both can be used as portable Bluetooth speakers, too. So if you’re gunning for a gadget that will let you bring the movies into the great outdoors on a cool summer evening, how does the Mars II square up?
The Good: The Mars II is the better of the two portable projectors if you care about the picture and sound quality, and are less concerned about being able to carry it in your pocket. It’s a great companion for backyard cookouts and sleepovers, as well as campouts, although you’ll probably want to invest in portable or outdoor projection screen. If you’re a cord cutter and have open wall space in your home or apartment, the Mars II could fairly easily be turned into a DIY home cinema.
The Mars II can be used as a standalone device to stream movies and shows from Netflix, YouTube TV or Amazon Prime Video; this means that you don’t need any cables to watch things, but you will need a Wi-Fi connection to stream if the app in question doesn’t allow you to pre-download your content. You can also just use an HDMI cord and hook up your smartphone or tablet directly which will let you stream shows and movies from other apps, like HBO GO or Showtime Anytime, which aren’t available to download on the Mars II. The projector is also ideal for hooking up gaming consoles, like Nintendo Switch, which is what I frequently did. I brought it into the office and played Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with my colleagues, and generally had a blast. And if you’re looking for a work-related excuse to shell out, you could also use this projector for presentations without having to find a room that has a projector already set up.
The Mars II also has built-in autofocus so you don’t really have to worry about the screen ever being blurry. It doubles as a portable Bluetooth speaker, too, so you don’t need to bring a separate device for audio. It has a USB-A port and can work as a portable battery that can charge your other devices. And lastly, the screen it projects can be huge — up to 150-inches — and it’s noticeably brighter than Anker’s smaller projectors. It’s compatible with a 1/4-inch tripod screw mount.
Who It’s For: The Mars II is the portable projector that’s better suited for using “near the home.” Whether that’s in the backyard or projecting a big screen in a playroom, that’s where this thing thrives. It’s great for car camping, too, although you’ll want to invest in a portable projection screen.
Watch Out For: Like pretty much every portable projector you’ll find, the Mars II needs a very dark environment to thrive; if it’s in a bright room or a room with a lot of windows, you’ll have a hard time making out the picture. There’s no auto-adjust dial on the back of the projector, like the Capsule II, so the only way you can adjust the screen size is by physically moving the projector closer or further a way from the screen. There’s no Google Play Store, which seems like a miss, because you can’t download many of the apps from your smartphone directly onto the projector, such as HBO Go or Chrome. And to cap it all off, it uses a proprietary charger.
Alternatives: The Capsule II is the obvious alternative. It’s decently smaller and can be taken more places, but it’s more expensive. It also can’t produce the quite the same picture quality (although it’s not that much different) and its speakers aren’t as loud. But it will give you access to the Google Play Store and it charges via a USB-C port.
Verdict: Anker makes some of the best portable projectors you can buy right now. As for which of its projectors you should buy, that comes down to how you’re planning on using it. The Capsule II is definitely the better travel companion and its upgraded operating system (with more apps) make it more of a standalone device. However, if you want a better and bigger picture, and a device with better battery life, that’s where the Mars II comes in. It’s the better option for backyard movie nights or weekend car camping trips — just know that if you don’t have a place to project the screen, like a garage wall, you’ll want to buy a portable projection screen.
What Others Are Saying:
• “The Anker Nebula Mars II projector is a fantastic gadget. While it’s not going to tempt cinephiles, those looking for an easy-to-use, easy-to-transport portable projector need look no further.” — Gerald Lynch, TechRadar
• “Overall, the Mars II is very good as a projector. It’s not as bright as the original model, but I think that’s a perfectly acceptable tradeoff, considering this is $170 less (at the time of writing) than the first Mars was at launch. Auto-focus is a nice bonus, too.” — Corbin Davenport, Android Police
Screen size: 30 to 150 inches
Brightness: 300 lumens
Operating system: Android 7.1
Connectivity: wifi, Bluetooth 4.0
Battery: 12500 mAh; roughly 4 hours of playtime
Ports: HDMI, USB-A, 3.5mm jack
Anker provided this product for review.
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