Anker’s new Nebula entertainment brand officially launched its second portable projector this year at CES, and despite its shortcomings, it’s one of the most compelling new gadgets of the year.
The Nebula Capsule is both a projector and a 360 degree Bluetooth speaker, crammed into a case that’s roughly the size and shape of a soda can. The speaker sounds okay, if a bit tinny compared to Anker’s excellent SoundCore speakers, but that’s not why anybody’s buying this thing, so let’s talk about the projector.
Prospective buyers will probably do a double take at the Capsule’s standard definition 854x480 resolution, and compared to the larger, 1280x800 Nebula Mars, you’ll definitely be able to see individual pixels on a large enough screen. But the fact is, projectors are extremely battery-intensive, and the Capsule is tuned for a feature-length four hours on a charge. You’re simply not going to find an HD-capable projector with this combination of size and battery life; it doesn’t exist.
My take: If you’re using this for backyard movie nights, the novelty of the thing will probably outweigh the picture quality. And if you’re using it in a smaller setting, like as a portable kitchen TV, the pixels will be small enough that you won’t notice or care.
As you might expect, the Capsule’s 100 ANSI lumen output is basically useless in a brightly lit room at distances of more than a yard or so, but I found it to be perfectly sufficient at night when projecting across my bedroom, and that’s onto light gray walls, rather than a proper projector screen. Just know before you buy that this is a nighttime movie machine, not a mid-day boardroom projector.
A projector is only as good as what it’s able to project, and Anker fortunately built a myriad of streaming options into the Capsule. The device itself runs a heavily skinned version of Android 7.1 with a frankly shady looking app store, but you’ll still find the basics like YouTube and Netflix onboard. Navigation is handled via a bundled remote (which includes a mouse pointer mode for apps that require it), but you can also control it with a free iOS or Android app.
Luckily, you don’t really need to use the Capsule’s built-in apps, because it includes both iOS (via AirPlay) and Android screen mirroring and content streaming, so if you can see it on your phone, you should be able to project it. When all else fails, there’s also an HDMI port on the back, plus a special charging cable that includes a USB 3.0 port, so you can play files directly from a flash drive or external hard drive.
At $349, this is one of the most expensive products Anker sells, but you’re rewarded with some really quality touches, like a soft carrying case, a standard tripod mount, and even automatic keystone correction when you have to tilt the Capsule forward or backward to line up with your screen. And though the projector will charge with basically any USB charger (including portable battery packs, for those extended movie nights), Anker splurged and included a Quick Charge 3.0 wall adapter in the box, so you can top off the battery at maximum speed.
Tiny projectors inevitably have to make compromises, and the Capsule is certainly no exception. But the product is so well made, and the software (at least on the screen-mirroring front) is so seamless, that it’s hard not to love it. Just as soon as it gets warmer, I’m looking forward to hosting an outdoor movie night, but until then, I’ll be watching sports on my bedroom ceiling.