3M MP180 review

A 30-lumen pocket projector with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Photo of 3M MP180
£399.99

Although pocket-sized LED projectors have been around for a few years, their low brightness levels have limited their usefulness. 3M’s MP180 doubles the brightness of its previous models to 30 ANSI lumens, and adds a touch screen plus a host of eye-catching connectivity features including Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Features galore
The MP180 is quite chunky, thanks to the heavy 2,600mAh Li-ion battery pack that provides around two hours’ use. At the rear are the power socket, proprietary AV connector and mini-USB socket that gives a PC access to the projector’s 4GB of onboard Flash file storage. VGA and composite video connectors are included, plus a mini-tripod.

There’s a micro-SD card slot at the side, plus the power button and 3.5mm headphone socket. Next to the lens is a focus wheel and a ventilation outlet for the cooling fan. The Windows CE OS takes almost two minutes to start up from cold, but there’s also a low-power standby mode, from which it restarts in a couple of seconds.

Touchy-feely
On the top of the MP180 is a 2.5in resistive colour touch screen. We found it much easier to use a stylus than fingers, but you’ll have to provide your own. The menu system is easy to navigate, with icons for each type of content bringing up a scrollable list of files. This list can be projected on the screen if needed, turning the touchscreen into a navigation pad.

We gave it a workout with a selection of presentations, movies, photos, audio files and office documents (it supports most MS Office file types and PDF files), and found its display a marked improvement over the older 15-lumen MPro 150 model. It’s all relative, of course, and you still need to keep the blinds firmly down for decent results. In ordinary office lighting it’s just about usable at a few feet, but brightness rapidly tails off at larger display sizes. 3M quotes 80 inches as the maximum size – but for that you’d need to be in a coal bunker.

At a distance of 56 inches it produced a 36in. diagonal for 4:3 content and 40in. using 16:9 widescreen material (it supports input resolutions up to 1280×768 or ‘WXGA’). At this distance, it was perfectly watchable for high-contrast presentations and documents, but movies and photos were still a little dark. For presenting to small groups it would be fine. The fan noise can be quite distracting when it kicks in, although the 0.75W stereo speakers are reasonably good at drowning this out. It handled all the assorted media we threw at it, although movies played from the onboard storage tended to drop quite a lot of frames.

Web woes
The most disappointing feature was the Wi-Fi web access. This launches the Windows CE version of Internet Explorer. Even on an old Windows Pocket PC this used to be awful – but this implementation is even worse. The menu screen turns into a rather imprecise mouse pad, with two icons, one for the left mouse button and one to launch the keyboard. This can be displayed on the touch screen or projected, but either way it’s a pain to use even with a stylus, and doesn’t include some characters such as square brackets. It’s made worse by being rotated 90 degrees to the direction of projection.

Using the hit-and-miss cursor control to navigate websites drove us to distraction, and there were frequent freezes and crashes. It’s all a little poorly thought out, even for casual use, and as this is the only use for the built-in Wi-Fi (you can’t use it to transfer files or stream content directly from a PC) it seems like a rather wasted feature. UPnP streaming support would be much better use of the Wi-Fi.

Company: 3M

Contact: 0870 536 0036

Positives
  • Finally, decent brightness in a pocket projector.
Negative
  • Using the web browser will drive you crazy.

Verdict

On paper the MP180 ticks lots of boxes, but in the flesh it's a little disappointing. On the plus side, it offers decent image quality, broad file support and excellent brightness for this class of device. The onboard storage and microSD support are very welcome, too, but we're not convinced that the touch controls and wireless connectivity are really worth the extra expense.