HomeTechnologyNewsWhat happened to phones with built-in projectors?

What happened to phones with built-in projectors?

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Phones with built-in projectors were a great idea, but the technology at the time wasn’t ready yet. Today they may be much better, but other options have emerged that effectively make the fusion of phones and projectors unnecessary.

Despite the trend towards larger phone screens, they are still quite small in absolute terms. So why not stick a projector in your phone and take a big screen with you everywhere? That’s exactly what happened in 2009, but the idea never caught on.

Why put a projector on a phone?

Smartphones are powerful personal computers in their own right, but mobile screens literally limit how useful they can be for many tasks. Especially in the days when even high-end smartphones only offered resolutions like 720p, a quarter of the number of pixels in a modern 1440p phone.

The idea that your smartphone can conjure up a 50-inch image where you might find a piece of open wall is obviously appealing. You could watch movies on your hotel room ceiling or work on spreadsheets without bringing your laptop.

It’s all made possible by the technology of “pico” projectors, sometimes called “pocket” or “portable” projectors. Thanks to advances in LED and laser technology, along with micromirror arrays, the projectors can fit into a box the size of a phone. Since the projector and the phone would share some electronics anyway, you can make a device that is a bit larger than the projector or phone itself, but still very portable.

RELATED: How to connect your Android device to a projector

Projector phones were around for a while

Projector phones were more than an experimental idea. Just like today’s flip phones, several companies brought these phones to the market and sold them to the public.

Two key examples are Samsung Show and LG eXpo from 2009. The Show produced a 10-lumen 480×320 image with a size up to 50 inches. The eXpo projects a 40-inch 6-lumen image at the same resolution.

Several companies released phones with built-in projectors in the years that followed, but the last major player was Samsung’s 2014 Galaxy Beam 2. This phone offered an 800×480 image at 20 lumens, but that was the end of the road for Samsung at least. .

Why don’t we have projectors on phones today?

Similar devices have been released more recently, but mostly from companies you probably haven’t heard of, and rarely for global availability. The 2018 Blackview Max 1, for example, was intended for the Chinese market, though it’s available in other regions as well. However, as a mainstream big-brand phone design, projector phones have disappeared from the map.

Why didn’t these phones become more popular? There are probably many reasons, but there are two obvious ones.

First, the technology is expensive and comes with numerous compromises when it comes to ergonomics, performance, battery life, and more. This means that you really had to need this specific combination of technologies, in this form factor, to really justify buying such a phone.

This brings us to the second problem. While these phones are undeniably cool, who are they for? The number of people who need a projector on a smartphone surely represents a small niche. So we don’t expect Galaxy Beams to be flying off the shelves.

It’s also worth mentioning that the actual images projected weren’t that great. You had to be in a fairly dark room, and exploiting such low resolutions resulted in a very visible pixel grid. It really was technology a bit ahead of its time.

Could phones with projectors return?

But 2014 was a long time ago, and technology has really come a long way in the intervening years. So could we see a return of projector phones, except this time they’re really good? We saw this happen with VR technology, so why not with these phones?

There are a few reasons why we don’t think there are more serious attempts at making projector phones. For one, we now have devices like the Nreal Air, which are no bigger than a pair of sunglasses, but can project a 200-inch high-resolution image in front of you that no one else can see.

For personal viewing, this is better than a pico projector in almost every way. Even without fancy AR glasses, anyone can stick a Meta Quest 2 in their bag if they really want a massive portable screen for personal use.

If you want to give a presentation, most modern smart TVs let you stream content at the touch of a button, and real portable projectors are cheaper and better than ever. Taking some of the smaller models with you to use with your phone is only slightly less convenient than a converged device.

So while these projector phones are still cool as science fiction today, the real tangent of smartphone development probably veers off in a different direction.


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