BenQ’s Mini Projector is Mighty

When it comes to projectors, small is the new big thing. While BenQ‘s (s benq) new Joybee GP1 Mini Projector isn’t as small as some of the pocket-sized projectors we’ve seen recently, it’s definitely tiny enough to be considered portable. And perhaps, more importantly, what you give up in size, you get back in performance: The Joybee GP1 proved quite powerful considering its footprint.

The $500 Joybee GP1 looks like a small, square alarm clock. When compared with Optoma’s $400 Pico Projectorjoybee_gp1, which is about the same size as a cell phone and can easily slip into a pocket, the Joybee looks huge. But, it weighs just 1.4 pounds, significantly less than a typical projector, where 6 pounds is considered to be “ultra-portable.”

The Joybee GP1 will project an image that ranges from 14 to 80 inches in size, and it packs some pretty sophisticated components when you consider its small size. You get a lamp with a rating of 100 lumens, a noticeable improvement over the 10 lumens lamp that the Optoma projector includes. (A typical desktop projector would have a lamp with a rating of about 2000 lumens.) The Joybee GP1 also bumps the native resolution up to 858 by 600, also a noticeable jump from the Optoma’s 480 by 320 resolution.

Images from the Joybee GP1 were much brighter and sharper than anything I saw while testing the Optoma projector. The picture was bright and colorful, even when I viewed it in a room flooded by daylight; in the same setting, pictures from the Optoma projector looked washed out. I also liked that you can adjust the display depending on your room color. I chose the setting for pink (the color of my walls) and noticed the colors come to life.

Like the Optoma, the Joybee GP1 will connect to iPods and iPhones, but it requires an optional accessory that was not ready in time for this review. (It will, like the Joybee projector, ship in June.) Both projectors also connect to various devices, like cameras, video cameras, DVD players, and more. While the Joybee will connect to computers and laptops, too, it requires an extra-cost accessory to transmit the sound from them.

What the Joybee GP1 has that the Optoma projector lacks is a USB slot on the back. You can connect a thumb drive here and play back files directly. This could prove very handy for businesspeople who want to take slideshows or video clips on the road, without lugging around and connecting a laptop to the projector. It’s a streamlined, cable-free approach that works well — as long as you have compatible files. It will display .jpeg, .bmp, .gif. and .tiff photos, and .avi, .mp4, .mov, .3gp and .3g2 videos. I had no problems with any of the photos I loaded; they displayed beautifully, in an automatic slideshow.

My video playback experience, however, was not as smooth. Some of the .avi files I loaded onto my USB thumb drive played properly and looked great, but the sound didn’t work. The projector told me that the audio file format was incompatible, and simply played them on mute. And, when I was able to get the audio working on other files, it was unimpressive overall. The sound was a bit tinny, and often dwarfed by the projector’s fan, which can run very loud.

Other than audio quality, my biggest complaint about the Joybee GP1 is the finicky touch controls on the top of the projector. You have to tap them in exactly the right spot to get them to work. While plain-old buttons wouldn’t look as fancy, they sure would be easier to use. (You do get a remote control, too.)

Unlike the Optoma projector, the Joybee GP1 does not run on batteries; you’ll have to plug it in to use it, which limits its portability somewhat. You won’t be able to use it on a plane, for example, where you could use the Optoma to project an image on the seat back in front of you. But if you can live with the lack of battery power and its slightly heftier size, the BenQ’s performance boost makes it a better option.