While technologies like short-throw projection are taking off and 4K resolutions are finally arriving en masse to high-end, expensive projectors, budget projectors are improving too. They’re getting sleeker designs, better image quality, and more.
Enter the Xiaomi Mi Smart Compact Projector.
With a compact design, smart features built in, and support for things like HDR10, on paper, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Compact Projector has a lot to offer. It’s simply designed, and mountable on a tripod, which is a nice touch, plus has Android TV built-in. Most importantly, it offers a good image with decent HDR performance with a few caveats.
But do those features translate to an ideal experience? Should you buy a Xiaomi projector instead of a cheap BenQ or Optoma beamer? We put the Xiaomi projector to the test to find out.
Price and release date
The Xiaomi Mi Smart Compact Projector became available in the US back in March 2020 and goes for $599 at Walmart (opens in new tab) or on Amazon (opens in new tab) in the UK for £465.
When you first take the Xiaomi Mi Smart Compact Projector out of the box, you’ll notice how compact it really is. The device measures in at 4.5 x 5.9 x 5.9 inches, which is small enough to easily place on a small table. At 2.8lbs, it’s light enough to mount on a tripod too, and with the tripod mount on the bottom, it’s easy to move the camera to the right position.
The projector is mostly white, save for the black front, with the lens on the top right of the face. On the top, you’ll get the power button, while on the back is where you’ll get a power port, a headphone jack, a USB port, and a single HDMI port. It would have been nice to get an extra HDMI port on the back, but the idea behind this projector is that you’ll use the built-in Android TV anyway, so you may not need the port.
The design of the remote is nice too, and it’s pretty simple: you’ll get a basic power button, and then basic software controls for Android TV — including a microphone button to trigger Google Assistant. It’s nice to see integration here, and having the microphone in the remote makes Assistant even more accessible. The remote is very light, and is powered by two AAA batteries. It does feel a little cheap considering the plastic build, but it’s not a big deal.
Something that is a big deal is that there’s no backlighting on the remote, and considering the fact that you’ll mostly need to use this projector in darkness, it can get frustrating fumbling around to find the right controls. Once you get used to the button layout it may not be an issue, but that will take a few days of use.
Setup and features
The projector relies on Android TV, and that makes it very easy to set up software-wise. You’ll simply log in to your Google account, download the apps you want to use, and you should be good to go.
It’s easy to physically set up too. The projector has an auto-focus technology built right into it that means that you don’t have to deal with manually focus the image. You will need to adjust keystone, but it’s generally very easy to do.
While Android TV devices are easy to set up, the overall software experience on this projector could be described as “frustrating.” The Android TV interface is fine, with its rows of apps and content that you can easily access — plus there are a ton of streaming apps available to the platform. All your favorite apps are here, including the newer Disney+. This is also the first Android TV projector to support Netflix, making using a projector with Android TV much better for many users. That said, there’s no Apple TV+ on Android TV in general just yet.
The frustrating part, however, has more to do with the projector’s overall performance. Android TV in general is a heavy operating system, and like many Android TV TVs, this projector doesn’t have the processing power to properly handle the software. Scrolling through apps and content can be a slow process, especially in the minutes after startup. That’s not to mention Google Assistant commands, which take far too long to process, resulting in us avoiding using Assistant on the projector altogether. Thankfully, after the projector is warmed up, Android TV seems to run a little more smoothly.
You can’t completely avoid the software either. Considering the fact that the remote and software is so basic, even if you do use that lone HDMI port for a streaming device, you’ll still have to venture back into Android to to focus the projector and adjust the image. If you plan on keeping the projector stationary, that probably won’t matter to most, but those that plan on moving it around will get used to waiting for Android to catch up to simply opening the Settings app.
If you do get through the software and manage to start watching something, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. The image quality on this projector isn’t groundbreaking, but for something in this price range it has a lot to offer.
The projector offers a 1080p resolution and support for HDR10, and the result is a pretty good image. You’ll get six image modes in total, including Standard, Movie, Vivid, Sports, Child Mode, and User Mode. It’s a decent selection, though in the end we simply stuck with Standard Mode, as it looked to be the most natural. If you’re adventurous, you may be able to get something you like more with User Mode.
Despite its small size, the projector can actually display a relatively large projection — though you will need a little room to get larger images. You can get up to a 120-inch projection, from a distance of three meters.
Perhaps the worst thing about the projector’s image quality is that it doesn’t get very bright. With an average brightness of 500 lumens, I found that the projector performed fine in dark environments, but add a bit of ambient light to the mix, and you may struggle a little. For comparison, non-compact projectors like those from Optoma and Epson can get into the multiple thousands of lumens when it comes to brightness, so if you do plan on using your projector in a living room or an area where there may be some ambient light, we recommend looking elsewhere.
In HDR, the projector is able to display deeper colors, but the HDR performance didn’t seem drastically different than the SDR performance. It’s better, to be sure, but don’t expect to get an ultra cinematic experience just because you’re viewing in HDR mode.
With a lower brightness, you don’t necessarily have to cool the projector as much — and we found that the fan noise in this projector was actually relatively quiet. Not only that, but once you do start playing content, that content will easily drown out fan noise to where you won’t really notice it. That’s pretty handy.
The speakers built into the projector are pretty good too — and far better than we expected them to be. You’ll get relatively deep lows, though don’t expect incredible bass extension. The kids are well-tuned, and there’s more detail and clarity than you would expect in the high-end. Overall, the audio can get a little midsy, but not overly so. We still recommend buying external speakers if you can afford them, but in a pinch, the built in speakers will do the job quite well.
There are projectors will a better image quality in this price range, but if you're looking for the complete package of a built-in smart operating system, a decent audio quality, and a compact design, then this projector is the way to go.
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