Le cinéma

Samsung Freestyle Portable Projector Review: Cool, Sleek, Way Too Expensive – CNET

Samsung sure knows how to design and market a product. The Freestyle portable projector, announced at CES 2022, made quite the splash. It’s small! It makes a huge image! Your friends will love it!

Beyond the design, however, the Freestyle is hardly unique. Plenty of other portable projectors I’ve reviewed have built-in speakers and streaming, and most cost a lot less. In its favor, the Freestyle produces an attractive image, sounds good and handles streaming better than many portables. But for hundreds less you could buy a very good portable projector with a built-in battery, like the Anker Nebula Mars II Pro, or spend around the same for an excellent home theater projector that outperforms the Freestyle in every way. In short, the Freestyle offers little to justify its price beyond a cool design and the Samsung name. 

Like

  • Clever design
  • Highly accurate colors
  • Solid built-in streaming

Don’t Like

  • Too expensive
  • Relatively dim
  • No built-in battery

What’s in the can?

  • Native resolution: 1,920×1,080
  • HDR-compatible: Yes
  • 4K-compatible: No
  • 3D-compatible: No
  • Lumens spec: 550
  • Zoom: None
  • Lens shift: None (sort of)
  • Lamp life (Normal mode): 20,000 hours

The Freestyle is smaller than it looks in pictures. I was expecting something the size of a coffee can, but it’s actually halfway between a soda can and a coffee can. It’s smaller than the Anker Mars II Pro and has 1080p resolution, which is somewhat rare in the portable projector category. It will even accept an HDR signal, but as expected, it has neither the dynamic range or color gamut to do anything with it. 

Samsung Freestyle Portable Projector

Geoff Morrison/CNET

Like most portables the Freestyle lacks zoom or lens shift, although you can always make the projected image larger or smaller by physically moving the projector farther or closer to the screen or wall. The Freestyle is lit with a laser, something we generally applaud. It’s rated for 20,000 hours and 550 lumens. I measured 197 lumens, which is roughly in line with this class of projector. For comparison, the Anker Mars II Pro puts out 337.

The biggest miss at this price is the lack of a built-in battery. You can, technically, connect it to a USB battery pack, though it will need to be a pretty beefy one capable of 50-watt output. Projectors that cost less than half the Freestyle have batteries built in.

Samsung has a bunch of optional accessories, including colored “skins,” a water-resistant carrying case, a matching base with a battery and even a “socket adapter” that lets you screw the projector into a light bulb mount for power. All aside from the $60 case are currently listed as “coming soon” on Samsung’s website.

Pivoting projection pros and problems

The body of the Freestyle is on a base, and you can rotate the entire body to project the image farther up the wall and even onto the ceiling. The projector will then automatically keystone correct so you always have a square image. 

The pivoting design is a good idea poorly executed. At a 45-degree angle or higher, the Freestyle generally stays in place. Below 45-degrees more often than not, it falls to the horizontal. There is no way I could see to tighten the hinges or increase their friction. You could wedge something under the body to keep it at the right angle, but for a product this expensive I’m shocked at this shoddy implementation of a core feature. Securing the power cable to the legs helps, but that seems like a strange requirement for a product that should work with any cable and without requiring an easily losable plastic fastener.

Since the Freestyle is designed to work at weird angles to the wall or screen, it handles that job quite smoothly. It can auto-sense its angle, and create a rectangular image on screen. Other projectors can do this auto-keystone adjustment, but the Samsung does it quickly and better than most. Autofocus is included in that adjustment, and it works reasonably well, but I was able to improve focus a bit by dialing it in manually using the menu. I wish there was a button for focusing on the remote.

The downside to projecting at an angle is the bright quadrilateral around your content, with a light-leaked halo around that. The former is due to the inability to “turn off” unused pixels, so the rectangular DLP chip is always projecting some light on your screen, even if it’s only using a portion of itself to create a rectangular image. The halo is likely something in the optics, but it’s slight and this isn’t uncommon for smaller projectors.

Stream machine

Samsung Freestyle Portable ProjectorSamsung Freestyle Portable Projector

Geoff Morrison/CNET
  • HDMI inputs: 1 (micro)
  • PC input: No
  • USB port: USB-C (for power)
  • Audio input and output: Microphone (for voice assistant features)
  • Digital audio output: None
  • Internet: Wi-Fi 5
  • Remote: Not backlit (also an app)

Samsung doesn’t expect you to connect an external source to the Freestyle, so it lacks a full-size HDMI input. Instead it has a mini HDMI connection, and it doesn’t even include an adapter to use it. Sure, those adapters are cheap, but for a projector at this price, it should be in the box.

The Freestyle has Wi-Fi along with Samsung’s typical suite of smart TV apps. In fact, if you’ve used a Samsung TV anytime in the last few years, you’re already familiar with the Freestyle’s interface. This is one aspect where the Freestyle is superior to most portable projectors, which often horribly bungle the streaming app implementation. You’ve got Netflix, Disney Plus, HBO Max and more, and you can even use voice commands to control the projector, thanks to Bixby and Alexa built in.

For audio, a 5-watt speaker produces “360 sound.” Which is to say, it radiates out of the Freestyle’s cylinder in all directions. It’s well tuned and sounds better and fuller than most small projectors’ speakers. 

Samsung Freestyle Portable Projector remote controlSamsung Freestyle Portable Projector remote control

Geoff Morrison/CNET

Picture quality comparisons

For my comparison, I pitted the Freestyle against two of my favorite portable projectors, the Anker Nebula Mars II Pro and the AAXA P3X. “But Geoff,” I can hear you asking, “why are you comparing a $900 projector to a $550 and $360 projector?” Yeah, it’s weird to me too, but all three are intended for the same use and market and have similar performance, at least on paper. I connected them via a Monoprice 1×4 distribution amplifier and viewed them at the same time on my 1.0-gain screen.

Before I dive into it, let me just say for three projectors of similar size and intended purpose, these look radically different. You’d think that’d be directly related to price, but nope. 

I’ll start with the difference in brightness. The AAXA, not surprisingly, is by far the brightest. I measured more than twice the brightness from it compared to the Samsung and that’s readily apparent. The AAXA is a flamethrower to the Samsung’s nearly empty Bic lighter, and the Anker is right in the middle. With any projector light output is key, since not only does it affect how bright the image looks (obviously) but also the size you can achieve. A brighter projector can create a larger image and still be pleasantly bright. To create an image as bright as the AAXA, the Samsung’s image would have to be roughly 50% smaller.

Samsung Freestyle Portable Projector in operationSamsung Freestyle Portable Projector in operation

Samsung

Contrast ratio is less of an issue here, partly because I doubt anyone’s doing any critical viewing on a small portable and partly because performance was much closer. The AAXA is less contrast-y and more washed out, but the Anker and Samsung are basically the same and measured as such: 362:1 for the Samsung, and 354:1 for the Anker. None are good, but that’s par for portables.

Color is one aspect that Samsung knocks out of this admittedly small park. It seems the Freestyle leans heavily on Samsung’s TV know-how. In Movie picture mode the colors are exceptionally accurate, better than many full-size projectors I’ve tested, and color temperature is also more accurate than either of the others. Combined, these factors are probably to the detriment of the Freestyle’s overall brightness, as accurate colors and color temperature sap light output. In the less-accurate Dynamic mode, though, it’s only slightly brighter and still dimmer than the others.

The Freestyle is also more detailed than either the AAXA or Anker, not too hard to explain since those are SD and 720p, respectively. I’m not sure 1080p is really needed for a portable projector, and since everything has a cost, perhaps a 720p DLP along with a brighter light source would have been a better tradeoff.

Samsung Freestyle Portable Projector on end tableSamsung Freestyle Portable Projector on end table

Samsung

What does all this mean? Well, like I said in the AAXA review, that projector’s light output and battery are the only real reasons to buy it. It does not create a very good looking image. The Anker, however, does. The Samsung is definitely more accurate and more detailed, but the Anker still looks very good. There’s a reason it has been our favorite portable projector since we reviewed it. It’s also a lot brighter and has a built-in battery. Oh, and it’s 40% cheaper.

What I didn’t do was directly compare the Freestyle to the BenQ HT2050A, despite that projector being $150 cheaper. It would be like comparing a Ferrari to a Little Tikes Cozy Coupe. The BenQ is far larger, true, but since you generally have to plug in the Freestyle to use it, it’s not that much less portable. The BenQ puts out nearly 1,600 lumens, has a 2,094:1 contrast ratio, and is in every way capable of a far superior image. I mention this in case someone is considering the Freestyle for the occasional home movie night. The BenQ is cheaper, performs better and is only slightly less convenient to set up and use.

Kick the can

Samsung Freestyle Portable ProjectorSamsung Freestyle Portable Projector

Geoff Morrison/CNET

The Samsung Freestyle is an OK product, well marketed but overpriced. In a vacuum it’s an undeniably cool device. But we’re not in a vacuum (OK, we are in a galactic sense, but locally and figuratively, nope). Similar products that offer more features and similar or better picture quality, perhaps with a bit less polish, for a fraction of the Freestyle’s cost. If a year from now the price drops to below $600, you don’t need it to work away from a plug, or you have a big, beefy battery on hand, sure. Go for it.

In the meantime, there are lots of great home theater projector options that perform far better for the same money, or lots of great portable projectors that perform similarly but are significantly cheaper.