I’ve been using the Sprint LivePro Android Projector/Hotspot since its release in July and have been a huge fan of the feature set, particularly the DLP Projector. The LivePro is a simple idea: Take an Android 4.2 phone and with the click of a button, mirror a powerful DLP LED beam projector out of it.

That idea may sound familiar with the Samsung Galaxy Beam (or Beam 2) being the most popular of a small subset of phones that included a projector over the past few years.  The problem with the Beam and other similar phones is that 15 lumen lo-fi projectors only work well in the dark and even then, the battery only lasts about 20-30 mins while projecting. That’s after outfitting it with a super-sized battery which made the phone comically thick.

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ZTE said to hell with the phone idea and added an even more massive 5000mAh battery and made the projector 100 lumens strong which gives it the ability to become a whole new type of product while keeping its Android 4.2.2 OS. The new form factor is a 4.7-inch square with a form factor similar to a current Apple TV but about 40% bigger in every direction…

My initial review unit had a significant problem: If it was plugged in to an AC outlet via the proprietary plug (what? No MicroUSB? what year is this?), the projector didn’t work. This meant that I didn’t think it was worth reviewing but it did give me lots of opportunities to test out the battery – since it would only project after being charged after the projector was off. Even without a direct energy source, it was a very valuable device for me.

Fast forward to last month. I met up with ZTE at CES and talked to them about the problems with the LivePro and without saying it was a known problem, they kindly offered to swap out the Sprint unit for a new unit. The new one works without a hitch so I think I have to chalk it up to a bad unit or firmware update.

Projector

Over a few months, I took this thing on a lot of family and business trips, usually using it for impromptu movie watching in hotels, on ski trips and even to watch a few episodes of Cosmos on the ceiling in the kids’ room.  For this it works great. Amazing, really. We’d have no problem finishing off two 40-minute episodes of Cosmos without hearing the dreaded battery beep. I imagine you could make it through most feature length movies without a battery charge. Now that my device charges and projects at the same time, I rarely find myself needing to project unplugged.

The box says the projector is 720p but it feels like the device’s native WVGA display which is fine for normal projecting. The picture is pretty amazing for such a small portable and there are some rudimentary controls that allow you to focus. A little pop up stand extends out from the bottom but I find that the LivePro projects up a little by default.

The projector works well in a lit room but excels in a darkened room. When the lights are off you can blow up the screen to 10 feet and really have a cinematic experience. I’m not exaggerating here.  You can bring a 10-ft. display on a camping or skiing trip in a pocket of your luggage if you have the wall space.

Sound

The built-in speakers are better than any phone you’ve heard – at least until the fan starts churning – certainly good enough for some impromptu video watching. Bass is of course lacking and I preferred hooking up to a Bluetooth speaker (AUX cable also works here) set which made the videos more “cinematic”.

Hotspot

The Sprint WiFi Hotspot works just like it would on any Sprint Android phone (though this one has a 5000mAh Battery which pushes it to near 12 hours of usage). Good LTE/Spark in areas where Sprint had coverage. 3G is almost unusable in other areas. I didn’t connect 8 devices to it at once like Sprint says you can but it had no problem with 4 or 5 connected at a time.

Battery Backup?

This thing has 5,000mAh of battery and a USB port so it does provide a little emergency smartphone battery storage, but I found the USB port much more useful for powering a Chromecast portably which it did admirably. Frankly, you can buy an equivalent USB battery backup for like $10-$20 so this isn’t a huge feature – more of a “nice to have” at the right time.

The Bad:

I still have a few gripes with the whole situation:

  • It is expensive. $449 off contract or $299 on contract. Sprint has some financing options which make it more palatable.
  • Proprietary AC connector means you have to carry around its own plug and you can’t easily use external batteries. One word fix for ZTE: MicroUSB!
  • ZTE isn’t the best at sensors. That means rotating the screen is often slow, keyboard entry is often muddled and the projector focus wheel is hard to get perfect. ZTE and Sprint also point fingers at each other when it comes to the very occasional app crash or system reboot.
  • When it is projecting, the fan comes on 100% of the time. Annoying until you don’t notice it anymore or you get an external speaker involved. Would be nice if they could figure out a better way to cool the LED projector.
  • It has been on Android 4.2.2 since forever and no one (Sprint/ZTE) looks like they are motivated to update it.

Wrap up: The best portable Android projector

I initially didn’t think this was worth reviewing because of the aforementioned power issue and notes above. But in reality, I found myself using this thing all the time both as a portable projector and as a hotspot and yes, even as a battery backup. It is far from perfect as I noted but as an Android device that projects, it does get the job done.

If I am ranking devices by utility, I’ve got to put this near the top of the list of devices I’ve reviewed in the last year. When don’t you need a Projector/Battery/Hotspot, at least as a backup?

If you’ve got the cash to spend, I can recommend this with the caveats above.

If you don’t want to be tied to Sprint and can live without the LTE connection, ZTE sells a Wifi model for $399. I’ve been recommending this one in real life to people who are impressed with the Sprint one but already have a phone with a hotspot.

Specs

Operating system: Android 4.2
Battery information: 5000 mAh
Standby time: Hotspot Only – over 10 hrs
Dimensions: 4.7 x 4.7 x 1.1 inch
Display: 4″ WVGA Gorilla Glass
Weight: 14.1 oz.
Processor: Dual-Core 1.2 GHz MSM8930
Memory: 4GB ROM / 1GB RAM

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