Samsung Galaxy Beam Press Image
Phones with built-in projectors were a great idea, but the technology of the time wasn't yet ready. Today they might be much better, but other options have emerged that effectively make the melding of phones and projectors unnecessary.

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

Why Put a Projector In 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 pixel count in a modern 1440p phone.

The idea that your smartphone could conjure a 50-inch image wherever you could find an open bit of wall is obviously appealing. You could watch movies on the hotel room ceiling or work on spreadsheets without bringing your laptop along.

It’s all made possible by “pico” projector technology, sometimes referred to as “pocket” or “handheld” projectors. Thanks to advancements in LED and laser technology, along with micromirror arrays, projectors can be squeezed into a phone-sized box. Since the projector and phone would share some electronics anyway, you can make a device that’s somewhat bigger than either the projector or phone by itself, but still very portable.

RELATED: How to Connect Your Android Device to a Projector

Projector Phones Existed for a While

Projector phones were more than just an experimental idea. Just like folding phones today, various companies actually brought these phones to market and sold them to the public.

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

Various companies would release phones with built in projectors over the following years, 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 In Phones Today?

Similar devices have been released more recently, but mainly from companies you likely haven’t heard of, and rarely for global availability. The 2018 Blackview Max 1, for example, was meant for the Chinese market, although it is available in some other regions as well. As a big-brand, mainstream phone design however, projector phones have effectively dropped off the map.

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

First, the technology is expensive and comes with numerous compromises to ergonomics, performance, battery life, and more. This means 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. Although these phones are undeniably cool, who are they for? The number of people who need a projector in a smartphone surely represents a tiny niche. So we don’t expect that Galaxy Beams were flying off the shelves.

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

Could Phones With Projectors Return?

But 2014 was a long time ago, and technology has really advanced quite a lot 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 we don’t think it’s likely there will be any more serious attempts at making projector phones. For one thing, we now have devices like the Nreal Air, that 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 pop a Meta Quest 2 into their bag if they really want a portable massive screen for personal use.

If you want to do a presentation, most modern smart TVs let you cast content to them with a few taps of a button, and actual portable projectors are cheaper and better than ever. Taking some of the smaller models with you for use with your phone is only slightly less convenient than a convergent device.

So while these projector phones are still sci-fi cool today, the actual tangent of smartphone development is probably veering in a different direction.

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Profile Photo for Sydney Butler Sydney Butler
Sydney Butler has over 20 years of experience as a freelance PC technician and system builder. He's worked for more than a decade in user education and spends his time explaining technology to professional, educational, and mainstream audiences. His interests include VR, PC, Mac, gaming, 3D printing, consumer electronics, the web, and privacy. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Research Psychology with a focus on Cyberpsychology in particular.
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