Project Your Image With ipico Handheld Projector for iPhone

| In-Depth Review

Those mostly awesome tabletop optical projectors that are used for presentations are bright but are still fairly expensive. For certain uses, it's often handy to have a handheld device that can attach to an iPhone. The ipico projector is about the size of the iPhone itself and can throw an image over 6 ft. with good visibility in darkened conditions. However, it also has some limitations.

Overview

The ipico handheld projector is about the size of an iPhone 4S, slightly narrower but thicker and weighs 3.6 ounces (102 grams). It attaches to an iPhone 3GS, 4, or 4S with the 30-pin connector and creates a handheld assembly that can project selected content onto a screen or a wall.

Intended Use for Handheld Projectors

There are times when one needs to provide a projected presentation for a group. A standard projector may not be available at, say, a small school, church or club. Or it may be, but the bulb just burned out, creating a crisis. This device can save the day. Or, you may be headed to a friend's house or a party and want to show off your latest ski or skydiving adventure. Or perhaps, you need to project some data to colleagues in a small lab environment (or boat or business jet) where a standard projector would generate too much heat or be awkward. Or power isn't available. It situations like this, it can be very handy to have a handheld projector.

It's important to note that the manufactuter, General Imaging Co., positions this device as a social tool, intended for informal use.

Design

The ipico uses a ferroelectric Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) projection system with LED lighting. The display format us qHD, 960 x 540 pixels, and can project from a half foot to about 6 ft. (15 cm to 2 meters), according to the specs.

A popup assembly has a 30-pin connector, and so no wires are needed. You can use it without having to remove some of the slimest iPhone cases.

It has a 1500 mAh battery claimed to be good for about 90 minutes of use.

It's compatible with iPhones back to 3GS and iPod touch back to 3G.  See the Specifications section below.

Operation

You'll first need to charge the projector with the supplied micro-USB to USB cable, I plugged it into a Belkin USB hub on my iMac and left it overnight. It was still flashing red the next morning, so I switched to to an Apple 5 watt charger, and that did the trick in about another 90 minutes. The next day, I read the manual and noted on Page 7 the necessity for that.

When you first connect the iPhone to the device, it prompts you to download a free companiom app, also named "ipico." That app manages the content that you can project. And this is important to note: not every app on the iDevice and its content is accessible. The ipico app allows you to project the following content only:

  • Your camera roll photos
  • Your own videos in the camera roll
  • Movies bought in iTunes
  • YouTube videos
  • Web content with a built-in browser
  • Facebook content

You can also use it as a magnifier, projecting what the iPhone's camera lens sees. There is a focus slide on the side that doubles as the on/off switch. When the LED on the side flashes red, you'll need to recharge the ipico projector.

Testing

GIC notes that the ipico isn't intended for business presentations and that its optimum use is in a darked environment,  Still, I was curious about the image in a brightly lit room. My office has wooden venetian blinds, and on a sunny afternoon I tested the device with the blinds both open and closed. The projection distance was 2.5 ft. (0.75 m.) to a beige painted wall with texture. While this may not be the optimum optical surface, I'll point out that use like this is just what the developer showcases: informal, social use at a friend's house.

L. Bright room in daytime, R. blinds closed. Projected at 2.5 ft.

Later that night, I tested gain, and you can see the dramatic difference a dark room makes.

At night, the image is pretty good.

Next, I decided to test the limits of the device in a darkened hallway. The next photos shows a projection onto a wall about 10 ft (3 m.) away, with the image about 6 ft. wide (2 m.) That's beyond the stated specs. The photo of one of our Denver winter days was still pretty crisp. (However, an SD YouTube video was quite a bit less sharp.)

Darkened hallway at night, up high. Image was decent.

Unlike those desktop projectors in the 10,000 lumen class that can work in a daylight-lit room, this product is designed to be used in a darkened environment for acceptable results. I asked GIC about the the light output in lumens. The company is still working on getting me that number. By comparison, other products in this general size and price range have outputs in the 10-50 lumens range. [UPDATE: April 10. GIC reports that the rating is 15 lumens.]

The developer claims 90 minutes of battery life. However, in speaking with GIC's representative, I found out that one can have the charging cable attached while the unit is operating. So if you have access to a power outlet, the device can run indefinitely, and you'll be able to finish watching a long movie.

The Software

The accompanying ipico app feels solid and well thought out. The splash page shows the content options available, and there are help functions for each mode.

The Settings are rather minimal, but one does have control over gamma, brightness and contrast (under "Enhance") in most modes.

You can check the battery level of both devices. However, the app was a little off from the actual iPhone 4S reading seen at the top.

There is help for each content mode.

The Help page is good.

All in all, the free ipico app, with its limits, is easy to use and well thought out.

Limitations and Issues

There are several major issues with this product.

1. You can only project selected content listed above by default. My surmise is that some percentage of customers will overlook the listed imitations and buy the device thinking that they can project content from any iPhone app. I specifically asked the developer about the technical reasons for this limitation, but the reply was evasive: "The ipico is a true social tool that makes it incredibly easy to share favorite moments, from photos and videos, to social channels and movies, as well as websites. While there are available applications that will allow you to project Keynote or PowerPoint slides, the idea behind ipico was never to be for business presentation purposes."  The developer provides a video that characterizes the intended use.

2. The ipico app directs the customer to a 3rd party app, Go Universal, that adds the ability to project, for example:

  • Email attachments
  • PDFs and text files
  • Keynote presentations
  • Netflix
  • Powerpoint files in an email attachment

But there's more. I spoke with a representative of Platform Development in Idaho, the developer of the Go Universal app as well as the lesser capability ipico app that it's included free. He pointed out that the Go Universal app can, in fact:

  • Display any document that can be saved to the iPhone.
  • Work with any app that supports video out via the 30-pin connector.

It's a very general document reader. GIC had the option to include this app instead, but declined, I was told. Considering that the customer has already shown high expectations by his or her choice of an iPhone, providing a lesser capability app will, I suspect, likely lead to customer disappointment.

3. The way this device connects to the iPhone, with no cradle or supporting structure, is problematic. I continued to fret that the iPhone would twist slightly out of the 30-pin connector and break the connection. As a result, I found my self gripping it firmly, like a sandwich, to avoid that slight twist and disconnect.

To offset that, there are two anti-skid pads on the surface, but they didn't work really well on the slick surface of the iPhone 4S I used for testing. I'd really like to see some kind of supporting cradle, but then that would also detract from the aesthetics and clean lines of the device. My belief is that the current design will annoy many users, however.

Specifications and Warranty

The manufacturer lists these specifications.

The manufacturer's warranty is one year for materials and workmanship and is not transferrable. I would expect that because of the nature of the design, LCoS and LED lighting, the worries over a burnt out optical system would be minimal. I asked the developer about the estimated time to failure for the optical system, if it's repairable, and a what cost. The reply: "The ipico carries a one year manufacturer's warranty and is the affordable attachment device to an iPhone or iPod Touch." The conclusion must be that if it fails out of warranty, you'll have to buy another one.

Documentation

Included with the product are three pieces of paper, 7 x 7 cm.

  • An 11 page user manual. The type is small.
  • A 4 page written warranty.
  • A single page quick start guide for charging that includes explanation of the modes of the status light.

Like Apple, I would prefer a small card that simply points to a URL for all this information.

What's Included

  • The ipico projector.
  • A micro-USB to USB cable.
  • Cleaning cloth.
  • User manual.

Conclusions

Apple customers these days are very fussy. They've grown accustomed to the excellence in design and functionality of iPhones, and they have developed very high expectations. One of those expectations would likely be the ability to project content with the capabilities of the Go Universal app -- which should have been included in my opinion. I was disappointed by the decision to include a lesser app. Also, I was disappointed in the way the iPhone attaches.

As a result of the product's limitations, I would suggest it as a specialty solution for very specific kinds of uses, planned going in, as the developer recommends. In the end, I see it as product that does the intended job but whose limitations, as shipped, will, nevertheless, fall short of customer expectations for many.

Finally, I asked about whether an iPhone 5 version will ship, and the response was that they will keep me posted.

 

Product: ipico handheld projector for iPhone

Company: General Imaging Co.

List Price: US$129.99

Pros:

Compact, light weight, good optical design and technology, good fit and finish, generally good overall product concept. Well designed (but limited) accompanying app.

Cons:

Able to project only certain content as shipped. Upgrade required to add more capabiility. Problematic attachment mechanism. Best results in dim light. This model limited to iPod 3G or later, iPhone 3GS, 4, 4S with 30-pin connector.

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