Anker’s R2-D2 Mini Projector Is Adorable but Flawed

Illustration for article titled Anker’s R2-D2 Mini Projector Is Adorable but Flawed

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

They say if you build a better mouse trap, the world will beat a path to your door, but you can probably be just as successful by slapping some Star Wars graphics on it instead. That’s what Anker’s done with its Nebula Capsule II mini projector, which now looks like a legless version of R2-D2. The facelift doesn’t add much in terms of functionality aside from making a solid portable projector more appealing to Star Wars fans and X-wing pilots.

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As flat-screen TVs have become larger and lighter, they’re minimizing the need for an expensive video projector as a way to get a movie theater-sized screen inside a home. But mini projectors have remained an appealing alternative, making it easy to set up a movie theater almost anywhere, be it a backyard or a campsite. And that’s probably the biggest appeal of the Anker Nebula Capsule II: It’s small, but still manages to squeeze in everything you need to bring the movie theater experience anywhere. All you need to provide is the screen.

There are a few disappointments with the new Anker Nebula Capsule II R2-D2 edition, but the most obvious is that its Artoo facelift really doesn’t add much beyond a bit of novelty. The projector has the same cylindrical shape as the original, which just barely matches R2-D2’s shape. It would have been more fun to see Anker upgrade this version with a rounded dome top and a swivelling projector eye like Haier did back in 2015 just before we realized how awful those last three Star Wars films would be. In addition to the Artoo graphics, the projector does play a couple of droid-like “beep-bloops” every time it boots up, but that’s about as much enjoyment Star Wars fans are going to get out of it—aside from actually watching Star Wars with it.

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Anywhere you can carry a soda can or a water bottle you can carry the Nebula Capsule II.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

As mini projectors go, I’ve come to quite like the can-shaped design of the Nebula Capsule II over the boxy uninspired rectangle that most projector makers opt for. It’s easy to slip into a water bottle pocket on a backpack thanks in part to it being only just a tiny bit larger than an actual soda can or water bottle.

Even more impressive is that Anker has managed to include a solid sounding speaker in there too, with more than enough volume to fill a room with decent levels of bass. It obviously can’t compare to what you’d get from a dedicated surround-sound setup with a big woofer on the floor, and while you can connect a larger wireless Bluetooth speaker to the projector for better sound if you prefer, having decent sound built right in just adds to the convenience and portability of this thing.

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Also hidden away inside the Nebula Capsule II is a rechargeable battery that in my tests usually hit the 3-hour mark before completely dying, but you might see a little less than that depending on how loud the speaker is cranked. It’s more than enough to get through an entire movie in the backyard without having to run an extension cord from the house, and is easily the best reason to choose the Nebula Capsule II over the competition.

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The projector’s tall design occasionally makes it a little top heavy, but a tripod mount on the underside provides a secure place to easily mount it.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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The taller design of the projector does occasionally make it a little top heavy and a challenge to stand on a surface that’s not completely flat and level. But on the bottom is a standard tripod mount so if you bring along a flexible legged tripod that can stand on its own or wrap around another solid object, you’ll never have to worry about this thing ever toppling over.

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Media files can be accessed directly through a USB port, while consoles and streaming sticks can be easily connected using an HDMI port.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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On R2-D2’s butt you’ll find an AUX connector for those who only want to use the projector as a speaker, an HDMI port for connecting consoles or a streaming device like a Chromecast, a data-only USB port for connecting an external drive full of media files, and a USB-C port that’s only used for power and charging the battery.

Unlike most projectors that are dependent on an external video source, the Anker Nebula Capsule II is actually a full-on Android TV device that, when paired with a solid wifi connection, can stream content from services like Disney+, HBO, and YouTube, all on its own. After using it for a few weeks it makes you wonder why every projector doesn’t run Android TV, but there are some challenges. The projector unfortunately doesn’t meet Netflix’s stringent certification process, so you can’t install it natively from the Google Play Store. You can jump through hoops and sideload Netflix yourself, or install a special app that Anker has created that provides access to the streaming service. While it technically works, navigating the Netflix interface a bit of a challenge unless you want to also connect your smartphone and use it as a wireless mouse. It’s unfortunately far from ideal.

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If Netflix support is critical for you, you’re better off buying and connecting an HDMI streaming stick device like a $50 Chromecast, even if that does diminish the all-in-one benefits of the Nebula Capsule II.

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The included Android TV remote is basic and a little disappointing, because it lacks the convenient playback controls that the latest Nvidia Shield remote includes, but it works. On top of the projector you’ll also find most of the remote’s functionality replicated through a series of touch-sensitive buttons, which is nice should the remote itself go MIA. One thing that I found extremely frustrating was quickly accessing the projector’s auto-focus functionality. Simply holding down the ‘input’ button on the remote for a couple of seconds is supposed to be a shortcut to quickly trigger it, but it doesn’t work, as apparently a recent update broke that functionality. Manually activating autofocus has to be done by jumping back to the Android TV home screen and activating it through the settings, which is a pain, or holding down the middle button on top of the projector itself. Hopefully this is something that can be fixed through a future update.

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The projector can autofocus and make keystone adjustments all on its own, but occasionally the focus will soften, and manually triggering a refocus isn’t as easy as it should be.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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I haven’t dabbled with small projectors for a few years, so I was pleasantly surprised to see how easy they are to set up now. Once fully booted the Nebula Capsule II automatically corrected for keystone issues, although its ability to do so is limited to vertical adjustments, so when setting up a makeshift movie theater you’ll want to ensure the projector is horizontally centered in front of your screen. The projector was also good at focusing itself using a reference marker it temporarily projects, but focus does tend to drift as it slowly heats up during use. Sometimes the projector will realize it and refocus itself automatically (a built-in motion sensor also detects when it’s been moved or repositioned, triggering a refocus) but more often than not you need to manually trigger an autofocus, which as I mentioned before isn’t as easy as it should be.

As for image quality? Well that’s probably the biggest drawback to the Nebula Capsule II. It only projects at 720p, so you’re definitely going to see jaggies on fine details, particularly with text and on-screen menus. And in order to max out that rechargeable battery so you can get through a whole movie on a single charge, its brightness levels top out at around just 200 ANSI lumens. In a very dark room that’s bright enough to create a 100-inch image and even larger if you really push it, but even at shorter distances the Nebula Capsule II is all but unusable in the daytime, even when it’s cloudy or overcast outside.

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The included remote has a dedicated power button, but you can’t actually completely turn off the projector using it. It can only be completely powered down using a physical button on the back, so you’ll want to make sure you never permanently mount it somewhere out of reach.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

If portability is a priority, the Anker Nebula Capsule II is one of the best options around, especially for those looking for an easy way to enjoy a backyard movie on a warm summer night or while ‘roughing it’ at a campsite. It’s easy to use, and the built-in battery and speaker mean you don’t need much else besides a makeshift screen and a reliable wireless data connection to build a temporary movie theater. But for $700 it’s a tough sell for anyone also hoping to use it to replace a big screen TV. Unless you’re only planning to watch TV at night, you could be disappointed.

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We all love R2-D2, but for $300 more, a projector like the 1080p, 1,000-lumen Epson EpiqVision Mini EF12 seems like a better all around option. It lacks the portability and convenience of the Anker Nebula Capsule II, but you can use it all day long and just use your imagination to pretend it’s a loyal droid.

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