Samsung Freestyle Portable Projector (2023) Review
This newly updated transportable LED projector is cute and compact, and has a trick or two up its sleeve, reports Steve May…
Freestyle Portable Projector (2023)
AUD $1,299 RRP
There’s a Gecko on my wall. I’m mesmerised by its bright green skin and weird, agile tongue. It purposefully saunters around as if waiting for something tasty to fly by. The detail I can see in its eyes is remarkable. Then I switch channels and land on American Idol. Simon Cowell stares at me, face as big as a fridge.
I’m auditioning the latest iteration of Samsung’s Freestyle, a compact portable projector able to turn any wall into a big-screen display. There’s no need to fuss about with set-up menus or screen; this projector is plonk and play. Auto-everything manages focus and keystone correction. If you want to supersize your viewing for a movie, TV show or nature documentary with minimal fuss, its AV appeal is obvious. So is this the home cinema projector you’ve been waiting for?
The (SP-LSP3) 2023 update of the Samsung Freestyle may look identical to its predecessor, but it boasts an improved processor and software, and can now perform a clever edge blending party trick when two Freestyles are partnered together.
When it comes to design, this Freestyle is on point. The cylindrical body sits on a circular base and can pivot 180 degrees to point at walls or even the ceiling. This isn’t a projector designed to work with a dedicated screen; it just requires a (preferably white) clear, clean wall. The more wall space you have, the bigger the image you can cast.
You can run a Freestyle off the mains, from a dedicated Samsung Battery case, or a USB power bank. Smart connectivity is provided by Samsung’s Tizen platform. In use, it’s not much different to a smart Samsung TV. The sound system is built-in.
Easily moved from room to room, it weighs 0.83 kg and is just about bright enough for quasi-daylight viewing – although it obviously has more punch in a darker environment. Samsung quotes 230 ANSI Lumens, although subjectively, I think it looks brighter.
While not natively water or dust-proof, Samsung does sell an IP55-rated carry case, which would be recommended if you plan on taking it camping. The Freestyle comes in a default trendy white, although you can customise it with a coloured cover – and there’s also the option of Beige, Pink and Green.
Measuring a compact 17x10cm, the Freestyle can be parked just about anywhere. There are some touchscreen controls on the business end, for volume, microphone and power, but most users will opt to use the supplied solar-powered remote control. This has dedicated buttons for Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+ and Samsung TV Plus, Samsung’s IP-delivered channel selection – where you’ll find American Idol and the aforementioned nature documentary, amongst hundreds of others.
The projector uses a DLP chip with an LED light source. Lamp life is rated at 30,000 hours. To protect the lens, it comes with a plastic cap. There’s very little that needs to be done when it comes to setup. Auto-focus ensures the picture is pin-sharp, and keystone correction automatically flattens out wonky geometry. If it’s sat on uneven ground, auto-levelling straightens out the baseline. It is designed from the outset for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth use. Physical connections are limited to a mini HDMI port, plus USB-C for power.
The integrated audio system is evidenced by the perforations around the chassis. Its output is fairly omnidirectional and fine for casual viewing. It can also double as a Bluetooth smart speaker, although the audio power output is a modest 5W. For private listening, there’s support for Multi Bluetooth Pairing, letting you connect two Bluetooth earbuds simultaneously.
Samsung’s Tizen smart platform is tried and tested and works equally well with or without a TV tuner. There’s no shortage of premium streaming apps. Navigating Tizen is pretty easy. Just choose your preferred streaming service, or scroll down the rails of curated content. The app cupboard is stocked with Netflix, Prime Video, Disney+, Samsung TV Plus, iPlayer, ITVX, Apple TV, Now, YouTube, All4 amongst others. There’s also now a new hub for cloud gaming.
While there’s no conventional tuner on board, browsing Samsung TV Plus is a comparable experience. It’s a seemingly endless list of FAST (Free Advertising Supported TV) linear streaming channels. You’ll always have something to watch. The unit works with Samsung SmartThings, and Apple AirPlay 2. A far-field mic built-in enables voice assistant control, using Amazon Alexa or Bixby.
You don’t actually need a huge throw distance to cast a large image. 2 metres will give you a 75-inch image. Edge up to 3, and you’ll reach 100-inches. The throw ratio is fixed at 1.2. While portable, there’s no battery built-in. Instead, you’ll need an external power bank, be it Samsung branded, or USB-PD with a 50W/20V output or above.
Although limited to HD image resolution, there is compatibility with HDR (High Dynamic Range) sources, be they HDR10, HDR10+ and HLG. That said, there’s not much a projector can do with HDR at the best of times, and certainly not with the light output of the Freestyle. But the pictures certainly have eye appeal – images are generally bright and engaging in low and no light conditions, with bright primary colours a real standout (the projector employs Samsung’s Crystal Engine and PurColor processing). While you could run it in rooms with some ambient light, it’s not really going to attract attention.
Picture resolution is subjectively high, with crisp detail. It looks superb with animation and brightly lit subject matter. Pluto TV Animals (on Samsung TV Plus), provides plenty of excellent demo material, from wild cats in forests, to spectacular landscapes. Black levels may be limited, but average picture level and contrast are high. Picture presets include Dynamic, Standard, and Movie. My recommendation would be to stick with the Standard output, although I will confess to enjoying some Dynamic viewing, too. Motion handling is smooth and largely without artefacts or colour fringing.
Edge-blending has been a feature of high-end professional projectors for years and is typically regarded as a pro AV tool – so it’s amazing to find it offered here. Essentially, you can use it to create a super-wide, 21:9 aspect ratio image using two synced-up Samsung Freestyle projectors. Setup involves pairing your Freestyles on the Smartthings app, I used a Galaxy Z Flip 5. Syncing the projectors involves overlapping images of cartoon stickers from each projector and then ‘blending’ them using the phone’s camera. A little bit of processing, and suddenly, you have an ultra wide image seamlessly joined.
The feature is more impressive the larger you can cast the image, so it does require a sizeable footprint. Essentially, the two Freestyles need to be positioned like a pair of towed-in stereo speakers, with the screen acting as the listening position. While this party trick is technically brilliant, finding appropriate content is a challenge. It can either be video in the correct aspect ratio mirrored from your phone, or a still digital image. When you select a picture, it’s cropped to fit the ‘Scope aspect ratio. The technology also requires two 2023 models for blending to work, so you can’t use last year’s Freestyle. Note that the iOS version of the Smartthings app does not yet support video streaming.
The Samsung Freestyle’s audio performance is obviously constrained by its compact chassis, but it does the job. That rear-facing sound system spreads the soundstage wide, and there’s some midrange weight to its output too; it doesn’t sound thin like most projection sound systems. I rate the audio as being perfectly fine for non-critical use, although you can hook up a soundbar or external sound system, using ARC over that mini HDMI connection if you want to beef things up. Operational noise is relatively high at around 30dB, but is constant and tends to be masked by the soundtrack of whatever you’re watching. I didn’t find it particularly distracting.
In many ways, Samsung is setting the pace when it comes to projection tech. At one end of the scale, it offers its 4k resolution Premiere Ultra Short Throw range for home theatres, and at the other, the Freestyle, a big screen connected experience that can be enjoyed almost anywhere. While you shouldn’t consider this to be a gaming projector, the introduction of a cloud gaming hub on Tizen certainly adds to its appeal. A quick bout of casual gameplay between box set binges is not to be sniffed at – the kids will love it.
Picture quality is remarkable given its compact nature. Pictures are detailed, and colour vibrancy is high. The introduction of Smart Edge Blending is impressive, but obviously niche, as not too many people are going to double up on hardware to experience it – but it does point to the kind of invention the enabling technology makes possible. Overall, the Samsung Freestyle Second Generation is a great portable projector with a unique feature set. It’s highly recommended.
Steve is a home entertainment technology specialist. Creator of Home Cinema Choice magazine, Steve is also the editor of the lifestyle website The Luxe Review and has an unconditional love of glam rock.
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