Sep 15 AT 7:30 AM Brooks Barnard 0 Comments

Does a projector need to be smart? A review of the ZTE Spro 2

ZTE Spro 2 feature

The ZTE Spro 2 was announced at CES the beginning of the of this year. This is ZTE’s follow up to their original Sprint LivePro, which is simply a portable projector that runs Android with a display that has a giant battery and is a mobile hotspot. Simple, right? The Spro 2 is an application for the Android operating system that I’ve never used before. I’ve also never felt the need to have a device that are all the things that the Spro 2 is. But there was also a point in my life when I thought mobile phones were stupid and I didn’t need one. Is a portable smart projector something I need in my life? And does it need to be the ZTE Spro 2?

We were sent the Spro 2 from ZTE with Verizon mobile connectivity. The Spro 2 was tested for over two weeks in various locations, on a road trip, and at home. My first first impressions of the Spro 2 are detailed here. This is our full assessment of ZTE’s portable smart projector.

1. Hardware

The ZTE Spro 2 is a projector that runs Android. It has a display, a power button, and volume buttons. You’ll even recognize many of the specs below as hardware you’ve seen or experienced in Android phones.

  • Dimensions: 5.3″ x 5.2″ x 1.2″
  • Weight: 1lb 4.4oz
  • Display: 5-inch 720p touch screen display with capacative buttons
  • Projector: 200 lumens, 720p
  • Battery: 6300 mAH non-removable battery
  • Processor: 2.0GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800
  • Memory: 2GB RAM/16GB ROM with an SD card slot up to 64GB
  • OS: Skinned Android 4.4 KitKat
  • Connectivity: 802.11 b/g/n 2.4GHz & 5GHz
  • Ports: HDMI, USB, 3.5mm audio
  • Price: Verizon: $599.99, AT&T: $499 off-contract $399 on-contract

2. Design

I think the design of the ZTE Spro 2 is great, but there are also some things that I think could be improved. On the top of the device you’ll find the power button and the 5-inch display. The front of the device contains the projector. The left and right side of the device contain a vent for the cooling fan and volume buttons, respectively. The back of the device contains the power, HDMI, USB and audio ports as well as the microSD and SIM card slots. The bottom of the device has rubber nubs to give the Spro 2 a soft firm sitting position and speaker grills. The bottom also includes a retractable stand to elevate the front of the device and a tripod mount.

First, I’ll discuss what I like. The ZTE Pro is a nice looking device. It’s a square with rounded edges that gives it a modern yet retro look. I think the buttons and ports are in useful places. I like that the power button lights up as a notification light.

Then there are a few things that could stand to be improved upon. The stand on the bottom of the device only has one setting. I wish there was adjustment available because not every table is the perfect height and distance from the wall you want to project on. I found myself hunting for things with the perfect thickness to prop under the stand or under the back of the device to get the picture where I wanted. More height adjustment options would be really helpful.

Also, this is more of a personal preference, but I wish the device had on-screen buttons rather than capacitive buttons. The use of the display on the Spro 2 feels much like a using a tablet, always horizontally. It makes viewing a lot of things very awkward. You can turn auto-rotate on and the display will rotate. The size of the display will remind you of using a phone, but your buttons are now on the side. It’s just strange.

Something to note, the charger isn’t what you’d expect from a typical Android device, but is maybe what you’d expect for a projector. Rather than a microUSB cable, you get a wall charger that looks like your typical Windows laptop wall charger. After thinking about it and the amount of energy the Spro 2 needs to charge the 6,300 mAh battery and power the projector, I’m not surprised it doesn’t use a microUSB cable. But it wasn’t what I expected.

Overall, I think you’ll be impressed with the look and function of the ZTE Spro 2. Everyone I’ve shown the device to is impressed with it and wanted to find out more about it.

3. Build Quality

I am happy with the build quality of the ZTE Spro 2. The device is almost entirely made of plastic but it doesn’t creak or feel cheap. The power and volume buttons are tactile and feel nice, but the volume buttons could stand to be tightened up, as they are a bit loose. The glass with round ends on the front of the device looks great. I doubt that anyone will be disappointed with the build quality of the Spro 2.

4. Display

ZTE Spro 2-3

The display on the ZTE Spro 2 is nothing special. It’s a typical 5-inch 720p LCD display. Comparing it to my Nexus 6, the whites are whiter, the blacks aren’t as black. Viewing angles are good. 720p is not as crisp as 1440p, which is perfectly fine for this application.

However, I have a hard time ripping on the display, because there’s so many different ways to see what’s going on with the ZTE Spro 2. When you turn on the 720p projector, you see exactly what’s on the display. So, the LCD display becomes a remote to what you’re seeing on your wall. In addition, ZTE has provided a free app, Spro 2 Remote Control, to do exactly as the name implies, which is remotely controlling the Spro 2  from your phone. The app displays exactly what you see on the Spro2 and what it’s projecting, so navigation via the app on your phone is simple. The app could be better, but once again, you have another window from an entirely different device to control the projector.

There are plenty of displays with which to interact with the Spro 2, but the LCD one on the device is nothing special.

5. Software

The ZTE Spro 2 runs a skinned version of Android 4.4 KitKat. That’s several versions of Android behind Google’s latest and greatest. If the Spro 2 was a phone, I would think being this far behind is laughable. But on a projector, where many of the new security and accessibility features available on the newer versions of Android are much less needed, I don’t see KitKat as being a big issue.

As for the ZTE Android skin itself, the launcher is setup like an app drawer with different tabs that the apps can be stored in. The home tab has a projector settings widget that allows you to turn the projector on and off, toggle autofocus, and brightness. It also has a Google search widget. These widgets cannot be moved nor can you add new widgets, as far as I can tell. Other tabs that the device comes with are Media, Office, Settings, and Apps. Tabs can be added, named, and removed. To move apps from one tab to another requires a long press. You can also add folders to the tabs by long pressing and dragging to a folder area on the launcher. In the settings tab, there are widgets to take you to projector settings and system settings as well as QR code links to take you to the Spro 2 remote app for your phone. The Apps tab contains all the apps on the device.

Apps on the Android 4.4 KitKat skin all have big colorful square masks making it easy to select apps. The app grid in the launcher is 2×5. Apps that come preloaded on the Spro 2 are Dolphin Browser, WPS Office, Power Media Player, and ZTE sound recorder, video player, and file explorer apps.

The launcher is extremely simple to use, which is a good thing. It’s different from your typical Android phone experience but I think what ZTE has done to simplify the experience to work with the projector makes sense. In addition to the launcher, ZTE has included notification toggles for many different settings such as toggling the projector, projector brightness, input, WiFi, hotspot, etc. One other software feature I want to note is a three-finger swipe gesture to toggle on and off the projector. The gesture works great and I found it super useful when super sleepy at night and wanting to turn off whatever was still streaming on the device.

6. Performance

As for network performance, I took the ZTE Spro on a road trip from Seattle to San Francisco. It’s about a thirteen hour drive (without stopping) and the kids quickly grew tired of the apps I loaded onto the non-data connected Android devices we let them use for the trip. The Spro 2 is available on AT&T and Verizon’s networks, and we were provided a Verizon-connected Spro 2. The Spro 2 worked brilliantly on Verizon’s network. I think partnering with Verizon for this device was a brilliant move for ZTE. My kids love the YouTube Kids app, and they watched YouTube videos for much of a drive. Only one time in the 838 miles of driving did my kid notice an issue with connectivity, which was due to being in the middle of nowhere and not because of radio issues with the Spro 2. Data speeds on the Spro 2 are comparable to my Verizon connected Nexus 6.

As for device performance. It ran completely smooth with normal tasks such as Neflix or YouTube streaming. I downloaded Need for Speed Most Wanted on it and it performed great without lagging or skipping frames. I think the Spro 2 will easily meet any normal performance needs for a projector.

7. Audio

The ZTE Spro 2 has a speaker that fires out of the bottom of the device and it can get decently loud. Obviously, if you have speakers to plug into the projector they’re probably going to sound better than the projector on its own, but for being a portable projector I was quite pleased with it. On several occasions I set up the projector to keep kids company and the audio was able to be heard over kids who did not care about the other children’s movie watching experience.

When I compared the volume output from the Spro 2 with my Nexus 6 with dual firing front speakers, the Nexus 6 slightly outperformed the Spro 2. I also think the Nexus 6 had better sound. If you want quality sound to go with your awesome projected images, I would suggest to plug in some speakers to the Spro 2. But if you’re just after portability, the Spro 2 speaker should get the job done.

8. Projector

ZTE Spro 2-2

Judging projector quality is very much out of my league. The ZTE Spro 2 has impressed me, but I could simply be easily impressed. When plugged in, the Spro 2 allows you to use the projector with full brightness which can be difficult to see indoors with a lot of natural light entering the house. The Spro 2 only has a 200 lumen projector, which puts it in what I find to be the very low end of projector brightness. Like most customers, I don’t have a nice screen to project onto, so that probably made matters worse. Additionally if the Spro 2 is unplugged, the Spro 2 doesn’t allow you to project in full brightness, basically making the picture impossible to see indoors during the day and without a screen.

However, at night I thought the Spro 2 did great. I thoroughly enjoyed projecting my nighttime Netflix or Hulu+ viewing across my bedroom wall. It was a good deal more fun to use than my 26″ Vizio.

One annoyance with the projector is the autofocus. Every time you turn on the projector it attempts to focus the image and it probably doesn’t do it right nearly 50% of the time. The best way I found to remedy the issue was to cycle the projector off and on again. It was usually able to correct the focus after a cycle or two.

The Spro 2 comes with keystone correction, which is something I had never heard of before. If you’re projecting on a surface that isn’t perpendicular to your projector, like projecting at an angle onto the ceiling, it automatically skews the image so it appears rectangular. Although the keystone correction is probably not unique to the Spro 2, the feature works well and it’s quite impressive, having never experienced it before.

So for $599, I wish ZTE could have put a brighter lamp in the Spro 2. It is a “smart projector”, but as far as I can tell it’s much pricier than a lot of the competition out there with regards to lumen brightness. But we have to keep in mind how many other features this device has that a non-smart projector doesn’t. It begs the question, however, does one need a smart projector?

9. Battery Life

The 6,300 mAh battery in the ZTE Spro 2 provides great battery life. The Spro 2 provided a Wi-Fi hotspot for the 15 hours it took my family and I to drive from Seattle to San Francisco and had battery to spare. I also performed a test running the projector unplugged starting with a full charge. The Spro 2 projected for 3 hours and 18 minutes before it died. ZTE advertises only 2.5 hours of projection so my unit over delivered, which is great. 3+ hours will easily get you beyond the length of an average movie. So, battery life shouldn’t be an issue with this device.

10. Extras

The Spro 2 comes with a few goodies in the box. It comes with an HDMI cable and a neoprene carrying case, which is basically a nice zipper pouch to carry it in. Compared to most phones, the HDMI cable and case are decent extras that ZTE probably didn’t have to include, but are convenient to have in the box.

ZTE Spro 26.5 / 10

Overall, I have loved my experience with the ZTE Spro 2. I don’t want to give it back to ZTE. The experience has been smooth and it has worked as advertised. In general, I like the design and look of the projector. My biggest beef with the design is that I wish it had more height adjustment options.

That being said, I’m convinced I want a projector in my life but I’m not convinced I need the ZTE Spro 2. I don’t need a mobile hotspot. And although the display is nice to have, I think putting a Chromecast in a cheaper projector will offer me the same effect I can get with with Spro 2. I think the experience might even be a bit smoother with the Chromecast because the Spro 2 remote app isn’t awesome. It’s not bad, but it’s not great either.

Who’s the ZTE Spro 2 for? A traveling salesman, maybe? I could see the benefit of not having to worry about the equipment your customers have on hand. You have a mobile hotspot and a device that can hold all your presentations. Just walk in and show your customer your stuff. Who else? Maybe a family on the go with an RV or a portable projector screen? People who like to watch movies outside? The Spro 2 does have a big battery on board and has LTE connectivity, so you could stream whatever you want from anywhere with a data connection. Other projectors can’t do that, but how often will you be projecting away from Wi-Fi or home?

As a device, the ZTE Spro 2 is great. I have very few complaints about it, and those are mostly small annoyances. Here are the prices: The Spro 2 is available now from ZTE USA’s website and Amazon (Verizon version) for $599.99 plus tax, and from AT&T for $499.99 with no contract or $399.99 with a 2-year contract. Interestingly, I can’t find the ZTE Spro 2 on Verizon Wireless’s website. I would be much more into the Spro 2 at a cheaper off-contract price. But as it stands, I’m not going to go out of my way to pick one up.

What are your thoughts on the ZTE Spro 2? As far as my opinion goes, it’s quite an interesting device and I think it’s fun to see unique use cases for Android. Do you think a projector is a good application for Android? Do you think you would want a smart portable projector? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

Brooks is an engineer living in the Bay Area recently dislocated from the Great Northwest. He's an Android enthusiast who decided to start doing something (productive?) with his countless hours Android modding and theming. He has a hot wife, is a father of three, an avid F1 fan, and enjoys watching sports when he can. His current devices include the Nexus 6 and 7 (2103) both running stock roms and may or may not be rooted. You can follow Brooks on Twitter @Brooks_Barnard.

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