Back in 2017, Anker ran a crowdfunding campaign that raised over a million dollars for the Nebula Capsule, a can-sized mini projector that won rave reviews and all kinds of awards.
A year later they did it again, raising a similar amount for the Capsule II. The idea of a projector you can drop in a bag and use to watch shows anywhere from your back yard to a campsite in the middle of nowhere appeals to a lot of people.
I’ve always wondered, though, how well tiny projectors like this actually work in practice. Are they really small enough to take away on a trip with you? Do they work well enough that you’d actually use them when you got there? Are they worth the money?
Anker recently sent me one so I could decide for myself.
Features and Specifications
The Nebula Capsule II is a noticeable upgrade from its predecessor, but the jump in specifications came with a jump in size and weight as well. At 3.2 x 3.2 x 5.9″ and 24oz (8 x 8 x 15cm and 680g), the marketing now compares it to a pint-sized can rather than a soda can.
You now get 720p resolution, 200 ANSI lumens of brightness, and an 8W speaker. Those are all major improvements on the earlier model, addressing many of the criticisms leveled at that version. There’s a 9700mAh battery inside the Capsule II, which gives up to three hours of viewing time.
Chromecast is built-in, so you can stream most apps from your phone, tablet, or laptop to the projector. HDMI, aux, Bluetooth, and USB-A round out the connectivity options. There’s a tripod mount on the bottom of the projector, for more flexibility about where you place it.
The remote is a simple affair, with navigation and power buttons, volume, and input selection. There’s also a dedicated Google Assistant button and microphone in the remote, so you can search for content using your voice if that’s your jam.
The box for the Capsule II seemed relatively big and heavy when it arrived, so I was surprised by how small the projector itself was. While the promo shots showing it cupped in a disembodied hand are optimistic unless you’re a giant, this is definitely still a very compact device.
Many companies have learned from Apple’s high-quality product unboxing experience, and Anker’s no exception here. The box is made from thick, glossy cardboard, and the lid folds out to a full-color image of a family happily watching a movie in their stylized backyard.
Other than the projector, there wasn’t much else in the box: a small-ish remote control with two AAA batteries, a charger and cable, and an envelope with a quick-start guide and postcards of people joyously watching their favorite shows.
The charger is unsurprisingly also an Anker model, a single-port 30W USB-C version that you could just as easily use to charge your phone, tablet, or many models of laptop.
Sleek and understated, the can-shaped projector looks and feels like the premium product it is. The back has a couple of buttons, one for powering it on and off, the other for switching from projector to Bluetooth speaker mode.
There are four sockets near the base: aux, HDMI, USB-A, and USB-C (for charging). If you’re not using the remote or app, you control the unit via an array of touch-sensitive buttons on the top. Navigation and selection are most prominent, but there are volume controls and a back button as well.
Setting up the Capsule II for the first time only took a couple of minutes. After selecting a language, it offered to import Wi-Fi and account details from my (Android) phone, which took care of most of the initial configuration.
It then suggested installing any or all of the phone apps that had Android TV equivalents, and that was nearly it for on-device setup. All that was left was Netflix: since the app isn’t officially certified for the Capsule II, you need to use a minor workaround if you want to install it.
This process used to be far more painful, but now you only need to search for and install the “Nebula Manager” app onto the projector, then select and install Netflix. The same applies to Prime Video, Disney+, and a few other apps. Once it’s installed and signed in, it was two clicks instead of one to launch Netflix. Not a big deal.
There’s also a companion “Nebula Connect” app that lets you use your phone’s screen as a mouse or controller, or enter text using your phone keyboard. That second part is useful when entering account information or searching for something to watch, as it’s much quicker than using the projector’s on-screen keyboard.
One of the bugbears with most portable projectors is the preparation. You need to find somewhere flat to put it, make sure it’s an appropriate distance from a large, smooth, light-colored surface to project onto, mess around with keystone and focus settings, and then hope it’s dark enough to actually see whatever you’re trying to watch.
At least with fixed home projectors, you only have to go through this process once. With portable versions, you get to do it pretty much every time you want to use it.
Given all that, the Capsule II does its best to make things easier. Keystone and focus are automatic by default, and the projector senses when it’s been moved and recalibrates accordingly. You can also hold down the HDMI button on the remote or the center button on the projector to refocus, with no need to mess around in the settings.
The auto-focus trigger could do with being a bit more sensitive, though: there were a number of times that I moved the projector by a foot or two and it stayed resolutely out of focus until I hit the button on the remote.
I tested the projector in a few different-sized rooms in my house, as well as an outside wall. As you’d expect, the further from the wall I got, the larger, dimmer, and softer the image became. The manual specifies a “throw distance” of between roughly two and ten feet (0.6-3.1m), and that feels about right.
For one of my tests, I set the projector up around fifteen feet from the wall in a dark room. The video was still watchable but quite dim, and text became harder to read in the menus and navigation screens. The “ideal” distance will depend entirely on where you’re viewing from, but it probably won’t be more than ten feet.
- Dimensions: 3.2 x 3.2 x 5.9 inches (8 x 8 x 15cm)
- Weight: 24oz (680g)
- Battery: 9700mAh: up to 3 hours (video), 30 hours (music)
- Resolution and Brightness: 720p (1280 x 720), 200 ANSI lumens
- Operating system: Android TV 9.0
Since the Capsule II doesn’t have horizontal keystoning, it needs to be straight-on to the surface it’s projecting onto. The automatic vertical keystoning worked well when projecting onto a flat wall, but unsurprisingly it didn’t deal with a sloped ceiling. Switching to manual settings gave me just enough adjustment to get a straight image.
Depending on where and how you use the projector, you’ll probably find a tripod to be a useful addition. Anker sells one, but most sturdy tripods with a standard 1/4″ screw mount will do the job. They’ll let you adjust the height and angle as needed, especially when you only have limited space to project onto.
Anker suggests that the Capsule II can project up to a 40″ image in bright conditions or a 100″ image in dark ones. Based on my testing, I’d suggest planning to only use the projector at night or with the curtains drawn. The image was too dim to see easily from more than a couple of feet away indoors on a sunny day.
As long as the room was dark enough, though, the viewing experience was better than I’d expected. While the picture was dimmer and colors less saturated than my television, it didn’t detract from the experience as long as the projector was close enough to the wall.
The speaker was more than loud enough to hear voices and music clearly at around half volume, at least in a quiet room. There’s noticeable fan noise when the Capsule II is running, but it wasn’t audible when I was watching a show.
Since it uses Android TV, there are nearly 4000 apps available to download and install. I picked a few of the most useful ones, from YouTube to Plex, VLC to Netflix (as above), and settled in for a watch party.
They all installed in under a minute, and worked exactly as you’d expect. If you’ve ever used the apps on a smart TV, you’ll have no problems here. Being able to use the remote, smartphone app, or buttons on top of the projector made navigation as easy as it will ever be on Android TV.
Using the Capsule II Offline
So the Capsule II works well when it’s connected to the internet, but what about when it’s not? From campsites to cabins, there are plenty of potential places to use this projector where Wi-Fi doesn’t exist or is too slow to stream video.
Fortunately, you have options. The Netflix app, for example, lets you download shows for offline viewing. Not all shows are enabled for this, but many are.
The Capsule II only has 8GB of storage, though, some of which is used for apps and the operating system. There’s enough space for a couple of movies or maybe a season of a TV show, but don’t expect to download endless amounts of entertainment.
As an alternative, if you happen to have a collection of video or music files that you’ve (undoubtedly legally) obtained from somewhere, you can copy them to a USB stick, insert it into the projector, and play them using the VLC app. It worked perfectly in my testing.
The Spotify TV app for Android TV doesn’t let you download music to listen offline, even if you’ve got a premium account. Given that you can’t stop the Capsule II from projecting while using that app, though, you’d be better off downloading songs to Spotify on your phone or tablet and streaming them over Bluetooth anyway.
If you plan to game using the Capsule II, you’ve basically got two options: project the screen from another device like a console, laptop, or mobile device, or play one of the hundreds of games on the Android TV store.
If your device has an HDMI port, you can plug a cable directly between it and the projector. If not, you’ll need to cast to the Chromecast instead. Whatever approach you use, it’s probably better for leisurely games than fast-action ones due to the small-but-inevitable display lag.
If you have a compatible controller, you can play games directly on the Capsule II instead. You might be able to get away with using the remote for some basic games, but it’s not enjoyable and I doubt I’d ever be quite desperate enough to bother.
There’s a dedicated menu button to browse the games store, while searching and installing only takes a minute or two. Any compatible games that you’ve installed on an Android phone or tablet in the past will show up as potential options, letting you install them straight away.
One of the few things that got a downgrade between the first and second versions of the Capsule was battery life. The original model was rated for around four hours of viewing, but the extra brightness and resolution of the Capsule II sees that drop to 2.5-3 hours depending on which spec sheet you’re reading.
Starting with a full charge, I streamed an HD YouTube video for two hours and 51 minutes before the projector flashed up a low battery message and shut down. The power light started flashing red about half an hour beforehand as a warning.
You can apparently expect up to 30 hours of music playback over Bluetooth, so while it makes for a very expensive portable speaker, it’s at least a long-lasting one. I didn’t fully test that claim, but had no problems streaming a Spotify playlist for several hours in the sun one lazy Sunday afternoon.
When it comes to charging, how long it takes depends entirely on which charger you use. With the 30W charger in the box, Anker suggests it will take around 2.5 hours, but lesser wall chargers will take 5-7+ hours. In my testing, it took just over two hours from empty to full with the factory charger.
If you’re heading off-grid and planning to use the Capsule II regularly, you’ll need to think about how to keep it powered. A portable battery will do the trick, but it needs plenty of capacity: even a high-end one like this will likely only give around six or seven extra hours of viewing.
If you’re car-camping, you can also charge the Capsule II with a good USB-C car charger. Whether you’re using a car charger or a portable battery, going for a model that supports at least 30W power delivery (PD) will speed things up dramatically.
Anker has done an impressive job of cramming a powerful, useful projector into a device you can hold in one hand. It succeeds in its basic goal: giving you an easy, portable way of watching movies and shows on a large screen far beyond the confines of your living room. The games, music, and other features are just the icing on the cake.
That said, expectations are key here. Even the best mini-projectors (of which this is almost certainly one) won’t have anywhere near the brightness of a larger, ceiling-mounted model, and no projector will be as bright or saturated as a decent TV.
Of course, you’re not going to be hauling your 80″ flatscreen out into the backyard to watch the game with friends either, or taking it on vacation to project your favorite show onto the side of your tent or RV. The Capsule II isn’t a replacement for your TV or home projector, but it does a lot and can go places the others simply can’t.
The elephant in the room, of course, is the cost. With a recommended retail price north of $500, this isn’t an impulse buy for most people. If it’s something you only end up dragging out once or twice a year, it’s tough to recommend unless you pick it up on sale.
When you know you’ll be using it consistently, on the other hand, the cost is easier to justify. If most of your summer evenings are spent outside with friends or pitched up at remote cabins and campsites, the Capsule II will improve the experience whether you’re watching a movie or blasting out your favorite tunes.
If you fall into the second category, you’ll struggle to find a device that meets your needs better than the Capsule II right now. If you’ve got the money, add it to your shopping list. If not, it’s time to start putting the birthday wishlist together.Buy on Amazon
Main image via Anker, others via Amazon