Monday, November 30, 2015

Review: ASUS S1 Projector

I've had this review queued up for exactly eight months - in the interim there's even been a new Chromecast version released (which I have not written a review yet, despite buying one to have it alongside my four original versions) and the anticipated features added for Chromecast apps. When the original Chromecast was released, I initially bought one in the hopes that Google Slides (their replacement for Powerpoint) would soon be able to send a presentation from a smartphone to a Chromecast. Of course, I didn't have this ASUS S1 projector as a display device at the time; I was thinking of a conference room with a flat panel TV already in place.

The ASUS S1 projector does have a full-sized HDMI connection which I have also connected to my tablets and Chrome OS devices, but it is also a natural fit to have a Chromecast there. Especially since the S1 supplies a USB power connection and is able to operate from an internal battery, that combination is entirely wireless. With the Google Slides app now being Chromecast-enabled it is a small presentation system, however you will need Internet connectivity (since your slides are hosted in the cloud).

Like all projectors, the room lights will need to be dimmed or turned off. The ASUS S1 does play the audio from the HDMI interface from an internal speaker that is often quite sufficient, and also has a 3.5mm headphone jack for external speakers. A full battery charge probably would not run for an entire movie, but I've easily done half-hour periods without powering the projector from the wall charger (19VDC).

I'm very well pleased with the picture quality and features. At the time I bought my unit it was $300 USD, with fluctuations of about $15 either way since then. There is not any included tripod to use the standard screw mount on the underside, but they are easy to find for the display characteristics you have in mind.

Next up is when I pair an ASUS "Chromebit" (an HDMI dongle larger than the original Chromecast) that runs Chrome OS with the projector, stay tuned...

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Mattel View-Master "Starter Kit"

At Google I/O 2014, an economical introduction to "VR" (Virtual Reality) was released in the form of a folded cardboard assembly to hold your smartphone running special applications with an image for each eye. Named "Google Cardboard" for the primary material, outside the conference (where it was given away) buying it from third-parties could cost over $20. While I did get the original "Cardboard", my Nexus 6 was too big for it, the construction was complex, and the input mechanism (a magnet that interrupted the phone's internal compass) didn't work with every model.

Google I/O 2015 released an improved model of a more simple assembly, adapted to fit larger phones. The actuation mechanism was changed to a flap that simulated a finger touching the screen, making it compatible with more phones (at this point there are Cardboard apps for the iPhone and of course the Android platform, but not Microsoft's Windows phones). Instead of purchasing the reintroduced version, I bought a Mattel View Master "Starter Pack" that wasn't much more ($29.9x for almost every retailer out there).

While I find the plastic and rubber construction of the View-Master much more sturdy and comfortable, the "Starter Pack" applications want to do huge downloads with little functionality until you make more "in-app" purchases. Running the stock Cardboard demonstration apps works well, and there are several short apps for free in the Google Play Store. Be warned that VR applications drain the phone battery very quickly and generate heat from using the phone's CPU so intensively. In fact, the back of my phone became discolored from using the apps [Addendum: the phone was stained when I put it back in my carry case while it was still warm, and I was able to clean it later], although the phone was never more than being warm to the touch.

There is not a strap to hold the View-Master to your head, although viewing sessions are likely to be 20 to 30 minutes at most with the battery use and heat. The Nexus 6 (with close to a 6" screen) is the largest phone that the View-Master holds, of course it needs to be removed from any third-party case before being inserted into the goggles. The concept isn't advertised for young children (specifically for the View-Master: age '7+'), but my almost 4-year-old Granddaughter loves to watch so much it can be a difficult time to get her to let go.

Get the Mattel View-Master for the goggles, not the more expensive applications (although it is certainly expandable if you get further into the Google Cardboard VR experience). I expect more Cardboard apps to appear with time, and phones to improve for CPU use and heat. At under $30 with free applications able to be downloaded, it is a low-cost method to experiment with virtual reality for now.