The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is always full of all sorts of new and interesting gadgets. Some of these gadgets are great, some are niche and every now and then you'll find something that's just plain strange. ZTE is here to fill a niche that doesn't get a whole lot of attention in the market place with the ZTE Spro 2, a mini projector that's powered by the one and only Android 4.4 KitKat OS.
Upon first glance you might mistake the ZTE Spro 2 for a slightly different looking Mac Mini, and that's definitely not a bad thing at all. ZTE has crafted this little machine with some beautiful precision aluminum work all designed to rest on a desk for its sole purpose in life: projecting things onto a wall or screen. On the front of the device you'll find a gorgeous and bright 720p display and a large physical metallic power button below it. ZTE is using capacitive hardware keys here because they wanted the experience of navigation to be consistent, but we'll get to that in a bit. The Spro 2 will project a 720p image at up to 120-inches in size at a brightness of 200 lumens.
On the back side of the device you'll find all the necessary ports: power, HDMI, USB 3.0, microSD, 3.5mm audio jack and even a SIM tray. This thing has literally everything you could need in a mini projector, and ZTE has designed this to be the only thing you need in the conference room or at home. The right side of the device features a grille for air flow, while the left side has some rather sexy looking aluminum volume buttons. The front features the projector lens as well as an optical sensor for various tasks. There's also a large 6300mAh battery inside so you don't have to worry about keeping it plugged in for the duration of your movie or meeting if need be, and a kickstand on the bottom for propping it up too.
Software wise this runs a pretty stock version of Android with one big change: the launcher. ZTE has created a custom launcher that's designed to work better with this type of product than a normal portrait-style launcher for phones. Featuring larger icons, tabs that can be swiped between and organized menus the Spro 2 is as user friendly as it gets. The Spro 2 also has full access to the Google Play Store and works with every sort of app out there, and will automatically rotate the projected image to fit the aspect ratio of the app in question. Full access to the Google Play Store is not only important, it's imperative for a device to be successful. Being a niche device you'd think this might need separate development to get your app working properly, but since the device features a standard touch screen right on top it's just as easy to navigate apps as it is on a phone. Auto rotate makes phone and tablet apps work perfectly together and it never felt awkward going between the two.
ZTE has also packed in two brand new amazing features: auto keystone and auto focus. This was demonstrated to me by picking up the projector and pointing it towards the ceiling, which in a matter of a fraction of a second the optical sensor on the front of the Spro 2 recognized and was able to deliver a perfectly rectangular image on the ceiling even though the projector was held at a rather awkward angle. Auto focus also came into play at the surface type was switched from a painted wall to a proper projector screen and the lens automatically focused the image in a matter of a second or two after the projector had been set back down. Both of these features worked remarkably well and they were ultra quick, two problems often faced by these types of devices on the market.
The ZTE representatives showed me a great example of streaming video by jumping on the DirecTV app, which is a phone app and is in portrait mode, and then choosing a show to stream. Once the streaming began the projector rotated the image instantly and we were presented with a proper 16:9 video of the show, something that could truly replace the TV in your living room or just be a great way to watch whatever you want in that vacation home or hotel. The Spro 2 also has the ability to become a WiFi Hotspot for up to 10 devices, meaning this is absolutely perfect for the conference room at work or even on the go if you need to share your internet connection with others. Since it's got a SIM card slot ZTE will be launching this on two major US carriers, although they didn't specify which, but they did say it would be launched very soon. This could be the best new gadget of 2015 for those looking for this type of functionality, and I look forward to playing around with it more in the future!