The folks at 3M must have cleaned up back in the late '90s when MC Hammer was selling off his collection of overly baggy pants. That's the only conclusion we can reach about 3M's so-called "pocket" projector, an entry to the pico projector space that eschews the usual packet-of-playing-cards motif for a unit that's much larger. At 1.3x5.9x2.5-inches and 338g, it's more like the size of a decent-sized portable torch. That's not exactly pocket-friendly, unless you've got pants of extreme capacity.
Projector aside, 3M also supplies VGA and RCA connection cables that hook up to the MP180's custom connector, as well as a small tripod. That's an inclusion that not every small projector takes into consideration, and one that gives it a bit more business utility, as you can't always be too sure of where you'll be projecting from. The tripod screw for the projector isn't centrally mounted, but, on the supplied small tripod, this didn't prove to be too much of a balance issue.
All of that size does allow 3M to pack the MP180 with more features than the competition; something that you might expect, given the AU$565 price point. It's rated at 32 ANSI Lumens, which isn't bright for a full projector, but is quite bright for a pocket projector. Resolution is natively 800 x 600, and with scaling this allows it to support VGA, SVGA, XGA and WXGA. This is clearly pitched as a business projector, and it's worth noting that there's no inbuilt HDMI compatibility. Battery life is rated at two hours, and our tests bear that out.
Where the MP180 stands out is in all of the extras that 3M packs into it. These include both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatibility, both for transferring files to the unit's inbuilt 4GB of memory and for giving the unit its own internet access via the inbuilt browser. Document types that you can transfer and natively see on the MP180 include DOC, PPT, XLS, TXT, PDF, BMP, JPG, MP4, MP3, PAL, NTSC, H.264, AMR and AAC.
The tripod supplied with the MP180 works well enough when it's running off battery power, but, as we discovered during testing, plugging it into its AC power adaptor is an easy way to tip it over from the back. If the tripod screw was a little more centrally mounted, this would be less of an issue.
Actual projection quality was amongst the best that we've seen in a pocket projector, whether you're looking at dry documents or a thrilling video. Predictably, the inbuilt speaker isn't much to get excited about, and it's worth noting that the fan kicks in quickly and is relatively noisy for a pocket projector. Still, we were able to blow images up to a very large size with minimal focus and distortion problems, even in a well-lit room.
There's a word for the touchscreen on the MP180, but it's not a polite one. The use of a resistive screen means that you'll find yourself stabbing at buttons multiple times, especially the onscreen keyboard. While fighting the web browser, we often found it easier to flick the projector sideways to engage the keyboard that way; it's quite far from an optimal solution, and it's a great pity that 3M couldn't incorporate a more finger-friendly capacitive screen into the MP180's hardware.
The inclusion of a web browser into the projector hardware should give the MP180 a real leg-up against the competition. Unfortunately, the MP180's web browser is something of a lame duck, with no Flash support and the difficulty of the on-board resistive keyboard making entering URLs a chore rather than a pleasure.
As a projector, the MP180 is excellent. Even in brightly lit rooms it presents images well, and, while it's on the large side for what we'd call a "pocket" projector, we can forgive this, given the quality of its images. The inclusion of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, along with a large number of native business file formats, should give it plenty of scope as a portable business tool. Where the MP180 falls over, though (tripod aside), is the resistive touchscreen. It's just too much of a fight to get it to behave, even if you do use a stylus with it. If 3M can incorporate the same technology, and perhaps update the inbuilt web browser along the way, they'd have a killer business projector. As is, it's a good tool with a few serious problems.