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ZTE merges Wi-Fi hotspot and image projector again with Spro 2 (hands-on)

At CES 2015, ZTE takes a second shot with its Spro 2, combining a personal hotspot with an image projector.

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LAS VEGAS -- In addition to the Grand X Max+ , Chinese mobile manufacturer ZTE took the wraps off its Spro 2, the successor to its original Wi-Fi hotspot/image projector , today at CES 2015. The device is a multifunctioning Swiss army knife of sorts. It can connect up to 10 mobile devices on a Wi-Fi or 4G LTE network (given carrier support on the latter), project images against surfaces, and stream and store video. Though no exact release date or price were given, it will be available through ZTE and other US carriers, later this year.

Design

With its modern and minimalistic aesthetic, the Spro 2 has gone through a major design overhaul that looks significantly more chic than its bulbous predecessor, the ZTE Projector Hotspot (or Livepro, as it was called under Sprint). Compared to the busy (and rather ugly) look of the previous generation, the Spro 2 features a faux-aluminum casing (it's actually silver plastic), clean and smooth lines, sharper corners, and a sparing number of physical buttons.

Its built-in display has also improved. Jumping from four to now five inches, with a higher resolution of 1,280x820 pixels, the touchscreen is sharper and looks more vibrant than before. And while the Livepro's user interface came straight out of Google Android, the Spro 2's new "Z Path" UI is much more streamlined. The OS is still Android (4.4 KitKat, to be exact), but now there are just intuitive menu icons that are colorful and easy to read.

Though slightly bigger, the device remains as relatively compact as before. Still squarish in shape, it measures a little over 5 x 5 inches (134 x 131mm) and is 1.22 inches thick (31mm). It's easy to pick up on the go and set down somewhere, or even pack away for a weekend trip, but at 1.21 pounds (550g), it's not exactly something you can carry everyday in your purse.

Hardware and key components

As an image projector, the Spro 2 can project 120-inch HD images at 200 lumens (up from 100 previously). When you move the device around, it can auto-focus and auto-keystone, the latter meaning that the Spro 2 can adjust an image to a straight rectangle, even if it's tilted or projected from an angle.

In addition to playing videos from your laptop, tablet or mobile handset through a Wi-Fi connection, the device has 16GB of internal memory to store videos. Users can also directly download apps like Hulu, YouTube, WatchESPN or NBC Sports Live Extra to stream shows, movies and games.

The Spro 2 can connect with external speakers via Bluetooth, but has built-in speakers of its own, as well as ports for HDMI and USB connections and slots for microSD and SIM cards (for LTE connectivity).

Streaming sports games, shows or movies directly from the device's Google apps. Josh Miller/CNET

As a hotspot, ZTE has increased the number of capable connections from 8 to 10 devices. All this is powered by a 2.1GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and a 6,300mAh battery, which is estimated to provide 3 hours of projection time and 10 hours of hot-spotting.

Outlook

With the new Spro 2, ZTE's offbeat hybrid is really coming into its own. Its look is more polished and compelling, and the improved display and UI translates to a much smoother experience. While it still may not convince everybody, and it's difficult to make a judgement call until price and availability are known, the Spro 2 has subtly gone from a "why would anyone invent this thing?" gadget, to "this is kind of neat, though" device. From video conferencing to impromptu movie nights outdoors, the Spro 2 may be the next thing you didn't know you wanted.

For more on CES 2015, read CNET's full coverage here.

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