Anker Nebula Capsule Pico Projector Review: Phosphorescent Pocket Pal
One of the smallest, cheapest projectors you can buy is better than you think.
Updated May 7, 2022 4:00 a.m. PT
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Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Let's say you and the fam are going camping. Maybe it's a national park, maybe it's your backyard. Watching a movie under the stars is the perfect end to a summer day, and the Anker Nebula Capsule is miniature ticket to outdoor theater bliss. Smaller than any of the portable projectors we've reviewed recently, it's the size of a can of soda yet can project an image just about anywhere.
That adorable size comes at a cost. Not a literal cost, mind you -- the Capsule's price is as small as its size. The cost I'm referring to is picture quality. The image it projects is standard definition, so it's got big, chunky pixels. It's also quite dim, rated at only 100 lumens, and in my tests it put out even less.
As long as you're not expecting to see a 100-inch image with the sun still up, the Capsule is good at what it does for the price. After all, there aren't many projectors that let you stream and project Netflix from something that fits in your pocket.
Can a Can-Sized Projector Create a Big Picture? Yes the Can Can.
The Capsule has standard-definition resolution and is the dimmest projector we've measured in years. Anker claims 100 lumens and I measured 85. For comparison, the AAXA P6X is only a little more expensive, has 1,280x800 resolution and measured 487 lumens, roughly 5 times brighter. But brightness isn't everything, as I discuss in the comparison below.
The Capsule's battery has 5,200-mAh storage capacity -- far smaller than the AAXA's 15,000 mAh, but with a weaker light source it doesn't need a massive battery. Anker claims 4-hour playtime with video and 30 with just audio, which is pretty close to the AAXA. And because it charges via USB, you can connect a power bank and extend the playtime even longer.
Focus is achieved via a small dial, which I prefer to the the "automatic" method found on many other portable projectors because it lets me get an image in focus faster. There's a tripod mount on the bottom, which is a nice addition.
The full-sized HDMI input is unexpected in a projector of this size. Even the significantly larger Samsung Freestyle makes due with a mini HDMI connector. You can use the Capsule as a Bluetooth speaker. It's a small speaker in a small cabinet, but sounds fine. At maximum volume it's a bit shouty, but again for the size and price it's acceptable.
The remote is taller than the projector itself. The black-on-black buttons aren't ideal to navigate in the dark, but for the price a backlit remote is probably too big an ask. You're probably not going to use it much anyway. The free Nebula Connect app is easier to use, with a large "trackpad" area for menu navigation, and it has a keyboard that allows you to easily input streaming service logins.
Unlike many portable projectors, the Capsule has Netflix right on the homepage, which is great, but I was annoyed I couldn't use the physical remote -- just the mobile app -- to navigate. Amazon, YouTube, Vudu and a variety of other apps are available on the Capsule too, but there's no HBO Max. You can't cast copyrighted video content from your phone, but you can select the Capsule as a speaker with Spotify
Picture quality comparisons
The AAXA P6X is the closest in price to the Capsule of the projectors we've reviewed and liked. The Anker Nebula Mars II Pro is a lot more expensive, but it's our favorite portable projector overall. It's brighter than the Capsule but a lot bigger, although "bigger" is definitely relative here. I viewed them side-by-side on a 102-inch 1.0-gain screen.
Since the Capsule and AAXA are closest in price I compared them first. Unsurprisingly, the AAXA is blindingly bright compared to the Capsule but the image overall looks terrible. The AAXA is brightness over all else. And that's fine, but it's just one aspect of the projector's performance.
Though far dimmer, the Capsule absolutely has a better image. Far more natural looking, more like a full-sized projector, just scaled down in brightness and resolution. That's not to say it looks amazing, but it looks more realistic and natural than the AAXA for sure. It'd look even better if it had any picture settings beyond color temperature. Some tweaks to the brightness, contrast, and color would likely improve it a bit more.
Really, it's a question of image size. The AAXA can create a somewhat dim 100-inch image. The Capsule really can't at all, but it can produce a better-looking (though still fairly dim) 50-inch image. So as long as you're not expecting it to fill the entire side of your garage, the Capsule's size, image quality, and built-in streaming make it a far closer comparison than the brightness specs would imply.
The Capsule's niche is its incredible portability, letting you project a midsize TV image, or ideally smaller, on the go. Because of how well it does being small, a lot of the performance aspects are less of an issue than they would be if it was much larger.
What does spending nearly twice as much get you? The Mars II looks significantly better, better detail, brighter, less faded, and so on. It plays louder too. However, it's a lunchbox to the Capsule's soda can. So again, if extreme portability is what's most important to you, the Capsule is a superior choice. If a bit more bulk is OK, go with the Mars II Pro if you can afford it.
One of the most important things to keep in mind with small portable projectors is to manage your expectations. Every company's marketing shows groups of people, often outside, enjoying huge bright images, but that's not the reality. Compared to a decent-sized TVs or home theater projector, the Capsule's image is dim, soft and small.
There's an old quote, misattributed to Einstein, about judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree. The Capsule's appeal should be judged by its diminutive size, not its picture. The folks at Anker have done a good job with the other aspects, but you can get better performance elsewhere, like the ultrabright AAXA or Anker's own Mars II Pro. Both are also larger and more expensive than the Capsule.
The best things about the Capsule are the way it fits inconspicuously in a backpack and lets you stream a movie on the side of a tent under the stars. Maybe you hiked to get to that tent, or maybe you're on your porch. Both can be good times.