Anker Nebula Solar Portable projector: More white dwarf than supernova

The Anker Nebula Solar Portable is 1080p projector with built-in battery and Android TV. It is a complete package that allows you to watch movies and TV shows with a huge picture virtually anywhere. You can even use it as a Bluetooth speaker. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s similar to another Nebula projector, the Mars II Pro, which we reviewed a few months ago. The Mars II Pro is our favorite portable projector overall and while the Solar has its bright spots (ahem), it’s not nearly as good.

I do not like

  • Fairly weak
  • Mediocre contrast
  • Android TV is shaky

On paper, the Solar Portable solves two of the problems we had with the Mars II Pro: resolution and its app store. The II Pro is only 720p and uses a “curated” Google experience called Aptoide. Unfortunately, solving these two problems comes with a decrease light output. No projector of this size is particularly bright, but the Solar is about 40% darker than the Mars II. Android TV beats Aptoide, but it still has some quirks that mean you might be better off attaching a file streaming stick In any case. Yes, that flat design is unique, but Anker’s Mars II Pro is a better choice.

Basic specifications

  • Native resolution: 1,920×1,080 pixels
  • HDR Compatible: Yes
  • 4K Compatible: Yes
  • 3D Compatible: No
  • Lumen Specifications: 400 ANSI
  • Zoom: no
  • Lens shift: no
  • Lamp life (normal mode): 30,000 hours

The Solar accepts HDR10, but it isn’t HDR. It accepts 4K, but it’s not a 4K projector. Since this projector cannot actually display these high resolution, high dynamic range signals, including them feels more like something to beef up a feature list on a website than anything else.

There is no lens shift or zoom on the Solar, but neither is expected in this price range. There is autofocus, however, which works quite well. A swivel foot on the bottom tilts the front of the projector upward for greater positioning flexibility.

There are three hours of life claimed by the 20,000mAh battery. This is a bit odd as the brighter Mars II Pro has a smaller battery and yet the same amount of playtime.

Speaking of brightness, Anker claims 400 lumens. I measured about half. The Mars II Pro had a declared price of 500, and I have measured more than 300. No projector of this size and price range is very bright, but at the same time the image of the Mars II Pro seems significantly brighter, which allows you to look better on larger screens.

You can use Solar as a Bluetooth speaker. The two 3-watt speakers sound pretty good, which is always a plus in a portable projector. However, they’re not as loud as the Mars II Pro’s dual 10-watters.

If you want to download some content to watch offline, there’s 8GB of storage.

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Geoffrey Morrison / HDOT

Connectivity and convenience

  • HDMI inputs: 1
  • PC input: no
  • USB ports: 2
  • Audio input and output: no
  • Digital Audio Out: No
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11a, b, g, n, ac
  • 12 volt trigger: no
  • RS-232 remote port: no
  • MHL: No
  • Remote control: not backlit

The Solar’s HDMI input is capable of accepting HDR and 4K, but since the projector is neither, this is a six-line highway connecting two small, car-free towns.

The USB-C connection is for charging and included with the Solar is a quick charger that you can use for your phone or tablet when you are not using or charging the projector. The other USB connection can accept files or load a streaming stick. Power rating is not specified, but I was able to get a streaming stick to work, so it should be enough.

I like the Android TV app store but unfortunately some apps, like Vudu, would only send standard definition versions of their content. This is disappointing to say the least. Makes the projector resolution less relevant. Others, like Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu looked okay, however.

Then there is Netflix, which requires several steps to install on the Solar. You need to install the Nebula Manager app, which then allows you to download the mobile version of the Netflix app. To watch Netflix after installing it, you need to go to the Manager app and then to Netflix. Which, even after all those steps, feels exceptionally soft. Since it’s the mobile version, it also means it’s not designed to work with a traditional remote, so you need to use the Nebula Connect app on your phone to navigate.

These problems spoil the goodness of the built-in Android TV to some extent, but as I said a simple solution is to connect an external streamer.

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Geoffrey Morrison / HDOT

Image quality comparison

The Mars II Pro and the PH30N are both direct competitors of the Solar. To compare the three I ended up using a mix of internal apps, external streaming sticks and a 1×4 Monoprice distribution amplifier due to the different resolutions of the projectors and the fact that the Solar accepts 4K (and for some frustrating reason that has become the default when connected to the Monoprice). I saw it all on a 102 inch screen with 1.0 gain.

The most noticeable difference was the light output. The Mars II Pro was arguably the brightest, followed by the Solar and the LG. Brightness isn’t the only important factor in a projector’s image quality, but it’s a huge part. Not only does it determine how compelling the overall image is, it also determines the size of an image you can create that is still watchable. This is one of the reasons I liked the Mars II Pro – it’s very bright for its size and price. The Solar’s image looks dim in comparison, and the LG’s is the weakest of the three.

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Geoffrey Morrison / HDOT

Contrast ratio is poor across the board compared to something like the BenQ HT2050, but that’s normal. No cheap projector has a good contrast ratio. The Solar is technically better than the Mars II here, at 407: 1 versus 354: 1, but it’s too close to even see side-by-side and is just outside the range of normal measurement error. This low contrast ratio is fine on the Mars II, as it’s relatively bright, but on Solar it means the image is flat. Not completely faded, but it doesn’t impress either. The LG is even lower, but again, it’s all in the same field.

With the added distraction of his unbeatable soap opera effect, I put the LG aside and focused on the two Ankers.

Fan noise on the Solar is much quieter than the Mars II, which is welcome when you’re seated nearby.

While I welcome the move to Android TV via the annoying Aptoide store, there is one obvious problem: HD. With some apps the content you get is SD only. So what’s the point of the Solar’s 1080p resolution? This might be an Android / Google issue, but no matter where the problem is, the result is that the easiest way to get content to the projector means taking a shot in terms of image quality.

Using an external streaming stick, the extra details are evident. After lowering the sharpness control, i.e. set to an extremely high value (as usual, huge amounts of edge enhancement mask the actual details). Now it’s the Mars II Pro’s turn to look soft, devoid of fine detail on things like hair and beard. However, the higher resolution of the Solar, even when configured correctly, is not enough to win over the better brightness of the Mars II Pro.

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Geoffrey Morrison / HDOT

Conclusion

The adage is “Two steps forward, one step back”. In this case, it’s more like two steps forward, two slightly smaller ones back. With their huge images, the projectors certainly see a big benefit from higher resolution, so the Solar’s 1080p should be an obvious improvement over the Mars II Pro’s 720p. But with the internal SD apps, that improvement is nullified. Worse still, the lower brightness means its image is far less convincing. The larger battery looks good on paper, but the claimed screen time is roughly the same. The Solar’s speakers are also less powerful.

All this, combined with a higher MSRP, and I’m not sure what Solar has to offer compared to the Mars II Pro. That projector is a little gem and the Solar is left to play catch up.

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