The Acer C250i forms an interesting part of Acer's expanding lineup of consumer products, as you'd normally associate the brand with affordable monitors and laptops, doing an especially great job of offering Chromebooks for (almost) every need in recent years.
What's less known is that the company offers peripherals and products we may be less familiar with, so in a fit of intrigue to see how projectors could fit into the life of a creative (who likes his gaming), I borrowed the entry-level C250i for a period of a couple of weeks from Acer, to see whether it could come anywhere close to the best projectors out there.
Acer C250i review: Key specs
|Vertical keystone correction:
|Horizontal keystone correction:
|USB-C, HDMI, Audio in, Audio line out,
|9,000mAh, 5 hours' playtime
Acer C250i review: Design and build
Eschewing the usual drawer-shaped tradition of projectors, the Acer C250i is cylindrical, with a twist.
No, literally. The ten-sided design twists slightly around the cylinder of the projector, with the lens placed in one of the ten 'sides' or 'strips', whatever you want to call it. Standing up on end, the projector lens is placed high up and centre, but lay the projector on its side and it sort of resembles the drawer-shaped projectors we're more used to. It looks quite cool, too.
Except, due to the twisted shape, angling it is impossible without using a tripod, as placing something underneath the front to angle it slightly upwards leads to it simply rolling away. This means you have to have a very precisely positioned screen to project on in front of a very precisely placed table or shelf to place the C250i on. It took much adjusting and awkwardly placing a high table in a non-ideal part of the lounge to get the correct angle for me to watch it on in a domestic setup.
This is much less of an issue in portable mode, as any setup or furniture requirements will be much less strict. Unfortunately, due to poor weather on my nights off with the projector, I didn't get an opportunity to take it on a proper trip, as it's not waterproof. However, quick tests in my garden on dry nights did give me an idea of its portability (it's very portable and easy to lug around), and I used it on battery power as well to confirm that the 9000mAh battery does indeed last close to the 5 hours stated in the spec sheet.
It also comes in any colour, as long as it's black.
Acer C250i review: Features and performance
The Acer C250i offers the ability to project either lying on its side or standing up on end, with the picture auto-rotating according to each position. To make up for the inability to easily angle the projector, the vertical keystone correction is a slightly bigger-than-usual +/-30 degrees, with horizontal keystone correction range of +/-15 degrees.
The max resolution is Full HD, 1920x1080p, in a 16:9 ratio, offering up to 16.7 million colours. All very acceptable for a sub-£400 projector, but a hugely limiting factor is the low brightness, which tops out at a disappointing 300 lumens. When you compare that to the top projectors on the market, which can achieve 2,400 lumens or more, or even more economically viable alternatives that can still top 1,000, this feels oddly limp.
Indeed, if I tried to watch it in even a semi-light environment, making out details got very tricky very fast, and for a proper viewing experience, I needed a near-blacked-out environment.
The upside is how portable it is, as you can take it with you, and it's light enough to carry around without feeling too burdened by it. The battery offers a good amount of use too, with me squeezing almost the claimed 5 hours out of the 9000mAh built-in power brick.
And although the brightness leaves a lot to be desired, the autofocus works really well, and the image, despite topping out at a pedestrian Full HD (expected for the price), is nicely sharp. The contrast isn't world-beating, but decent enough at 5,000:1.
For connecting, you have a choice of HDMI or USB-C for wired connections, and you can directly insert a microSD card too.
There are no apps or software installed on the projector, so you're reliant on software in the equipment you plug in, such as your laptop via HDMI or USB-C , to use the C250i as a projecting monitor, so to speak. And no, due to the low luminosity, I wouldn't consider it a fancy projected second screen for any creative work.
Acer C250i review: Price
The Acer C250i is sold for £399.99 in the UK and $499.99 in the US, but stock on the Acer website has been spotty in recent months, so looking at other vendors yields results ranging from around £400-500 in the UK and over $500 in the US, with it popping up for less than $400 in some limited cases. This of course is much less than range-topping projectors from makers like Optoma or BenQ, but largely on par with entry-level HD projectors, and beats similarly priced rivals like Anker and ViewSonic in terms of resolution.
Should I buy the Acer C250i?
The Acer C250i will serve its role well as a fairly cheap portable projector for casual use. Its resolution or brightness are too low to make it a viable professional art projector, for example, and the funky shape is cool and frustrating in equal measures. But it's highly portable for on-the-go use, and the battery life offers considerable freedom, such as for casual watching outside at night. No native software means you are reliant on the casting device's software for using it, but at this price, the HD resolution offers a sharp picture, and the autofocus works well too. Not a creative powerhouse by any means, but the C250i will do a good job for casual entertainment use.