Through the power of goodwill and some fortunate timing, I got my hands on a Nebula Mars II. After spending roughly two weeks with it, here are my impressions.
The Nebula Mars II is a solid portable projector with enough packed to be a one-stop-solution for movie viewing on the go with some compromises, and a fine home solution if you connect your favourite streaming source to it.
Shhh, it's sleeping
The First Days - It's pretty, but does it Netflix?
When I received the Mars II, I was in a very particular setting: a monastery in the outskirts of the Green Mountain National Forest, in Vermont, USA. I happen to have an uncle who is a monk there, and I go visit him, and enjoy the peace and calm of the place, every year. Peace and calm, these days, can be translated by no internet. The monastery do have internet access on its offices, but other than a few minutes for specific purposes, the monks, and the guests, prefer we avoid it, which is totally understandable. I was too eager to try the Nebula, though, so I charged it and powered it up. I'll touch on system and picture quality later, now I'll just say that, other than being impressed with the image on the wall, there was little I could do. I did had my iPad loaded with a few series episodes downloaded on Netflix, and after some trials I was able to cheat my way into casting my iPad to the Nebula through AirPlay - my iPhone serving as a hub. The casting screen on the Nebula warns it won't play copyrighted content over casting, but I wanted to try anyway. It didn't worked, as advertised, and I didn't have a single personal video on the iPad to test it. The most I could do was open the camera app and see it casted to the Nebula.
Connected, at last - System and apps
Then, at home, I finally connected the thing to the internet, installed the upload that flashed almost as soon as it connected, and started proper testing. Installing the offered apps - Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and YouTube - is super easy. Using them, though, requires either some patience using the remote as a mouse, or the Nebula Connect app. I logged into my Netflix account, my Amazon Prime account, and... Wait, no login into the YouTube app? Nope, there's no way to connect, thus no way to watch videos from your preferred - and likely followed - channels without painfully searching every time. The image quality on the YouTube videos is good, though. Which is more than I can say about the Netflix app. I've tried several content, movies and series alike, Netflix originals and otherwise. The image was always subpar, less than HD. I remember reading the reviews from @elmo41683 and @TechnicallyWell that they did found some HD content on Netflix. I couldn't. The truth is, the Netflix app offered by the system is apparently the phone version, and that limits resolution for some reason.
Ah, yes, the system. It's pretty when you first look at it. Clean, functional, direct. Responds fast. You can install other apps from the internal App Store - a version of Aptoide TV - but if these apps will be the phone, tablet or TV version is a game of chance. For some apps, like Spotify, it didn't really matter. For others, it matters greatly. Not only phone apps require the use of the mouse function, the app, or a proper mouse, they limit resolution. What good is an HD projector if you can't find HD content? As I said, YouTube videos, which run in HD, look great. It's a shame the same can't be said about Netflix and Amazon Prime. I tried installing other versions of the apps using an USB thumb drive, but it didn't work - the apps install but don't run. I've tried installing directly from the web browser on the Nebula - which is somewhat hidden and is a hyper simplified browser - but the trick didn't work. It tried to default to the App Store or simply didn't allow the installation because the device is not signed into the Google Play Store. I wish I could just install whatever apps I wanted. Or have the option, like in the Plex app, to choose between the phone and TV version of the app. They way it is now, you are better off by connecting the streaming dongle/box of your choice to it. But then, what really makes it different from the Nebula Mars Lite? The option to have it as a one-stop-solution. This option comes with compromises, though.
Including the ability to cast to the device is a nice touch, though the inability to cast copyrighted content renders it basically useful only for your home videos.
If you plug in a streaming dongle or box, then your resolution will be maxed at the device's 720p - which, from a distance, is great. Also, you'll be using the system of whatever dongle/box you have - in my case, an Apple TV. Just to be sure, I ran the same movie - Moana - on Netflix through the Apple TV connected to the Mars II, and on the onboard Netflix app. The same scene - I literally paused on one system and resumed on another. The shift in resolution is very noticeable. So much so, I'm considering buying a Roku Stick to have it on the Mars at all times. And then it just occurred me: what a killer combination would it be to have the Roku system embarked in the Mars II! Full Android, or even Android TV, would be great, too, but it seems the Roku and the Mars were made for each other.
Apparently, there's a beta firmware floating around that enables the full Google Play Store, thus enabling the installation of other versions of the apps, which makes Netflix HD, for instance, and a way bigger assortment of other apps, including the possibility to rent movies from the Google store directly on the Mars. I'll check on that later.
The beautiful and handy leather handle, and controls on top
The Elephant in the Room - Those ANSI lumens
Let's get one thing out of the way: it's not the brightest projector around. Not by a long shot. Nor the one with the most contrast. And it shouldn't be. It's a portable projector, in a small box, meant for portability. Getting FullHD and greater brightness would either compromise portability or price. It's important to notice that other cheap portable projectors advertise FullHD or even 4K - something Nebula itself did at some point - but that is a misleading information. What it means is that the projector accepts sources with those resolutions, but it will rescale itself on the fly to show it. There's no magic solution.
That said, if you play along the limitations, it's a great projector. The image - if you have a proper source - is very good, and in a dark room it's bright enough. It's virtually invisible in daylight, pretty good with the curtains down, and perfectly good in a dark environment. I don't have a big apartment - and, living in an apartment, I don't have a backyard - but, to put the thing to the test, I tried creating the biggest image I could: the Mars II in my hallway 4,7m from an opposing wall, it got a projection about 2,5m tall. I can't say how much it is diagonally, because at this point most of the projection was on the hallway walls... But, during the day, with the curtains down but still getting some outside light, this large image was very visible. I daresay someone with a proper basement would be able to get quite the theater experience with the Mars II. Not having a backyard, I didn't test it outside, but you can get the idea: the least light sources around, the better. Now, why has Anker changed from 500 ANSI lumens on the first Mars to 300 on the II? Most likely, to keep the price down and increase battery life. As I don't have a first Mars to compare, I can't really tell if the difference is noticeable.
But, things get way better if you have a proper projection screen. The reflexibility on a good projection screen will maximize the light coming from the projector, to the point where it will be visible, albeit still faded, even in daylight. I tried taking pictures, but the camera would always compensate the metering and the real effect wasn't visible. I don't own a proper projection screen - yet - but I took the Nebula to my work where there are one fair screen and one reasonably good. The difference is noticeable. A good screen will set you down something between 50$ and 200$, depending on the type of screen, size, quality and portability, but it will improve the experience. White walls are not good screens. White sheets are even worse. Both will do in a hurry, but with subpar results.
Made for each other(s)
How can this little thing make so much noise?
The integrated speakers are very good, considering being a speaker is not the main goal of the device. They produce "stereo" sound - the speakers are too close to each other to really foster the stereo - with high volume, even if it lacks some bass. I never got higher than half-volume, my neighbours would certainly complain if I did, but it gives an idea of the volume you can achieve. It's high enough to justify the inclusion of volume limits. It will work as a bluetooth speaker, too. Somehow the sound from music playing seems a little better than on movie viewing.
And you can pair the Nebula II with bluetooth speakers, too! I finally got to realize my pitch for the Soundcore Flare testing, pairing two Flares with the Nebula II for a truly stereo movie-viewing experience - it was in fact a series-viewing, but you got the point. It was great. So much so, I want a carrying box where I can fit the Nebula II and the two Flares to carry them around as a set.
Such a beautiful little box
I mentioned I took it to work. Well, everyone was impressed with the beautiful design, the powerful sound and specially the leather handle. It looks better, is lighter, and delivers a better image than the office's old projector - though, as it should be expected, it's not as bright. People asked me where they could get one. I regretted to tell them that it wasn't yet available in Canada - hint hint, @AnkerOfficial. They even liked the remote's design - which is in fact good looking and would suffice if all apps could be fully used with it.
But wait, there's more!
The Mars II comes with its own battery, enough for roughly four hours of movie viewing - bear in mind that searching through the Netflix catalog will eat on your battery, so having at least a shortlist will help you achieve the end of the movie without having to recharge or let it plugged in. You can charge another device through the USB port, though that will, of course, eat on your movie-viewing battery. I believe the battery can power a streaming dongle like the Roku or the Google Chromecast, but I haven't tested because I don't own one. And, of course, you can use it while plugged and charging.
You wouldn't notice, but those connectors are upside down...
- The "whole solution" situation: when connected to the internet, on it's own the Nebula II is a great entertainment box.
- Automatic focus and keystone correction works really well. I threw some curveballs into it and it still corrected, fast. Just bear in mind that keystone correction works only for vertical distortion.
- Beautiful design.
- Good image quality for the size.
- Ability to connect to other sources and speakers offer great expandability.
- It is indeed portable, and you should carry it on your next trip.
- Tripod connector. It matters more than you would imagine.
The not likes
- The system brings the experience down on the apps side.
⋅⋅* Apps that can't be properly used with the remote shouldn't be allowed.
- The power source seems to be from an early 2000s notebook. I fear the day when it will fail and won't be replaceable. Why not an USB cable for power?
- The connectors on the back are upside-down. The HDMI connector's shorter side is usually facing down, and the USB "tongue" is usually facing up. Doesn't affect the functionality in any way, but still annoying.
- CR 2032 batteries on the remote. I don't get it. It seems all remotes on Anker products use regular batteries. They should all come with Anker batteries rechargeable by MicroUSB.
Let's Get Real
It costs 499USD. For that price, you could get a 50" 4K LED TV on Black Friday. If you buy a Mars II thinking of replacing your TV, you'll be disappointed. The Nebula Mars II - and any other projector, specially portable ones - are a different category of product, even if the ultimate goal is the same. A real 4K projector with enough ANSI Lumens to produce a quality image with good contrast on broad daylight will likely cost you a few thousand dollars. The Nebula Mars II aims for the sweet spot between portability, affordability and image quality. I believe it reached that spot. It will guarantee you a good time having a movie night in your basement, projecting sports events to all your friends at once, and a fun night at the chalet for those rainy days.
Thank you @AnkerOfficial for getting the Nebula Mars II into my Canadian hands!