Cinemood is a $300 ultra-portable, lithium-ion-powered projector in a lightweight (8oz) form factor roughly the size of a Rubik’s Cube. It’s an Android device with no video input that projects from factory pre-loaded videos or onboard streaming apps like Netflix or YouTube at 640×360—and it’s not a short-throw projector, either. In our testing, Cinemood needed a 12-foot throw distance to display a rather washed-out image about the size of a 65-inch TV set.
In order to avoid burying the lede, you might as well know up front, we do not recommend this device at this price—but we do have some good alternatives for you at the end of the review if you’re in the market for a relatively cheap and portable projector.
A tale of two projectors
Before we get into the real review, let’s talk a little inside baseball. A couple of months ago, a vendor I’d never heard of pitched me on reviewing Vava—a high-end, 4K resolution, ultra-short-throw home theater projector with a $2,500 price tag. This projector claimed to provide a 150-inch display from only a few inches’ distance, a Harmon-Kardon sound system, and more. I said sure, sounds fun.
A day or two later, I received another email requesting my shipping address so that the projector could be shipped to me. The little detail I missed is that the request for a shipping address was from the Vava person—it was from someone pushing Cinemood, a $300 Internet of Things-grade projector that was neither ultra-short-throw nor 4K, nor equipped with anything at all like an integrated Harmon-Kardon sound system.
With that background out of the way, let’s review Cinemood… and if you want to enjoy imagining my confusion and frustration each step of the way as I mistakenly believe that I’m testing a $2,500 device, feel free.
The setup process was not enjoyable
There’s a growing trend in IoT devices of just not bothering with printed documentation, and expecting the user will pick up all he or she needs to know from the device’s smartphone app. Let it never be said that Cinemood is not trendy—there was no included documentation whatsoever. I thought maybe I could get started without installing the app at all, so I tried just plugging in the device. Its power LED immediately lit up green, but the projector didn’t fire up, and experimentally pressing every single button on it did nothing at all.
I assumed this meant I would need to associate a smartphone before I could do anything with Cinemood, so I downloaded and installed the app. The app told me to make sure that Bluetooth and location services were enabled and that I was near Cinemood. Eventually, I had to actually place my phone directly on the Cinemood. It still couldn’t find the device, and it offered no further help.
Eventually, I started pressing buttons randomly again. When I pressed the button with an overweight “you spelled it wrong” red squiggle on it, the device powered off. Long-pressing the button again turned it back on—but this time, the LED was white, not green, and the projector itself lit up, too. Success! After a longish initial boot sequence, my phone found the projector and vice versa, and I entered into an hour of setup hell.
During Cinemood’s setup sequence, you must give it your phone number—and it must be in full international format, including the +1. This is made extra difficult by the lack of a “+” key on the on-screen keyboard; if you omit the +, or the 1, or make any of several other possible formatting mistakes, Cinemood tells you the phone number is “invalid” but gives no further hints. Once you finally figure out you need to put in the + using your phone’s keyboard (since Cinemood’s own projected keyboard doesn’t have one) the system sends you an SMS for verification.
In addition to your phone number, Cinemood tries to get a credit or debit card number—it looks like this is mandatory, but if you minimize your phone’s on-screen keyboard, you’ll find a “skip” button to tap—and an email address. Once I’d successfully given Cinemood everything it asked me for, it… well, it returned me to the very beginning of the setup process. I went through this loop about four times before giving up and power-cycling it. Despite having assured me during the setup loop that I’d never need a password, it asked me for one upon rebooting.
I went through this setup loop a few more times, power-cycled another few more times, and eventually figured out exactly the right time to hit “continue without smartphone”—which actually just left me fully configured, the smartphone app paired and working.
Remember when I said that I mistakenly thought I was going to be reviewing a $2,500 4K projector? I figured I’d need a better display environment than I could conjure up at home, so I reserved some space in a large meeting room with a big hanging screen intended for the room’s own ceiling-mounted, high-def projector.
This was overkill.
With Cinemood fired up and the smartphone app finally paired, I started playing with the distance and light levels to find where Cinemood was most comfortable. It needed at least ten feet of throw distance to get a decent sized display, at which point it was too washed out for the room lights to be up, or really even dim. With a roughly 55-inch projection, the room needed to be fully dark for Cinemood’s brightness to be acceptable.
One of Cinemood’s advertised features is Disney content pre-loaded on the device. Don’t expect feature films, full-length cartoons, or even cartoons you’ve likely heard of, though. I didn’t find any Mickey or Donald, just some My Little Pony knockoffs and a bunch of increasingly esoteric shorts, none of which were longer than five minutes. Cinemood also claims to let you upload your own content, but if that really is possible, neither I nor anyone who has reviewed the app on Google Play seems to have figured it out. Did I mention there’s no documentation at all?
Setting up YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon Prime apps on Cinemood work, although it requires patience and confidence. There are already icons for these services, but the icons have a cryptic “two seconds” caption underneath them. As far as I could (eventually) tell, this is Cinemood’s way of telling you something isn’t installed—it naively assumes that any remote content will require two seconds to download, regardless of your Internet connection speed or the size of the download.
In reality, it took something like a minute for the YouTube app to download and install itself, all of which occurs in the background with absolutely no progress bar, explanatory text, or any other indication of what’s going on. Once it finished installing the app, the “two seconds” caption went away, the icon was marginally brighter, and if tapped, the app would launch after a brief delay (again, with no progress bar or indicator). Once you make your way through all of this, YouTube and Netflix do work reasonably well.
This interface is already frustrating, but adding insult to injury, the Bluetooth-paired remote controls on the phone work intermittently at best. Frequently, tapping the checkmark button on the phone results in the button lighting up on the smartphone, but the resulting action not taking place on the projector. “Laggy response or dropped packet” is a game you’ll become very familiar with if you spend much time with Cinemood.
Giving Cinemood another chance
Although I wasn’t impressed with Cinemood, I did start out under the mistaken impression it was a 4K projector that cost nearly ten times as much. Maybe I wasn’t being fair. So I took it out to my parents’ house and tried it out in a spare bedroom.
If you have the entire wall-to-wall distance to work with in a 12-foot-deep room, you can manage about a 65-inch projection area with Cinemood. It’s washed out, and with only a 640×360 real resolution, it’s distinctly fuzzy—my mom, who’s in her seventies, complained about it and made me fiddle with the focus for quite a while before grudgingly admitting that it was as sharp as it was going to get. On the positive side, the little integrated speaker—which was very tinny and sad in the big meeting room—sounded much better in a small bedroom.
All carping aside, Cinemood both looked and sounded good enough to keep my mom engaged through about half an hour of introduction to the strange world of Davie504, bassist extraordinaire and general YouTube weirdo. While you can do better—even better—than Cinemood for the money, it did succeed in an appropriate environment.
We didn’t drain the battery all the way, but we used it enough to cast aspersions at the claimed “up to five-hour” battery life. Cinemood was down to 75% after about half an hour of use on battery alone; you should be able to get one typical movie out of it, but I wouldn’t bank on it making it all the way through a screening of or .
Portable projectors we can recommend
Cinemood occupies a weird space in projector land. With its own onboard Android OS and no actual video inputs, it most closely resembles Puppy Cube, which we reviewed last year.
Puppy Cube is a better device than Cinemood nearly all the way around; it features 720P resolution (you’d need four Cinemoods to create an equivalent projection), touchscreen interactivity on the projected image itself, ultra-short throw distance, vastly higher brightness, a much snappier interface, and a very wide selection of installable Android apps.
Unfortunately, Puppy Cube is still retailing at $1,000, and it’s significantly larger and heavier than Cinemood—it is portable, but it’s not something you’d just hand to the kids and tell them to have at it.
If you don’t have the budget for Puppy Cube, or you want something both lightweight and battery-powered, there’s AAXA’s line of sub-$300 pico LED projectors. Although the newest S2 model doesn’t have any cartoons preloaded on it, it can play video from USB thumb drives or mirror the display from a device supporting USB-C video. Even better, it has honest-to-goodness HDMI and composite A/V inputs.
AAXA S2’s display is native 720P and 400 lumens brightness (compared to Cinemood’s 360P and 35 lumens). When on the battery, it defaults to half brightness—but that’s still much, much brighter than Cinemood. Although we’ve never had our hands on an S2, the similarly priced P300 is rated for the same brightness—and we’ve seen presentations given on the P300 at half brightness, in daylit rooms with the overhead lights on full.
Like Cinemood, the audio on the P300 was nothing to write home about, and we don’t expect the S2’s internal speaker will be much different. We’re not sure what to think about the six-hour runtime AAXA claims for the S2—it might be legit; we had no trouble getting the P300’s entire 150 minute rated runtime out of it.
If budget—or being able to just hand the device to your kids—is the primary factor in your projector shopping, you might also consider AAXA’s KP-101-01 “shirt pocket” sized projector. The display on this sub-$150 projector is only rated at 25 lumens—a little lower than Cinemood’s stated 35 lumen rating, though easily within the margin of error—but the native resolution is 720P, just like the bigger AAXA projectors.
You still get real HDMI and composite A/V inputs on the KP-101-01, plus an SD card reader for preloading movies yourself—although where and how you acquire downloadable movie files to use with it is entirely on you. The onboard battery is only good for 80 minutes, though, so you may want to add an $80 battery bank that includes A/C output if you’re going camping.