Review

XGIMI Elfin Smart LED Projector review: Good projector, poor software

2.5
article thumbnail

The XGIMI Elfin Smart LED Projector has excellent projector hardware for the price, but iOS users are hampered by software that just doesn't work adequately.

If this were a review of the hardware on its own, then the XGIMI Elfin Smart LED Projector would rate a four out of five. There are compromises that you have to work around, but they are all compromises that mean this can be a very small and light, yet powerful projector.

Equally, though, if this were solely a review about the software, it would score a one, because we don't scale to zero. The Elfin is really an Android device that comes with various apps, but the one that is required for you to use this with iOS is very poor.

So poor that without any workaround, the projector effectively can't stream from iOS without more hardware help. That said, there is a workaround, and in most respects the hardware is good enough that it's worth persevering.

The XGIMI Elfin is aimed at two different audiences, and it does have advantages for both, if you can work within the limitations of the software, and are able to add some hardware.

One audience for this projector is the presenter who wants to show Keynote slides in a workshop. The other is the home user who wants to watch TV projected onto a large wall.

Presenting from the XGIMI Elfin

If you do a lot of presentations in different places, you know that a big concern is whether the venue's equipment will work. Sometimes it's broken, sometimes it doesn't even exist, and very often it's a bit of a battle to get it going.

You are always best off bringing your own cables and adapters, because seemingly invariably the IT support staff in venues will fold their arms and say nope, Mac stuff doesn't work here. For some reason, they don't then enjoy it when you show them that it does.

Better than bringing your own cables, though, is bringing your own projector. Unfortunately, portable projectors are usually large and very heavy.

They're often not that great, either. Maybe they don't project very far, maybe they aren't very bright.

The XGIMI Elfin is excellent in this regard. It's the size of a Mac mini, it outputs 800 lumens, and it weighs about two pounds.

Compared to fixed projectors in venues, that's not very bright. But it's bright enough that you can see the projection in strong daylight, and unless you're presenting to a large group, that's enough.

Plus the weight and the small size means this can go in your luggage, it can certainly go in the boot of your car. Hope that a venue has a good projector, then bring yours out if they haven't.

Software problems when presenting wirelessly

You have to schlep through as much setting up on this XGIMI Elfin projector as you do any Android device. Once you've done it, though, you have a device that can access the Google Play Store — and you must.

While other apps such as YouTube are already installed on the device, the essential one you need to work with iOS is not. In theory, you have to download and install an app called Airscanner in order to make the projector compatible with AirPlay from Apple devices.

In practice, it doesn't work.

Airscanner is frustratingly inconsistent. The idea is that with Airscanner running, the projector presents itself to your Wi-Fi network and any Apple device can see it, can AirPlay to it.

Sometimes the devices can see the projector, sometimes they can't. Across multiple Apple devices, it was always the same — maybe you'd get to see the Airscanner in your list of devices, maybe you wouldn't.

Restarting the app seemed to fix it, but it's hard to rely on something that's this flaky. And harder still to rely on it when it crashes, too.

Nonetheless, even without the hardware workaround, the projector is better at showing presentations than it was being a TV.

Projecting close up is bright, even in daylight. XGIMI support have yet to say what that green line on the right is.
Projecting close up is bright, even in daylight. XGIMI support have yet to say what that green line on the right is.

Using the XGIMI Elfin as a TV

The makers say that the XGIMI Elfin won't play certain videos streamed to it, for legal and contractual reasons. Netflix won't play, for instance.

Unfortunately, streaming any video to the project from iOS or macOS effectively doesn't work either. Most of the time, the projector displays a buffering kind of status display, which never goes away.

The makers told AppleInsider that this was most probably down to our network speed. However, the Airscanner app includes a display showing speed and signal strength, both of which appeared fine, or even good.

Once, we did get the BBC iPlayer to start a show streaming on the projector. However, after three or four minutes, the stuttering video fell further and further behind the audio.

Fixing the problems with the XGIMI Elfin projector

The simplest solution to each of the Elfin's issues is, presumably, to switch to using Android. XGIMI support recommended Chromecast, although they also recommended Airscanner — despite our already using that.

Then, too, the projector does come with apps such as YouTube, Amazon Prime, and Apple TV+, though. Watching video from those built-in apps is good.

In fact, that part works flawlessly. The sound is a little quiet from the projector's speakers, and the resolution of the image is not fantastic. But the projector is able to fill a small wall with video.

About the size of a Mac mini, the XGIMI Elfin projector is compact and light
About the size of a Mac mini, the XGIMI Elfin projector is compact and light

You can, though, remove all of the software problems and be able to stream from Apple devices by buying or repurposing extra hardware. If you have a spare Apple TV, you can connect it to the projector's HDMI port.

The XGIMI Elfin comes with one HDMI and one USB-C port. Connecting an iPad Pro to the USB-C port didn't appear to do anything.

Plugging an Apple TV plugged into HDMI, though, was the difference between night and day. Any Apple device could see the Apple TV and stream or screen mirror to it, immediately, and flawlessly.

Hardware issues

The only hardware issues are intentional decisions that mean the device can be small and slight. It has no feet, for instance, so that it can be a slim unit — but that also means that it can't be raised up at an angle.

It has no controls, either. Everything must be done via the remote, and while that is included, batteries are not.

Focusing is all automatic, which is tremendous when you first set the device up. It's always good, but there is an issue that the slightest movement of the device can trigger the automatic re-focusing again.

Nonetheless, it copes very well with switching quickly between a wall some distance away, and the back of an iPad Magic Keyboard case.

Unsurprisingly, the smaller the distance you're projecting over, the better the resolution of the device. Still, when you're projecting over a short distance, the brightness and resolution of the image are impressive, even in daylight.

Should you buy it

Not unless you have, or are willing to buy, an Apple TV. Presumably if you have Android devices you're fine, but to use this projector in an iOS or macOS environment, your choice is an Apple TV or the Airscanner app.

Which means there is no choice — the Airscanner software on iOS is simply worthless. If Airscanner was improved, though, or if you have Android devices you can use, the XGIMI Elfin project does have a lot going for it.

And all of that disappears when you plug an Apple TV into it — even an old one, like that third-generation Apple TV you've got in your desk drawer.

But, at $649, you should have to do any of that.

Pros

  1. Lightweight and compact
  2. Very bright for its size
  3. Excellent automatic focusing system
  4. Strong presenting tool — when streaming via Apple TV

Cons

  1. The required app for iOS streaming, Airscanner, is a separate download and simply doesn't work, therefore...
  2. You simply cannot stream from iOS or macOS without an Apple TV
  3. Auto-focusing system too quick to kick in when the device is knocked

Score: 2.5 out of 5 - but we'll come back to this if the software ever gets updated.

The XGIMI Elfin Smart LED Projector is available for $649 direct from the manufacturer, with expected availability on Amazon as well.