It’s no secret that the last couple of years have changed the way we socialize, with many of us opting to partake in the safety of outdoor gatherings rather than risk the spread of Covid-19 in confined, indoor spaces.
Perhaps sensing this trend would only continue to grow in popularity moving forward, Samsung has ingeniously delivered The Freestyle, a portable projector that’s capable of producing admirable Full HD images at up to 100 inches in size – perfect for backyard movie nights.
With The Freestyle, Samsung provides almost everything you need for a night of entertainment, bringing the smart TV experience to any surface it’s aimed at. It offers access to all of your favorite streaming services, a powerful 360° built-in speaker with smart assistant support, and even mobile mirroring functionality – all you need to provide is a power source (either via a nearby wall socket or a compatible power bank) and a Wi-Fi connection (or, failing that, a mobile hotspot).
Approachability is key for mainstream acceptance of any new product, and Samsung has nailed this aspect with The Freestyle. Simply put, any projector which is ready to go within minutes of being taken out of the box is a triumph of design and engineering, and should be celebrated.
That said, its execution isn’t entirely flawless. Though The Freestyle’s auto keystone feature worked well for the most part, it did have trouble registering the surface of our provided projector screen properly, leading to a skewed image that needed to be manually adjusted.
Additionally, we weren’t too keen on Samsung’s updated smart TV platform, which makes its debut on The Freestyle before rolling out to the rest of its 2022 range. It’s not only sluggish, but also forces us to leave our content in order to perform simple tasks, like adjusting viewing modes.
Still, The Freestyle is by far the most user-friendly projector solution that this reviewer has encountered, offering better than expected picture quality, excellent connectivity and a variety of clever and endearing features.
Price and availability
Samsung’s The Freestyle will release in the UK on February 16, 2022 and in Australia on February 17, 2022. Though a US release date hasn’t been set, retailers are already taking orders for The Freestyle with an expected delivery date of March 31, 2022.
Pricing for The Freestyle has been set at $899 / £999 / AU$1,299, which is a little pricier than other portable projectors on the market. Of course, that should be expected for a product that offers far more functionality and polish than its competition. Taking this into account, we’d argue the price is quite reasonable for a 1080p HDR projector that delivers the Samsung smart TV experience on the go.
Samsung’s The Freestyle has been designed with portability in mind, and its compact size and cylindrical shape is a testament to that. It weighs just 0.8kg, and at 95.2 x 171.4 x 95.2mm, it’s roughly the size of a can of dog food, meaning you can pick it up and toss it in your backpack without any hassle whatsoever.
The projector itself is propped up by a sturdy aluminum cradle stand with a flat base which offers well over 180° of tilt, making it easy to project an image on practically any surface.
While The Freestyle is primarily intended for use with a power outlet, The Freestyle can also be powered by compatible power banks which offer 50W/20V output and USB PB functionality, making it especially suited for outdoor settings.
As you’d expect, its 360° degree speaker wraps around The Freestyle’s entire circumference, delivering audio in every direction. On top of the device, you’ll find touch capacitive controls which allow you to power it on and adjust The Freestyle’s volume without a remote.
Meanwhile, on the bottom of the device, you can see The Freestyle’s passive radiator, which is used to expel bass, along with some pin connectors that will come in handy for future accessories, such as an already-planned battery pack.
Along the side of the unit, you’ll spot a USB Type-C port for powering the device, along with a mini HDMI port (which you’ll need in order to connect any sort of games console) and a toggle switch which shuts the device’s mic on and off.
We really appreciate this last inclusion, because while The Freestyle is intended for use as a smart speaker, it’s understandable that some people would just want to use it exclusively as a projector, without it listening in on every conversation.
When it comes to functionality, you won’t find a more feature-packed portable projector than Samsung’s The Freestyle.
Not only is it a cinema which you can take anywhere, it’s an Amazon Alexa and Samsung Bixby capable smart speaker, as well as a custom lighting solution that can change the atmosphere of whichever room it’s in entirely.
But let’s start with its cinematic prowess. The Freestyle offers Full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution projection with HDR10 support at up to 550 lumens of brightness. On paper, that doesn’t sound like much, but we were pleasantly surprised by the bright and vivid images it’s able to produce.
Even when used during the day, and with indirect light from outside coming into the room, The Freestyle is able to project confident images that still exhibit an acceptable amount of contrast (depending on how bright your content is to begin with, of course).
We put this down to clever processing from Samsung’s Hyper Real picture engine, which is able to automatically adjust color and brightness using its Smart Calibration feature.
One of The Freestyle’s most talked about features is its Digital Keystone Correction functionality, which is able to automatically adjust your picture on the fly to present a perfectly squared image, even when projected onto angled surfaces. Adding to this is an auto-levelling feature which will get you a perfectly straight image, even when The Freestyle itself is placed on an uneven surface.
Of course, there’s a limit to how much your image can adjust itself – look closely and you’ll see a sort of boundary area in your projection, which your reshaped image has to stay within. While that obviously can’t be helped, it’s worth noting that the crazier your projection and surface angles are, the smaller your image will get.
Speaking of image size, The Freestyle is capable of projecting images starting at 30 inches (from a projection distance of around 79.5cm), all the way up to 100 inches (with a 2.6m projection distance).
As discussed earlier, one thing that gives Samsung’s The Freestyle the edge over many other portable projectors is that it has a suite of streaming apps and other services built in from the word go.
Users can take The Freestyle out of its box and start watching the likes of Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and more within minutes – a setup process that’s even faster and smoother when done via Samsung’s SmartThings phone app.
Which brings us to one of The Freestyle’s lesser known features; one which honestly makes all the difference in the world for those looking to use Samsung’s projector as their primary home entertainment device – The Freestyle will automatically connect to compatible devices on your Wi-Fi network, especially Samsung ones.
Not only does this mean the ability to mirror our Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 to any projected surface (a feature that’s also available to iPhones via AirPlay), The Freestyle also automatically connected to our Samsung soundbar (something which was discovered entirely by accident).
Movie and TV viewing aside, The Freestyle also offers a number of clever ambient modes which will bring a great deal of fun into your home. Sick of looking at a wall all day? Project a virtual window onto it with a beautifully picturesque (and animated) outdoor setting to look at instead. Or maybe you’re having a party? The Freestyle will let you project a happy birthday message on your wall in neon, among other things.
Picture and audio quality
As we mentioned earlier, we were genuinely surprised by how The Freestyle was able to overcome the limitations of a 1080p maximum resolution, 60Hz refresh rate and just 550 lumens of brightness to produce impressively vibrant images.
The Freestyle offers three primary picture mode presets: Standard, Dynamic and Movie. In our testing, we did notice the brighter Dynamic mode brought about some motion smoothing, which makes us think it would be best suited to watching sporting events.
Our preferred setting, however, was Movie mode, which offered any experience similar to Filmmaker Mode on Samsung’s premium television models, in which the image offers enhanced contrast and colors which are closer to the Hollywood standard.
After switching off all the lights in our living room, we kicked off our home movie by testing the bright and colorful Disney film Encanto, and came away very impressed with The Freestyle’s picture quality. Color reproduction was strong and faithful, with a sufficiently good level of contrast.
Later, we chose to watch the dark and grimy action film The Raid, and were once again surprised by how well The Freestyle handled not just the more muted material, but also the aggressive motion and shaky camera work that the movie possesses.
It’s worth noting that The Freestyle also offers a Game mode, which brings its latency down from around 70 milliseconds to 43.2 milliseconds. That’s fine for casual gamers who want to play a bit of Mario Kart, though competitive players will probably want to steer clear of any projector.
As expected with portable projectors, The Freestyle’s image sharpness decreases somewhat the larger you go, and moving it further away from your desired surface will also see a drop in brightness, but even then its images remain fairly crisp and viewable.
In fact, we’d go as far as saying that The Freestyle’s picture quality becomes more pleasant the larger it goes, as the tighter its image projection gets (and the closer you are to it), the easier it is to spot a sort of grid-like, dotted texture to the image, which we imagine is a side effect of how the projector works.
Obviously, this texture would be even less noticeable were The Freestyle capable of a 4K image output (and we don’t doubt to see that as a bullet point in future models), however, this model’s 1080p looks perfectly fine at an optimal viewing distance of a couple meters or so.
If, like us, you were initially concerned about having to use The Freestyle’s built-in 360° degree speaker as your home cinema’s primary audio source, you don’t have to worry – switching to our aforementioned soundbar in The Freestyle’s quick settings menu allowed it to output full surround sound over a Wi-Fi connection, instantly allowing for a more traditional home theatre audio experience.
To be clear, you won’t be able to produce full Dolby Atmos audio over Wi-Fi, however, you will get far superior multi-channel sound, which any cinephile will find to be an enormous improvement.
For the purposes of our review, Samsung was able to provide us with a 92-inch roll-up projector screen which gave us the opportunity to have a real cinema-style experience at home (minus the risk of Covid, crying children and exorbitant snack prices).
As for The Freestyle’s auto keystone feature, in our experience it worked well in any instance in which the projector was pointed at a wall or ceiling, automatically levelling and adjusting its image into the correct proportions regardless of the surface’s shape or angle.
That said, we did find that The Freestyle ironically had trouble registering the surface of our projector screen. Even with the projector pointed directly at the screen from a very central position, it always defaulted to a skewed image.
Additionally, there were some instances where The Freestyle was unable to settle into focus. Eventually, we ended up switching both features off, opting instead to manually adjust both the keystone and focus settings. Thankfully, doing so is a relatively straightforward process.
Our biggest bugbear, however, is the extreme sluggishness of The Freestyle’s user interface. The new projector acts as the debut of Samsung’s new smart TV operating system, and we must admit, it isn’t off to a great start.
For starters, Samsung’s new TV OS is now a full-screen affair, meaning you can no longer adjust settings on the fly without leaving the show or movie you’re watching. This also means that reaching the (now not so) quick settings requires additional steps.
While the new OS is still based on Tizen, it often takes well over a second for individual button presses on the supplied remote to register on screen. This makes the act of simply navigating Netflix, or adjusting picture settings, an absolutely aggravating affair.
It’s worth noting that the remote which was provided to us for review isn’t the final remote that’ll ship with The Freestyle, but rather the standard remote that ships with
Samsung’s mid-tier TVs. Despite this, we don’t think the remote has anything to do with The Freestyle’s slow-moving navigation.
Issues like these obviously go against the effortlessness and ease of use that Samsung’s The Freestyle is primarily being sold on, however, we imagine (and hope) that issues like these could be sorted with a firmware update.