Samsung The Freestyle Review: Ultra portable projector that plays nice with Samsung and Apple’s ecosystem
How much does branding and marketing matter in consumer tech? A lot, I’d argue, considering how iPhones are status symbols of sorts in chunks of the world, and that a mere new paint job would get months- or years-old Apple products much attention from media and fans. Samsung’s smartphone business has long tried to chase this Apple-level of brand status (and I’d argue the Galaxy Z Flip 3 has gotten there as a symbol of “cool”), and now it’s doing so with traditionally less flashy products too, like projectors with this new product called “The Freestyle”.
The South Korean tech giant’s first-ever portable projector is technically lacking in raw power compared to existing products already on the market, but it’s packed with “fun” features (like support for AirPlay and smartphone screen mirroring) and is backed by a marketing campaign that bills the projector as an on-the-go entertainment/party machine for the young and trendy (the press release straight up says the projector is targeted towards “Gen Z and millennials”). The projector even comes in a variety of colors and has a slightly pretentious “cool” name — The Freestyle, with the “The” an official part of the branding and not just a definite article in grammar. For the rest of this article, I will not capitalize the “the” for the sake of proper grammar.
I am neither young nor trendy, but I work at a co-working space filled with those who are, and they were enamored by the petite size and design of the Freestyle. It’s easy to see why — when most of us think of projectors, we think of bulky, blocky machines that make an incessant whirring sound. We think of school days when our teachers would have to twist the knob to adjust focus. Samsung’s Freestyle is the opposite of all of that — it’s compact, it’s quiet when it needs to be, and it can broadcast on virtually any surface without much setup.
At $899, it’s also relatively expensive compared to products from XGIMI. And those more familiar with projectors will find the Freestyle underpowered. But for casual users who may be buying their first projector, or for people who will bring this to camping trips or beachside barbecues? They’re probably going to be very satisfied with The Freestyle.
About this review: Samsung Hong Kong loaned me The Freestyle to test and review. Samsung did not have any input in this review.
Design and Hardware
Measuring about 7-inches in height, 4-inches wide, and weighing just 1.7lbs, the Freestyle projector is small enough to fit into virtually any backpack or tote bag. It’s got an plastic circular frame with an aluminum cradle stand, and plastic lens cap cover. The cradle stand allows adjustable angles, including the option to point straight up. However, my review unit’s cradle was a bit loose as the Freestyle has trouble staying in certain angles. I sometimes had to place an item under the projector to help it stay at a specific angle.
The Freestyle has no internal battery so it requires a power source, but this can be supplied via a portable battery pack. There’s a 5-watt speaker that wraps around the frame, pushing out the so-called “360-degree sound” that sounds solid but unspectacular. On the side of the projector are two ports — USB-C and micr0HDMI, along with a switch to turn on/off the microphone. On the front/face of the projector sits the lens, capacitive buttons for power and volume control, and a pair of distance sensors for detecting surfaces. The backside has vents for cooling and an adaptor for additional accessories like the advertised light socket plug which I did not get to test.
The Freestyle’s package comes with a remote control that’s pretty standard fare for any television or TV box, with the only unconventional addition being a voice assistant button that allows the Freestyle to access Bixby or Amazon Alexa.
The ports are a bit lacking — while the USB-C is used to power the Freestyle, I wish the projector included full-sized HDMI ports or USB-A port, the latter so I can play files off a USB stick easier.
Software and Setting up The Freestyle
The Freestyle runs Tizen OS, and the overall interface is very similar to Samsung’s smart TV. When you set up the Freestyle for the first time, it will prompt you to connect to WiFi and then log into your Samsung account. You can do all this directly on the projector with a remote control or with a Samsung phone. Once finished, the Freestyle is ready to go. You just have to point the lens against a surface, and the Freestyle will do the rest, thanks to its auto keystone feature, which I’ll talk about more in the next section.
My review unit of the Freestyle had NetFlix, YouTube, Spotify, and Samsung’s internet browser already installed. You can find more video playing apps to install. I saw most of the well-known platforms such as CNN and Amazon Prime, along with some region-specific video apps like Hong Kong’s Now TV.
I can use Bixby to navigate through the UI quicker, such as asking the Freestyle to launch NetFlix, or even app specific requests like “search for NBA on YouTube.”
The Freestyle’s software supports Apple’s AirPlay, so the projector was able to mirror my MacBook screen, or play videos off my iPhone with just a couple of taps, and it also supports Samsung DeX, meaning I could broadcast a desktop Windows-like UI directly from my Galaxy Z Fold 3.
I must disclose that I am neither a display expert nor a home theater enthusiast, so I am approaching this review from the perspective of a more casual user (which, to be fair, the Freestyle is aiming towards anyway). But to my eyes, the Freestyle’s 1080p projection looked good as long as I was in a dark room with a flat surface to project. Colors looked punchy, visuals have proper contrast when needed, and the projector has enough advanced settings to fine tune everything from color temperature to motion blur compensation that I think only very nitpicky enthusiasts would find faults with.
This is all when the Freestyle is operating in optimal dark conditions, of course. When the room is too bright, the Freestyle’s overall brightness is mediocre. Samsung advertises 550 lumens of brightness, which is a bit misleading because Samsung doesn’t specify what type of lumens. In the projector space, ANSI lumen is the standard, and it’s achieved by measuring the projection image at nine different spots, then averaging the average brightness by screen size. There are more simplistic ways of measuring lumens, which results in higher numbers. This is what Samsung has done as the Freestyle’s brightness is closer to 240 ANSI lumens as others have spotted, which is below par for projectors at this $900 price range. So if you’re viewing content in a room that’s not dark enough (like the below photo), colors look a bit washed out, and you lose some contrast. I don’t think content looks terrible, but it loses a lot of the immersion.
As mentioned, the Freestyle is designed to be very simple to use, and this is achieved by the automatic keystone feature, which means the projector will calculate the distance and angle of the surface, and will automatically frame the “screen” just right. This isn’t just the angle and size of the projection, but also focus and white balance. For example, if you keep the Freestyle just 2 feet away from the wall, it’ll project a small 30-inch display. Bring the Freestyle back to 8 or 9 feet away, and you get equivalent of a 100-inch screen, which is the maximum size.
I find the auto keystone feature to work mostly well, as the Freestyle did adjust footage when I broadcast against uneven surfaces. But sometimes the horizon is not exactly level, resulting in a slight tilt that I have to manually fix.
As I said, the speakers are respectable but nothing amazing. In my own room, I had absolutely no issue with it. But I have a feeling if I was hosting an outdoor movie night with a dozen friends, those sitting further back would have trouble hearing the speakers as the maximum volume isn’t the loudest. The good news is you can pair a Bluetooth speaker to the Freestyle.
In addition to playing videos or projecting a computer screen for work, there’s not much else you can do with the Freestyle, despite Samsung’s attempts. There’s an “ambient mode” that basically pumps out visuals or accent lighting, which works fine, but seems really gimmicky. There’s enough latency here to eliminate the possibility of gaming. But I suppose I’m nitpicking, it’s not like other projectors can do these things either.
Should you buy Samsung’s The Freestyle?
At $900, the Freestyle will be a hard sell for those who take their projectors seriously. There are projectors from Chinese brands like XGIMI and Fengmi in the $500-$600 range that pump out higher ANSO lumens visuals, with full-sized ports. Some of these projectors also have a built-in battery so you’re not entirely reliant on an external power source too. To be fair, the Freestyle is more portable than all of those options.
But like I said up top — branding and marketing matter a lot. The aforementioned projectors are for enthusiasts, as I’m willing to bet most casual consumers have never even heard of those brands. But almost everyone has heard of Samsung, and Samsung has crafted a good-looking, versatile projector that plays nicely with Samsung and Apple’s ecosystems. And that may just be enough to win enough average consumers, particularly Gen Z and millennials in the US, looking for their first projector.