If the pandemic and its many lockdowns taught us anything, it’s to appreciate our living space. When you spend so much time inside, you need to get the most out of your home. Across the world, unused dens and storage rooms were cleaned out and turned into impromptu offices or reclaimed as multipurpose spaces. We saw kitchen-gyms and living room therapy offices. And as cinemas and concert venues closed, we watched home entertainment take on an entirely different and more central role. What we didn’t see was the perfect technology to make this shift to an everything-from-home lifestyle easy—until now.
With the release of Samsung’s The Freestyle—which sells for $899 and is available to preorder now from Samsung.com—it seems that, at long last, the dream of truly portable cinema has been realized, and a whole lot more. Because this projector also doubles as a TV, a PC monitor, a smart speaker, and even a color-changing lamp.
The Freestyle is Samsung's biggest surprise reveal at CES 2022, but I had a chance to check out a pre-production unit ahead of time and quickly realized it lives up to the hype.
A Better Compact Projector
For the last decade, we’ve all rode the hype waves of short-throw portable projectors that promised to revolutionize the category. Still, with their low-resolution, bad audio, limited (or no) streaming app options, inaccurate color, fuzzy lenses, plus sometimes questionable durability and portability, the options always left us treading tepid water. Finally, I see the new wave cresting. The Freestyle is a high-end personal lifestyle projector that delivers smart solutions to our ever-changing needs. After seeing and hearing what it's capable of, I feel it earns its name by offering a virtual tsunami of flexibility and quality.
The beauty of Samsung's The Freestyle is in its many uses and features, more so than its raw specs. So, let’s get the nitty-gritty out of the way quickly and move on to the fun stuff.
The Freestyle doesn't look like other projectors, it's distinctly cylindrical and the included stand makes it look like a ceiling-mounted spotlight, But as I discovered, this is part of its ingenious simplicity, it's incredibly easy to find a spot for it and aim it wherever you want, so already it's beating the competition thanks to the clever design.
Like many portables, it uses an LED light source that pumps out 1080p at 60hz and achieves a brightness of around 250 ANSI lumens at its brightest. While that might not seem staggering, remember this is smaller than a tin of coffee and designed for portability, not a 40-pound beast designed to go toe to toe with your multi-thousand dollar, professionally installed home cinema projector.
What makes this lifestyle projector’s picture pop is the amazing features and calibration options. This feisty little creature also has an extremely sharp lens, and I was not able to see any geometric distortion or vignetting in the projected image. It gets its power from a USB-C port and can run off a portable USB power bank.
The Freestyle uses the same Crystal LED picture processing technology and the graphic interface as Samsung’s latest TVs. It’s more polished and feature-rich than what you see on most projectors, even high-end models. A built-in LIDAR scanner auto-focuses your image as fast as your phone’s camera app focuses on your sleeping cat by using the same 3D scanning technology found on the latest high-end phones. And it also knows if it’s tilted up or rotated and can automatically fix that.
For ease of use, the Freestyle comes with a compact remote that you can pair via Bluetooth and provides full menu navigation, voice searches, and media playback. Or you can control the projector and change the various setting using the Samsung SmartThings app. You can even use a compatible Samsung phone to calibrate the projector automatically in only 30 seconds. And in a pinch, there are touch-sensitive controls on the front of the projector for volume and power.
Speaking of apps, this thing is capital letters SMART. It is fully integrated with Amazon Alexa and Samsung Bixby. Also, it has Netflix (which is rare for a projector), Disney+, HBO Max, AppleTV, Vudu, and many more apps on board, so when you need to distract a child (or yourself… no judgment), all you’d need to do is point this baby at a flat surface and say, “Hey Bixby, play Encanto on Disney+.”
While we are talking distractions, the dedicated Game Mode reduces lag from around 70 ms to about 42ms, which is more than good enough for anything but high-level competitive gaming. That means any wall, ceiling, or floor, if you’re a weirdo, can be Skyrim—and we all know that even after all these years, we apparently need more Skyrim. And nobody says you need to project a “big” picture to enjoy the big performance. The Freestyle is about as bright as a TV at normal screen sizes (around 55”) and much brighter if used as a portable gaming monitor to project a 30” image that’s crisp and vivid.
Now, you can’t have Skyrim without hearing absurd voice lines, so we need to talk sound. Most projectors produce famously bad sound, and sometimes you can’t even hear it over their jet-like fan noises. Luckily for everyone, the Samsung Freestyle has an almost silent fan and produces excellent sound for its size. It boasts a 5W driver that disperses bass-boosted sound in all 360 degrees, which means the Freestyle will fill your room with great sound. It may not compete with a soundbar, but it’s miles ahead of what you find on most portables, plus The Freestyle can act as a smart speaker when it’s not projecting.
Although the Freestyle has no discrete external audio inputs, its micro HDMI 1.4 port does offer ARC. You can also connect a Bluetooth speaker or headphones, so there are plenty of audio connection options in reality.
Portable and Adaptable
Portability is king, and I must pay it homage. This device earns the designation “Freestyle” by not only conforming to demanding routines but by innovating them. Imagine starting your morning and deciding you want to do your yoga routine with a virtual class. Grab The Freestyle, take it to your “studio,” which is actually a spare bedroom, point it at the wall and go. Do you have a treadmill and wish it was a Peloton? Use this projector to create an immersive exercise experience.
When you’re done working out and ready to start your day, take your projector to the kitchen. Set your Freestyle on the counter and find a spot to shine it. Pull up a recipe and follow along without constantly unlocking your phone and getting whatever you’re cooking all over it. While you’re eating, point the projector at the wall across from your seat and enjoy an episode of your favorite show or a pretty scene using the Ambient Mode, or play some music while The Freestyle does double-duty as a color-changing lamp.
When it’s time to start the workday, I found The Freestyle gives me lots of options: If it’s a busy day, I can turn a wall into my virtual boardroom. And if I'm having a slow day, I can throw on the next episode of a favorite show, on the wall above my monitor or laptop. When I'm sick of distractions, I can turn on the Freestyle’s ambient sounds and lighting and transform my home office into a meditative cave of soft swirling lights and sound. It's the perfect companion with which to vibe out and write some great articles for a couple of hours.
When the workday is over, it's easy enough to move The Freestyle to another room where I can watch the game on the big wall with friends, or if you’re a proper nerd like me, turn your kitchen table into an RPG gameboard and display your animated D&D maps on it using the Freestyle's overhead ceiling mount, which makes it look like an overhead light—totally incognito.
Although it is not waterproof, you could even use The Freestyle In the bathroom, thanks to Its portability and adaptability—I did not test this. For example, if you decide to take a bath, instead of fumbling with a mobile device and risking dropping in the water, you can place the projector on a counter and project the image on a wall, or just use The Freestyle as a speaker and enjoy some tunes. Don't forget, the far-field microphone and smart assistant compatibility mean that it's hands-free.
It’s evening, and now I just want to Netflix and chill. Good thing this projector streams Netflix natively and even supports HDR. Use the supplied remote to navigate, or just talk to The Freestyle because it also has a far-field microphone array, just like Amazon Echo speakers, so it’ll hear you. Unless, of course, you turn off the mics with the physical switch that disconnects and therefore disables that function for the sake of privacy.
When it’s time for bed, put The Freestyle on a nightstand and have it project something up on the ceiling to help wind down; maybe mirror a cellphone and turn the ceiling into the world largest Kindle, or display the stars themselves and make it feel like camping under the moon. No more falling asleep and dropping the phone, lol! What I found is whatever you want to do, whatever you need to do, Samsung's The Freestyle is ready to help you do it. That’s its superpower, and in that respect, this device is unimpeachable.
Best of CES 2022
In this review, we didn’t even cover a fraction of The Freestyle’s use cases, for example, what kids or teenagers can do with it, especially with the optional battery pack. There’s even a waterproof carry case! I could burn a few more paragraphs listing creative things you could do with this device and not even scratch the surface. Maybe you love music and want to turn your living room into a live concert or full-on rave, get some visualizations running for an artful light show.
Maybe you have young kids and want to display activities on the living room wall. Perhaps you’re an artist who wants to project their sketches on a fresh canvas before busting out the paint. The point is that the Samsung Freestyle is an exceptional portable projector. It provides near-limitless functionality and flexibility for kids and adults alike, and you should consider how it could reshape your lifestyle. It’s one of the most interesting products to debut in this new year and earns an Editor’s Choice for Best of CES 2022.