Review: Pushing projected buttons with puppy cube
Puppy Robotics launched an interactive all-in-one projector on Indiegogo a couple of weeks ago called the puppy cube, which can throw a tablet-like home page full of huge icons onto any flat surface or can be flipped on its back to perform duties as a short throw movie entertainment system. We've had one on our review bench for a few days, here's what we think of it.
The Indiegogo campaign has already met its modest US$20,000 target as of writing, with about 2 weeks remaining on the clock. The puppy cube we were sent for review very much had the look and feel of a production ready model, and came in a posh box with lots of padding to protect the unit during transit.
At 1.6 kg (3.5 lb), the projector is no lightweight, especially for a device that rocks its own battery for cable-free placement around the home or office. But it does lend the unit a solid feel. Inside, the puppy cube has quad-core processing brains supported by 4 GB of RAM and 32 GB of onboard storage, and a TI DLP laser module that promises up to 720p definition visuals.
And we're off...
After its cooling fans whirred into action, and autofocus had spent a few seconds adjusting itself, the projector walked us through a few setup screens before we got going. The home screen is already set up with Netflix, Twitter, Facebook and Firefox icons, along with a media player and system buttons. Swiping to the right brings up pre-installed games such as Peppa Pig and Duel Otters.
And that brings us nicely to the touch response. If you go into this expecting the same kind of touch experience you'll get with a smartphone or tablet, you may be a little disappointed. The puppy cube did a decent enough job of registering where in the projected display our finger ends were and when they tapped an icon or gestured left or right for much of the time, but some touch actions needed to be repeated before achieving the desired result. On the whole though, not too shabby, and much better than having to use stylus-like pens.
The thrown image proved surprisingly clear in desktop mode – when the puppy cube stands upright and projects it image onto a flat horizontal surface. It was quite bright too, even in a well lit room. The displayed "window" size in desktop mode is about 23 diagonal inches, which can take up quite a bit of real estate on the dining table or work desk. But that's about as small as it goes.
Unfortunately, in desktop mode, unless you work or play on a matte white desk or table, dark text displayed within apps or Firefox lacks sharpness. It was a good size on our office desk, and was readable, but we wouldn't want to paw through a full article or press release.
Sensibly, all of the text used for app labels on the puppy cube's menus was white, and this worked best against the dark backgrounds of our table tops and such, but also worked well when displayed on a white surface so long as the white text was set against the colored backdrop of the puppy cube wallpaper.
The tipping point
Each time the accelerometer inside the puppy cube registers that the projector has been moved, such as changing from desktop to wall mode, a test screen appears and autofocus and keystone correction kick in. This only takes a second or two, after which the projector is ready to use again.
Tipping the puppy cube onto its back automatically puts the projector in wall display mode, and the thrown image puts itself the right way up. The size of the display on the wall is determined by how far the device is from the wall. Puppy Robotics says that the image can get as big as 100 diagonal inches, though recommends maxing out at about 40. Indeed, we found a thrown image of 40 inches to be optimum for the 720p definition.
In wall display mode, touch interaction is off by default and Puppy Robotics advises using the dinky little Bluetooth remote to interact with the system and controlling basic functionality. We found that enabling the touch function in this mode led to tracking problems resulting in a good many misfires.
Audio comes courtesy of two 5 W speakers, which can get pretty loud in a medium-sized room. The output quality won't win over any audiophiles, but it's decent enough for watching movies or listening to music. And if you want better quality, there's a 3.5 mm headphone jack for cabling the projector up to your powered speaker of choice.
The puppy cube can play MP3s downloaded onto the device itself, or stored on a thumbdrive and fed in over USB, but Flac music format files are not supported. The projector has its own software music player, which mimics a turntable during playback. Cute.
There's no link to the Play Store among the available icons, but the puppy cube has something called Uptodown. This offers a similar experience to Google's app shop, but is presumably stocked with content that will work with the puppy cube.
And though the all-in-one projector is quite happy to be plugged into the mains, there's a battery included too. The first charge up of the battery out of the box took over 7 hours, but subsequent top ups from when the battery forces the projector to enter low brightness mode took around 3.
The puppy cube lasted for between 2 and 2.5 hours per charge during our review – enough to watch a movie with the family, check social media or play one of the games with the kids, but you won't want to be too far away from a wall outlet if you plan on using this device all day or night.
The bottom line
A portable short-throw projector that you can control like a tablet – what's not to like? The puppy cube is a solid effort from Puppy Robotics. It's projection unit works in daylight and under living room lighting, as well in low light, and is readable on a variety of flat surfaces – apart from dark text looking washed out in certain apps.
At 720p, the image thrown onto a wall obviously won't compete with big screen televisions, but it proved sharp and detailed enough at about 40 diagonal inches for movie/video watching and photo viewing.
The projector comes with enough apps and games to get you started right out the box, with access to more if you need them. And having its own set of speakers proved useful, cutting down on cable clutter and number of peripheral gadgets usually needed to enjoy multimedia.
There were a few touch tracking glitches that spoiled otherwise smooth operation though, particularly in wall display mode. And on a non-projected touchscreen interface, you don't have to give a second thought to those swathes of darkness caused by an arm hovering above the display. Nor do you have to consider a button press not being registered because it's hidden behind someone else's hand. So using the puppy cube does involve a slight learning curve.
The puppy cube is not actually available to buy just yet, it's the subject of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Our review unit was easy and fun to use and performed pretty much as advertised. The touch-enabled projector is expected to retail for $1,499 – which is quite a lot – but pledge levels as of writing start at $799.