Dell M109S Ultraportable Projector
At a Glance
The tiny Dell M109S ($449 as of 8/7/09) is a palm-size LED projector with a low brightness rating of only 50 lumens, which makes it best suited for very small groups in dark or dimly lit conference rooms. Weighing just 12.8 ounces, the M109S is the smallest projector in the group of seven (four lamp-based and three LED-based) that we tested for our recent ultraportable projectors review. Even with its cables, AC adapter, and carry case, the M109S has a traveling weight of under 2 pounds, making it a snap to take on the road.
The downside is that Dell had to sacrifice some features in order to achieve the M109S's ultralight design. Its low native resolution of 858 by 600 means you need to use a computer running at SVGA resolution to get the best image sharpness and clarity when making presentations. It has a small, fixed lens (no optical zoom) with a limited range of focus, it provides only two input options--VGA and composite video, but no audio or USB port--and it lacks a remote control and a built-in speaker. It also has no adjustable feet or tripod mount to help in positioning. On the other hand, this model consumes less power, runs cooler, and is quieter than a traditional lamp-based projector, and the 10,000-hour lifetime for its LED light source is much longer than the 3000-hour lifetime for many conventional projector lamps.
In image-quality tests the M109S earned a comparatively low rating of Fair for its overall performance. Among the seven ultraportable projectors we tried, it wound up in last place on all of our tests. Its lack of brightness and its low contrast made discerning the content in some screens (such as white type over a dark background or the different shades of color in shadowy areas) difficult, and its rendering of small type wasn't as sharp as that of the other, brighter LED projectors that we tested (the BenQ Joybee GP1 and the Samsung SP-P410M). The M109S's motion tests were also lackluster: Some colors, such as yellow, looked washed out in an animated PowerPoint presentation, and we saw a lack of details in dark areas when viewing scenes from DVD movies, such as a tunnel car chase in Quantum of Solace and a nighttime speedway race in Speed Racer.
The method of accessing the M109S's on-screen display (to make image adjustments) was also disappointing. The lack of a remote means that the only way to adjust the image is to poke at the touch-sensitive control buttons on top of the projector. Unfortunately, the buttons are so small that pressing the wrong one is too easy, which makes navigating the on-screen display a hit-and-miss affair. The menu options are fairly extensive and include five preset picture modes ("PC," "Movie," and such) for optimizing the image, but the tiny buttons make them hard to navigate. It's also daunting to use this model's focus ring to obtain the sharpest image from its fixed-focal-length lens; since the thumbwheel moves very little in either direction, finding the best setting is hard.
All in all, it's difficult to recommend the Dell M109S for mobile presentations when for just $50 more you can have a slightly larger LED projector--the BenQ Joybee GP1--that's twice as bright, provides better image quality, and has more features (including a remote and a built-in speaker). However, Dell frequently offers this product at a reduced price when you purchase it online, and that could make the M109S a much better deal for economy-minded mobile users who do small-group meetings or one-on-one presentations.