I have a lot of gadget-loving friends, and because they know what I do for work, they often ask me about what cool products I’ve been testing lately. Usually, my answer is some fancy new smartphone or a neat app I’ve discovered, maybe a wearable device. But never would I have imagined that someday my answer would be “a mobile hotspot/projector.”
Yet, that was my response this week after checking out the Sprint LivePro.
The LivePro is a new kind of hybrid device by Chinese manufacturer ZTE that combines the capabilities of a mobile hotspot, portable projector, Android 4.2 device and external charger. It will be available from Sprint starting July 11.
With it, you can connect up to eight Wi-Fi-enabled devices to Sprint’s 3G/4G network. You can beam 10-foot images onto a wall for work presentations or entertaining. And if your other gadgets are running low on battery, you can plug them into the LivePro for some extra juice, provided that its built-in battery has power.
It’s a unique device, to be sure, and one that could easily be seen as gimmicky. But it does everything it advertises, and I can see it coming in handy, albeit only for a certain segment of business users.
I use a mobile hotspot for work, but I don’t need something like the LivePro, since I don’t often give presentations. Sprint and ZTE are also trying to sell the idea that this is a great entertainment device for families. But as much as I love the idea of hosting a movie night in my backyard, I wouldn’t use it enough to justify the cost of the device (not to mention there are some other limitations, which I’ll talk about later).
The LivePro costs $450 without a contract, or you can pay for it in 24 equal monthly installments of $18.75 with Sprint’s Easy Pay program. Alternatively, you can buy the LivePro for $300 with a two-year contract. But you’ll also need to sign up for a data plan, which starts at $34.99 per month for three gigabytes of combined 3G and 4G data, and goes up to $79.99 per month for 12GB of 3G/4G data.
It’s worth considering if you often work on the road, give a lot of presentations or want to share and collaborate on ideas with others. The LivePro can minimize set-up and can cut down on the number of gadgets you need to carry with you. My only advice would be to make sure that you have good Sprint coverage in your area. If you don’t already have Sprint service, ask friends and colleagues who do about their experience. A site called RootMetrics also provides reports on carrier performance by region.
Here in San Francisco, I experienced okay data speeds from Sprint’s 4G network. I used the LivePro as a hotspot for multiple devices, including my MacBook Air, fourth-generation iPad, and a Nexus 5. I averaged download speeds of 8.14 megabits per second and upload speeds of 3.14 Mbps based on results taken from the Speedtest.net app. By comparison, my usual Verizon Mi-Fi mobile hotpot averaged download speeds of 9.82 Mbps and upload speeds of 7.89 Mbps.
Despite the slower speeds, I was still able to browse the Web, check email and work in Re/code’s blogging system just fine with the LivePro. I even streamed the Brazil-versus-Germany World Cup game on my laptop with little buffering or lag. That said, I did experience several dropped connections during my review, which got to be frustrating.
The LivePro is designed to work with Sprint’s enhanced 4G “Spark” network, but that’s currently only available in 24 cities. San Francisco isn’t one of them, so I wasn’t able to test that. You also have the option to connect to a Wi-Fi network when available.
It was a bit of an adjustment carrying around the larger LivePro compared to my usual business-card-sized Verizon Mi-Fi device. The LivePro is about the size of a Roku or Apple TV set-top box, measuring five inches in length and width, and just a little over an inch thick. But it’s still portable enough to transport in my laptop bag without a problem.
On the surface of the LivePro, there is a four-inch, 800 by 480-pixel touchscreen that allows you to navigate through the device’s menus and launch apps. The interface is similar to other Android devices, with five customizable home screens and an app menu. There are also buttons for tasks like turning on the projector and adjusting volume.
The projector itself can beam images from 10 inches to 10 feet in size at a maximum resolution of 1,920 by 1,080 pixels. The projector’s lamp has a brightness of 100 lumens, which is normal for a projector this size. But, just for reference, higher-end projectors used in conference rooms and home theaters usually start at 2,000 lumens and up.
There are multiple ways to project content from the LivePro. Using a Wi-Fi or cellular connection, you can download your files from the cloud, or install apps like Netflix and WatchESPN from the Google Play Store. The device also has a microSD card slot, so you can load up a memory card with content. With the Wi-Fi Miracast app, you can even mirror what’s on your smartphone onto the big screen. I tried all these methods, and each worked fine.
Not surprisingly, the LivePro works best in very dark rooms. For one test, I tried to view a slideshow in a conference room with the lights turned off. But one wall had a window that leaked in light from the hallway, causing colors to look washed out and making it difficult to read some of the smaller print. But when watching movies at night in my living room with all the lights off, the picture was fine.
The projector’s fan is rather loud, though. I was able to drown some of it out at home by connecting the LivePro with my Jawbone Big Jambox speaker via Bluetooth. But it’s still a bit distracting.
Also, if you’re watching a movie that’s longer than 1.5 hours, you had better be near an outlet, because that’s about when the LivePro’s battery died on me while streaming “Silver Linings Playbook.” The LivePro should be fine for most presentations, though. And when used just as a hotspot, the LivePro lasted a full workday and then some. With the remaining battery power, I was able to partially recharge the Nexus 5 using the LivePro’s built-in USB port.
ZTE definitely deserves credit for thinking outside of the box to create this multifunctional device. But given the high price tag and some of the LivePro’s limitations, its appeal is pretty limited at this point.