Samsung’s Freestyle projector isn’t just unlike anything else we’ve ever covered on Sound Advice - it’s unlike anything the entire AV world has seen before.
At heart I guess you would describe The Freestyle as an ultra-portable projector. As you might guess from its unique ‘barrel in a cradle’ design, though, it’s really much more than that.
A ‘ring’ speaker running all the way round The Freestyle’s bodywork, for instance, means that it’s capable of working as a perfectly serviceable portable speaker. It’s also got the built-in connections and Bluetooth/Wi-Fi support to be an impressively flexible multimedia player. The ease with which it can be moved and set up makes it feel like a pocket-sized replacement for a portable TV. It ships with built-in ambient artworks and a diffusion lens that enable it to function as an ambient lamp. Add the official battery pack accessory to its bottom edge, pop it into its waterproof carry case accessory, and it becomes a video player/music player/torch you can take anywhere - even garden parties or campsites.
So out of the box has Samsung’s thinking with the Freestyle gone, in fact, that there’s even an optional attachment that allows it to be screwed into a light socket, where it can do double duty as either a ceiling-mounted projector or the world’s smartest bulb.
If you’re thinking this sounds like a heck of a potential duty roster for something that only costs £499, you’d be right. We can’t think of any other AV product that offers so many uses, in fact. But does all this flexibility mean Samsung has had to compromise The Freestyle’s performance?
The Freestyle comes out swinging with one of the brightest pictures we’ve ever seen from such an ultra-portable projector. Samsung claims it can deliver 550 lumens (around double what you might normally expect from such a small projector), and this appears to be much more than just marketing hype.
For starters, the picture is bright enough to remain watchable - so long as you don’t try and push the image size much beyond around 75 inches, anyway - even if there’s a bit of ambient light around. We’re not talking about direct sunlight or the middle a field on a bright summer day, but on a dull day or in typical muted evening living room lighting conditions the Freestyle’s pictures hold up fine.
While its usability in bright rooms enhances its practicality and flexibility, though, its unexpected brightness and punch is best appreciated in as dark a room as you can manage, since in these circumstances the brightness becomes a way of delivering more contrast, brightness and colour vibrancy. Which are, of course, three of the core constituents of any good TV or projector picture quality.
The Freestyle’s brightness is intense enough, in fact, to even deliver a marked sense of the difference between standard dynamic range and high dynamic range sources. The latter of which, of course, depend on a much wider light range for their eye-catching charms.
The Freestyle’s unexpected light output helps it deliver more vibrant and natural colours with HDR sources, too, than you would normally expect with an ultra portable projector. The rich saturations don’t come at the expense of icolour tone subtlety either, as even the finest colour blends and skin tones are delivered without striping or blocking noise issues.
This colour finesse is doubly important as it helps the Freestyle maintain good levels of sharpness and detail despite it only sporting a full HD rather than 4K resolution. To be clear, the Freestyle can take in 4K sources, but they’re only played back in full HD form. So we’re not talking detail levels from The Freestyle as high as you will see from true 4K projectors, or the best ‘pseudo’ 4K projectors. But the journey 4K sources go on as they’re converted to the Freestyle’s HD resolution doesn’t seem to introduce noise or softness, and every drop of sharpness is squeezed out of the projector’s 1920x1080 pixel array.
It’s worth adding at this point that HD resolutions rather than 4K are the norm in the ultra portable projector world.
After a little tweaking of its motion processing system (make sure you choose Custom, and then set judder/blur processing to below half of the maximum values provided), The Freestyle’s sharpness holds up nicely when there’s motion in the frame, with no significant blurring and some surprisingly good, cinematic handling of judder with 24-frames-a-second film sources.
This natural looking motion helps The Freestyle double up as a fun gaming display. I should say right away that there are limits to its gaming support. Its HDMI port won’t handle the 4K resolution at 120Hz game feeds now available from the Xbox Series X, PlayStation 5 and high-end PCs. Also, rather bizarrely, while we managed to get it to play HDR graphics from a PS5, it wouldn’t do so with an Xbox Series X.
It doesn’t seem very reasonable to me, though, to expect a projector as cheap and uniquely practical and versatile as The Freestyle to deliver all the latest gaming bells and whistles. The fact that it still delivers clean, bright and punchy pictures with game sources is good enough.
One last massively positive thing about the Freestyle’s pictures is how well they automatically adjust to changes in the projector’s position. As soon as you fire it up the projector analyses the the image it’s producing on your wall (or ceiling!) and then automatically corrects the image’s focus and geometry. This auto-correction system achieves the right results without any manual intervention for the vast majority of the time, joining the unique way its barrel-shaped body can be angled around in its innovative ‘cradle’ mount in greatly enhancing its potential as a portable ‘use anywhere’ projector. Even ceilings and angled eaves can become effective ‘screens’ for a Freestyle.
Inevitably a projector as practical and affordable as Samsung’s The Freestyle does come with one or two picture quality strings attached. The main one is that it can’t deliver a great black level performance. Dark scenes appear with a low-contrast grey wash over any parts of the picture that should look black, leaving such areas looking less three-dimensional, natural and dynamic than bright scenes and picture areas do.
This issue isn’t bad enough to stop The Freestyle from delivering good levels of shadow detail in dark corners, though. Nor is it as bad as we’ve seen it on many other ultra-portable projectors, and you won’t be nearly as troubled by the black level limitations if you’re watching The Freestyle in a room that isn’t completely dark. It’s still something, though, that serious movie fans in particular need to be aware of.
The other issue is visible image structure. Depending on how large an image you’re projecting, you can sometimes (especially in expanses of a single colour) see the individual pixels that go into creating the projector’s pictures. This joins the way brightness diminishes as you go for a bigger picture in making it a good idea to keep The Freestyle’s image size to 75 inches or less.
I hadn’t expected much from The Freestyle’s audio, given that the only visible sign that it has any speakers built in is a ring of small holes running around an upper section of its bodywork. In fact, though, these small holes manage to emit a surprisingly powerful and well rounded sound that spreads far enough from the projector’s bodywork to genuinely turn it into a decent portable, wireless speaker for playing music from your phone or network.
Detailing is good, too, and most startling of all, the Freestyle even manages to underpin its playback of both music and movie soundtracks with a credible dollop of bass.
Inevitably The Freestyle’s sound can appear rather dislocated from the onscreen action if you’re relying on it to provide the audio accompaniment to a movie, game or sporting event. Though actually, the spread of sound it can get from its 360-degree speaker design makes it sound a little less dislocated than many rival projector sound systems do. Especially if you’re able to place The Freestyle somewhere between your seating position and the images being projected on your wall.
The Freestyle’s flexibility when it comes to adapting to not just different situations but different functions is its ace in the hole.
For starters, the way its barrel body can be rotated within its support cradle to project images at almost any angle, including directly up on to the ceiling, instantly makes it uniquely easy to set up in pretty much any room, no matter how awkwardly shaped it might be. This simplicity of image placement is brilliantly reinforced, too, by the genius auto image geometry correction system.
If you buy the optional extra battery pack Samsung has made for it you, can move it from room to room or place to place without even needing to plug it in.
As I’ve covered already, meanwhile, there’s simply no other AV product out there today that’s capable of being so many things to so many potential users. During my time testing The Freestyle, I regularly found myself using it as an ambient lamp and a wireless speaker as well as deploying its main projector talents.
Samsung continues to innovate around its unique projector baby, too; just recently, for instance, it added a brilliant new feature that lets you place two Freestyle’s side by side and have their images join together to deliver a much larger native wide movie aspect ratio image without the usual bars above and below the picture.
The consistency and effectiveness of its crucial auto image correction feature has improved from The Freestyle’s early days too, and you can even achieve a near professional-grade image calibration using just your phone’s camera and Samsung’s nifty Smart Calibration feature.
The Freestyle can play a wide range of audio, image and video file formats wirelessly from your networked and smart devices with minimal set up hassle, and also carries a full built in Tizen-based smart system that provides access to nativised apps for all the video and audio streaming services - Netflix, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, the BBC iPlayer etc - that most households could ever need.
The Freestyle backs up its ‘smart speaker’ functionality by carrying multiple voice recognition and control systems, saving you the bother of always having to delve into its onscreen menus.
The Freestyle’s use of an LED type projector engine, meanwhile, means it should be good for 20,000 hours of use without the need to change any bulbs.
There are one or two small niggles associated with The Freestyle’s unique design and flexibility. Its physical connectivity is limited, for instance, with just a single mini HDMI port and a USB-type power point. The HDMI is more restricted than those of most projectors, too, when it comes to the video formats it can take in.
Very occasionally the auto geometry correction feature doesn’t work as it should, requiring a tortuous trip to the back up manual adjustment tools. The maximum realistic image size I’d say The Freestyle works effectively to is around 80 inches, meanwhile, so if you’re looking for a really huge projection experience you should look to a more standard type of projector design.
Samsung’s latest Tizen smart interface isn’t particularly logical or straightforward to use, and finally, while its picture quality is good for an ultra-portable projector, movie fans can get a superior performance, especially when it comes to contrast, from more ‘normal’ projector designs. They will, of course, have to pay a fair bit more for this ‘regular projector’ privilege, though, as well as having to do without The Freestyle’s genuine portability and flexibility.
While The Freestyle doesn’t have the picture quality to make it well suited to a serious home cinema set up, its unique design and imaginative range of optional extras enable it to adapt brilliantly to a remarkably wide range of more casual usage scenarios.
With this in mind, its £499 price seems very reasonable indeed, even if you add in the cost of one or two of its optional extras. Its picture and sound performance are both much better than might have been expected with such a flexible product, too.
In the end, the best thing about The Freestyle is that it reminds us that AV products can actually be fun - and what’s not to love about that?
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Xbox Series X game
Even though The Freestyle can’t handle the latest COD game from Xbox Series X in either 4K HDR or high/variable frame rates, its graphic still appear looking bright, sharp, colourful and responsive enough to deliver a fun big-screen gaming experience that can be set up in any room in just seconds.
It 4K Blu-ray
The combination of deliberately exaggerated bright daylight scenes and ultra-dark night-time scenes in the recent adaptation of Stephen King’s terrifying novel shows off the impressive light and colour performance of The Freestyle, but also reveals its limitations when it comes to handling dark content.
Lucy 4K Blu-ray
The gorgeous sharpness and crisp but natural HDR of Luc Besson’s cult favourite on 4K Blu-ray both survive better on The Freestyle than we’d expected given how small and versatile it is, despite the projector only carrying a native HD resolution and not providing as much on-paper brightness as full-sized, less flexible projectors.
If you’re looking for the most versatile product in the current AV world, a single ultra-portable device that can function very effectively as a TV, projector, portable speaker, ambient lamp, and streaming device.