The Nebula Mars 3 Air is one of the best, brightest low-cost portable projectors around, and comes with Google TV streaming
- Strong picture quality with impressive colour performance
- Integrated Google TV streaming
- Nearly foolproof to set up
- Limited picture settings
- Can struggle with dark and gloomy content
Making sense of Anker’s Nebula projector line-up can be a challenge. The brand has a habit of selling multiple projectors with near-identical names, not to mention several generations of the same basic model, with similar designs but different specs and features. The Anker Mars 3 Air, then, follows on from the Mars 3 as a lightweight portable projector, with built-in sound and the addition of Google TV streaming, but without the ruggedisation and super-sized battery of its more expensive sibling.
You could also see it as a bigger, brighter step-up model from the ultraportable Nebula Capsule 3, complete with more powerful audio and double the 200 ANSI Lumens light output. As it’s smaller, lighter and cheaper than the Mars 3, things might have been clearer had Anker dubbed the Mars 3 Air the Mars 3 Lite, but if you’re looking for a compact portable that could work as a entry-level home cinema projector, it fits the bill, no matter what it’s called.
Anker Nebula Mars 3 Air review: What do you get for the money?
The Mars 3 Air is a portable projector with a 400 ANSI Lumens LED light source and a 1080p 0.23in DLP chip, placing it somewhere in between the Nebula Capsule 3 (with the same resolution but half the brightness), and the brighter Mars 3. Like the Capsule 3, it has built-in Google TV streaming and built-in audio – here a superior stereo 8W sound system. It also has an integrated 65Wh battery, which is smaller than the Mars 3’s but good for two and a half hours of streaming TV shows or movies.
The unit itself is bigger than the pint-sized Capsule 3, but still gives you a compact desktop footprint of 178 x 122mm and stands just 133mm high. It weighs a mere 1.7kg, and there’s a faux leather carrying handle at the top that comes in handy if you’re carrying from room to room at home.
While Google TV will be your main source of content, you still get an HDMI 1.4 input for games consoles and Blu-ray or DVD players, plus a single USB-A port for powering an external streaming stick or playing movie files. Alternatively, the built-in Chromecast enables you to cast content directly from a laptop browser, tablet or smartphone.
And though Anker supplies its usual slimline remote, you also have a set of controls on the top of the device, so you’re not stuck without the ability to pause or adjust the volume just because you can’t track down the remote while you’re sitting in the dark.
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Anker Nebula Mars 3 Air review: What does it do well?
As with the Capsule 3 and the Mars 3 before it, setting up the Mars 3 Air is a breeze. You can run through the automated setup with your smartphone via the Google Home app or enter your Wi-Fi settings and Google account credentials manually, and either way it’s hassle-free.
Most of your core streaming apps, including Netflix, will be installed and ready at launch, but any that aren’t included can be added from the Google Play Store once you’re up and running. After years of running weird Android TV forks, projectors are finally getting streaming together, and right now Google TV is arguably the best software out there. You can access all the major UK streaming services, and the UI feels slick, fast and intuitive.
Configuring the picture won’t give you any headaches, either. Just point the Mars 3 Air at a wall or screen, click a button on the remote and it will beam a test picture at your chosen surface and adjust the focus and geometry for you. You’re then free to fine-tune the image to your heart’s content. Most of the time this is unnecessary but occasionally it missed focus and I had to tweak it manually to get it looking sharp.
As for image quality, the Mars 3 Air sits just where you might expect it to: somewhere between the Capsule 3 and the standard Mars 3. Given the Capsule 3 was pretty good to begin with, that’s not a bad place to be. With 400 ANSI Lumens to work with, you have to be realistic about the levels of contrast. Black is never going to look as inky as it does on an OLED TV or monitor, and you can’t expect the clarity or brightness of a more expensive laser projector. However, pictures do look sharp and detailed and colours look rich but natural, both in the Standard and Cinema picture modes. As long as you can watch in a darkened room, you’re going to get a very watchable image.
In testing, the Mars 3 Air’s colour reproduction isn’t quite as good as the Capsule 3’s. It covers 89.3% of the sRGB gamut and 72.3% of DCI-P3, against 91.4% and 74.8% from the smaller unit. All the same, these are fantastic figures for a portable projector at this price point. And given the Mars 3 Air goes noticeably brighter, it has the edge on overall picture quality, putting it close to the current king of portable projectors in this class, the XGIMI Mogo 2 Pro. The Mars 3 is better still, but it’s also nearly twice the price.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Mars 3 Air’s 1.2:1 throw ratio means you don’t need huge amounts of space to use it effectively. Sit it 2.12 metres away from your screen and you’ll get a sizeable 80in image, while 2.66m will boost that to a huge 100in. The brightness settings make that a more sensible maximum screen size than the specified 150in.
The Anker Mars 3 Air’s audio is pretty good, too, and it makes the most of its 8W stereo drivers. The output is a little clearer than the Capsule 3 with more subtlety and less thump at the low end, and you can push it up to higher volumes before it starts to sound boxy. What’s more, the stereo speakers give you a more immersive soundstage when you’re watching movies, even if it’s not going to replicate what you’d get from a soundbar or proper hi-fi setup. For ad-hoc movie nights or parties, you’re not going to need anything more.
Most surprisingly, Anker seems to have underestimated the lifespan of the built-in battery. Fully charged, the Anker Mars 3 Air made it through all 2hrs 49mins of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, then processed to push through the first 30 minutes of The Desolation of Smaug. That’s close to an hour longer than the quoted 2hrs 30mins.
Anker Nebula Mars 3 Air review: What could it do better?
Like the Capsule 3, the Mars 3 Air struggles where you have any serious ambient light or daylight in the room. 400 nits just isn’t bright enough to punch through and give you crisp, contrasty pictures. And, as with the XGIMI Mogo 2 Pro, it sometimes struggles to resolve much detail in really dark and gloomy scenes.
Meanwhile, the settings push harder on simplicity than real control. You have a choice of five image modes, but one – Conference – ups the brightness at the expense of a nasty yellow/green colour cast, while the last is just a custom mode.
At least here you can adjust the contrast, saturation and sharpness values, along with the colour temperature, but if you want the ability to tweak and tinker with every aspect of your projector, this might not be the one for you.
Finally – and this is more of a quibble – the Anker Mars 3 Air lacks the Mars 3’s flip-out stand. There’s no way to angle your projector upwards without using a tripod or a paperback book.
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Anker Nebula Mars 3 Air review: Should you buy one?
The Mars 3 Air is a great portable projector, delivering similar levels of image and sound quality to the excellent Mogo 2 Pro, and a slightly better movie-watching experience than the still deeply lovable Capsule 3.
If you’re happy with the bigger design, it’s a better all-round device, and some might take the small hit on picture quality against the Mogo 2 Pro to have a projector that runs Google TV and streams Netflix out of the box. It’s easily one of the top-tier portables in the £400 to £600 price range, and one of the few that can work convincingly as an entry-level home cinema projector too.