The future is rarely what we imagine. "Back to the Future Part II" doubled down on fax machines and dehydrated pizzas, while a common vision in the 1990s was that "personal digital assistants" like the PalmPilot would continue to exist and would eventually have business card scanners and portable projectors built in.
If you're still a fan of a pocket-size projector, though, fear not: The Touchjet Pond delivers that (without the business card scanner).
To be clear, the Pond is more than just a projector. More accurately, it's a complete Android computer with an 80-lumen "pico projector" built in. The whole thing fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and weighs a scant 10 ounces. For connectivity, it has HDMI and USB (both mini-ports), as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
And while you'll get the best results running off wall power (the output drops to 50 lumen when battery-powered), the battery gives you about two hours of runtime.
All of this is true and relatively important, but it's also burying the lead. The Touchjet Pond is a "touchscreen" device: You can control it by tapping and dragging a stylus (two are included) directly on the wall, or you can switch to the Airmouse, a remote-control pointing device.
The Pond sits directly on a flat surface or can be mounted on a tripod. A focusing wheel on its side lets you sharpen the display. Using the projector is straightforward if you're already familiar with Android from a phone or tablet. Download apps from the Google Play store, control all the usual Android settings and otherwise treat it as if you were tapping on a tablet.
If you already make heavy use of Google Docs, the Pond is a natural business companion. It's a snap to load a slide deck or any other document stored in the cloud and display it on a wall.
There's also no reason you can't use it for entertainment, but this is where you might feel the specs fall a bit flat. The Pond's colors and brightness are surprisingly good, but it has a resolution of 854x480 -- barely more than VGA and far short of HD. The built-in speaker is handy for business presentations, but you can plug in headphones for more private use.
Of course, the Pond's key selling point is its touchscreen capabilities. Using it as a touch device is surprisingly liberating. In a business setting, it lets you stand at the front of the room and interact directly with your content, rather than sitting back with your PC at the conference table.
And in testing, I found it was convenient for two people to collaborate by white-boarding and annotating simultaneously using the two styli.
The stylus is sturdy and responsive, but not without flaws. First, it's all too easy to cast a shadow by getting in front of the display, blocking the very thing you're trying to touch, tap or drag. You'll quickly get a sense for how to avoid blocking yourself, but it can sometimes be awkward.
As an alternative, you can use the stylus like a laser pointer to register taps and drags from a distance. The included Airmouse works like a more traditional remote, complete with media controls and a pointer that serves as a touch point.
The Touchjet Pond is actually one of a growing list of Indigogo success stories. It was crowdfunded under its original name, the TouchPico, garnering close to a million dollars. Unlike many similar projects, this one is successful in every sense of the word: It didn't just limp to market. It actually works quite well. It has a good industrial design, the features work as advertised, the display is sharp and bright, and the touch styli add an unexpected charm.
But is it worth the $600 price tag? You can get a stand-alone pico projector for half the price of the Pond, but that certainly won't buy you an Android handheld with a built-in projector and touchscreen stylus. After a few weeks of testing, it's clear that if you're a Google Docs user with the need to share your work with others ad hoc, you might not realize how much you actually need the Touchjet Pond until after you get one.
Photo courtesy Touchjet