Samsung has got an odd little device here. The Freestyle boasts many highlights for a person who may be looking to get into the big screen lifestyle and purchase their first projector. We’re talking about a machine which pretty much has the same features as a TV, one that is easy to set up and oh, did I mention that it is also portable? It sounds like a dream device but also has a very hefty price tag.
Ultimately, my time with The Freestyle has been a mixed bag. There are many good things about it, but I’ve also had not-so-great experiences with it in equal measure. In the end, I realised that The Freestyle is for a specific type of person — one which I’ll explain at the end. For now, let’s look at what you get if you buy the device.
When talking about the design of projectors, you can’t say that Samsung’s The Freestyle isn’t unique. While you would often see boxy exteriors for projectors, The Freestyle instead opts for a cylindrical shape — it’s almost as if you have a mini floodlight.
It is a Samsung-like look, and an aesthetically sleek one, if I say so myself. You can probably set it up anywhere in a modern-styled home, and it will not look out of place. Ours is a white unit, but Samsung also offers a pink, green and beige skin colour for the device if you want something more eye-catching.
There’s a base attached to the projector that you can pivot to adjust where it points, and you can use it horizontally, or tilt it up to project the screen onto the ceiling; you can simply change the position at a whim which is nice.
You’ll find almost no physical buttons on the projector, the only one being a switch to mute the mic. Instead, the front has capacitive buttons to power it on, adjust the volume, and link it to your smartphone if you have SmartThings from Samsung. I had trouble getting the buttons to react, particularly the power button, and it was like a toss-up to see if I could get it to turn on within 5 minutes. Thankfully there is a physical button option by way of the included remote, which makes it much easier to operate.
There’s little by way of ports on The Freestyle; in fact, there are only two. One of them is a Micro HDMI port for connecting to other devices like a PC or a game console — and you’ll need an adapter for that if you only have a full-sized cable. The other is a USB-C port for the power, because yes, it needs to be constantly plugged in to work; there is no internal battery.
It really hurts the portability aspect because The Freestyle is such a portable product. It weighs less than a kilogram (0.8kg), and its size makes it easy to bring it around everywhere. And if you’re afraid of getting it scuffed in your bag, Samsung has made a carrying case for it (though it costs S$99).
You can get it to work outside without a power plug; you just need a power bank. But you can’t use any spare power bank laying around, as it needs to output power at 65W or 20V. So you might need to purchase an additional device and bring it around if you want to use it outside; it isn’t ideal at all.
For transparency, we had to use two units of The Freestyle because the first one stopped working about a day into its use. Not a good start for its performance.
Before it broke though, we managed to do the setup for it, which was mostly a breeze. Using SmartThings is recommended since it logs in to your account for the apps, but if you don’t have that, you can simply follow the instructions onscreen.
While setting up was projector fast, the experience using it was slow — at least when first getting into it. There were long latencies between button presses which made navigating menus a bit of a chore, and it was more so when we got into specific apps; it’d take around 10 to 15 seconds to move whenever we pressed a directional button. After some time though, it started to work normally. Was it acclimatising to the new boot-up? We’ll never know; a strange occurrence nonetheless.
Occasionally, The Freestyle will also bring up a warning message saying that the HDMI isn’t connected. While it is easy enough to get rid of, it is annoying to have it constantly pop up whenever you start up the device or go into the settings menu.
The Freestyle also boasts other convenience features for setup like autofocusing and an auto-keystone to correct the screen distortion. On our first unit, the autofocus on The Freestyle worked great, with the focus adjusted within seconds and the image appearing sharp. However, the auto keystone was a different story. When testing different angles, the keystone was always a little off and required additional adjustment manually to fix it.
So that first unit died the next day, and when we received the second unit from Samsung, it was a much different experience. Both the autofocus and auto-keystone features were worse; the auto focus always corrected the image a level below what it should be, and the auto keystone adjustment would generally give a muddled mess to work with. So it was actually better to just keep The Freestyle in manual mode for both since it was easier to adjust.
That’s two units with different experiences, and ones that aren’t necessarily ideal. The least you can expect from a high-priced device is that the features perform similarly — not the case here it seems.
On the bright side, I like the image projection performance from The Freestyle…when conditions are right (I’ll get more into this later). Once you manage to get the focus right, images look crisp and sharp as well. Vivid content is particularly where the projector shines. A colleague and I watched the first Sonic movie using the projector, and I was surprised by how good it looked projected on the wall — the film’s colourful palette no doubt aiding in that aspect.
However, despite being able to do HDR content, it does not showcase well. With HDR mode toggled on, the entire image gets darkened to the point where it becomes hard to see anything on the screen. So even if the option is there, it’s best to avoid it.
So image projection performance can be good; it just requires certain conditions to be met to get a good viewing experience.
The first is that it needs to be in an enclosed environment — a room that doesn’t get much sunlight. Reason being is that The Freestyle doesn’t get too bright on its own, and so even a little presence of sunlight scuppers how much you can view the projection. I had rooms that hit that criteria, so I didn’t have much trouble with seeing the projection even during the day, but if your house layout is such a way where you get light in every area, you’ll be in for a tough time.
Secondly, it depends on how far you will be placing The Freestyle away from the wall. The device is advertised to project a screen of up to 100-inches from a distance of 2.7 metres, but this is not ideal given how brightness is not one of its strong suits; placing it that far back makes it even more difficult to be visible. The sweet spot seems to be around 1.5 metres, which projects a 55-inch screen size. Here, you get a decent screen size projection while still being able to enjoy what’s on screen.
These caveats aren’t the most difficult to overcome, but they are caveats nonetheless, which puts an obstacle on the possible setups you can do with the device.
In terms of sound performance, there’s nothing really exceptional about The Freestyle. It is perfectly decent when watching movies. It gets loud enough to hear the background and dialogue clearly, without one overpowering the other. However, music on the hand is a disappointment. While the mids sound clear, there’s no punch coming from the low end, so bassy songs often come off sounding weak.
Another highlight of The Freestyle is its Smart TV features, meaning that your favourite apps are available from the get-go. Popular streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and Disney Plus are there, and you can also connect to Spotify for your music needs. It helps massively with finding things to have on when using the projector.
Beyond the apps, there are other ways to use The Freestyle. It supports smartphone mirroring, and you can mirror content from your phone to the projector by using SmartThings or AirPlay for iPhone. As an Apple user, while I’m glad that the option for AirPlay is there and it works as intended usually, sometimes The Freestyle has trouble recognising that content is playing and displays nothing — I would have to back out and retry to fix the problem.
You can also connect directly to The Freestyle through Bluetooth to play music, like a portable speaker. But it doesn’t just play music; it’ll also project a visual that moves to the beat of the song playing, quite like what the old-school Windows Media Player did. It’s a nifty effect that might be cool to have playing in the background.
Unfortunately, it isn’t immune to problems. I’ve had instances where the music cuts for a couple of seconds before resuming, and once where I’ve lost connection — all this despite being less than a metre apart from the device.
My experience with The Freestyle shows that the projector is ideal for people who want a big screen to watch content in their bedroom. When I was using it for that purpose, the device was such a joy to have as I winded down the day watching YouTube or TV shows while cosying up in bed.
But that isn’t what the projector is really about though. This portable device is meant to be brought around the house, and even outside for you and a group of people to enjoy. The problem is that its features don’t exactly aid this kind of use case. For example, autofocus and auto-keystone are inconsistent features and the brightness limits where you can use it. You’re better off fixing it to one spot than constantly troubling yourself and setting it up every time.
There’s also the matter of price. At S$1,500, this is a pricey machine. For context, you can get a brand new 55-inch 4K TV from Samsung for S$100 cheaper. Personally, the performance of The Freestyle does not warrant a price tag like this.
It might be worth a punt if you can get it on sale. As this is the first generation of its kind though, I’m more interested to see how Samsung can fix the issues for their next iteration if they do produce it. They’ve done so with the Galaxy Fold phones, and I hope they do the same with The Freestyle.
Photos by Brandon Neo of The DANAMIC Team.