EZCast Beam J4a Review – a Compact Android Camping Projector
A decent compact projector which can stream your favourite shows directly without a phone is the holy grail of camping – does the new EZCast Beam J4a deliver the goods?
What we like about the EZCast J4a: Compact; Android 10; Good battery life; No problem streaming Netflix natively
What we don’t like about the EZCast J4a: In-built speakers are a little weedy; Bluetooth remote not ideal for typing;
We were one of the first websites to advocate using projectors when camping, and we stand by that decision. This is because we are not all built like Bear Grylls, able to survive a fortnight in the jungle using just a teaspoon and a ball of twine. Instead, some of us need a sliver of entertainment in the evenings when the sun has sunk below the horizon, and we’re stuck in a tent, caravan or campervan with the family and nothing else to do.
A camping projector can be a magical piece of gear in this respect because it has the ability to turn almost any light-coloured flat surface into a large TV screen without requiring an actual TV to be lugged with you on holiday. This is a bit of a gamechanger in our opinion, especially as some of the best projectors on the market today are extremely compact and bijou, easily fitting into a pocket, bag or suitcase.
In this article we review a new projector from EZCast called the Beam J4a, and assess its suitability as a piece of camping gear. We’ve had it for about a month at the time of writing and even used it during a recent two week road trip to France.
Let’s dig in to find out what it can do, and what we think of it.
EZCast Beam J4a – What’s in the box?
Inside the box, there’s the Beam J4a projector itself (you’d be a bit worried if it wasn’t!), a power supply for mains charging, a bluetooth remote control, and a small metal tripod. There is also a small WiFi dongle which is connected into a port on the back of the J4a to allow the projector to join your home network or hotspot at a campsite.
Beam J4a Dimensions
Taking the projector out of the box, you’re immediately struck by two things: a) how compact it is – it easily sits on the palm of your hand, and b) how solidly built it feels. This is not a cheaply made piece of equipment, even though it’s aimed at the budget end of the market.
The J4a measures a tiny 11.5 x 11.5 x 3.2 cm and weighs only 400g which is a frankly unbelievably miniature size in anyone’s book – there can be no excuses about packing this into your camping gear. It’s a square cuboid shape, with the top and bottom using white plastic, and the four faces of 3.2cm height in a rather natty silvery blue.
Key Hardware Features
Let’s discuss what the main hardware features of the Beam J4a are.
The front face contains one of the most important parts of the projector – the lens of the projector, which is in turn the end point of the internal heart of the device – the DLP. DLP stands for Digital Light Processor, and this was invented by Texas Instruments as a way of manipulating different colours of light from a backlight using a micromirror. DLP is a more reliable way of creating moving images than other projector technology such as LCD, but not quite as sharp.
The LED lamp in the Beam J4a can pump out 300 lumens of light which is certainly bright enough to support a 100-inch screen on a wall. It helps if the room is as dark as possible, but 300 lumens is enough to still see an image during the daytime (although it will be more washed out).
The front corner of the Beam also includes a focus wheel which must be turned manually in order to create a sharp image on the screen. The front face also includes an air outlet for cooling of the projector.
The left side face of the projector contains the loudspeaker which enables you to enjoy films and TV. The right face contains the power button – this must be held for a few seconds to turn on the projector
The rear face of the Beam is where the main connectivity is located:
- AC power input
- USB-A socket for connecting a mouse or keyboard or other peripheral
- Infra-red sensor for the remote control. The remote is actually not reliant on this because it can also interact via Bluetooth which is significantly faster and easier to use.
- HDMI input – if you have a separate piece of hardware which you wish to project using the Beam J4a – for example this could be a laptop PC or a DVD player – the HDMI socket can be used to connect it.
- Audio socket – the Beam J4a has a 3.5mm output socket which allows the sound from the projector to be transferred to an external speaker. This is very useful if you wish to enjoy better sound quality than the inbuilt speakers provide.
- WiFi dongle socket – allows the dongle to be fully enclosed within the projector – a bit odd that EZCast didn’t just integrate it in the first place.
- Air inlet grill
On top of the Beam is a set of six directional buttons. These can be used to trawl your way through the Android 10 operating system which appears when the device is powered up. These work well enough but are nowhere near as intuitive as using the Bluetooth remote. They also are no use when you have fired up the Netflix app for example – at this point you have to use the remote. The buttons are good to have as a backup, but cannot be used for all functions.
Finally, the bottom face of the projector has a few useful features. There are three pads (two small, one large) which offer stability for the case on any surface. There is a foldaway stand which allows the projector to be tilted upwards, and also a standard 1/4 inch thread for a tripod. This could be the small 10cm tripod which comes in the box, or a separate tripod which you may already own or have bought.
Initial Setup of the EZCast Beam J4a
Initial setup of the projector was a little bit fraught if I’m honest. I pushed the supplied WiFi dongle into the appropriate socket on the J4a, but after powering up, it was clear that it was not working because the Android operating system could not see our home network. Unfortunately however, the dongle was now fully inserted into the projector and would not come out!
Luckily my wife is a tad more dexterous than me and was able to use some tweezers to get it out, although the casing was marked slightly. Next time, I pushed it more forcefully into the socket and luckily it must have made better contact and the network could be seen. I really believe EZCast should have avoided this issue by just building WiFi into the motherboard of the projector directly and dispense with the dongle.
The mains power supply can deliver 30W to the projector, and the onboard lithium-ion battery can store 33Wh of power. We found that charge time was just over an hour which is pretty good. To be honest though, when we have mains power available it makes sense to keep the mains power plugged in as then there is no danger of dropping into ECO mode, which is a battery saving mode which cuts in once the battery drops to a certain low level.
Powering Up - Android 10
After holding the power button for a few seconds, you’re confronted with a colourful home screen showing the bespoke Android 10 operating system. Depending on the distance of the projector from the surface you’re using as a screen, you can adjust the focus ring to get a sharp picture. The native resolution of the Beam J4a is 480p which is not HD quality, but in my view is sharp enough for a camping projector, especially if you’ve forgotten your glasses!
At this point it makes sense to start using the remote control and I recommend you switch to Bluetooth mode. To do this, access the bluetooth menu in the settings of Android and then press the ‘OK’ and ‘Back’ button on the remote together simultaneously. You will immediately know when Bluetooth is activated because the remote becomes much more responsive and you can wave it around like a mouse on a PC.
The Android 10 operating system comes pre-installed with an app store called Aptoide. From here you can install BBC iPlayer, Netflix and basically all the common streaming platforms. Once downloaded, they’re available in the ‘Apps’ folder or you can add a shortcut to the front screen – worth it for your most commonly used platforms.
If you don’t want to use the inbuilt apps, you can also wirelessly mirror (or ‘cast’) your smartphone screen on the Beam J4a. This is quite useful if you want to want to show some videos or photos which you’ve taken, or if you have an app or game on there which isn’t included on Aptoide. I found that that the mirroring worked well, with no noticeable lag or freezing.
Adjusting the picture
Anyone who has used expensive projectors will know about keystoning. This is when you haven’t projected perpendicularly on to a screen (i.e. you have projected at an angle) and need to adjust the shape of the projected image. Some projectors can do this in both horizontal and vertical directions, and some can do it automatically. The Beam J4a can adjust for vertical angle errors, but not horizontal ones – it’s also a manual operation which can be adjusted from the display settings. I found this worked well when projecting on to the bed in our Mercedes Marco Campervan. See the video of Kung Fu Panda below.
Connecting a PC to the EZCast Beam J4a via HDMI
I also tried connecting a small micro-PC to the Beam J4a using an HDMI cable. This worked really well and I was able to watch some films which I had stored on there. I don’t think the projector would have enough resolution to do detailed office work, but it’s good enough for general browsing.
EZCast Beam J4a - Conclusions
I’ve very much enjoyed using the EZCast Beam J4a projector over the past four weeks, and found that it was really useful in our campervan and awning on a two week tour of northern France.
The picture quality is actually very watchable, and I found that once the focus and keystoning was set, it didn’t need to be continually adjusted. Yes, the resolution is only 480p, but you have to remember you’re getting a very compact projector which can be run up to 4 hours on a single battery charge and also includes a full Android 10 operating system.
The projector can effortlessly stream it’s own content via apps like Netflix and iPlayer – this is nothing short of revolutionary as I’ve tested Android projectors before which are much more expensive and cannot use Netflix – well done EZCast! The wireless screen mirroring from a mobile phone and the HDMI port also work very well.
My main gripe is typing in passwords using the remote control – it’s very time consuming, even in Bluetooth mode. I would recommend buying a little Bluetooth keyboard and touchpad such as the eSynic for this purpose. However, passwords are only typed in once for each app and then the projector remembers them – not too onerous in reality!
My final gripe is the sound quality from the Beam projector. The speaker is only small and cannot perform miracles. On a noisy campsite, I couldn’t hear it very well. To combat this I simply hooked the projector audio output to an external mini speaker, and this was fantastic.
Overall, the EZCast Beam J4a is an excellent camping projector for the money. It does everything you can reasonably expect such a small device to do, and makes those camping evenings swim by. Recommended!
The EZCast Beam J4a is a great little projector which can do almost everything you ask of it for a very reasonable price. It has Android 10, can stream it's own content (as long as you have WiFi available) or will play existing content off a USB drive or via a separate PC and an HDMI cable. The only downside is the sound quality and the 480p resolution which aren't deal breakers in my opinion. One to buy!