The nicest-looking cardboard box projector money can buy, but not much else.

Ever wander through a store and see something on a shelf that you know can't possibly be as cool as it looks, but you buy it anyway because you just have to know? That was me this weekend in my local Books-A-Million, a store that has slowly transformed over the last five years from a decent bookstore to a decent toy store that also sells books sometimes. As I wandered up the main path through the center of the store, having just retrieved the last copy of Neil Stephenson's Seveneves — which you should absolutely read, by the way — three odd little boxes caught my eye. They all said Smartphone Projector 2.0 on the side, and claimed you could put your phone in the box and have a little theater powered by your phone.

Here's what you get in this weird little box, and how well it works.

Lets start with the things this kit does right. The outer packaging makes no promises and shows you exactly what you are getting. The description couldn't be more simple — take the box out, insert the lens, insert the phone, adjust until you get a clear picture. On the right side of the box you see two people sitting next to one another in perfect darkness watching a movie from this projector, and on the left side of the box you see a photo of a phone with an invitation to hold your phone up to the box to make sure your phone isn't too big for this kit. Smartphone Projector 2.0 supports most big phones, so there's a good chance your phone will work just fine.

Removing the outer packaging reveals a cardboard box with a slightly smaller cardboard box within. As the instructions command, you slide the lens into the cardboard tube at one and, and place the grippy material laying in the box at the other end. The smaller box slides into the bigger box, but otherwise there are no moving parts here. Outside of the old timey print on the box itself, this is an ordinary piece of cardboard with a fairly standard lens on the other end.

This is about the experience you should expect for $30.

The instructions on the inside of the box are a little more complicated. There's an app you can install to force your orientation into a reverse landscape, which will flip the image to counter the flip that happens when the video is passed through the lens at the other end of the box. It's a fairly generic app that doesn't get in the way of actual media playback, though, so it's not a big deal. Crank the brightness on your phone up to 100%, stick the phone in the box running your video of choice, and slide the smaller box into the larger box until you get the focus you want on the wall you are projecting on.

Even with the brightness at 100% on our Samsung Galaxy S7, you don't even see anything on the wall you're projecting on unless all of the lights are out and it is perfectly dark in the room you're in. It might have been a little different if there was a way to force Samsung's crazy sunlight brightness mode, but at regular 100% brightness it was too dark to get a picture. The audio is muffled by the box you put your phone in, and if you want to do something like pause the video you basically have to set all of this up again when you hit play. There are notches in the sides of the box for you to run power to the phone, but that's about it.

Smartphone Projector 2.0

This is about the experience you should expect for $30. It's a cute thing that was fun to do with my kids, but hardly something I'd do instead of just watching a video on my phone unless I was doing something like building an epic pillow fort in the living room. It's a silly gift, and a fun thing to do once or twice, and that's exactly what I expected when picking it up.

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