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Hands On With Sony’s Xperia Projector Prototype

LAS VEGAS—I love seeing prototypes at CES, because it's a chance to actually influence how things are made. Take Sony's Xperia Projector, a prototype/concept product Sony is showing off here. It's an interesting idea, but could use some tweaks.

CES 2017 BugThe Xperia Projector is a short-throw projector about the size of a hardcover book. It projects a screen onto a surface in front of the projector and uses IR sensors to turn the surface into a 10-point multi-touch screen; it can also project up to an 80-inch image onto a nearby wall. It runs full, regular, Google Play-compatible Android, working with whatever apps you want, from Google Now to Minecraft PE. It connects to local Wi-Fi networks and plugs into the wall for power.

Sony's Xperia Projector Prototype

This is one of those multifarious, it's-always-a-different-thing products. In the kitchen, it's a tablet you don't have to worry about spilling water on (because it's actually just an image on the counter.) In the living room, it can be a kid's PC that's easy for a parent to oversee, because the interface is an image on a table. It can also be a projecting video player that streams PS4 games from another room.

The projector was easy and responsive to use. Web browsing and games sped along, and the virtual touch screen worked very well. In the entertainment context, it really needed a remote, though. Sony noted that you can attach Bluetooth devices or use a PS4 controller to work it remotely, but I think it should come with a remote (or a smartphone app that functions as a remote) if it's ever sold.

Sony's Xperia Projector Prototype

I found the kids' tablet concept the most compelling. As a parent, I want my child to be able to use the Internet, but I want to be able to see what she's doing without looking like I'm nosy. If she's Minecrafting, programming, or doing Web searches right on a table, that makes it easy to view and collaborate with her. Also, once again, you can spill things on the "screen" without worrying.

We first saw an early prototype of the Xperia Projector back in August. The one at CES is more functional, but I fear that now it's missing out on the big trend in home devices: extensible voice interfaces. You can "OK Google" like you can on a phone, but that often just generates search results—it won't play an audio playlist, for example. An Xperia Projector sitting in the living room or on a kitchen counter needs the voice functionality of Google Home or an Alexa device to supplement its touch-"screen" abilities. Sony said it's taking my input into account.

Sony's Xperia Projector Prototype

If this ever comes to market, price will also be very important. The Xperia Projector is an Android device, competing with tablets that often cost $400 or less. Kitchen tablets and TV tablets like Samsung's Galaxy View and Alcatel's Xess, which have cost more, have tended to end up as niche devices because of their cost. The Xperia Projector is unique in its ability to turn your counter or kid's desk into a screen, but that may not be unique enough to justify a very high price.

We may see another iteration of the Xperia Projector at Mobile World Congress in February. Sony isn't committing to a launch date.

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