Reviews

Moto Z2 Play Review: To mod or not to mod

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Moto Z2 Play

What if you could build the perfect smartphone, picking individual parts, and assembling them together like Lego blocks?

Wide-angle camera, snap it on. Two-day battery, snap it on. More storage for your photos, snap some on too — that’s the vision behind the modular smartphone idea, and after years of top secret development, 2016 saw multiple tech companies chase after that dream with varying amounts of success, or complete lack thereof.


LG tried and failed, launching the G5 with a set of mods it called Friends, only to abandon the whole thing a year later. Google didn’t even get as close, aborting the launch of its experimental Project Ara following almost two years of tease.

Only Motorola under Lenovo is keeping the dream alive. The self-proclaimed “world’s number 1 challenger” is following up on last year’s Moto Z and Z Play models with a new 2017 model, the Moto Z2 Play, a mid-range phone with incredible battery life, and a host of new mods that signal the modular dream is still alive and well.

All about Mods

Because it’s modular, the Moto Z2 Play is a phone unlike any other.

Here are the basics: On its back there’s a camera hump and contact points — a cluster of golden dots that stand out like a sore thumb on the device’s back.

Moto Z2 Play contact points

The contact points on the Moto Z2 Play are needed for mods to work, but are an eye-sore.

Together they allow for Moto Mods to magnetically latch on to your phone giving it new features.

At the very basic (and inexpensive) level there is a Style Shell mod, a textured back panel that lets you customize how your phone looks using a variety of materials: fabric, wood, or leather. Newer ones from the 2017 line come with funky art and can give your phone wireless charging functionality too.

Snap on the Incipio battery mod to get twice your battery life, the JBL SoundBoost for a built-in boom box, or others that turn your phone into a Hasselblad camera or projector.

Moto Mods

Moto Mods available for the Z2 Play

Motorola has some new ones planned this year also, including one that turns your phone into an Android-based car system and better yet, a snap-on GamePad.

To mod or not to mod

Of course, each of these mods comes at a cost, anywhere between $20 to $300, which begs the question: Should you invest in mods, or are you better off buying a more expensive phone that can do it all?

Thing is, some mods provide functionality you won’t get from a top-of-the-line smartphone.

Android Auto on the Moto Z2 Play

The Incipio Vehicle Dock enables Android Auto on the Moto Z2 Play

Take the Incipio Vehicle Dock, for example. It mounts to your dashboard via your AC grilles and gives you Android Auto on your phone even if your car system doesn’t support it. The Insta-Share projector too, while a big battery hog, comes in handy if you like to host movie nights.

Flagship phones like the iPhone 7 and Galaxy S8 don’t have any of these features built in, so if this mod-provided functionality sounds good to you, then this modular phone is worth considering.

Lenovo is also investing heavily in third-party developers that are keen on building their own mods. In the works are mods with a pull-out keyboard, an integrated e-ink reader, and a walkie-talkie. If this third-party mod ecosystem takes off similar to what Apple’s App Store did for the iPhone, then potentially, your phone will be able to do more than it has ever done before.

Even more crucial to the success of this ecosystem is Motorola’s commitment to keeping its modular phone system alive for at least three years. That means, if you bought last year’s mods, they’ll work on this year’s model and vice versa!

JBL Sound Boost 2

The JBL SoundBoost 2 comes in GadgetMatch blue!

Others will argue that shareable standalone accessories are a smarter buy.

Yes and no. A standalone Bluetooth speaker may prove to be more value for money than the JBL SoundBoost mod that will only work with your Z2 Play.

But there are things like the Moto TurboPower pack that’s a solution to my power bank woes. Having one or two of these in your backpack ensures that you’ll never run out of battery juice even on the most demanding of weekends, all without having to lug around a power bank and a clumsy cable.

The phone sans the mods

Because mods are such a big part of the Moto Z2 Play’s story, it’s hard not to measure this phone’s worth without them. But how does the Moto Z2 Play fare based solely on its merits as a smartphone?

Apart from its huge camera bump and exposed contact points, the Z2 Play is a pretty good-looking phone, one that can hold its own when taken out at a business meeting or night out with friends.

A follow-up to the original Z Play, this year’s model is thinner and comes with a much tougher and more smudge-resistant metallic back.

Moto Z2 Play Fingerprint Sensor

The circular fingerprint sensor on the Moto Z2 Play doubles as a touch pad.

Other refinements include a more aesthetically pleasing circular home pad, a hybrid SIM card tray with slots for two nano-SIM cards on one side and a microSD card on the other, front-facing speakers built into the ear piece, and a special nano coating that (sans any waterproofing) provides added protection against the rain and spills.

While only a mid-range model, the Moto Z2 Play comes with very decent specs headlined by an energy-efficient Snapdragon 626 processor. My review unit has 4GB of memory and 64GB of storage, but configuration may vary depending on your market.

By all accounts, the phone performed great doing real-world stuff, including making calls, browsing the internet, spending hours on social media. Games played fine even on high settings and battery life was impressive, giving us about one and a half days of heavy use without an additional battery pack. Add a battery mod and usage goes up to two full days and then some.

Turbo power charging on the Moto Z2 Play

Zero to 50 percent in 30 minutes is impressive!

The phone charges fast too. Using the bundled charger, I was able to get a completely dead phone up to 50 percent in 30 minutes, which is perfect when you only have enough time for a quick top-up.

The software experience on the Z2 Play is top-notch with a near stock Android experience and a few worthy customizations thrown in for good measure. For example, One Button Nav replaces on-screen home, back, and multitasking buttons with gesture-based controls built into the home pad. Swipe right to go back; swipe left for multitasking; tap once for home; tap longer to turn the display off.

Moto Z2 Play camera bump

What a hump!

My only big complaint about the Z2 Play is its camera, which during my review, didn’t really blow me away. That’s not to say the photos were not good. With proper composition and a still hand, I was still able to manage some great shots in and around Bangkok both during the day and at night.

But for a phone in this price point, you can get better. Take a look at these comparison phones versus the similarly priced OnePlus 5.

Moto Z2 Play vs One Plus 5

Its selfie camera, on the other hand, is pretty good. In our ultimate smartphone showdown, last year’s Moto Z actually won the group selfie category, and the Z2 Play continues this tradition with natural-looking selfies. And as an added bonus, there’s a selfie flash.

Moto Z2 Play Selfie Sample

Is the Moto Z2 Play your GadgetMatch?

In the US, the Moto Z2 Play is available exclusively from Verizon for just $408, and for a limited time, they’ve thrown in the $80 JBL SoundBoost. That’s a steal.

It also retails for PhP 24,999 in the Philippines, INR 27,590 in India, and IDR 6,499,000 in Indonesia.

That’s not a lot to pay for 2017’s only modular smartphone thus far. Motorola says mods are the future, and if you can see mods as a necessary extension to what already is the most important gadget you own, then take a look at this phone. Also consider how much each mod costs and how that figures into the total budget.

If amazing photos are important to you, look elsewhere.

But if battery life is critical, the Z2 Play plus a battery mod can last you the entire weekend on a single charge. That’s a pretty amazing feat for a smartphone of this caliber, and for this reason, even I consider using it as my daily driver.

SEE ALSO: Moto Z2 Play Unboxing and Hands-On
[irp posts=”15841" name=”Moto Z2 Play Unboxing and Hands-On”]

Laptops

ASUS VivoBook X412F Review: A great midrange option for work and school

For those who need a fresh start

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Not everyone can afford a premium device. Even if the specifications entice you to buy that nice laptop, the ultimate decision point is in its price and value to you. Parents and young professionals starting a new job would know.

ASUS regularly comes up with great midrange selections for students and young professionals. That seems to be what the ASUS VivoBook X412F is: an all-around midrange device for productivity and day-to-day tasks. But if you’re currently a student or working full-time, should you consider this device?


Here’s a rundown of the device’s specifications:

It has a 14” HD anti-glare display

It’s powered by an Intel Core i3 processor and an NVIDIA MX230 graphics card

It comes with both a USB Type-A and Type-C port

Has a fingerprint reader on the touchpad

It gets the job done for its intended purpose

The model I used came with an Intel Core i3 processor, which won’t deliver great performance on paper. But after using it for a while, I can say that it really isn’t the case. It kept up with the numerous tasks I threw at it, whether it was writing documents or watching videos. Do take note that this device only comes with 4GB of RAM, so obviously you won’t be able to do a lot more.

It also helped that it comes with a 256GB solid state drive installed. Using SSDs provide a significant boost in loading times, which allowed me to get more tasks done. I would still prefer to have the more powerful Intel Core i5 option installed to maximize performance.

You can play games on it, just don’t push it

The VivoBook X412F comes with an entry level NVIDIA MX230 graphics card. Upon reading this, my initial thought was that gaming was possible — and it was. The catch is, well any game that doesn’t require so much graphical power will run smoothly. Games like CS:GO, Minecraft, and Rocket League do reach a hard 50 to 55 frame per second cap.

But like any other non-gaming laptop, using this strictly for gaming is highly discouraged. This device was not exactly designed to be a gaming machine, even if you get the units with more powerful processors on it. Plus, you will definitely feel the heat on your keyboard when you play for too long. So, I’m not saying that you can’t use it to play games; don’t use it just to play games.

It lasts relatively long, as long as you’re using it properly

Upon initial testing, I did get around five to six hours on one full charge. It’s long enough for you to just browse the internet, watch a few videos or movies, and type down reports. Doing some form of photo or video editing decreases that number by just a bit. It took two to three hours to fully charge the device from zero.

Battery life when playing games on it is just what you expect it to be. I got close to two hours and 30 minutes before having to plug the charger. Again, you can play games on this device but it’s not meant for strictly just gameplay. 

The webcam is surprisingly decent

One of the key critiques I’ve had over most laptops centers around their webcams. Most built-in HD webcams, when used for the first time, are not as “high-definition” as promoted. Images and videos either look blurry or grainy, which won’t help during conference calls.

With the VivoBook X412F, the webcam is decent at best — which is all you could really hope for. Under good lighting conditions, image quality on this 720p webcam feels more “high-definition” than most. I observed relatively less grain than most other laptops I’ve tried, which is great for video calls at least.

Other features worth considering before you buy

The VivoBook X412F comes with a fingerprint reader on the touchpad. Setting up Windows Hello was pretty fast, but I found the sensor to be pretty sensitive after. Even if I had already cleaned my fingers and wiped out the sweat, the sensor sometimes won’t read it.

It also comes with a chiclet keyboard without the number pad on the right side. Key travel, for me was decent and took just a short while to get used to. Sadly, it wasn’t backlit which I would have liked — especially for working late at night. 

Finally, you get what you can with its display. It’s only a 14-inch HD display, which doesn’t leave you much room for proper viewing angles and color accuracy. The one good quality it has, in my opinion, is that it’s an anti-glare screen. I used the device outdoors several times, and even at 70 percent brightness I could still see the contents of my screen.

Is the ASUS VivoBook X412F your GadgetMatch?

The ASUS VivoBook X412F is one device that truly caters to those who want an affordable yet premium experience. It comes in a package that promises great productivity and portability, and lasts a long time. It’s a total fit for students and young professionals looking for their first school or work laptop. Of course, that’s only the case as long as it is used for its intended purpose.

With a device like this, you can only do so much. While tasks such as photo, video editing, and gaming are possible, it proves to do more harm than good. If you really want to get the most value out of this laptop, I suggest you use it mostly for its intended purpose.At PhP 32,995 (US$ 629) for the 256GB + 4GB RAM unit, the ASUS VivoBook X412F is a great productivity device for work and school. That is, if you will use it for work or school-related activities.

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Philippines

Nokia 8.1 review: What took you so long?

Solid but feels dated

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There’s a Filipino song called “Bakit ngayon ka lang?”. Loosely translated, it means “what took you so long?”. The song talks about a missed romantic opportunity — of someone else coming along while you’re already committed to another. That’s almost exactly how I feel about the Nokia 8.1.

The phone — known in other markets as the Nokia 7X — was first announced in December 2018. A full seven months later, it arrived in the Philippines. And a lot has happened in those seven months.


Performance on par with midrangers today

Before I proceed, let’s get some of the specs talk out of the way. The device is powered by the Snapdragon 710 SoC along with 6GB of RAM with 128GB of internal storage which is expandable via a microSD card. That’s not bad. At all. It’s even near-flagship territory… in 2018.

One thing about the Nokia 8.1 though that will never feel dated is its OS. The phone is part of Google’s Android One program which means this is running Stock Android. If you like it vanilla — like a lot of purists do — then this is one of the phones that offer that clean experience. Right now it’s still on Android P, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you can side load Android Q beta as it is a partner device for Android’s developer preview.

Google cards are quite useful

The chip together with vanilla Android makes for a smooth and snappy experience. Most of the time I’m either just browsing or working on my phone and doing so on the Nokia 8.1 one was a very pleasant experience.

I have said this countless times but in case you’re new here, I don’t really play mobile games. The only time I ever really do so is when I have to test phones. On the Nokia 8.1 I only played Honkai Impact 3, which is a pretty graphics heavy game. The phone had zero trouble running the game and it looked especially stunning on the phone’s 6.18-inch PureDisplay screen (which we’ll get to shortly).

This means the phone will likely have zero problems running some of the most played games today like PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. If you play these games with this phone and don’t get that Chicken Dinner or that MVP, then you only have yourself to blame.

A display sent from the heavens

The PureDisplay screen technology is really pulling its own weight. When Nokia said this phone offers a higher contrast ratio and sharper output, it felt like it was even underselling it. The screen is vibrant and the colors and images look sharp all without looking too saturated.

It doesn’t have any of that crazy 90hz or 120hz display that we’ll find on 2019 flagships, but dare I say, the Nokia 8.1 probably has the best display in its price point.

I hid that notch eventually

I’ve often found myself happily watching on this phone while slowly being sucked into the YouTube rabbit hole. Speaking of watching videos on this display, I opted to turn the notch off altogether. The notch still looks like the one present on the iPhone X which came out in 2017. It’s 2019 and personally, I’d rather have a full bezel than be bothered looking at that kind of a notch.

Watching vertical FanCams is great on this thing

That said audio on this thing is far from perfect but it’s passable. The sound it produces isn’t as full as I hope to hear from phones when in speaker mode, but you can remedy all that by plugging in headphones because our good friend jack is still present on this device. Listening on wireless earbuds also offer a nice experience.

The build screams premium

One of the first things I noticed about the Nokia 8.1 is its build. The body is built with 6000-series aluminum with an all-glass back. And it feels pretty darn expensive. So much so that I was wondering why it didn’t come with any case in the packaging.

At first I was really hesitant to bring this around due to the lack of a case, but over time, my hands have grown accustomed to the glass finish. And I feel blessed every single time I touch it. There’s something about the build in finish that just screams premium.

The fingerprint sensor is at the back. And it feels like a blessing every time I touch this thing

It’s not fragile at all though. Being the clumsy oaf that I am, I may have accidentally dropped this phone twice already. The phone sustained zero scratches and zero damages. This is one tough cookie.

Pretty darn good cameras

I have to come clean and say I never really had too many chances to take photos during the testing phase. I’ve mostly just been at my desk or in a conference room which aren’t really ideal for taking photos.

The second lens acts as a depth sensor

So for samples I just took some quick shots around my place using the ZEISS-powered 12- and 13-megapixel dual-cameras. Hopefully I find some time to get a life outside of work for the next review. If you know a girl looking for a date, feel free to hit me up. I don’t bite… unless? Anyway, check out the samples below.

Quick note, features like Pro mode and Bokeh are also present on the 20MP front-facing camera.

Is the Nokia 8.1 your GadgetMatch?

And so, here we are. I’ve had nothing but mostly nice things to say about the Nokia 8.1. For a phone that was launched in late 2018, it can still square up with several midrangers in 2019. But the price, therein lies the rub.

At PhP 19,999, it’s not crazy expensive. It’s just that for a few thousand pesos less, there are actually better options. It’s hard to justify this purchase when  phones like the Realme 3 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 9T exist — both of which came within the seven months that the Nokia 8.1 was nowhere to be found on the archipelago.

Calling the folks at Nokia to bring their phones to the Philippines faster next time

Sure, those don’t have the build that the Nokia 8.1 has but the Realme 3 Pro offers much of the same performance for a more affordable price. And the Xiaomi Mi 9T actually feels like a 2019 phone with its triple-camera setup and a pop-up camera that makes way for an actual full screen display.

If you’re a Nokia stan — and I know there’s a lot of you out there — I can’t fault you for wanting this device. I get it. It’s pretty nice. But it’s really just a little too late. Timing is everything. Both in love and in smartphone releases.

*plays “Bakit ngayon ka lang?

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Accessories

Traveling with the Moment Lens

Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy?

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Phone photos become our very own souvenirs whenever we travel. More than something we upload on social media, they’re pleasant memories we can flip through when we’re back to the reality and routine of our lives. As such, it pays to have beautiful shots of the landscapes and sights we visit.

Earlier in July, I went to Hokkaido, Japan. To help me achieve said beautiful shots, I had with me a Google Pixel 3 and an 18mm wide-angle lens from Moment. It was my first time using a Moment lens. If you’re not familiar with Moment, they make special phone cases that can be pimped up with lenses that help elevate the photos you take.


Is the Moment lens a worthy travel buddy? Yes and no.

It’s great for taking landscape shots

Any tourist attraction can be turned into desktop wallpaper with the wide lens.

You also get to see the bigger picture. There’s a certain splendor added to a façade when you capture it from a wider angle.

It’s handy for when there’s limited space

In one of the farms we went to, there was a veranda where we wanted to take photos. It was great for portraits but not for capturing my outfit. There was not much space for the person taking the photo to move back to, so we got help from the wide-angle lens to capture a wider perspective and a full body shot.

It’s a hassle 

While it’s easy to plug the lens onto the case, the extra step of looking for the lens inside the bag is a hassle, and ironically, takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture. Imagine getting a stranger to take a group photo of you and your friends at a restaurant — everyone would be waiting for you to find the lens in your purse and attach it to the phone — it ruins the moment a little bit.

I can also do without the extra weight and the extra space it takes up in my tiny bag. A less rugged-looking case would also be nice.

The Moment lens does offer wonderful improvements to my vacation shots. If you’re particular about how artfully angled your shots are, you’ll find that a wide-angle lens is a great addition to your arsenal. However, if you’re like me who is content with what your camera phone has to offer, you may find the lens unnecessary. With the Google Pixel 3 and a little post-processing, I was actually able to get nice shots even without the Moment lens.

“Ironically, the Moment lens takes you away from the moment you’re trying to capture.”

Traveling means you have limited time to spend in a place. Make the most out of it with a device that has all the camera features you need. In 2019 there are already plenty of phones with built-in wide angle and telephoto features, from different price points that you might want to consider instead.

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