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
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Accessories

adidas Ultraboost 20 review: Great just got better

The ISS National Lab collab is straight 🔥

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It’s almost a new year, and here’s the Ultraboost 20 — the latest version of my favorite sneakers.

Ever since they were announced in 2015, the Ultraboost has always been my go-to everyday sneaker. They’re just so comfortable to wear and they look so darn good as well.

Adidas has been making small changes to the shoe every year but they were mostly just changing the pattern of the upper which wasn’t really that big of a deal.

A sudden design shift

It wasn’t until 2019 when Adidas redesigned the Ultraboost to create the Ultraboost 19 (UB19) which was a huge change in the line.

Initially, the Ultraboost was more of a casual lifestyle pair first then a performance running sneaker second. This changed with the UB19 when Adidas decided to focus on making a performance running sneaker.

It was a controversial change at the time since the aesthetics of the shoe really changed. Some fans of the line didn’t receive the news well.

UB19 (left) and UB20 (right)

Admittedly, I was one of those people. But then the reviews started coming in and everyone kept talking about how comfortable they were — much more comfortable than they have ever been which makes them a better performance sneaker overall.

Design-wise, I still prefer the Ultraboost 1.0 more than the 4.0 but the new ones are definitely way more comfortable — an all-out performance running sneaker.

With the 2020 version, Adidas decided to make a few more tweaks. Somehow they took something already great and made it even better. As an aside, I’m happy these were minor tweaks because I don’t think we would have survived another dramatic overhaul.

One of the best things about Ultraboost back in the day were the collaborations, so I’m happy to see Adidas trying that out again.

Ultraboost X ISS National Lab

I got the ISS National Lab collaboration to check out, which is the official collaboration to launch the Ultraboost 20.

First thing you’ll see is the Light grey Primeknit upper. This is usual with Ultraboost and it does get small tweaks every year. This time it feels like there’s more give in this version vs the UB19.

One major difference in the upper this year is the addition of the Tailored Fiber Placement technology or TFP. It’s the thick embroidered looking details around the edges of the toe box area which gives you more stability and durability.

These areas aren’t as flexible and stretchy as before but they do a better job at containing your toes. So the upper is still stretchy and soft, but holds your foot in place better.

There’s still a sock-like fit but it’s slightly thicker and less flexible than the older ultraboost 1.0 to 4.0 uppers. I really like the arrow shaped ventilation pattern in the toe-box area which is a very subtle throwback to the ‘ol Ultraboost 1.0.

There’s the white or light grey Ultraboost laces going through an updated midfoot cage. I definitely like the new midfoot cage, I think it’s better looking than the UB19 cage. It’s a cleaner, better look vs the mesh used on the 19. This also has some TFP detailing as well to help contain your foot better.

At the top of the tongue is the ISS National Lab collab tags which says ISS National Lab Adidas CRS Boost in Space. ISS stands for the International Space Station and this is a collab with their National Lab. Adidas is apparently going to send some Boost up to the National Lab in space — which is crazy but hey maybe those hypebeast astronauts will appreciate it.

In the ankle area of the shoe you see another big difference vs the UB19. There’s still a prime kit tongue, but in the back you have a padded neoprene material which is really appreciated because it really adds to the comfort.

This extra padding around the heel feels great against your foot but also makes your foot feel more secure in the sneaker as it pushes it forward. Apart from that, your foot is up against primeknit for a very sock-like fit.

It does feel a little bit more snug than the UB19. This helps make it more performance oriented than before which is definitely helpful for runs.

If you’re going to want this for lifestyle wear as a shoe sneaker I’d advise going up a size. Same is true if you have wide feet like I do. It’s always best to try the shoe on in a store first to make sure you get the best fit possible.

The insole comes in black with Adidas and ISS National Lab branding in white and orange. Each insole is different which is a nice touch.

Coming to the heel counter, it seems to be just an outline just like the UB19. Adidas calls it their “3D Heel Frame” which cradles the heel and holds it in place. I like that the heel counter spills over onto the boost midsole and gives you more stability because it really keeps the boost in place.

At the back of the shoe you have a nice padded neoprene material instead of primeknit. I definitely like the way it feels against my foot vs just primeknit in this area.

Another new addition is the bright orange accent. It definitely stands out but ties in nicely with the ISS collab.

Speaking of eye-catching — moving downwards, you have the good ol’ white Boost mid-sole. The ISS collab Ultraboost 20 actually comes in seven colorways, four of which have an iridescent boost midsole which looks pretty neat.

It’s really flashy, and you’ll either love it or hate it but I actually like the implementation here on my Dash Grey colorway.

UB20 iridescent midsoles

Instead of the iridescent boost midsole, this colorway has an iridescent heel frame and midfoot cage, which I think looks much nicer. It’s minimalist and more my style.

Either way it definitely looks very space-like. I guess it’s meant to make you think of outer space and it definitely does that. If you’re wearing them out, people are definitely going to ask you about your sneakers.

Coming to the outsole, it is the usual Stretchweb outsoles with Continental rubber for multi-surface traction and the usual lightweight Torsion Spring construction for support when the foot lands to propel runners forward.

Still a top-tier midsole cushioning

Boost is still boost — it is still the best midsole cushioning tech that I love. There’s 20 percent more boost in this shoe than the older UB 1-4, just like the UB19.

The Boost feels the same, but that’s okay. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right?

In case you haven’t tried out a sneaker with Boost yet, I encourage you to go on over to an Adidas store and try one out as soon as possible.

The big deal here is the cushioning and energy return. You can feel it absorb the impact as you run, and then spring back to return some of that energy to help you take off.

It’s this reason why Boost and the Ultraboost series in particular are so popular amongst runners and gym goers. They’re not only some of the most comfortable shoes around but it also really helps with running and aerobics. I even wear Ultraboost for my dance fitness and boxing classes. I totally recommend it.

Is the Ultraboost 20 your Sneaker Match?

The UB20 is an iterative but meaningful improvement to the Ultraboost line in comparison to the UB19.

It is even more performance oriented, and even more comfortable at the same time. Honestly just go into an Adidas store and try them on — I’m pretty sure you’ll walk away impressed.

The ISS Collab is really exciting, and while it may or may not all just be marketing hype, it is definitely an exciting way for Adidas to launch the UB20.

While I’m always going to be a fan of the aesthetic of the older Ultraboost 1-4 more, you have to admit the new Ultraboost 20 definitely looks crazy futuristic. It’s the best performance sneaker out there, and I can’t recommend it enough.

SEE ALSO: Asics Gel Cumulus 21: Your everyday training sneaker

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Huawei Freebuds 3 review: Best value wireless earbuds

Everything works as advertised

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True wireless earbuds with noise-cancellation sprouted like crazy in 2019. Not to be outdone, Huawei, along with a few other wearables, launched the Freebuds 3. And these earbuds are actually pretty darn good.

Comfy fit, on the fence about the look

Let’s get it out of the way before anything else. The Huawei Freebuds 3 looks a lot like Apple’s Airpods. In fact, the entire Freebuds line has looked like this since it’s first iteration.

But is it fair to reduce it as simply an AirPods knockoff? Not quite.

Looks-wise, I kind of get why they went with this design. Not everyone’s a fan of in-ear earbuds. Some feel they are too invasive.

I can definitely say that the in-ear ones feel more secure but the Freebuds can cling onto your ear just fine. The only time I saw one fall off was during a Huawei demo but that was only because a dancer wore it and she was moving pretty intensely.

Also, perhaps the only way to put all the tech that Huawei managed to pack in the Freebuds 3 is to have them look the way they do now. I’m personally not too wild about it, but that’s just me.

Noise-cancelling all star 

Speaking of “all the tech” in these earbuds, at the heart of it is the Kirin A1 chip. Made specifically for wearables, this is what enables a lot of what makes these earbuds great.

Chief of those features is the intelligent noise cancellation. I’m quite skeptical about noise cancellation claims especially on wireless earbuds, but the Freebuds 3 performs just about as good as advertised.

It doesn’t quite shut you out of your environment the way noise-cancelling headphones do. However, it does it well enough that your attention won’t easily be taken away when you have these on even when you’re in a crowded area.

The noise cancellation is still a tier and a half below the Sony WF-1000XM3 which I consider to be a superstar in that department. That said, the Freebuds 3 still does an awesome job and should be more than enough for most users.

Surprising bass, fantastic sound quality

The default bass setting on the Freebuds 3 is such a pleasant surprise. Coupled with the noise cancellation, it gives you such a full sound that if you close your eyes you’d almost feel like you’re surrounded by the music you’re listening to.

I wasn’t even playing bass heavy tracks when I noticed this. I was in a bit of a slow jams mood while trying these earbuds out and listened to tracks like Nice and Slow by Usher and I Wanna Know by Joe and man, the bass was really banging in a really good way.

This level of bass can be achieved in other true wireless earbuds but they’re usually not turned on by default. On the Freebuds 3, there isn’t any option to tweak the sound quality but I don’t imagine anyone needing to do this.

There is significant leak out of the audio though when you turn the volume to maximum. But I never felt the need to do this. Only tried it for the heck of it.

Easy pairing and controls

Pairing these are pretty straightforward, you only need to hold the button on the case for about two to five seconds to enter pairing mode. Make sure the case’s lid is open.

It’s even easier when your using a device that already has EMUI10. It’ll automatically find the Freebuds 3 once you pop the lid open. Similar to how Samsung Galaxy phones quickly detect the Galaxy Buds.

Controls are straightforward. Double tap on the left to turn on/off noise cancelling, tap on the right to play or pause, and double tap to skip to the next track. You can switch this up on the Huawei AI Life but that’s about the level of tweaking you can do on these.

I paired our review unit with both the iPhone 11 Pro and the Huawei P30 Pro. It’s worth noting that at the moment, you won’t be able to make these control changes on the Huawei AI Life/Smart Home app on iOS. Then again, if you’re using an iPhone, you’ll probably just get an AirPods or AirPods Pro anyway.

Is the Freebuds 3 your GadgetMatch? 

There’s a lot to love with the Freebuds 3. The noise cancellation is pretty good, sound quality is superb, and the carrying case is small enough to be pocketable but not too small that they’re easy to misplace.

The battery is also pretty darn good. I’ve only had to charge it once in my week with the device. Speaking of charging, you can do so through a USB-C cable which comes with the device on the box or through wireless charging.

My only real gripe is how it looks. I’m still not a fan of how Apple has normalized wireless earbuds with stems sticking out. I find it frustrating that it’s now somehow considered trendy and fashionable.

That said, if you like rocking these types of earbuds, that’s completely fine. Live and let live, right? But part of me is hoping the next version has a different look. These do come in two colors: Ceramic Black and Carbon White so you can at least go with the black one if you think the white looks too much like a knockoff.

The Freebuds 3 is priced as follows: UK (GBP 147), Singapore (SG$ 238), Philippines (PhP 8,990), Malaysia (MY R679). That’s very competitive considering everything you get. These might just be the value upper tier true wireless earbuds with noise cancellation. Everything works as advertised and that is truly satisfying.

If you’re looking to splurge a little for a better audio experience, either for you or as a gift for someone else, then it’s hard not to recommend the Freebuds 3.

SEE ALSO: Huawei Freebuds 3: Give the gift of freedom this holiday season

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Huawei Watch GT 2: Two-week battery life is real

You’ll forget that you need to charge it

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Having a smartwatch that shows you notifications and tracks your activities are all well and useful, although the fact that you need to charge them daily could be tedious for some. This is because most models only have batteries that are good for a day’s work.

Sure, you have hybrid watches that last longer but with limited features. What Huawei did with the first Watch GT was to offer a smartwatch but with a battery life that can last you two weeks. They intend to keep this up with this new model but with more useful features. Let’s take a look at what it now offers.

It comes in either 42mm or 46mm variants

Bigger model has more features and longer battery life

Has a double crown design…

Sports an AMOLED touchscreen

And a number of available straps

No extra tools needed to change straps

Watch faces are available for personalization

Feel like going digital or analog for the day?

For the design department, the Watch GT has a sporty look going on but is also sleek enough to be worn during meetings and even semi-formal gatherings. In addition to the different watch faces you can select, its interchangeable strap makes it even easier to complement your look so you can mix and match depending on the occasion.

If you’re looking at the Watch GT 2 to help track your activities, then you’d want to go for the bigger 46mm model since it’s loaded with more sensors than the 42mm variant.

Your personal workout tracker

Detects your workout and logs your personal records

Real-time heart rate monitor

Know when your workout is effectively burning calories

Scientific coaching for running courses

No need for a personal coach!

Sleep tracker identifies common sleep-related issues

Huawei Health even provides suggestions to help you sleep better

Stress/pressure monitoring

Maintain a balanced lifestyle to keep stress levels on the down-low

Take it out, get it wet

Water-resistant up to 50 meters for 10 minutes

Multiple sport modes

Since you can take it for swimming, it has its own multi-sport modes that come in handy for serious athletes. It has Triathlon mode that records data from swimming, cycling, and running. It even calculates your personal transition time from one activity to the next.

If you’re into hiking, you’d be glad to know that the Watch GT 2 has a barometer to measure your altitude and a built-in compass to help you navigate your way and conquer the summit.

And for the cyclists out there, the watch provides an assessment of your trip — including calories burned, speed, and accumulative climbing and falling during the ride.

Whether running a course, hiking up a mountain, or setting a personal record on your bicycle, this smartwatch can track your location and route with GPS. This way, you have precise positioning anywhere you go to give you better feedback about your activities.

Battery life

Just like its previous model, the Watch GT 2 claims a 2-week battery life even with heart rate monitor running 24/7. And just like the first iteration, it still delivers the same performance and that alone is a feat not commonly seen on other smartwatches.

Charging is done through a proprietary magnetic dock and it takes about an hour to hour and a half to completely charge the watch. Although because of its lengthy life, I sometimes forget that I need to charge it and I get surprised when I see the battery warning. It’s a good problem to have, really.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

In terms of features, I wouldn’t disagree that the Huawei Watch GT 2 is armed to the teeth. You have all your trackers that know exactly what you do, where you are, and even how long your nap was. But then again, just like in our previous review, we feel like it’s more of a fitness or activity tracker than a smartwatch.

One of the main reasons we say this is that it still has the same issue as before about pairing with a smartphone. Sometimes it gets disconnected so notifications don’t push through the watch so you miss certain messages or calls. It’s supposed to notify the user of phone calls and alarms, and it wasn’t always the case during our time with it.

So ask yourself: Do you need a helpful tracker so you have a full overview of your performance in one glance? Because this watch certainly delivers in that aspect. Whether you’re a casual runner or a dedicated athlete, you’ll have access to your records complete with sound advice and tips to ultimately meet your goals.

Plus, it wins in the design aspect — being able to live two lives as a sporty companion and a compatible pair for your formal events. Just change the watch face, swap in some alternative straps, and you’re good to go!

 

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