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”]

Computers

MSI Summit E16 Flip review: Creator on the go

A plethora of ways to be as productive and creative as possible

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We all love a good 2-in-1 device that gives us everything we need all in one go. From portability to productivity, devices like these truly bring out the best in everyone no matter what kind of use case you throw at it. Such is the case for MSI, a brand notably known for gaming hardware but has their fair share of productivity-focused laptops, as well.

One such 2-in-1 device under MSI’s portfolio is the MSI Summit E16 Flip, complete with hardware and features for the more well-rounded user out there. With a rather slim form factor, the device would ideally mix both portability and productivity in one. Also, it comes with some external hardware that elevates the productivity just a bit further, as well.

With all these in mind, is the MSI Summit E16 Flip a worthy option for all your productivity needs?

Performing above expectations

The MSI Summit E16 Flip performs rather fantastically for any given situation; whether you’re working or watching, it has the hardware to keep up. Inside this machine is a 12th generation Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of RAM — a standard for most productivity-laden devices. Most applications run smoothly on this device, which is expected as a daily driver for most tasks.

It also comes with a 16:10, QHD+ anti-glare display, which does provide a bigger canvas for multitasking with multiple windows open. This IPS touch display is quite bright and color-accurate, especially at peak brightness and in broad daylight. Whether you’re working during the day or watching movies at night, this device is perfect for these activities.

Gaming and creating on the go

Much like all other MSI laptops, the MSI Summit E16 Flip comes with a dedicated NVIDIA RTX 3050Ti GPU inside. Although not as powerful as oher mobile GPUs, this one packs a punch for a good balance of gaming performance with high quality graphics. When throwing in Esports titles, the device poured in high frame rates suited for competitive play.

Of course, a powerful GPU also enables greater performance when editing photos and videos in high quality, as well. This is also helped out by the display having a 165Hz refresh rate with a 1ms response rate, so you don’t miss out on any out of place pixels. From our tests, render times for HD videos were decent enough — about 2 minutes for a 15-second video with many visual elements.

A pen and large display for your notes

Part of the package for the MSI Summit E16 Flip is the addition of the MSI Pen for those who prefer a pen over a mouse/trackpad. This additional accessory links up quite quickly, and lasts for more than a day on a full charge. Also, it comes with a few magnetized areas so it sticks to the side of the laptop or the top of the display for ease of access.

Ideally, you’d need something like the MSI Pen if you’re more into drawing illustrations or taking down handwritten notes — and it shows. From legible handwriting to brush strokes, the device was able to pick up on these inputs well. It even supports other Windows gestures like zoom, drag, and multi-select — essentially replicating the wide trackpad.

Although, from our usage of the device, the display has this slight problem with rejecting palms on top of it. While writing with the MSI Pen, it is natural to rest your palm somewhere on the display yet even inputs from that get picked up. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but something to be wary of.

Lasts decently long for consistent productivity

Longevity is another thing the MSI Summit E16 Flip provides, specifically on the battery side of things. Throughout our usage of the device, on normal usage, it lasts around 10-11 hours which is pretty decent for the hardware. Accounting for higher quality videos playing, the device lasted for 9-10 hours on average.

When gaming full time or even rendering higher quality videos, the battery does take a hit, as expected. For full time video rendering, it drained its battery after three and a half hours on average, while gaming cut it down to around two to three hours.

Although, if you need to get back into your productivity workflow, the MSI Summit E16 Flip restores its battery quickly with the charger it comes with. On average, charging the device took around two hours from nothing to full, which should put you back in action.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

Starting PhP 130,999, the MSI Summit E16 Flip has everything you need in a 2-in-1 device when you’re on the move. From the hardware to the accessories, it’s a well-rounded machine designed for the multihyphenated or those who work and play hard. Also, its overall design makes it a bit easier to bring around.

If money isn’t entirely an issue, this laptop is one great upgrade option out there both as a work machine and a creator hub. Accessory-wise, the MSI Pen should be on your list of must-haves when purchasing this device, in case a mouse doesn’t suit your liking.

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Gaming

Serial Cleaners review: Stealth in the mafia

Outrunning the police, but you can’t outrun the truth

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Serial Cleaners

As seen in most crime movies, clean up duty is one of the hardest things to do. Basically, every little detail must be accounted for when you’re protecting people in high places. As they say, “leave no stone unturned” when hiding the truth of the crime. The moment the clean up guy messes up, normally everything bad happens after that.

In essence, that’s what Serial Cleaners is all about: the life of a person doing clean up duties for murders that take place anywhere. Although, the murders you’re cleaning up is from the mafia you work for. And it’s not just one person handling the cleaning process. As the cleaners gather for maybe one last time before Y2K, they reminisce on the life of crime they chose to protect.

Is Serial Cleaners a game to try and experience in full? Honestly, the work speaks for itself.

Four different characters with a unique take on stealth

Serial Cleaners is the rather riveting sequel to the 2017 game called (wait for it), Serial Cleaner. Bob returns from the prequel and brings together a group of his cleaners for one last night before Y2K. To start off, you get to know just a little bit more about each of the characters. You also find out how Bob recruited them into the business of cleaning up murders.

Each character comes in with their own unique take on how to either successfully hack into systems or hide/dispose of corpses just scattered around as evidence. The key to this game is literal stealth and precise planning of your next move in order to avoid capture, so understanding how they work is key.

Honestly, I felt this was a rather unique way to introduce character stages while staying true to the main idea of the gameplay. Obviously, it’s a step in the right direction to simply let the characters be their own thing, instead of forcing the same gameplay style across all of them. You get to experience everyone in their own way, which makes the gameplay totally varied.

Game controls that could be improved

Overall, the controls of this game feels quite easy to work around, especially during the early stages. It’s even a lot more interesting knowing that you have different play styles to work with, which further deepens the experience. Also, there’s no kind of linear progression in play, so you can proceed however you want.

In most cases with the games I play, I normally adjust controls according to my default keybinds that are comfortable. This was something I applied to most of the actions, like using Bob’s vacuum or running/scaling fences with Dati. Gameplay and progression feel a bit better when you customize your keybinds in that way, but the default ones aren’t bad either. 

Serial Cleaners

If you’re playing this on PC, though, you might have to get used to just using your keyboards mostly. I genuinely found it a bit jarring at first. There are certain actions in the game that fit better with mouse controls, but still solely relied on the keyboard. In any case, there are possible solutions around it. But it would have been nice if the mouse was part of it.

Fantastic art design through and through

Serial Cleaners

What drew me to the game as I progressed through most of the main storyline was how the visuals looked. From the loading screens to all the different places in New York that each level is staged in, a full 90s backdrop works just well with this game. Also, the fact that it’s done in a 2D space instead of 3D is well-suited.

Serial Cleaners

I even felt it when halfway through the game, the mood within the group starts to sour rather quickly. Subtle lighting changes, along with some blood, body-hiding stories, allowed the whole plot to progress in the fashion that it did. Of course, with all the twists and turns along the way, the story ends in any way you decide.

Not much of a bloody mess to clean up

Overall, Serial Cleaners was a fun time to get through for the most part. Although I am in the process of uncovering every possible story ending, I have no problem going through every chapter. With variety in gameplay styles plus a rather DIY-style of storytelling, this game provided an experience that is unique.

The biggest thing with this game is that on PC, you’re limited to just the keyboard for full control. You literally navigate through menus with the mouse anyway, so it made sense to use it beyond just menu navigation. Although, you have the option to use a controller for a better experience. Still, I felt this was a miss in the gameplay style.

Even with the mass amount of murders you have to clean up, Serial Cleaners gave me a glimpse of how a group of misfits managed to keep things bottled up for so long. It’s a story of friendship, cold-blood murders, and doing what you gotta do to not get caught with your hands dirty — a thrill we can all appreciate.

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Reviews

Samsung Galaxy Watch5 review: Best Android smartwatch yet?

Training for a half-marathon race made easy with this trinket

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The biggest plot twist I had this year was turning into an athlete in the most unexpected way.

I never thought that the fitness journey I started three years ago, which was even amplified last year when I had the Galaxy Watch4 Classic, would propel me to a path that tests my limits.

Back then, I only had regular gym sessions, trying out calisthenic exercises, alternating between boxing and Muay Thai lessons, and running occasionally. I was late to realize that presently, I’m already a full-fledged runner and obstacle course racer.

Upgrading my watch

I’ve been spending the last three months collecting mileage, building my strength, and pushing my endurance — hopping off between obstacle training and running long distances in flat and elevated terrains.

Joining AIA Vitality Sports allowed me to meet like-minded people who accompanied me on my new journey. As I prepare for the last race I’m participating in for the year, I got a chance to upgrade my Galaxy Watch4 Classic to the Galaxy Watch5 series.

Originally, it should’ve been the Galaxy Watch5 Pro that’s apt for my activities. It’s made for the outdoors; rugged, durable. However, the size — similar to the Apple Watch Ultra — proved to be overwhelming for my small wrist. I took the 40mm Galaxy Watch5 instead, and boy, it worked wonders.

Barely feeling it

The first thing I noticed when I wore the Galaxy Watch5 is its featherweight. Its heft is barely noticeable on your wrist, especially for someone with frail forearms. Unlike other sports-centric smartwatches I’ve tested before, it simply doesn’t feel any weight especially when running. It’s extremely comfortable that I only removed it when it’s time to charge or take a bath.

My unit came in Graphite. Normally, I would’ve preferred a lighter colorway, but I realized later on that a neutral smartwatch works well if you tend to put on eccentric sportswear. I’ve been wearing bold, vivid colors when it comes to my performance wear along with my sneakers, and it feels nice that people notice you instead of the trinkets you’re holding.

In a way, the Galaxy Watch5 completed my athletic look inconspicuously. You’ll know it’s there, without taking away the attention from you.

Like muscle memory

I’ve worn Galaxy watches for a few years now. I still remember trying them out at Pretty Huge Obstacles when Samsung hosted an obstacle course race for technology and lifestyle journalists. That experience kickstarted my journey to becoming an athlete.

Tinkering with a Galaxy Watch seems like muscle memory now. I’ve been accustomed to its experience that it’s easy to figure out. Even for non-Galaxy Watch users, the interface is straightforward and simple.

The functions are similar to an Android smartphone. They’re easily accessible, customizable, and of course, understandable.

When health and technology go hand-in-hand

To fully maximize the Galaxy Watch5, ideally, you’ll use a Samsung smartphone and install the plug-in for Galaxy wearables and the Samsung Health app.

All collected data can be accessed inside the Samsung Health app, which includes sleep, workout, ECG, blood pressure, body composition, and more. It’s a holistic app that has everything you’ll need to get an overview of your health and fitness level.

For beginners, the sports and workout modes usually have built-in coaches inside the program. For instance, the running coach instructs you on what to do when running. The more advanced users can take advantage of using just the workout modes to enable them to study their activities.

In my case, I’ve been using Running mode to track my time, distance, and pace I’m in. It also showcases my heart rate which helps me during my zone training. The watch also exhibited the average speed, cadence, and average pace — essential information that can be used to analyze and improve your runs and/or activities.

I used to be scared of numbers, but knowing the importance of health and fitness data helped me improve my body and performance. Now, numbers are my friend.

Full-day training companion

One thing I like about the Galaxy Watch5 is how seamless the experience is. It’s truly a smartwatch, you’ll barely use your brain cells since every feature is intuitive and easy to use.

It’s taken the best from the Galaxy Watch4 series and improved it with a more durable screen, a better design to accurately monitor your health, and longer battery life.

I still remember how the Galaxy Watch4 Classic kept up with my training when I was just a fitness enthusiast. I didn’t complain much about its battery, not until I joined a sports team and I had to train from morning to evening. The Galaxy Watch4 Classic couldn’t keep up and I had to charge it every now and then.

I didn’t feel the same about the Galaxy Watch5. It truly has a longer battery life that I can last a full day of training without worrying about my battery dying when I’m recording my runs.

Preparing for my first half-marathon race

As of writing, I’ve been using the Galaxy Watch5 to prepare for my first half-marathon race. I only started running this year, and I feel like I’m moving too fast.

The smartwatch helps me ground myself when I feel the jitters, knowing that I put in my best effort even if I got sick after pushing my body’s limits. I kept reminding myself that the numbers I put into my smartwatch for the past five weeks is enough to make me trust in my physical and mental strength.

On days that I only have 40 percent, I still gave my 100 percent and I’m proud of myself for giving my best. That alone is already a win.

The vibrant display comes with a compromise: smudge city

As I wait for race day, I put my focus on the underrated part of training: Nutrition and recovery. The Galaxy Watch5 offers one of the best tracking features that most people take for granted. There’s sleep tracking that’s much better now, thanks to the added skin temperature sensor (which, by the way, doesn’t measure your body’s temperature).

The body composition tool, which was seen from the Galaxy Watch4 series, helps me check my body’s mass and allowed me to track my weight as well, which I need to maintain until race day. Food and water intake can also be logged easily, by customizing the tiles for easy access.

Everything I need to prepare for my first half-marathon race is already in this little trinket. No need for notebooks and pens, everything is accessible by swiping on my wrist.

An Android smartwatch through and through

The smartwatch accompanied me every step of the way, even if I had multiple apps running. It’s an Android smartwatch through and through. I had it connected to the Galaxy Z Flip4 and the Galaxy Buds2 Pro, and I get to access apps such as Strava, Calm, MyFitnessPal, Google Fit, and the like from my smartphone that are also compatible with my smartwatch.

I get to control my music playback so I don’t have to take out the Flip from my armband, and I get to respond to urgent messages that need replies — even if I’m just using my watch.

Of course, these are nothing new. For the past few years, smartwatches — not just the Galaxy Watch lineup — have enabled these features. But the best implementation has been by Samsung — so smooth and flawless. Samsung has been consistent with creating an allure that you can only experience when you’ve touched and tried their technology.

That je ne sais quoi can’t be merely captured through words, photos, and any video. If you have access to a Galaxy store or you know a friend who uses a Galaxy Watch, it’s time to pique that curiosity and try it out.

Could’ve been the best smartwatch for everyone

Samsung set out to have the best Android smartwatch in 2021 with the Galaxy Watch4. Somehow, it continued its legacy through the Galaxy Watch5. The upgrade is incremental, which is why it doesn’t make sense for Galaxy Watch4 users to make the jump unless they’re in it for better battery life, or a chance to try the Pro variant.

What I couldn’t wrap my head around is how it isn’t the best smartwatch for everyone. Past the Galaxy Watch3 series, the Galaxy Watch syncs well inside the Samsung ecosystem. It struggles a bit when connecting with other Android smartphones. Using an iPhone, on the other hand, is completely inaccessible.

I’m disappointed with how this smart, fabulous piece of technology is limited to a set of users. That walled ecosystem that Apple started trickled down to other smartphone brands like Samsung. Now, it’s difficult to enjoy different gadgets because you’re forced to use all devices in one ecosystem.

It’s either you use the Galaxy Watch5 and use a Samsung smartphone to fully maximize it, or use an Android smartphone to still connect to it somehow. That, or you use an iPhone and ditch the watch and move to an Apple Watch or an ecosystem-free smartwatch such as Garmin or Fitbit.

Price and availability

The Galaxy Watch5 comes in different sizes, colors, and prices. For the 40mm, it’s available in Graphite, Pink Gold, and Silver. The LTE variant costs PhP 19,990 while the Bluetooth variant retails for PhP 16,990.

Meanwhile, the 44mm Galaxy Watch5 comes in Graphite, Sapphire, and Silver. Its LTE variant retails for PhP 21,990 while the Bluetooth variant costs PhP 18,990.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The Galaxy Watch5 proves to be the best Android smartwatch yet. It has a better battery life that accompanies athletes, and even fitness enthusiasts, in their quest to improve their bodies and performance. Add to that is holistic health and fitness features that sync exceptionally within the Samsung ecosystem.

If you’re knee-deep in the Samsung ecosystem, the Galaxy Watch5 is a must-have. If you’re using a different Android smartphone, the Galaxy Watch5 is nice to have — if you only need the essential features for performance tracking.

However, iPhone users better steer clear of the Galaxy Watch5, no matter how lightweight and demure the device is. It won’t work. You’re better off with Garmin, Fitbit, or an Apple Watch.

The asking price for the base Galaxy Watch5 is higher than the Galaxy Watch4 during its launch, but the incremental upgrades match the value of the current price tag.

With that, the Samsung Galaxy Watch5 deserves the GadgetMatch Seal of Approval.

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