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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”]

Her GadgetMatch

OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition: Testing a $2,000 phone

Will a luxurious phone make me more luxurious?

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I won’t beat around the bush. This is the OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition and it’s worth almost US$ 2,000 or US$ 1,980 to be precise.

What’s so special about it? See that seal? It’s an actual Lamborghini. No, really, from the Italian luxury carmaker.

I got my hands on this delightful device and I’ve been using it for a few weeks. So, now that I have my own Lambo, what changed? Did using this expensive AF phone make me a classier person? Will I get more street cred because of my flashy phone? What does holding US$ 2,000 in form of a phone feel like?

Because owning such a luxurious device has made me a more gracious person, I shall walk you through my experiences with the Lambo.

It still looks and feels good 

The OPPO Find X Lamborghini Edition has the same signature bezel-less screen of the regular Find X.

On the back, glaring in gold is the Lamborghini logo. This phone also has a different back design on that smooth glass back; almost elusive striped markings dubbed by OPPO as the black carbon pattern adorns the whole body.

Of course, there’s a special edition Lambo theme because if you’re paying that much for a phone, they better throw in a custom theme!

As cool as it was (especially for car lovers!), though, I opted to change the theme into something brighter during my time with the phone. 😅

I’ve said it about the normal Find X and I’ll say it again about this Lambo phone: It’s a pleasure to hold. The weight, feel, and that wide, crisp screen make everything feel premium.

The only downside is that the normal OPPO Find X and the Lambo phone are similarly great — which is a good thing if you own the normal Find X, but not such a great deal if you paid the US$ 825 difference for the more expensive phone.

Nonetheless, the Lambo phone does give a classier spin to the phone in black and gold. I mean, if you hold it strategically enough, people should take notice of that Lamborghini logo, right?

Touting such an expensive device day and night is not as easy as it looks. Because I’m secretly not rich (sad reacts 😢), I almost had a mini heart attack handling such an expensive thing that’s all glass. Thankfully, the phone came with a phone case that sports the same Lamborghini logo and stripe pattern that onlookers can accidentally ogle so they can realize how much my phone costs.

It didn’t make me more luxurious but it looked the part

As you may have noticed, I busted out classy AF props for shooting this particular device.

I figured this was as good a time as any to amp up the set design — it’s not every day your phone costs more than 18 bottles of Moet.

Sans the bottles of champagne, we did discover that the Lamborghini Find X looks great with classy rich girl outfits complete with pearl ensemble. I felt straight out of Gossip Girl, except even Blair Waldorf didn’t own a Lamborghini phone, did she?

The best fast charge technology that money can buy

The best thing about this phone comes in form of a brightly colored charger cord and Lamborghini-branded power brick. I sh!t you not (excuse my crassness but this tech deserves the profanity), this phone charges from zero to 100 in 35 minutes. Ten minutes of charging gives you 37 percent and thirty minutes of charging amounts to a whopping 92 percent.

Never have I seen such fast charging times. It’s unreal.

Honestly, charging became such an easy thing for me since using this phone. I just plug it in and it’ll completely charge before you can finish saying supercalifragilistic-holy-fudge-this-phone-is-so-expensive-docious!

Real talk though, because I don’t plug this phone in as much as you would other phones (shout-out to iPhone users), think of all the money you can save in terms of broken cords!

There are matching earphones

OPPO also threw in a pair of matching wireless earbuds because someone had to justify paying that much money for this set.

They come in a case stamped with the Lamborghini logo and automatically connect to your phone after initial pairing. They’re a decent pair of earphones that go well with the whole Lambo look except I seem to have misplaced one of the earpieces (which is not my fault because there is a serious design flaw to untethered earphones!) and now there’s a pit in my stomach when I think of how much that tiny thing probably costs. 😢

Different yet exactly the same?

At the end of the day, it’s still the same great phone.

The features that made me love the normal Find X are still the same features I enjoy on this Lambo: the fast face unlock feature, the awesome display, and the pop-up camera design (it never gets old).

Owning a Lambo *surprise* has not fundamentally changed me. I’m still really, really not rich. Most people didn’t even notice the flashy Lambo logo on my phone. Funny enough, people still only notice the pop-up camera and are still very much amazed by it.

But, I did, and still do enjoy using this phone. It’s a top-of-the-line device and it feels that way. I like it to the point that I keep using it despite having only one Lambo earphone now. 😢

Like a true luxury item, the price really doesn’t make sense. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an awesome, awesome device — if you can afford it.

In the meantime, I’m unsure of how to live my life if I have to go back to charging my phone for more than 35 minutes. Let me leave you now as I sip on not Moet to ponder on my dilemma.

Images by MJ Jucutan

SEE ALSO: OPPO Find X review: All about style, selfies, and that poppin’ camera

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Samsung Galaxy A7 hands-on review: Beyond the cameras

Just another camera-centric phone?

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A few years ago, megapixels were all the rage when it came to smartphone photography. Producing larger photos somehow equated to better quality — and more aggressive marketing — from those little shooters on older phones.

Fortunately, that craze ended, but we’re now facing a new race to see who can stuff the most number of cameras on a single handset.

Even though dual-camera setups became the standard a couple of years ago, brands like Huawei and LG have been pushing for more. Naturally, competitors including Samsung saw the need to catch up, and even exceed in some cases.

The Galaxy A7 of 2018 is a direct answer to the trending need for at least three cameras on a phone’s rear. In this case, one camera is for regular shots, another is for wide-angle photos, and a third helps power the Live Focus function.

We already had time to experience this unique setup in India, but we now want to answer another question: Is there more to the Galaxy A7 than just its cameras?

The short answer is yes. Not only does the Galaxy A7 have Samsung’s signature AMOLED display and a mostly glass body, it does so at a reasonable price of INR 23,990 in India and PhP 17,990 in the Philippines — both of which convert to about US$ 330.

Samsung’s entry-level Galaxy J series often hovered around this price, so for a Galaxy A phone to hit this point with more premium features is a good deal. (It may also be a sign of Samsung gradually letting go of the Galaxy J lineup.)

Despite the relatively large bezels for a 2018 phone, the 6-inch 1080p AMOLED is both well-sized and a pleasure to look at. As usual, Samsung tends to oversaturate colors, but I appreciate the inclusion of Always On Display (AOD), which keeps the panel partially active to show me the time and my notifications throughout the day.

It’s tough on the battery, though, and I recommend turning this feature off when not needed. The 3300mAh battery capacity is lacking for a phone this size; with AOD on, I only get four hours of screen-on time in a single day. Leaving it off gives me an additional hour, but the phone still doesn’t get over a day’s worth of usage.

Using Samsung’s standard Adaptive Fast Charging adapter, it takes less than two hours to get to full from zero percent. That makes up for the mediocre battery life, although I wish the Galaxy A7 came with a USB-C port instead of the aging micro-USB.

What’s new, however, is the interface. Although it’s stuck on Android 8.0 Oreo, Samsung baked Experience 9.0 into the operating system, so it has the newest gestures and I found that jumping from one function to another is pleasantly smooth.

It helps that Samsung’s own Exynos 7885 chipset is handling all the heavy-duty tasks. While it isn’t the best for gaming — titles like Life is Strange and Asphalt 9: Legends don’t run that smoothly unless graphics settings are lowered — switching through apps while multitasking is seamless, and I can’t remember a time when hiccups bothered me.

I was surprised to find only 4GB of memory inside, but it turned out being enough for my usage case. There were only a few instances wherein I wished my background apps wouldn’t close so soon. What’s better is the integrated storage, which comes in at 64GB with additional room for a microSD card up to 512GB.

Other reasons to consider this phone? There’s a 3.5mm audio port if that matters to you, and the front-facing LED flash is pretty helpful when lighting is terrible during your selfie shoots.

Another thing that’s useful to me but may be annoying to others is the placement of the fingerprint scanner. It’s on the side-mounted power button, which I consider to be an optimized spot no matter how the phone is held or laid on a tablet. Left-handed people might not feel the same way.

Finally, despite the glass body, the phone seems to be a little flimsy. It’s not something I’m confident putting inside my back pocket. Get a case as soon as you buy one, or simply don’t drop or bend it.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s easy to recommend the Galaxy A7 for what it is, but there are so many great phones in the sub-US$ 400 segment that it’s difficult to ignore them. Offerings from Honor, Xiaomi, and even Pocophone make the final purchasing decision a tough one.

The Galaxy A7 is primarily for long-time Samsung users looking for something different. Its triple-camera setup is certainly unique in this part of the smartphone market, and the side-mounted fingerprint scanner is a refreshing sight.

At the same time, a lot of Samsung’s familiar features are here, including the AMOLED display and the lack of a notch. It’s certainly the most non-Samsung, Samsung phone you can buy today — until you see the more outrageous Galaxy A9, that is.

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Honor 8X Review: A supersized midrange powerhouse

Big display, big battery

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Honor has a new midrange offering called the Honor 8X. Knowing that Honor operates under Huawei, you can easily mistake the phone as a new gigantic Huawei phone. But, the Honor 8X offers more than Huawei’s devices in this segment.

I took the Honor 8X for a spin and here’s what I can say about the new midranger.

It’s got a large 6.5-inch Full HD+ display

Sporting a tall 19.5:9 aspect ratio

The display is practically borderless

With a notch, of course

It accepts three cards at the same time

No need to sacrifice your microSD card

The volume and power buttons are on the right

They’re firm and tactile

Sadly, the phone still uses micro-USB 😕

The bottom also has the 3.5mm jack, loudspeaker, and main microphone

The rear is a smooth slab of glass

With the fingerprint reader right in the middle

The phone has dual rear cameras with AI features

It even has the “AI Camera” label

Premium understated build

Upon seeing the Honor 8X in person for the first time, the first thing I noticed was its size. It’s got a 6.5-inch display which is almost as big as my 7-inch tablets years ago. But, it’s not cumbersome to hold because it’s virtually borderless.

Like with other bezel-less phones today, the Honor 8X has a notch to house its front camera, sensors, and earpiece. It’s got a bit of a chin, but it’s barely there. The chin is smaller than others, but it’s not as thin as the new iPhones’.

If you look closely, the phone has a two-toned back. My Honor 8X in black has a slightly lighter shade on the camera side. This is to mimic the look of a point-and-shoot camera when the phone is taking photos in landscape orientation. It’s not exactly utilitarian, but it’s a nice touch.

Overall, I am impressed with the Honor 8X’s build and design. It kinda reminds me of the Huawei GR3 2017, but this one is a lot better. Both the front and back are made of glass while the frame of the phone is aluminum. This combination gives a premium feel on hand and is definitely a looker.

Big display made for entertainment

The large display has a resolution of 2340 x 1080 with a pixel density of roughly 396ppi. That’s crisp enough to get immersed in high definition videos and action games. The viewing angles are wide, so watching with a group of people is not an issue.

At the heart of the Honor 8X is the latest Kirin 710 processor from HiSilicon. The home-baked chipset from Huawei’s factory is based on the 12nm FinFET process making it more efficient than its competitors. It’s not the most powerful, but it’s definitely a step up from last year’s midrange processors and it even has GPU Turbo out of the box.

My review unit has 4GB of memory which is enough for everyday multitasking. I never had any issues with the phone’s performance. Everything has been smooth, even when switching between apps. Yet, it’s not the fastest phone around, but a few more milliseconds of loading time won’t hurt.

Gaming-wise, the Honor 8X can handle casual and demanding titles. As mentioned, it comes with GPU Turbo already, so games like PUBG: Mobile, Asphalt 9: Legends, and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang will have an extra boost. Don’t expect the smoothest gameplay in all available games, but setting the graphics to medium helps a lot in achieving higher frame rates.

Capable AI-powered cameras

The Honor 8X is equipped with a whopping 20-megapixel main sensor at the back and it’s paired with a secondary 2-megapixel depth sensor for special effects like bokeh and re-focusing. Honor is not exactly known to have the best shooters around, but the Honor 8X’s camera is more than capable of capturing good photos — at least when there’s a lot of light.

The AI feature can get quite aggressive at times, but it’s best to leave it on since you always have the option to turn it off in the gallery preview. Check out these samples taken with AI turned on:

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As for selfies, there’s a 16-megapixel front camera which is also abundant in pixels. You can say the Honor 8X is a selfie phone and it does deliver. Our selfies even seem like they’re shot using the main camera. Check them out:

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The beauty mode is nothing to write home about, but you can play around with it to get the ideal setting. You can also apply bokeh for added effect.

As long-lasting as expected

With a 3750mAh battery, the Honor 8X is a road warrior. With light to moderate use, I get about two days of battery life. That includes constant Wi-Fi connection, social networking, and playing games. I usually get around six to seven hours of screen time as well.

The phone charges via micro-USB, and the charging time is fairly average. Using the included 10W charger, it charges from zero to 27 percent in 30 minutes, while a full charge takes about two hours.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

If you’re looking for a phone with a big display, long-lasting battery, and good performance, the Honor 8X will not disappoint. It’s a great contender in the midrange segment. Actually, it’s even cheaper than most similarly specced phones.

Of course, it’s not a perfect device. It still uses a micro-USB port, it doesn’t have proper fast charging tech, and the camera is inconsistent in delivering great photos. Although, these are not major flaws, especially when you consider the phone’s asking price.

The Honor 8X is priced at PhP 12,990 in the Philippines, EUR 249 in Europe, and starts at CNY 1,399 in China. Pricing is dependent per region and the configuration of the memory and storage.

SEE ALSO: Honor plans to become a top 3 phone brand in 2022

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