Reviews

Moto Z2 Play Video Review: Do we really need Mods?

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How relevant are modular phones in this day and age? You don’t have to look any further than the Moto Z2 Play for answers.

It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves ever since LG bowed out from the modular race and Google totally gave up on Project Ara.

We can’t blame them; with flagship handsets able to do absolutely everything in a complete setup straight out of the box, why would consumers bother to buy accessories for a smartphone that feels incomplete?

It’s an interesting topic, and something we delve into deeper in our latest Moto Mod-powered review:

If this review removed all your doubts and you feel compelled to purchase a Z2 Play, be sure to watch our unboxing video to see what you’re getting.

PRODUCER: Michael Josh Villanueva
VIDEOGRAPHER: Sascha Mehlhase
EDITOR: Chay Lazaro

SEE ALSO: Moto Z2 Force brings shatter-resistant display and flagship specs

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Reviews

Taking the HONOR X8a to Vietnam: Is it DSLR-like?

Can it take the heat?

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HONOR X8a

HONOR recently made a lot of noise at MWC 2023, particularly with the announcement of the flagship Magic 5s. The brand didn’t stop there. Not wanting to be outdone in the ever-competitive midrange tier, the HONOR X8a was released.

Marketing for this specific model focused on its 100MP main camera, offering customers a DSLR-like experience. But does the phone really merit top-of-the-head consideration for people? We went to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for an exhaustive break-in.

Temper your expectations

The HONOR X8a’s camera package consists of the following:

  • 100MP f/1.9 main camera
  • 5MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera
  • 2MP f/2.4 macro camera

To say the least, it’s intriguing what the phone offers when it comes to mobile photography. I have mixed views about it as it was able to hit some benchmarks yet also missed a few.

The ultra-wide lens does its job.

It is imperative nowadays to get quality, especially captures of cityscapes and nightscapes, this is a handy device to bring and make memories with.

I was able to take good shots of Ho Chi Minh City’s “skyline” and city center, as well as many of their countless parks which make the trip reinvigorating.

The auto-focus works steadily.

As seen on this ice cream on the foreground against a park and some close-up shots of food. Should you want the camera to focus on a specific subject within the frame, it also does the trick.

I had modest expectations when it came to how the HONOR X8a’s cameras would perform at night, but I must say it delivered quite nicely, even when shooting only using default mode.

As Vietnam’s busy city streets transform in the night into an LED-filled spectacle, I was only fitting to sneak some snaps of billboards, storefronts, and more in.

When you use Night Mode, the phone will trigger a four-second countdown.

It allows it to absorb more light and produce slightly more vivid images, like these ones at Bui Vien Walking Street and Le Thi Rieng, one of the city’s busier rotondas.

Of course, don’t expect moving subjects to come out perfect; there will naturally be blurry objects when you leave the shutter open for four seconds, like these motorcycles.

At daytime, the shutter speed works decently to capture moving objects or snap photos while walking. But of course, it is still best to take your time first.

Elsewhere, the selfie camera also covers a lot of space if you want to include yourself in pictures of historical sites and landmarks throughout the area.

Needs improvement

On the downside, however, the HONOR X8a also underwhelmed on a number of aspects.

To top it off, pictures did not come out as impressive as I expected in terms of its color, vividness, and being close to the subject’s real appearance, which is quite a bummer for a mid-ranger.

I’ve tried earlier versions of Samsung A series phones and realme’s lower midrange models, which produced better results. One can argue that using Hi-Res mode (higher file sizes) would suffice, yet I didn’t need that on other phones to begin with.

When using default mode at 1x zoom, the camera doesn’t really fit much into the frame, which kind of forces the user to opt for the ultra-wide lens by default.

I tried using the ultra-macro mode a couple of times on souvenirs to test if it captures tiny details well enough.

It is a bit challenging to achieve the proper focus even if you’ve already bookishly followed the ideal distance of about an inch or two. Sharpness is also lacking.

In terms of usability, the shutter button’s position is quite lower than expected, and the button itself is relatively smaller. I would sometimes have to tap twice to make sure I am able to get a photo of something.

Imagine if you missed out on taking a picture with a famous celebrity or athlete because of these little things.

Performance: Just your usual

The HONOR X8a is powered by a MediaTek Helio G88 processor. We did say we put this to the test in Vietnam, and once under scorching heat of Saigon, the camera app was forced to close because the phone’s temperature apparently got too hot.

It took a few minutes before I was able to open the app again, so perhaps bring an umbrella outdoors when you plan to take pictures during the noon or afternoon.

Nevertheless, here are some snaps outside which were taken usually after lunch time:

Speaking of which, it is also challenging to use this phone when it is bright outside, since you won’t be able to see the photos you have just taken in real-time that clearly.

The phone has a 6.7-inch FullView display which has a lower peak brightness than mid-range phones I’ve had or have been using. Admittedly, it was quite a hassle to have to cover the phone screen with my hand first just to review some pictures, nor do they appear as crystal-clear as you would want them to.

Usability needs work

Unlike other phones, the HONOR X8a does not have a floating home button at the bottom, along with the hamburger icon for apps currently open.

To switch in between apps, one has to swipe in a particular manner from bottom to the middle of the screen and hold for a while in order for the apps list to show. It’s quite confusing at first, to say the least, and I am definitely not a fan of having to take too much time just to exit some apps.

On the positive end, the screen wasn’t laggy when switching apps, browsing, typing, or doing simple everyday tasks on your phone.

The phone supports up to 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It can withstand playing games and heavy tasks, but it’s also best to be cautious and make sure usage is optimized.

Looooong battery life

If there is anything that stands out with this phone is that its 4,500mAh battery’s life can endure the lengths. Throughout my stay in Vietnam, I had this routine of using the phone for hours to shoot while walking along the streets of Ho Chi Minh City.

But after that, I would barely use it. When in Power Saving Mode, the phone loses just about 2 or 3% overnight.

As it supports the usual fast charging expected of a phone for its price point (22.5W), the phone also replenishes its battery percentage quickly.

Is the HONOR X8a your GadgetMatch?

The HONOR X8a is now available for pre-orders, retailing for PhP 10,990 in the Cyan Lake, Titanium Silver, and Midnight Black colorways. It is incredibly lightweight, which could be a good thing for specific users.

But as it is being promoted as a reliable mid-ranger for mobile photography, there are just so many items on the criteria the phone does not surpass.

If I had anywhere between PhP 12,000 to PhP 18,000 and were thinking about upgrading my current budget or midrange device, the X8a wouldn’t be the first model I’d be thinking of, and that’s just the truth.

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Reviews

OPPO Find X6 Pro Review: You’ll want this phone with 3 insane cameras

Great but there’s a catch

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OPPO Find X6 Pro

It’s here — the OPPO Find X6 Pro. We haven’t been this excited to do a video on a phone in a long time. This phone not only packs all the high end specs. It looks beautiful, charges insanely fast, and has the best camera on a smartphone today.

Watch our Review.

Triple 50 cameras

Like its contemporaries (the Xiaomi 13 Pro and vivo X90 Pro), it sports a 1-inch Sony IMX989 sensor. It’s accompanied by a 65mm periscope lens and a 15mm ultrawide angle lens. All three have 50MP.

OPPO and Hasselblad continue their partnership on this flagship as the Find X6 Pro also has the Hasselblad Color Calibration.

For selfie enthusiasts, this one sports a 32MP f/2.4 front-facing camera.

Flagship through and through

Like most Android flagships, this one sports a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 with RAM that goes up to 16GB and UFS 4.0 storage that goes up to 512GB.

Supporting these major features is a 5,000mAh battery with support for 100W fast wired charging and 50W wireless charging. Yes, it’s OPPO’s SuperVOOC tech we’ve come to know and love.

Price and availability

As mentioned earlier, the OPPO Find X6 Pro is only available in China with no immediate plans of being available elsewhere.

It retails at CNY 5,999 for the 12/256GB variant, CNY 6,499 for the 16/256GB unit, and CNY 6,999 for the larger 16/512GB model.

Meanwhile, the OPPO Find X6 (12/256GB) retails for CNY 4,499.

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Accessories

Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 review: Return of the classic

For intermediates and experts

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Sony Walkman NW-ZX707

44 years ago, cars were still boxy, the Apple II was just two years into introducing personal computers inside homes, and the word ‘phone’ meant the landline phone inside your house. It was 1979, personal technology wasn’t a thing yet. Until Sony introduced the very first model of the Walkman, the TPS-L2.

More widely recognized in the mainstream now as “Star-Lord’s ancient iPod”, it revolutionized the music industry back then by putting a cassette player in everyone’s pocket, allowing anyone (well, anyone who had the equivalent of US$ 600 at the time) to listen to music anywhere, anytime they wanted.

Fast forward to 2023, we see Sony has updated the Walkman line to fit in with modern standards. The Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 no longer uses an analog Cassette. It’s now a high-fidelity digital music player.

Gone are its plastic and metal body held together by screws, it’s now a glass and metal sandwich like modern smartphones. It has physically changed to the point of being unrecognizable, but the important thing has stayed the same– It’s probably still the most fun music player you can get with your money.

It’s not a phone, it just looks like one

Sony Walkman NW-ZX707

Like its great granddaddy the Walkman TPS-L2, the Walkman NW-ZX707 is built to last. It continues the time-honored traditions of the Walkman line– namely its metal build, external music control buttons on one side, and the audio jack at the top.

But everything else about the build feels like a mix of old smartphone design cues, just updated to 2023. Upon first look, the NW-ZX707 looks like a weirdly small, thick, and heavy smartphone with sharp edges and two headphone jacks in an age where even midrange phones are ditching it.

It’s got a 5-inch 9:16 LCD display with huge bezels straight out of 2017. It’s even got a soft-touch vegan leather back that we haven’t seen in smartphones for years. With that said, ergonomic considerations kind of start and stop with the external music control buttons.

The overall design is boxy, the edges are sharp, the corners are angular, and the screen is flat as they come. Coming in at 157g, it lets you know that it’s in your pocket.

Could’ve used 5G?

In more ways than one, it only looks like a smartphone, but under its metal exterior, the differences are much more obvious. So while it is running near-stock Android 12, you can’t actually use it as a phone, because it doesn’t have a SIM tray (Which I find kind of weird? Like, I think that with high-fidelity music streaming apps available, that would work well with a 5G SIM for on-the-go hi-fi).

While it boasts some of the best audio chips available on any music player today, it doesn’t have a speaker. And while you can expand its 64GB storage with a microSD card, it’s almost exclusively for your music files, because the screen is too small for media viewing and too slow for even light gaming. And there are no cameras on the device.

But it sometimes tries to function like one

The software on the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 is where things start to get dicey for me. While I appreciate that it’s built on top of Android 12, a very secure, stable, and customizable platform, I feel like Sony could’ve customized the software a bit more to streamline the experience.

Take for example the experience immediately after setup. Since the ZX707 is linked as an android device to your Gmail account, and there is no special designation in the Android system that it’s a dedicated music player, it’s inevitably going to receive email and other non-music related notifications.

It can be fine for power users, but I don’t think receiving the same notifications as your phone in the middle of music listening is conducive to the hi-fi Walkman experience. Take it from me, spend that extra 15 minutes of deep-diving into your settings to either log out of your Gmail account or turn off notifications for any non-music-related apps and services.

The tide hasn’t come in yet

Speaking of apps and services, a big miss for the ZX707 here in the Philippines is the lack of support for hi-fi streaming apps like Tidal and Qobuz. They’re just straight-up not available in the country. So, if you’re planning on getting the new Walkman, your best bet in filling it up is either manually ripping your CDs or Purchasing hi-fi master tracks in either FLAC, PCM, or DSD.

The digital does its best to be analog

Pre-installed software is limited mostly to the Sony Walkman music player app and its customization software, which is generally fine since it leaves so much space for all your high-resolution music on the internal 64GB storage. And for the entirety of the Walkman NW-ZX707 experience, this is where you’re going to get the most value out.

The music player is pretty standard fare, save for the fact that it has support for extremely high-resolution audio formats like FLAC, PCM, and DSD– it even has a separate section dedicated to all your high-res files. There is no visualization option, but you do get a little Cassette animation when the device is idling– a nice touch. And if you’re looking to have better synergy between your Sony headphones / IEMs, there’s the Sony Headphones Connect app where you can choose your headphone model from a list, and the app will automatically change its sound signature via profiles to give you the best listening experience.

But in the great chance that you’re not using Sony headphones to plug into the ZX707, you’ve got a great range of sound customization via the Sound Adjustment app. And let me tell you, this customization app is the bee’s knees. It’s got properly staged equalizer settings, giving you control from sub-bass 31Hz frequencies, all the way up to cymbal-rattling 16KHz highs in 0.5db increments. It’s a great EQ fine-tuning utility, and super responsive.

Music streaming

There is also a whole slew of sound improvement utilities built-in with the sound adjustment app. There’s the DSEE Ultimate toggle– It’s a new feature from Sony that apparently increases the dynamic range of sub-hi-fi tracks like MP3 and CD formats using AI technology.

I found it somewhat effective, but not to the MP3 files on the device– it worked better when it was post-up-sampling non-hi-fi streaming apps like Youtube Music and Deezer.

There is also a DSD Remastering feature, which converts all PCM signals to DSD. In theory this should increase the signal resolution of sub-hi-fi recordings like MP3, low-quality FLAC rips, and of course, low-bitrate PCM files, but it should be of little value for audiophiles looking to load up the ZX707 with higher-quality 24-bit 117.6KHz PCM files. Do note that PCM and DSD are both quantized signals, so while they’re some of the most high-resolution signal formats a music player can put out, they are still (losslessly) compressed to some degree.

Sound emulation

Lastly, the ZX707 also features sound emulation/simulation features if you ever want to introduce some analog qualities to your hyper-clean modern digital recordings. There is a DC Phase Linearizer which somewhat emulates the natural warmth of an analog amplifier, and a vinyl processor, which simulates the sound signature of hearing your songs through a vinyl record player.

I feel that this is something you might want to turn on based on the kind of files that you’re listening to. There are certain genres that benefit greatly from the warmth and texture of Vinyl simulation like classic rock and electronica. Also, remember to turn this off if your music conversions are from Vinyl like my library. It doubles the Vinyl noise and kind of overdoes the warmth of the track.

Good thing that with all of these settings, there is a toggle for direct output so you can A-B your sound settings really fast anytime.

With a little help from my (Hi-Fi) friends

But enough about all of the intricacies that happen outside of the play button. I called the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 earlier in this article “probably still the most fun music player you can get with your money.”, so that begs the question– how does it sound?

Well, let me get this out of the way for all you audiophiles first: it’s not a ‘flat’ music player. It’s not a reference device, nor does it advertise itself to be one. It’s high-resolution, sure– but it’s not neutral. And that, to me, just sounds like a good time on paper.

In my two weeks with the NW-ZX707 I was able to try it out with three of my most used audio gear:

  • For the budget on-the-go side, the KZ x CRN ZEX Pros
  • For hi-fi home listening, a modded pair of Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros
  • On the weird-but-fun side, the Sony MDR-XB700 Extra Bass.

And with that lineup, one might assume that the ZX707 would be picky with showing its audio brilliance– not really. It sounded great on everything.

KZ x CRN ZEX Pros

Sony Walkman NW-ZX707

Pairing the ZX707 with the somewhat-neutral KZ x CRN ZEX Pros brought out a good tandem. The ZX707’s sound signature at stock is somewhat warm with a moderate emphasis on midbass and lower mids. The ZEX Pros are somewhat known to have a fair bit of sibilance, but I’m glad to report that because of the Sony Walkman ZX707’s laid-back presentation, there wasn’t much harshness in the highs. Detail suffered a bit, especially on busier tracks, but that was more of the limitation of the ZEX Pro’s limited drivers than through any other factor. The stand-out track for this setup was Silversun Pickups’ “Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings)”.

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros

The duo of the ZX707 and Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros was probably my most used setup during my review period. They just complement each other very nicely. And since I’ve modded the DT770 Pros to have a 4.4mm Balanced input, I was able to leverage the higher power output capabilities of the Walkman– I paid for the whole 250 Ohms, I’m going to use the whole 250 Ohms.

The DT770 Pros are known for their surgically neutral and flat response with a slight prominence in the low-bass. It’s that kind of sound signature that I found pairs the best with the ZX707, as it will ‘convert’ the headphones from ‘mixing ready’ to ‘party ready’. It’s like having a smoothening filter applied to all frequencies, but it doesn’t reduce any of the texture and detail. For that pairing, I turned on the DSEE, the DC Phase Linearizer, and the Vinyl Processor.

It was able to inject a lot of warmth and texture to my songs– coupled with the very forward vocal presentation of both the ZX707 and the DT770 Pros, vocal-centric music like ballads, soft rock, and even ‘00s rap sounded amazing. There are a few times when the bass would sometimes start getting bloated, but it wasn’t something a few adjustments to the EQ couldn’t handle. The stand-out track for this setup was Barenaked Ladies’ “New Disaster”.

Sony MDR-XB700 Extra Bass

Lastly, we’ve got the crazy pair of Sony MDR-XB700s. The midrange of Sony’s classic Extra Bass line, it’s a deceptive pair of headphones– regular music players can make it sound okay, but only the best music players and amplifiers that have exceptional bass and sub-bass processing can make it sound the way it should. And for the ZX707, it was no problem at all.

Having a big hump of sub-bass all the way up to midbass in the EQ was the only way I can listen to the XB700s. Even at almost maximum volume, there was almost no distortion and no significant dynamics compression. It just powers through the songs cleanly and never lets any of the frequencies stray too far from their comfortable thresholds.

Presentation is always smooth and warm, with a big emphasis on vocal presence, and highs are much more relaxed but with a lot of texture. The highs don’t go too far up so listeners of borderline-sibilant textured tracks might have to EQ their highs in, or you might want to look at other ways to improve the high-frequency response on the ZX707. The stand-out track for this setup was Dutch Uncles’ “Flexxin”.

Battery life

To round off my playback performance findings on the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707, it was able to sustain two (2) days of almost constant playback before needing a charge. I attribute this to fine volume and power control. The granularity in the volume adjustment is incredibly accurate and is always a requirement for any hi-fi music player.

Is the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 your GadgetMatch?

There’s an air of being carefree with the ZX707– it knows it’s not a reference device, nor does it try to be. It plays on its strengths of being a solid, high-power, high-resolution music player that you can take anywhere and plug anything into, and it’ll just slowly fade into the background. Present enough that you’re going to enjoy your music, but never stepping in to interrupt you from dancing to ‘Come Get Your Love’ on a distant alien planet.

Coming in at around PhP 45,000 or US$ 600, the Sony Walkman NW-ZX707 not only invokes memories of the original but also the (frankly) prohibitive price as well. Let me make this clear– this is not an entry-level audiophile PMP, it’s somewhat reserved for intermediates and experts who can leverage its non-neutral presentation to improve their on-the-go listening setups.

But as far as audiophile PMPs go, this is certainly one of the most fun ones I’ve tried so far. Check your gear first– it synergizes well with forward-sounding headphones/earphones with great highs presentation. If you’ve got one, I suggest going for the ZX707. If not, you might have to look somewhere else for your on-the-go hi-fi fix.

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