Moto Z Review Rewind ⏪

Released in 2016 the Moto Z and its Moto Mods were primed to change the way we use our smartphones. 5 years later, 4 Moto Z versions and no Moto Z5 on the horizon the dream is dead.⁠

But, how has the original Moto Z held up since 2016 and is it still usable in 2021? ⁠

In 2016 Motorola released the Moto Z. This was the phone that was intended to change the way we think of and use our phones. What made the Moto Z special was not so much the phone itself, as it was fairly standard spec-wise when compared to other flagships at the time. It was a small patch around the back of the phone that contained pogo-style pins which allowed users to connect a variety of peripherals to the phone known as Moto Mods that was supposed to make the Moto Z stand out from the rest. While you could argue that the Moto Z did stand out, it was not in the way Motorola, freshly acquired from Google by Lenovo, would have hoped. 


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I recently had been listening to a few Android related podcasts talking about how manufacturers, the media, and tech reviewers (at least the top ones) discard an earlier generation smartphone as incapable of doing the job for users day-to-day. The podcast challenged that, and its hosts/guests discussed how many phones that are 2-3 years old can do just as much as the current generation. I decided to take that and run with it. I pulled my 2016 Moto Z out of the box, charged it up and committed to using it for a month. Let us find out how it went! 



Specs 

As I mentioned, the Moto Z specs were within the ballpark of other smartphones released around the same time. Powered by a Snapdragon 820 processor the Moto Z had a 5.5” AMOLED display, 32 or 64 GB of onboard storage which could be expanded via a microSD card, 4GB of RAM, a 13 MP rear facing camera and a 5 MP front facing camera. Also on board were a front facing fingerprint scanner and a tiny 2,600 mAh battery. It is worth noting that this was also one of the first Android phones to, at least temporarily, remove the headphone jack and provide a proprietary USB C to 3.5mm headphone adapter. The Moto Z launched with Android 6.0 Marshmallow and in true Motorola fashion slowly made its way up to Android 8.0 Oreo. This was back when Motorola committed to 2 Android version updates verses the single version update on its current phones. 


Moto Z Spec Sheet

Experience 

Using the 2016 Moto Z for the first few days had me thinking this was going to be a breeze and that there was no reason a phone of this age couldn’t be used as a daily driver. However, by day three, the battery life of the Moto Z was so poor I was not even making it to noon before needing to charge the device.  

This is where the point or the goal of Moto Mods started to show. One of many Moto Mods were various battery mods. I was fortunate enough to have the Motorola branded battery mod available which doubled my battery to nearly 5,000 mAh. Battery problem solved! 

The Moto Z is stuck at Android 8.0 Oreo which means that it is no longer able to receive security updates and features found in newer versions of Android will never be seen. In my month of use with the Moto Z I did not find I was missing any features that my Pixel or newer devices have. I missed having the option for gesture navigation, but the three-button method that Android used for years was completely adequate. 


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The screen size of 5.5” was good for 2016, but by today’s standards it was a bit of a challenge to enjoy content designed with larger and taller screens in mind. I also couldn’t stop staring at the mammoth-sized bezels found on the original Moto Z. The device has a 72% screen-to-body ratio. Today’s phones are pushing well into the 90% range. Even the final Moto Z, the Moto Z4 had an 84% screen-to-body ratio, while maintaining the exact overall footprint of the original Moto Z. 

The camera on the Moto Z, by any standard, is just not good. In 2016 when I first started using the device it could do ok in outdoor conditions, and in perfect indoor conditions the images were passable. However, anything with any movement or low-light and the camera started to fall apart. Today, it is much of the same. Using it next to a Pixel, or even its older sibling, the Z4, shows how far cameras have come. For me, the camera is the most important function of a smartphone. If the camera is bad, the phone is of no use to me. Battery life is a close second, and as I mentioned already, the Z’s 2,600 mAh battery has pretty much given up. 


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My experience with the rest of my Moto Mod collection is not exclusive to the Moto Z 2016, since all mods with across the entire family of Moto Z phones, but it certainly helped make the phone, which feels otherwise stale, into something more fun. 

The mods I have on hard are: 

  • Battery 
  • Incipio Projector 
  • Polaroid Instashare Printer 
  • Moto Gamepad 
  • Moto 360 Camera 
Mot Z with Mods

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I already discussed how the battery saved me from having to charge 2-3 times per day. The rest of the Mods worked great on the phone and like I said, added some incentive to keep using this phone despite its shortcomings and age. The Alexa speaker is staple day-to-day in my use of the Moto Z. Now, caveat, the Alexa hands-free app does not support Android 8.0 and the Moto Z, so the speaker is just a speaker, sans the smart/connected features. It was a bit of a letdown to be unable to use this feature, but even without it, the speaker sound excellent. 

Moto Z with Moto Mod Battery Pack

The Polaroid is just a party trick strapped to the back of a smartphone, but it is a lot of fun to use.  

Polaroid Instashare Printer Mod

The Instashare Projector did not get much this time around. However, I used to use it daily as a bedroom TV and was also a trusted travel companion ensuring we always had the movie or shows that we wanted to watch available. 

The gamepad had a lot of potential and is fun to use depending on the game, most games I play on my phone are racing games and the gamepad handles hat well for the most part, but the design of the controller can make its use a challenge from time to time. 

Finally, the Moto 360 camera is a fun accessory, makes for a great travel accessory or if you have a specific thing you want to capture. However, in day-to-day use, it is not something you really need. 

Final note on the Mods. They all sound great, and mostly work great, but the cost of Mods on top of what is, or was, an expensive phone is a roadblock to making this practical for most people. This brings me back to what I was eluding to earlier. The Moto Z 2016 cannot really stand on its own as a viable smartphone in 2021, 5-years after its launch. The Mods were the only thing that made the phone usable and to purchase all the Mods I own would cost you about $500 today. 

Conclusion – Can you or should you use a 5-year-old smartphone? 

For the most things sure. However, your experience is going to be severely compromised, and the lack of OS and security updates will leave you vulnerable to issues that do not make the tradeoff worth it. Any other 5-year-old phone, without the ability to augment its function using Moto Mods would leave most wanting to pull their hair out. In the end it was a fun experience, but I am happy to put the Moto Z back in its box and get back to using something more modern and up to date! 


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Happy Plugs Air 1 Wireless Headphones Review

I’ve always said good headphones shouldn’t cost a fortune. However, cheap headphones shouldn’t be bad either. Check why the Happy Plugs Air 1s made me anything but happy.

You should probably just get the Air Pods.

When I first opened the Happy Plugs Air 1 Wireless Headphones, my first impression was that they were close in look and feel to Apple’s ubiquitous Air Pods. However, my experience was far from what you experience when setting up and using Air Pods. 


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What’s In The Box

It was a box of Q-Tips…

The unboxing experience of the Happy Plugs Air 1 was utilitarian, which is expected from lower priced wireless headphones. 

Inside the box were. 

  • Happy Plus Air 1 Ear Buds
  • Charging Case 
  • Silicon Ear Sleeves 
  • Micro USB Cable 
  • Multilingual Manual

Happy Plugs promises 14 hrs of playback time with the Air 1s

What I Liked – Pros 

Comfort & Fit 

When I first tried to use the Air 1 earbuds, the fit in my ear was awful. Anything more than sitting perfectly still led to one or both buds falling from my ear. Then I tried the silicon ear sleeves and the fit in the ear was far better. Time will tell if natural oils from my skin will lead to the earbuds falling out again. Overall, the fit is solid, and they are comfortable to wear for extended periods of time as long as you use the ear sleeves.


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Control, Control, You Must Have Control 

Like many other wireless headphones, the Air 1s offer touch controls built into each earbud, but one thing that stood out was the quantity of controls available. 

There are 14 different touch controls including Play/Pause, Volume Up/Down, Previous/Next Track and Google Assistant/Siri launch.  Sadly my use of them was short lived. Read on to see why!

Sound Quality 

The Air 1 sound quality far exceeded what I was expecting given the price point of $49.99. Music was punchy and there were no issues with overly thin sounds. They were a tad on the bassy side, but I would rather that over the alternative of flat, thin audio. 

Spoken audio from podcasts and audiobooks were handled well and the few phone calls I made with them were great. However, as is the case with all lower-end wireless ear buds, they only have 2 microphones so in some instances, callers on the other end had issues hearing me. 


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What I Did Not Like – Cons 

Reliability 

When I first charged and connected the Happy Plug, both buds worked great. However, since that first use, the left ear bud will power on, but cannot connect to any device I try to pair it with.  I have tried the reset function a dozen times and have had no luck. Without the use of the left ear bud, 50% of the touch functions are unavailable including the Google Assistant/Siri activation.

Design 

There are two types of people in the world; those who like Air Pods and those who do not. While I do not mind wearing ear buds using the Air Pod, or Q-tip, design, they look odd. I much prefer the more bean style like those of the Samsung Galaxy Buds or the Jabra series. The Happy Plugs, using the Air Pod approach have an added layer of design I do not like. The silver trim at the bottom of the ear bud just looks tacky. The Air Pods have it, see below, but it is more subtle and does not look as cheap.

Air Pod 2 (left) | Air 1 (Right)

I will give the case some props though. I like how easy it is to open and pulling the ear bud out is quite easy too. I am also reviewing the Anker Soundcore Life P2 TWS ear buds right now and the orientation used for the case makes it particularly challenging to pull out the buds without having to preform hand gymnastics to get them ready for your ear. 


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Should You Buy The Happy Plugs Air 1

In a word, no. Yes, at about $50 depending on where you find the Air 1s, they cost a fraction of what the Air Pods do and look almost the same. However, the overall form, function and quality leave me doubting that you would get more than a few months out of these. If cost is a factor, there are dozens of other brands out there that make a reliable product. They may not look this close to the Air Pods, but something like the aforementioned Soundcore Life P2’s from Anker are a far better option and cost considerably less.

You should probably just buy the Air Pods…


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Overall, I gave the Happy Plugs Air 1s a 2.5 out of 5. They got some things right, but overall they missed the mark for me.

Let me know what you think about the Happy Plugs, Air Pods or other true wireless headphones in the comments!


Check out other Wireless Headphone Reviews!

Blitzwolf BW-FYE4 Review

Blitzwolf BW-FYE5 Review

Blitzwold BW-ANC1 Review

Microsoft Surface Laptop Go Review

The Surface Laptop Go Review: Everything you would expect from a Microsoft Surface in a smaller package.

My Favourite Surface Ever!


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Intro

I’ve spent the last two months using the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go. After getting over the lack of a few premium features such as inking support and a backlit keyboard, I am convinced that this is possibly one of the best Surface devices ever released. It is certainly my favourite.

I used the Surface Go and Go 2 in the past few years and enjoyed them; they left me wanting more out of them and feeling like I wasn’t getting the full Surface experience. On the face of it, the Surface Go is a miniaturized Surface Pro, but with the power of the Pentium Gold processor, lack of RAM and a slightly cramped keyboard and trackpad, I felt slightly underwhelmed compared to my times with the Surface Pros and Books.

I went into my time with the Surface Laptop Go expecting the same thing—a boiled-down version of the Surface Laptop. After two months, that absolutely wasn’t the experience I had.



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Specs

The below specs are of the unit Microsoft send me for review. It was a top-end version of the Surface Laptop Go, so please keep that in mind while reading through!

Display: 12.4-inch PixelSense Display, 1536 x 1024 pixel resolution (148ppi), 3:2 aspect ratio, 10-point multi-touch

Processor: 10th Gen Intel Core i5-1035G1

Memory: 8GB LPDDR 4x RAM

Storage: 256GB SSD

Dimensions: 278.18 x 205.67 x 15.69mm Weight: 1,110g (2.45lb)

Camera: 720p HD f/2.0 front-facing camera

Operating System: Windows 10 Home in S Mode

Battery: Up to 13 hours of “typical device usage”

Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 6

Sensors: Ambient light sensor Ports: 1x USB-C, 1x USB-A, 3.5mm headphone jack, 1x Surface Connect port

Graphics: Intel UHD graphics



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Display

The display on the Surface Laptop Go is a lower resolution (1536 x 1024 pixels) than what you find on other Surface machines but, as was the case with previous Surfaces I have used, including the Go versions, the Laptop Go’s display was bright, vibrant and for my use, accurate. No, it isn’t Full HD, but this is not a media consumption device. It is geared towards users who are on the go and need something small, reliable and well built.

Like all other Surface devices, the Laptop Go has the same 3:2 aspect ratio. I think that all laptops should have this aspect ratio. I think the world is over 16:9. Some manufacturers have moved to 16:10, which is great, but for productivity, nothing beats 3:2.

Like all Surface computers, the Laptop Go has a touch screen. It works well, but with the laptop form factor compared to the Surface Pro and Go tablet-style, I didn’t use it much. It was more for scrolling webpages and documents.


Ports and Connectivity

I/O ports and Surface devices have always been a point of contention. Microsoft has taken the Apple approach of less is more, but they have also taken a safe approach by being slow to adopt the newest I/O connectivity on their devices.

The Surface Laptop Go is no exception. Onboard you have a Surface connect power port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, one USB 3.0 Type-A port and one USB 3.0 Type-C port.

I read many complaints that the Laptop Go should have had USB-C charging and Thunderbolt 3. While I agree with the charging, this is a budget laptop, and for the target market, Thunderbolt 3 would have driven up the cost of the device.

In my opinion, this is the first Surface to strike the right amount of ports for the type of customer it is geared towards. The single USB-C port is acceptable in this context, considering the most you will need to connect to a machine of this type is a USB-C display adapter, your smartphone or other USB-C peripherals such as a card reader. If the USB-C port is occupied, you can easily fall back to the USB-A port.

I don’t have strong feelings about the 3.5mm headphone port. That was a feature on many devices a few years ago, but TWS headphones are much more readily available and affordable today than wired headphones are nothing more than an inconvenience.

The only port I would change would be to ditch the Surface Connect port for another USB-C port for charging. I am hoping Microsoft takes that bold move away from the proprietary power connection some time in 2021. Fingers crossed!


USB-A – USB-C – 3.5mm
Surface Connect Power

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Performance

I eluded to this earlier, but I had low expectations for the Laptop Go. My previous Go experiences were positive but slightly underwhelming. In my time with the Laptop Go, I was amazed at how well it kept pace with other more powerful devices.

The 8GB of RAM helped, but I think the difference-maker is the processor compared to the Surface Go devices. The Laptop Go comes with an i5, regardless of the model, whereas the Surface Go offers a Pentium Gold processor, which is wildly underpowered by today’s standards.

Microsoft’s decision to avoid a low powered processor is a massive win for Laptop Go customers.

My Surface Laptop Go use was not incredibly heavy, but I did have to jump in and out of Photoshop periodically. Not once did I feel like the Go was lacking. Like all other Adobe apps, Photoshop is a heavy app, but the Go was up for the challenge.


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Fingerprint reader in the power button.

Keyboard, Touchpad and Pen

The keyboard on the Laptop Go is amazing. I can’t really say much more than that. With each new surface device, I use I fall more and more for the keyboard. I used to put Lenovo on a pedestal when it came to keyboards. However, as I type this review between an X1 Carbon and this very Surface Laptop Go for the purposes of comparison, the X1 doesn’t meet the mark. Surface Laptop, to me, is the new keyboard king.

The touchpad, like all other surface devices is large and pleasant to use. I found it to be accurate and responsive.

When I initially received the Laptop Go, I was excited to use my Surface Pen, like all other surfaces. However, I had forgotten that the Laptop Go does not support inking. At first, I viewed this as a disappointment and a mark against the device. Then, when considering my earlier points about the device’s form factor, its intended audience and its price, the pen and inking support would add cost to an already premium-priced device.



Software and Windows 10

The Surface Laptop Go, like its other Go family members and the original Surface Laptop, ships with Windows 10 in S mode. In case you are unaware, Windows 10 in S mode restricts users to install apps from the Microsoft Store only. This is good for organizations that do not want their users getting into trouble installing potentially harmful applications. It is also good if you’re only browsing the web and happy with the default apps like Edge (which you should be because it is great!) and the Mail and Calendar apps. The store does contain many popular apps like Twitter and Facebook Messenger as well.

For someone like myself who likes to test various different applications or has legacy applications, I use for various purposes, S mode does not work for me. Thankfully, you can easily turn off S mode with a quick settings toggle.

Other than S mode, Windows 10 is Windows 10 and for me, that is a good thing!


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Windows 10 in S Mode Settings
A few clicks will free you from the shackles of Windows 10 in S Mode.

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Pros:

  • Premium build quality
  • Outstanding webcam
  • Excellent keyboard and trackpad
  • Intel Core i5 processor

Cons:

  • No backlit keyboard
  • No support for inking
  • Lower resolution display
  • Limited I/O

Conclusion: Should You Buy The Microsoft Surface Laptop Go?

I always find myself hard-pressed not to recommend a Surface device, which is still the case here. I will admit, the Surface Laptop Go is expensive, some may say too expensive, but with a Surface device, you are buying into a family of devices that are incredibly well built, well supported and look great. The Surface Laptop Go makes the perfect laptop for someone on the go who wants to consume the web, send email but can hold its own for tasks like editing photos and consuming multimedia when needed.

If your needs are exceptionally low and you live only in email and on the web, with no need for more power from time to time, a Chromebook may suit you fine. However, a Chromebook boxes you in with no way out, even with a more expensive model. The Surface Laptop Go will have its limits, but the ceiling is considerably higher.



The Surface Laptop Go is available from Microsoft starting at $759.99 CAD and the configuration I reviewed will set you back $1,229.99 CAD.

Check out the Surface Laptop Go from Amazon right HERE!

BlitzWolf BW-FYE4 True Wireless Headphones Review

You don’t need to break the bank for good true wireless headphones! Check out the GadgetSyrup review of the BlitzWolf BW-FYE4 True Wireless Headphones

Don’t break the bank on wireless headphones.

True wireless headphones shouldn’t cost a fortune!

This is the 3rd pair of BlitzWolf wireless headphones I have reviewed over the past year or so. I really have enjoyed each pair more than the previous. They are always affordable and provide an excellent bang for the buck. Yet I am still surprised every time I see someone dropping an insane amount of cash on wireless headphones. Sure, something like the Jabra 75t or Galaxy Buds are better if you compare them pound for pound, but most just buy those devices because they are placed in front of them at stores like Best Buy or Costco. I have used both of those headphones too and yes, I liked them, but did I like them several hundred dollars more than what I have tried from other, cheaper brands? Simply, no.

Read on below the break to see a set of true wireless headphones that don’t break the bank but delivery the quality you would expect from a higher priced pair.


Also, check out my other BlitzWolf Wireless Headphone reviews below!


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What if I told you there was a cake in the box?

  • 2 x True Wireless FYE4 Headphones
  • 1 x Large Replacement Ear Tips
  • 1 x Medium Replacement Ear Tips
  • 1 x Small Replacement Ear Tips
  • 1 x FYE4 Charging Case
  • 1 x Micro USB Cable
  • 1 x User Manual

Pretty standard unboxing with BlitzWolf FYE series headphones.


Design

I reviewed the BlitzWolf BW-FYE5 TWS headphones this past fall, and while I mostly liked everything about them, the design, wasn’t my favourite. Overtime I found they started to lose the quality fit and feel from when they were new. When I saw the chance to check out the FYE4 TWS, also from BlitzWolf, I was immediately interested, thanks to the earbuds design.


Left: BW-FYE5
Right: BW-FYE4

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As you can see the FYE4s are considerably larger than the FYE5s, however the larger size is actually deciving. The FYE4s are lighter than their smaller sibling.

Despite the larger size I found that it was easier to press the Play/Pause button. Also, the shape of the bud where it enters your ear provided a more comfortable and snug fit. Wearing the FYE5s for extended periods was pretty easy, but the FYE4s were far more computable, for my ears. I was a little concerned at first that they would look chunky or gaudy in my ears, but for the most part, they are pretty inconspicuous.

The design of the case isn’t ideal due to it’s size. Which makes it harder to put in a pants pocket, but it does come with a button that when pressed shows how much juice the cases battery has remaining. Something the FYE5 lacked.


Sound Quality

If you have read a headphone review on GadgetSyrup before you’ve heard this. If you’re new here, first off, thanks for reading!! But I like to mention in every review, I am not an audiophile and I don’t listen to that much music, especially through headphones.

Most of my listening is tech and Formula 1 related podcasts with the odd audiobook sprinkled in here and there. For the use case I have, and the small amount of Bud I did listen to, the FYE4s had excellent output. Volume was good and loud and there were no points where I thought the sound was distorted or cracking.

Outdoors I had next to no issues with volume and did not struggle with wind noise interfering with the audio output.

I will say though that phones calls are a total no go with these headphones. Most callers said I sounded far away or muffled. No matter what I did, indoors or out, it was a struggle to use these for phone calls.


Ports and Connectivity

The FYE4 use Bluetooth 5.0 to connect to your Smartphone meaning that power usage should be minimal when connected and latency should be less when compared to older Bluetooth devices. Not much else to say on this…

Unfortunately, BlitzWolf elected to continue on using micro USB to charge the headphones. This is fine, but I would have really preferred if they made the move to USB Type C. Yes, using the older standard is cheaper, but we have to make a leap forward at the low-end of this market at some point.


Micro USB is fine… but we really need everything to move to USB C

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Battery Life

I’m not sure if my FYE5s had battery issues or not but despite having the same 50 mAh battery inside, the FYE4s lasted considerably longer. I even went back to the FYE5s for a week to double-check and sure enough I was getting hours more life.

The biggest difference wasn’t just in the earbud use between charges, which choose to 5 hours of continuous use. The battery case, thanks to it’s larger size houses a larger 500 mAh battery. The FYE5 sports a 400 mAh battery.



Ease of Use

One thing I’ve noticed when using inexpensive Bluetooth true wireless headphones from any manufacturer is how difficult it is to get each earbud operational separate from the other. The process is backwards from FYE5s. With the FTE4s the left bud is the primary device. Meaning, if you take out both buds, use them and put away the left bud, the right bud stops working. Take out only the left bud, connection successful! Take out just the right bud… Crickets. You have to manually power down the bud by pressing and holding the button. Repeat to turn on, but hold to enter pairing mode. Then pair from your Bluetooth device.

With the initial setup taking out just the left bud you’re automatically entered into device pairing, but not with the right. Not impossible to sort out and maybe my expectations are too high for this process, but it certainly should be improved.

Once you get them paired, day-to-day use is not an issue at all.


Pros:

  • Comfortable to wear for long hours
  • Excellent battery life
  • Solid build quality
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Micro USB charging instead of USB-C
  • Large charging case compared to other headphones, including the BlitzWolf BW-FYE5

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Conclusion: Should You Buy The BlitzWolf BW-FYE4?

I said you should buy the FYE5s when I reviewed them and they are still decent, but if you’re asking me if you should buy the FYE5s or the FYE4s, it is it contest. Buy the FYE4s. The superior battery life, ease of use and comfort make them a far better choice.


If you’d like to pick up a pair of BlitzWolf BW-FYE4 True Wireless Headphones you can pick them up on Amazon for CAD $49.99.



Thanks for reading and let me know what you think about the process of true wireless headphones. Do you agree with me?

Blitzwolf® BW-VP1 LCD Projector Review

I’ve always liked the idea of having a projector as in my home theater but could never justify the price. Projectors, for years, have been very expensive and often don’t deliver as good as a result as a mid to high end TV can. I do think the latter is the case, but the former is no longer the case. Prices of projectors have come down a lot over the years making them something the average person may consider when setting up with home theater.

I’ve always liked the idea of having a projector as in my home theater but could never justify the price. Projectors, for years, have been very expensive and often don’t deliver as good as a result as a mid to high end TV can. I do think the latter is the case, but the former is no longer the case. Prices of projectors have come down a lot over the years making them something the average person may consider when setting up with home theater.

When my friends at Banggood.com offered me an opportunity to demo the BlitzWolf BW-VP1 projector I figured I would give it a shot and see how it went.


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First a few specs:

  • Resolution: 720p Out, 1080p Input
  • Lumens: 2800
  • Contrast Ratio: 2000:1
  • Lamp Hours: 50,000
  • Projection Size: 50″ to 200″
  • Built-In Speaker
  • Remote Control Included

Ports:

  • HDMI or VGA for Video In and Out
  • 3.5mm for Video In and Out
  • USB for Playing Video from USB Key

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So is it any good?

Before I answer that, you should read the review I recently posted of the BlitzWolf BW-VC1 smart vacuum. It was a bumpy ride to say the least. Check it out then come back…

BlitzWolf BW-VC1 Review


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… OK welcome back. So was the projector from a company that has made its hay making affordable audio accessories any good? Surprisingly, yes.

I used the projector in my basement home theater that has 3 small windows with black-out blinds. Point being, it gets very dark down there, at anytime of day. The projector was throwing an image about 9 feet from the wall which measured out to about 100″ display size.



There is not a whole lot to say about a projector since it serves a single purpose and either does it well or it doesn’t. In the case of the BW-VP1 I would say it performed very well for each use. Most of our use with it centered around light gaming. The NES Classic had made an appearance over the Christmas break and was the console of choice for my kids and myself. We played a lot of Mario Kart, Super Punch Out, F-Zero, Star Fox and for some reason, unknown to me, a lot of Kirby (awful game). For that purpose the projector was spectacular. However, I did hook up our Xbox briefly for some Call of Duty and Halo testing and the results we good, but not great. There was some visible image trailing or ghosting when things really got sped up, but most of the time it wasn’t too noticeable.


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We did watch a few TV shows on the projector, but we’ve been binge watching old episodes of Shark Tank, which isn’t a very demanding show visually. Regardless of the application though, colour quality and clarity was good and I would say I was pleased with the results considering this projector costs only CAD $105 at the time of this review.


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Should You Buy This?

So, should you buy this? I would say give it a shot. For the price point it sits at and the specs it delivers, it is worth trying out. It does lack things like digital focus, longer throw range and multiple inputs for more HDMI enabled systems. However, for $105 I think you can live with a few short comings. while saving a pile of cash. 1080p projectors with more inputs and other features can costs as much as 3 times more.

Want to try the BW-VP1 Projector out for yourself? Check it out over at Banggood by clicking the link below!

My Favourite Apps: Your Phone Companion from Microsoft

Sharing some of my favourite apps with you. First up, You Phone from Microsoft!

Trying something new…

Every so often you find an app that fundamentally changes how you use your phone. Some of those apps quickly make it into the mainstream and are covered excessively by tech media, while others can often sit in a small, but vocal niche. I thought it would be fun to share some of those lesser known niche apps with you in the form of a mini review and see what you think. Who knows, maybe you will find them as useful as I do.

First up, an app from a little known company in the Seattle area, Microsoft.

What is Your Phone?

You Phone is a take on other services that have existed, or still exist like Push Bullet or Air Droid, but with a far more modern and simplistic approach. It also has one major advantage over its predecessors, Windows 10 and nearly a billion users. Essentially, it is a link to your phone from your Windows 10 PC.

The app allows you to do the following

  • View camera roll
  • Send and receive SMS text messages
  • View phone notifications

The camera roll function as of this writing is currently limited to the last 25 photos on your phone, but Microsoft is currently rolling up an update that will remove that restriction, allowing you to view the last 2,000 images stored on the phone.

Sending and receiving SMS from your PC has been possible for sometime thanks to Google’s Messages app and browser tie-in, but having it nested inside a dedicated application is great.

The phone notifications feature is a bit lacking, since you cannot interact with the notification, but at the very least it allows for a quick triage of a notification to see if picking up your phone is actually required. In the future I would like to see some changes allowing me to interact with some notifications that support it on the phone. For example, I use Asana for work, and can comment on a mention via the notification on on the phone. Being able to do this from the Your Phone app would be a greatly appreciated addition.

It may sound kind of limited, but being able to see and interact with these core functions of my phone has done wonders for productivity. I am one of those people who spends entirely way too much time picking up my phone just for the sake of it, to check and see if I have anything that needs my attention. Often times, there is something to action, but there are many times throughout the day where I pick up and unlock my phone for no reason at all.

Your Phone is also receiving a major update as I write this that will enable users to interact with phone calls coming from your phone. This is a great addition and one I am really looking forward to. The fewer times a day that I need to take my hands off my mouse and keyboard, the more I can done.

Make and Receive calls on your phone from your Windows 10 PC!

Once the update is live on You Phone users will be able to do the following phone related tasks;

  • Answer incoming calls on your PC
  • Initiate a phone call form your PC with the You Phone Windows 10 apps phone dialer or from your contact list
  • Reject calls and send a predefined text to the caller
  • Reject a call, and send it to voicemail
  • See recent call history
  • Transfer calls from your PC to your phone and vise versa (this one really excites me)
  • Click to call from the web on your PC

For an app that has already changed the entire way I work with my phone during the day, these call features easily make this one of the most useful apps I have ever used, and certainly on of my favourites.

You Phone is currently only available on Android, and due to the locked-down nature of Apple, will likely never be available on that platform. So if you’re using Android 7.0 or above, and running Windows 10 you should consider giving Your Phone a try. Now, if you spend little to no time in front of a PC, this app won’t be much use for you, but users such as myself will find this app to be incredibly useful.

Where Can You Get You Phone?

What do think of Your Phone? I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below!

Motorola Moto Z4 Long-Term Review: Long Live the Z and Moto Mods!

Check out the GadgetSyrup review of the Motorola Z4. Is this the last stand for the Z line and Moto Mods?

I have been using the Moto Z4 for about 4 months now. By my standards, that’s a really long time. Most phones that come across my desk I don’t use for a very long time. I do switch to and from a small set of some of my favourites. I was jumping between the Pixel 2 and Galaxy S9 for a good chunk of the year but I haven’t gone with one phone as a daily driver for this length for a very long time and I have no intention of switching in the near future (unless the Razr delivers on the goods!).

Before I dive into the review I want to get something off my chest. The Z4 is a great phone but it was a failure before it even reached customers or reviewers’ hands. The reason, you ask? Tech reporters and bloggers that are, well, lazy and bored… Let me explain.

Left to right; Moto Z3 Play, Moto Z4, Moto Z

When the original Moto Z launched in the summer of 2016 there was a lot of excitement about its seemingly endless possibility of functions thanks to the innovative Moto Mod platform. Thanks to a simple phone design and a series of pogo-pins on the lower back of the phone you could turn your phone into a projector, printer, loudspeaker or add enough battery to last for 2-3 days of use. Motorola promised to deliver more Mods over time, and they did to a certain degree with some notable ones being the Alexa-enabled speaker (which is great by the way) and the Moto Gamepad. Some companies like Incipio added battery and car accessories and premium camera maker, Hasselblad released a fully-featured camera Mod. For the record, the camera, which came out around the time of the Moto Z2 and Z2 Play was pretty bad. It was slow and the sensor was just bad. However, most Moto Mods were good to great but were on the expensive side.

Motorola, recently acquired by Lenovo, committed to a 3-year release of devices that would support the Moto Mod ecosystem. At the time, everyone applauded Motorola for such a commitment.

By the time Motorola released the Moto Z3 and Z3 Play the media, big and small were complaining that the Moto Z design was tired and too dated to continue. Effectively, the blogosphere wanted the Moto Z and its Mods to be taken out to pasture. I used, and reviewed the Moto Z3 Play, last year and it was a really good phone and I really enjoyed using it. Was the camera as good as my Google Pixel XL (1st gen)? No, the camera was not the greatest but was perfectly usable in most situations. Even more so after I installed the Google Camera APK. Most reviews though, said the phone was dead on arrival and should never have been released.

Fast forward a year and the Z4 was leaked, subsequently announced and by the time it reached reviewers’ hands, most were already jumping on the hate-train saying Motorola is wasting its time, don’t bother with the Z4 and no one wants Moto Mods.

Hi! I do! I want Moto Mods! I have several and have invested myself in the ecosystem. On top of the Mods, I really like the build of Motorola phones, both for their physical and software designs.

What’s In The Box?

  • Moto Z4
  • Turbo Power Charging Adapter
  • USB A to C Cable
  • The usual paperwork
  • Moto 360° Camera Mod

Moto Z4 Specifications

What I Liked About the Moto Z4

Moto Mods

When I reviewed the Moto Z3 Play last summer, the number one thing I said liked about the device, was the mod ecosystem. This is still the case in 2019 when I use the Z4. The mods are what make the device worth it. I will admit that the case for the Z-line living on is getting harder and harder to make and the odds a Z5 seem pretty slim right now. My only hope is the fact that they firmly positioned the Z4 in the mid-range with its 600 series Snapdragon CPU. Doing this makes sense and removes the need for a lower end Play device.

As for the mods though, they are incredibly useful and augment the experience of the phone dramatically. Here are the mods I have:

  • InstaShare Projector
  • Gamepad
  • InstaShare Polaroid Printer
  • Alexa Speaker
  • 360 Camera

I use the projector and speaker daily and the other three make at least one or two appearances a week. I will often switch to another device for a review or just for fun, but I always end up having to keep the Z4 at the ready becasue I have become too used to having the mods there.

The caveat is that the mods are still very expensive. They are coming down in price, so if you are new to the Z-line and want to use mods, now is the time. For example, the projector had an original $400 CAD price tag. Today it is available on Amazon for less than $175 CAD.

The other caveat with mods and Z-line beyond the Z5 speculation is the lack of growth in the mod ecosystem. When Motorola brought us the original Moto Z in 2016 there was a promise of dozens of mods and a 3rd party ecosystem. Today, there are about a dozen mods still available online and even less directly from Motorola. That fact worries me and should be a major point of consideration.

The Camera

The 48 MP shooter on the Z4 is great when used properly.

For years Motorola has been slated for having poor camera performance. The software that drives the Motorola Camera app has been feature-packed but always struggled to produce consistent and reliable output.

That is less of a problem with the Z4, but it is still a problem. Enter Google Camera…

Thanks to a dedicated community of modders one can get a version of the Google Camera app for almost every device available today. Including the Z4.

If you have or are considering the Moto Z4 I absolutely implore you to install this APK and use it as your primary camera app. I haven’t touched the Moto app for months unless I have absolutely had too, and I have not missed a beat.

The camera performance is little slow still, even with the Google app, but that is a byproduct of the Snapdragon 675 and only 4GB of RAM. However, as long as your patient and set your expectations, I think you will be just fine. I was coming from a Pixel and a Galaxy S9 which were very fast and had Snapdragon 835 and 845 CPUs respectively and the performance difference was not that noticeable from a speed perspective.

Battery Life

Thanks to the 3,600 mAh battery inside the Z4 making through a whole day on a single charge is possible. I have been using the phone for 4 months now and have not seen much regression in day to day battery life. I do, however, lean on my devices very hard and usually need to top up at least once to make sure I can make it through my typical day which normally spans from about 5:00 am to 10:00 pm. I have recently ordered a battery mod to give me another 2,200 mAh battery just for fun.

What I Didn’t Like About the Moto Z4

There is not a lot I didn’t like about the Z4. If I had to pick one thing, it is the in-screen fingerprint scanner. Last year, the Z3 lineup had a horrible side-mounted fingerprint scanner which I still absolutely despise. This isn’t that bad, but it is less than enjoyable. Thankfully, I spend most of my time having the Z4 connected to either my Gear S3 Frontier or a set of Bluetooth headphones that keep the device unlocked thanks to Google Smart Lock. When the fingerprint scanner does light up, I find that it is generally inaccurate and slow. Again, not a major issue based on my use case, but consideration to account for nonetheless.

I would also give the Z4 a slight knock for its build design. It is hard to articulate this, since the phone is, more or less, the same footprint as the original Moto Z, but the slight rounding of the backside of the phone causes Moto Mods to have a small, but noticeable gap between the phone and the mod. The original Moto Z was a perfect match to all mods, the Z3 was almost there, but the Z4 just does not fit mods well.

Should You Buy The Moto Z4?

Moto Z4 and Moto Z

For the majority of people out there, you would probably look at the device and think you can get a Pixel 3a for only a little more or a Motorola G7 for a little bit less and wonder, why consider the Z4. The decision to buy this device really comes down to two things; Moto Mods and performance. If you have owned a Z phone before or want to augment your phone use with a mod, even just a speaker or the 360° camera, then this phone is worth it. Also, consider that no new mods are likely to come to the market. On the performance side, the phone holds up and if you have never had a phone with flagship specs you likely will not know the difference. However, switching from a phone with an 8XX series CPU and 6+ GB of RAM, you will feel the slow down when using the Z4.

If you can get past either of these, then buy this phone! With Black Friday and Christmas coming up fast, you’ll be sure to see some deals on the Z4 too!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BlitzWolf BW-FYE5 True Wireless Headphones Review

Last year I got in touch with a company that sells primarily in Banggood and they sent me a pair of their BW-ANC1 headphones which were a wired pair of wireless headphones featuring active noise cancelling. I was very impressed with them for the most part, so when offered their true wireless BW-FYE5 (they really know how to name a product!!) I jumped at the opportunity.

I am admittedly late to the true wireless headphone game. I have stuck to my Aukey EP-B61 neck buds for longer than I likely should have and when those are missing in action or dead, I resort to a wired pair of headphones I have had since I got my minion-yellow Nokia Lumia 1020, unless I am using a phone without a headphone jack. In that case, I suffer in silence waiting for the Aukeys to charge.

Last year I got in touch with a company that sells primarily in Banggood and they sent me a pair of their BW-ANC1 headphones which were a wired pair of wireless headphones featuring active noise cancelling. I was very impressed with them for the most part, so when offered their true wireless BW-FYE5 (they really know how to name a product!!) I jumped at the opportunity.

What’s In The Box?

Brad, you won’t believe what is in the box!

Blitzwolf’s packaging is pretty basic but a slight step ahead of some of the other budget companies in this space, such as Aukey. Inside the box were the following items.

BW-FYE5 BOM Shot
  • Blitzwolf BW-FYE5 headphones
  • Charge case
  • Large and small replacement ear tips (mediums come pre-installed)
  • Micro USB cable for charing
  • Manual

Nothing really exciting, but all the basics are there.

Battery Life 

Blitzwolf states that a single charge of the earbuds will last 2.5 to 3 hours of listening/talk time and the charging case that stores the buds when not in use add an extra 15 hours of battery life. So for the sake of keeping it simple, let’s say 18 hours of total battery life. I found this to be fairly accurate and I only have to charge up the case every few days depending on my use.

When the buds did run out, putting them back in the case for a quick charge was a pretty great experience compared to having to find a place to plug in my other set from Aukey into a USB cable. The charging case is very convenient when on the go.

Size and Fit

The size of the BW-FYE5 was awesome, they fit perfectly in the ear and for the most part, never came loose or lost their seal.

I didn’t suffer from any discomfort when wearing the earbuds for extended periods, which in some cases was for a full cycle of the battery. I did find that my ears would start to hurt where the buds would rest against my ear. So far, not the case with these earbuds for me.

The charging case is also far more compact than I was expecting which was great for putting them in any pocket. The dimensions of the case measures 6 cm X 3.7 cm X 2.8 cm.

Audio Quality

Since I am not listening to music in most cases I can’t say much about the quality of the BY-FYE5s for music. The small amount of music I did listen to sounded good. Bass was light but expected given the size of the device. Listening to audiobooks and podcasts were perfect. I didn’t have any complaints, which is a good thing.

IPX6 Water and Sweat Resistance

Water and sweat resistance is more or less table stakes these days with any wearable. In fact, one could argue that in 2019, heading into 2020, water resistance may not even be enough, full-on waterproofing may be the expectation. The BW-FYE5s, despite the low price point, are water-resistant, which is great for most users. Myself included.

Pairing Process and Connectivity Quality

One of the major complaints I have with Bluetooth devices, especially earbuds, today is the pairing process. It seems to be different for every manufacturer and is almost never intuitive. That mostly holds true for this set from Blitzwolf too.

After opening and charging the case and earbuds for the first time I opened the case, removed the right earbud and immediately it entered pairing. Great! After going through the standard pairing process on my Android device, I removed the second earbud and it automatically connected to the first bud and connected. So far… So good…

Where things got messy was when I wanted to use only one earbud. The right bud had no issue at all and would connect quickly and start working. However, when wanting to use the left earbud only I was given the impression the right earbud also needed to be removed from the charging case and act as a bridge for the left earbud. It was only after a few weeks of use that I decided to try again with only the left earbud. I removed it from the case, place it in my ear and for fun double-clicked the button. The earbud powered on and after about 30 seconds entered the pairing mode. The device showed on my phone as BW-FYE5 L, indicating left. Ok… paired and working.

When using the right bud first, the left bud will always connect to the right and begin to stream through both. Pretty seamless in most cases. When using the left bud first, adding the right caused the left to drop connection while it waited for the right to connect and hook up to the right as a bridge. If that was confusing, I’m sorry, but it is a messy process that the devices initiate depending on the order of connection. This may just be the way true wireless headphones have to work today, and maybe a future version won’t require this, but this messy connection process is less than enjoyable. I would like to see how Apple handles this thanks to the W1 chip in the airpods and modern macOS and iOS devices, but at this time I don’t have that luxury.

Overall: Should You Buy the Blitzwolf BW-FYE5 True Wireless Headphones?

For me, someone who has had issues finding headphones that have a good fit for my ears these headphones were perfect. However, others may not find this fit comfortable to use.

Outside of the potential fit-issues, the BW-FYE5 TWS are incredibly affordable and are available for just short of $50 CAD and should absolutely be considered if you’re looking for a truly wireless set of headphones. The odd connection process once solved is not really a major issue in the grand scheme of things when considering the other positive features found here.

You can purchase the Blitzwolf BW-FYE5 True Wireless Headphones from Banggood by clicking the link below!

Motorola Z3 Play Review: Third Times a Charm?

Motorola committed to three generations of Moto Mod compatible phones. Well, we have reached that third generation with the Z3 Play. Is this one last kick at the can or third times a charm?

I have spent several months with the Z3 Play now to give it a full and proper review. Is it worth the price tag? Are Mods any good? Check out the review to see where I landed after using the phone as a proper daily driver.

What is the Motorola Z3 Play and Why Does It Matter?

The Motorola Z line of phones were first seen in the fall of 2016 with the launch of the original Moto Z. It came with on the heels of the LG G5, which was pitched as the first modular phone. As we know, the G5 was an unmitigated disaster and a complete flop. I still see the G5 in public from time to time and immediately want to engage in conversation with that person since they must be some sort of crazy to still be using that device on the daily.

The Moto Z on the other hand was also pitched as the first truly modular phone and, in my opinion, was. Thanks to an ultra thin design and exposed pogo-pins on the back of the phone, customers were able to connect mods to the phone to enhance or add functionality.

At launch there were only a few mods available. A speaker, battery pack, some decorative shells and a mini-projector. Now the device supports a dozen or so different mods and other manufactures have taken a stab at creating their own third-party mods. Some of the more popular mods today are a game controller, Alexa speaker and 360 camera.

What I Liked

Moto Mods

Ever since I laid my hands on the original Moto Z along with the InstaShare Projector and Polaroid Printer mods I fell in love with them. Using the Z3 Play with those mods as well as the controller, 360 camera and Amazon Alexa mods has only enhanced the experience. Admittedly, if I had to put out fill price for the mods, my opinion on them may change. They are very expensive add-ons for an already expensive purchase.

So far, in my use, I have gotten the most use out of the InstaShare Projector, the game controller mod and the Alexa speaker.

The projector mod gets used daily. Most other reviewers said it was too niche, why would you ever use it, etc, etc. Well, in my case we started using it for camping and traveling to ensure we could watch what we wanted, when we wanted and where. Today, as my family and I are moving to a new house, we have been living in temporary place as we wait for our new home. Rather than lug along a large and heavy TV, we carry our 65” equivalent project mod from place to place. It is great.

The 360 camera does a great job with applications like Facebook Live, but when it comes to taking still photos, it is less than stellar image quality.

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Battery Life

Thanks to the Snapdragon 636 CPU that comes with the Z3 Play the battery life on this phone has been incredible considering it is only a 3000 mAh battery. The same battery in my Galaxy S9 and Pixel XL struggle to get through a day. Most days with the Z3 Play I am able to comfortably go from 5 am to 9 pm with no need to get a top up.

Moto Actions and Gestures

Moto Actions and Moto Gestures have been a staple of all Motorola phones for years now, going way back to the original Moto X (still one of the best phones ever released). Going from the Moto Z3 Play to another device is always such a jarring experience without these added functions.

For example; I can double “chop” the phone in my hand to turn on the flashlight and double “snap” my wrist to open the camera. This may seem very basic but once you have worked that into your routine it is hard to get away from. I still “chop” my S9 trying to turn on the flashlight only to have nothing happen. Thankfully the S9 allows me to press and hold the Bixby button and ask her to turn on the flashlight. Thanks, Bixby! You’re the best!

What I Did Not Like

Camera

Camera’s really are what makes a smartphone. This has been true for years. Motorola has struggled to make headway in the phone market since 2014 with the Moto X and subsequent phones and that lies not with the lack of popularity of the brand or features like Moto Mods. No, that lack of market-share lies solely on the poor cameras found in their phones.

I will say the Z3, in the right light, can go toe-to-toe with my S9 or Pixel XL, but in the vast majority of cases the camera gives me really poor output to the point where I don’t even both taking pictures. I strongly believe that if Motorola could deliver anything near the quality found in the likes of S9 or Pixel these phones would move off the shelves quickly and features like the Moto Mods would be loved by all.

However, this isn’t the case and simple fact is, Motorola and cameras almost always ends poorly. Sorry, Moto

I will say though, that this and G6 are the best cameras you can get on a Motorola phone today.

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Fingerprint Scanner

The original and second gen Moto Z phones had a front-mounted fingerprint scanner. This was done because the Z-series needed to have a clean backside to allow for Moto Mods while not impeding other function. However, the year is 2018 and we want to see phones with a clean front, tiny bezels and 18:9 screen sizes. To accomplish that Motorola went with a fingerprint scanner mounted right beneath the volume rocker. This placement not only forced the power button to be moved to the left side of the device, but it also means every single time you pick up the phone you can be sure you will swipe the scanner and unlock the phone.

The scanner is fast and accurate, yes, but sometimes I just want to pick up the phone from my desk put it into my pocket.

Now, the side really is the only place to put the scanner, since in-screen options are not quite ready for prime time, or weren’t when this phone was developed, but put it on the other side! This would be my choice, but I’m not designing phones for Motorola, so that’s neither here, nor there.

Should You Buy Motorola Z3 Play?

If you have or want to get some Moto Mods, then yes. This phone is one I can recommend if that’s what you’re after. If you like a super thin phone with great battery life, yes, this phone is for you. However, if mods are something you have no interest in and you need a good to great camera, the Z3 Play is not for you unfortunately.

It is a good overall phone and I do enjoy using it, mostly because I have a half dozen or so Moto Mods to take advantage of, but with a device like the S9 or even my aging Pixel XL, i find myself putting it down in favour of either of those devices.

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Where to Buy

If you’re wanting to test drive the Moto Z3 Play you can pick it up at Bell, Videotron, Virgin and Sasktel or direct from Motorola. Check the link below for more on where to buy the Z3 Play. The kicker, the Z3 Play will set you back about $700 CAD.

At the $700 price point (Canadian $$) it is hard to justify this phone. It handles every task with ease, unlike the G series of phone which can get caught up due to a slow processor, but it doesn’t perform on the camera front to justify the price tag.


While you’re here, check out my other Motorola Reviews!

Motorola Moto e5 Play Review: Entry Level At Its Best

If you’re looking for the prefect smartphone to give your kids (when they’re ready for one) then you will want to give the Motorola Moto E5 Play a series look. Check out the review!

I have been spending a lot of time with Motorola devices this year, having reviewed a few Moto Mods, the Moto g6 and g6 play. I have always been a moto fan and really enjoy using their devices all the way back to the original Moto X. 

The g-series of phones are a joy to use, despite being on a low-end of the mid-range category. Thanks to their excellent design, build-quality and software experience that, for the most part, does not leave you wishing you spent more money on a higher-end phone, these phones are ones I highly recommend. On paper, the g-series could be the perfect first phone for your kid when you feel both they and you are ready to take the plunge and let them have a device of their own. The only problem with the g-series is that it is likely destined to be damaged by your kid due to the materials used, especially on the g6 proper, and its glass back. I’ve actually been considering letting my kids have the g6 play to use to play games and consume content while on the go.

Then, I opened up the moto e5 play, the next in a series of Motorola phone reviews here at GadgetSyrup. After only a few minutes with this device, I immediately had cast it has the perfect phone for a kid. Read on to find out!

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What’s In The Box?

 Brad! You are not going to believe what I found in the box! 🔋
Brad! You are not going to believe what I found in the box! 🔋

So, what was on the box? 

  • Motorola Moto e5 Play
  • 10W USB Quick-Charger and micro USB Cable
  • Manual/Quick Start Guide
  • SIM Removal Tool
  • 2800 mAh Battery – Yes, the moto e5 play sports a removable battery

Specifications

  • Android 8.0 Oreo
  • Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 425/427 processor with 1.4GHz quad-core CPU
  • Adreno 308 GPU
  • 2 GB RAM
  • 16 GB Internal Storage + microSD card expansion up to 256 GB)
  • Rear Camera: 8 MP, f2.0, 1.12um pixels, LED flash
  • Front-Camera: 5MP, Selfie Flash/Light
  • Rear-mounted fingerprint scanner
  • 2800 mAh battery
  • 5.2″ LCD Display @ 720p (720×1280)
  • Water-repellent coating
  • FM Radio
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 150 g/5.29 oz.

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As you can tell by those specs, this phone is not very powerful, but for its price, $149 CAD, it is a phone you could stomach replacing a few months down the road if it gets damaged.

Performance

The Moto e5 play was willing and ready to keep up, despite being considerably underpowered. The performance was quite wonderful actually, but I had to do some prep-work to ensure that my time with the phone was positive and not a complete nightmare.

The first “hack” to get the most out of my e5 play experience was to turn the animations down or in some cases, off completely. To do this, and I recommend you do it even on a flagship phone, follow these steps:

  1. Open Settings
  2. Scroll to System
  3. Open About phone
  4. Tap on Build number until an onscreen message says you are now a developer
  5. Press back key
  6. Select Developer options
  7. Scroll about 3/4 down the screen and locate the following
    1. Window animator scale
    2. Transition animator scale
    3. Animator duration scale
  8. Turn Window and Transition to off
  9. Turn Animator duration to 0.5x.

Making this change will take your experience on any phone from being good to great. On a device like the e5 play, it takes it from sufferable to enjoyable. Which for the $150 CAD price point, is pretty good.

 One other note on performance. I would highly recommend, if you’re considering this phone for yourself or someone else, look at downloading “lite” or “go” apps such as Twitter Lite, Facebook Lite and the various apps from Google under the “Go” moniker such as Maps Go, Gmail Go and others. These apps use less battery, less data and overall are less of a drain on system resources. You can expect to see a lot more apps like this as Progressive Web Apps take over in the next year or so.

The Camera

The camera sensor on the e5 play is the same sensor Motorola used in the g6 play, and as I explained in my G6 vs. G6 Play comparison, the camera on the g6 play is acceptable to use in most cases and is able to hold its own when the lighting conditions are correct. Long story short; the e5 play’s camera is going to be just fine if you’re thinking this would be a great starter phone for your a kid/teen.

Have a look for yourself. These shots were taken on auto with the e5 play stock camera app.

Build Quality

The e5 play is made entirely fro plastic, minus the screen of course. Some may love this, while others may cringe at the thought of a plastic phone. But remember, this phone costs just over $100 CAD and is positioned in the heart of the low-end smartphone category. 

The phone actually felt quite solid in my hand and unless I really thought about it, I hardly noticed the plastic feel. 

Battery Life

Battery life on the Moto e5 play was about average. Getting through the day was pretty easy for the most part, but there were a few days where I had to find a charger before days end. These days were few, but I would be pretty safe to assume, of this was given to a kid to use, they would chew through the 2800 mAh battery pretty quickly. Thankfully, Motorola, despite cutting a lot of features from this device compared to the g-series, included quick charging, making it relatively painless to charge while on the go.  

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Should You Buy The Moto E5 Play?

If you’re looking for a phone for your kid, want to have a spare just on case or simply don’t have the money to drop on anything elaborate, then yes, give the e5 play some consideration. It performs well enough for the price and despite that plastic body, holds up pretty well. However, if you’re looking for something that gets you a bit closer to the mid-range, I’d also consider devices like the g6 and g6 play, both are still relatively inexpensive compared to a flagship level phone like a Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S9 but punch well above their weight class. 

Moto G6 vs. Moto G6 Play: Which Should You Buy

Motorola has released a fresh lineup of moto g phones, the moto g6, g6 play and g6 plus. The g6 and g6 play are the only two available here in Canada. How do they compare to each other? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out!

 Left: moto g6, Right: moto g6 play
Left: moto g6, Right: moto g6 play

I’ve been spending time with the new moto g6 phones for a little over a month now. I put the moto g6 through a full review and was blown away by how well it performed and despite being underpowered on paper, barely skipped a beat during testing.

Read: Motorola moto g6 Review

Along with the moto g6, Motorola also sent along the moto g6 play, which packs a little less overall power but does sport a 4,000 mAh battery, a 25% bump to the battery found in the moto g6. Rather than put the moto g6 play through the same review process, I felt it more beneficial to compare how the two perform against each other.

The Brass Tacks – Spec Comparision

On paper, neither of these phones look like they are capable of much as far as performance is concerned. So which one should you spend your hard earned cash on? Let’s find out!

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The Case For The Moto G6

The moto g6 proper feels and looks like a proper smartphone in 2018. It’s display panel, yes only 1080p, will not blow you away but it is easy on the eyes (and battery) and the 18:9 aspect ratio looks really good on the device. The g6 play, despite rocking the 18:9 display comes in at only 720p, and you can really notice it when scrolling through Twitter, Instagram or watching videos on YouTube.

The g6 will takes the points for RAM and storage capacity. My review unit, 3 GB RAM and 32 GB storage performed great and the higher end 4 GB/64 GB option pushes that even further.

The g6 also gets points for being lighter than its more playful counterpart. Albeit, only 8 grams, every little bit counts.

 The fingerprint scanner may be in the wrong place, but moto did a great job making it useful.
The fingerprint scanner may be in the wrong place, but moto did a great job making it useful.

The fingerprint sensor is located on the front of the g6, which I personally do not like, but Motorola has done something very clever to makes its placement much more tolerable. In my review, I commented about Motorola enhancing the user experience thanks to its suite of Moto actions. With the fingerprint scanner being pill-shaped, users can turn off the on-screen navigation keys and use swipe gestures in place of traditional back and multitasking buttons. once I discovered this feature I put my Pixel XL back in the drawer and went back to g6 as a daily driver for a period and really enjoyed the gestures. Android 9.0 is going to have gesture-based navigation, so using it on the moto g6 was a sort of prep-session for what is to come later this year from Google.

The dual-camera on the g6 also gives you the portrait-mode function traditionally reserved for flagship devices. It misses more than it hits, but at the very least, it is there for when the conditions permit it to work effectively. The g6’s camera has a few other neat tricks too. Check out my moto g6 review for more on those features.

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The Case For The Moto G6 Play

On paper and in practice the g6 play is outperformed by the g6 proper thanks to its faster processor, more RAM and, a slightly better camera. However, there is a case to pick the g6 play over its more powerful sibling.

The battery on the g6 play clocks in at 4,000 mAh, which is 25% larger than the g6. In my time with the g6 play, I could easily get through 2 days of moderate to heavy use and still have around 10% battery left before finding a charger.

I mentioned above that the g6 play suffered from only having a 720p display, but depending on what your use case is, the 720p screen, which requires considerably less power than higher resolution displays. If you are looking for a phone that is primarily for email, SMS, web browsing but still has the ability to watch videos or disappear down an Instagram-sized rabbit hole when needed picking the g6 play or the g6 is a no-brainer.

The fingerprinter scanner is in its proper mid-rear position, where all finer-printer scanners belong (don’t @ me either, you know I am right!, @gadgetsyrup or @barryweston on Twitter if you do feel compelled to @ me!). You do not have the cool swipe gestures with the rear implementation, but the batwing Motorola logo is inside the scanner this time, something I have been begging Motorola to do since the Moto X was released!

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Conclusion

Both the g6 and g6 play ship with the same Android 8.0 version, both benefit from Motorola’s powerful suite of Moto Actions and Moto Display, and both are incredibly well-built for the price.

Making the decision really comes down to what you value more. Higher performance, a crispier display and better cameras? Or, do you value battery life and more simple design? The choice is yours!

Moto G6 Review: The Best Mid-Range Phone You Can Buy (2018)

Before the original Moto G, mid-range phones were hardly even an afterthought for most users. The Moto G changed all that and opened the floodgates for device makers to start showing that you do not need to have flagship specs and pricing to give customers a great smartphone experience.

After years of dominating the mid-range market the last years, Moto G5 was more or less a flop, so expectations are understandably low with the release of the g6 this year.

Check out my review of the moto g6. Can Motorola return to the top of the heap in the mid-range game?

Before the original Moto G, mid-range phones were hardly even an afterthought for most users. The Moto G changed all that and opened the floodgates for device makers to start showing that you do not need to have flagship specs and pricing to give customers a great smartphone experience.

After years of dominating the mid-range market the last years, Moto G5 was more or less a flop, so expectations are understandably low with the release of the g6 this year.

Read on for the full review of the moto g6 from Lenovo. 

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What’s In The Box?

 What was in the box? Was it what we thought it was? 
What was in the box? Was it what we thought it was? 

Inside the box was a nostalgic surprise. I keychain version of Motorola’s DynaTAC 8000X, celebrating the 45 year anniversary of Motorola’s first cellular phone.

Following that you find your standard in-box items.

  • moto g6
  • USB Type C cable
  • Motorola Turbo Charger
  • Quick start guide
  • SIM removal tool 

Review Device Specifications

The g6 is a mid-range phone so these specs are not likely to get you too excited but remember, this device retails for $250 USD or $350 CAD.

  • 5.7″ IPS LCD display at 1080 x 2260 and 424 ppi
  • Gorilla Glass 3
  • Qualcomm™ Snapdragon™ 450 chipset
  • Octa-core 1.8 GHz Cortex-A53 CPU
  • Adreno 506 GPU
  • 3000 mAh battery
  • 32 GB storage (plus 265 GB more via micro SD card slot)
  • 3 GB RAM
  • 12MP + 5MP dual-camera on the back
  • 8MP front-facing camera
  • Front-side fingerprint scanner
  • Headphone jack (yes, this is documented as a feature on most devices today)
  • Android 8.0 Oreo

Design & Build Quality

 Do you see it too? The camera module looks like a surprised robot!
Do you see it too? The camera module looks like a surprised robot!

The moto g6 is a mid-range device, but at a glance, it looks like a more premium device. The g6 is constructed of plastic, but until you actually pick it up, it almost has an all-glass look to it. The first two things I noticed after handling the device for a few minutes after unboxing was how much of a fingerprint magnet the device is and also how slippery out was too. I’ve nearly dropped the g6 dozens of times. I understand the idea of giving the device a faux premium look, but I’d also rather the device be made of a more tactile material. 

The overall design, however, is still quite pleasing. Sporting the more modern 18:9 aspect ratio and a 5.7″ IPS display. It is nice to see moto using this screen ratio even on lower-end phones. 

Software

When Motorola released the first Moto X one of the biggest standouts was its nearly stock Android experience. Sitting the device next to a Nexus device showed that Motorola wanted the experience to be as clean as possible. The only additions to the vanilla Android install were the addition of Motorola’s suite of enhancements such as Moto Voice and Moto Actions. Moto voice allowed for always-on passive listening of the Moto X microphone which allowed users to call out ‘OK Google” from anywhere in the room, and Google Assistant, then known as Google Now, would wake up and start listing. Over time this evolved and allowed users to use any name to wake the device. For me, with my Moto X, 2014 and my Moto Z, 2016 I went full nerd and changed the wake command to OK Friday. Friday is the AI assistant to Tony Stark, that replaced Jarvis when he took from as Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but you already knew that (if you didn’t, shame!). Moto Actions, on the other hand, allows you to do things like twist the phone to open the camera app or perform a double chop action to turn on the flashlight. These add-ons do not take away from the visuals but add to the UX of the phone. Very worthwhile.

Motorola has continued to update and support the moto suite of tools on the moto g6 family of phones, however, there is one limitation. You cannot change the wake command from “OK Google” to your own selection. This is a minor thing for most I am sure, but perhaps my favourite feature of Motorola phones since the original Moto X in 2013 was the ability to change that wake command to anything you like. Deal break no, but disappointing still.

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As for the overall software experience on the moto, g performance is really good. Running Android 8.0 Oreo, I was really happy with how well it performed. Coming from a Google Pixel XL, which despite its own gremlins, performs near perfect in most cases, I had very low expectations for the g6 and its Snapdragon™ 450 chipset. 

There are noticeable performance differences when compare against the Pixel XL, but in nearly every use case I put the g6 through, it performed admirably. Even light gaming on the g6 was possible. Running Real Racing 3 did lead to some slow down, for sure, but it was not unplayable. Most of my gameplay was limited to Motorsport Manager 2 because I am a major Formula 1 fan, and that game had zero issues running, in fact, it performed better than my Pixel XL does in some cases with this game.

One note I should point out though. Any phone I have, regardless of its spec sheet, I always enable developer options and turn the animation settings from 1X to 0.5X speed. Animations are nice, but for me, performance and overall speed is king.

Long story short, you won’t be disappointed by the performance of the moto g6 in nearly every scenario.

Display

The g6 also brings back the full “Motorola” name on the device, dropping the shortened “moto”.

As I mentioned the moto g6 sports an 18:9 screen ratio with a resolution of 1080 x 2160, so still standard Full HD, and that is fine for me, and likely for most people who would consider a g6 when making a smartphone selection. Compared to my 2016 Moto X which is running at 1080 x 1920, this display looks light years ahead as far as clarity is concerned.

The real downfall of the display is its colour saturation. Colours tend to look washed out and dull. This is amplified further when you take the device out on a sunny day. The screen is nearly impossible to see in bright light making tasks like checking email or even taking pictures a challenge. 

Overall, I would say the display may be the weakest point of the moto g6, but not enough to scare me away from it.

Battery

Compared to most phones on the market today, the 3000 mAh battery packed inside the moto g6 is pretty standard. And thanks to its low-powered CPU used by Motorola getting “all-day” battery life as marketed by Motorola was very easy. On heavy use days where there was a lot of camera use, Waze and some gaming I still found that the battery had between 15 and 20% battery left after being off the charger for about 16 hours and not topping up during the day. On light use days, I could have easily left the phone off the charger at night, but that’s not my thing, so I would top it off while I slept each night.

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Camera

Running a Snapdragon™ 450 had me thinking we were going to be diving into a world of blurry and grainy photos. While this is no Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy S9, I am happy to report that camera on the g6 isn’t horrible. Would I say it is good? Sure, in a lot of conditions, the camera on g6 is good, maybe even very good, but as you may expect, low-light conditions lead to some poor to horrible quality images.

 Ready to form Voltron! Activate interlocks! Dyna-therms connected. Infra-cells up; mega-thrusters are go!
Ready to form Voltron! Activate interlocks! Dyna-therms connected. Infra-cells up; mega-thrusters are go!

My normal camera use on any smartphone, during a review or not, is a fairly solid mix of daytime shots, both inside and outside. I took the g6 to a wedding during the review period as a test. Generally, at a wedding, you will have an excellent mix of shooting conditions over the course of the event. Early on, during the ceremony, I was really pleased with the shots I was getting and was even trying to convince myself that I could get away with not touching my Pixel once. However, by the time the dinner and reception came along, I found my Pixel was in my hand far more often than the g6. Pictures taken during the reception were grainy and blurry. It is worth noting though that colour reproduction was actually pretty close to the Pixel when the g6 was able to get the shot right. The problem is, the camera missed more often than it hit. 

The g6 does support portrait mode thanks to its dual-camera setup and it works fairly well. It does suffer though from the common problems seen with other portrait mode implementations that are not Google’s on the Pixel. The edges of images tend to end up blurry or fuzzy, which makes the whole image look pretty poor. Again, comparing to my Pixel XL, the portrait mode does stand up and I have not used it in cases where I would always select portrait mode over a regular shot.

  “I have a plan: ATTACK.” – Tony Stark
 “I have a plan: ATTACK.” – Tony Stark

With portrait mode being a bit of a letdown, I was looking forward to using another fun party trick the g6 camera has to offer. Selective colour, which allows you to tap anywhere within the viewfinder and have only that colour shown. All other parts of the image will be greyscaled, as you can see here with Iron Man.

I’m of two minds with the g6 when considering the camera. The speed and performance were way ahead of where I was expecting, and in most cases, the shots I got were not far off my Pixel, but when the sun went down I was let down frequently. Yes, being a Pixel owner does make it hard to look at other cameras seriously.

Should You Buy The moto g6?

Considering the long run of success Motorola has had with the g-series of mid-range smartphones, how well the g6 performed during my time with it and the price point of $250 USD or $350 CAD I would be very confident in recommending this phone to most users. If you are a spec-head power user who needs to have the latest and greatest a smartphone can offer you, then Google and Samsung would be happy to take your money, OnePlus as well. However, if top-shelf specs are not at the top of your wish list and you are looking for a well-built reliable phone that will offer a good user experience and not break the bank, look no further than the moto g6, you won’t be disappointed.

The g6 should see wider availability soon, but as of this review, the only carrier that the has it available is Videotron in Quebec for $349.95 CAD outright or $55.95 on a 2-year plan.

If you’re looking to purchase the g6 unlocked, you can pick it up on Amazon for as low as $379.94.

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Further Motorola Reading

I have been spending a lot of time with Motorola hardware of late. Be sure to check out my Moto Mod reviews as well!

Motorola Insta-Share Projector Mod Review

Polaroid Insta-Share Printer Mod Review

What do you think of the moto g6? Could it be your next smartphone? I’d like to hear from you in the comments or drop me an email.

Microsoft Surface Book 2 Review: The Best Laptop Money Can Buy?

The Surface Book 2 is the newest device in Microsoft’s stable of PCs. It offers an exceptionally wide array of functionality thanks to its unique detachable clipboard design. However, the price tag of the Surface Book 2 is pushing the limits of what is acceptable for notebook in 2018. Does its steep price tag stand up to its performance and functionality?

Check out the full review of the Microsoft Surface Book 2 to find out where I stand.

I have said it before, I will say it again. I am a huge Surface fan. The devices created by the Surface team dating back to original Surface RT release have always been extremely well built and stunning to look at. The original Surface certainly did have reliability and usability issues, as I mentioned in my Surface Laptop review, but they have always had a brilliant design language.

The goal of Microsoft hardware, under Panos Panay, is to create and innovate in new product categories and not to create “me too” products in already established categories. The Surface Book and now the Surface Book 2 are the epitomai of that goal.

What is the Microsoft Surface Book 2

The Surface Book 2 is by no means a standard laptop. It is a pretty unique product that no other company has successfully been able to replicate. At a glance, it does appear to be similar in design to any other ultrabook out there, but upon closer inspection, you see that it is so much more. The Surface Book 2 is unique because unlike other two-in-one devices that allow the screen to be removed the base, it isn’t limited performance wise thanks to its incredible spec list and very creative implementation of a dedicated GPU.

Take the regular Surface Pro for example. The keyboard/base unit is nothing more than a cover with a built-in keyboard. The Surface Book 2 offers users a very powerful PC experience when attached to the base. The 15″ version the Book 2 can be configured with a Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU, which is more than capable of handling most games, but with the simple press of a button the screen of the Book 2 can be removed from the powerful base leaving you with a 13.5″ (or 15″) tablet.

 With the press of a button, the Surface Book 2 becomes a powerful stand alone tablet!
With the press of a button, the Surface Book 2 becomes a powerful stand alone tablet!

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What’s In The Box?

The Surface Book 2 doesn’t come with much in the box. It is very utilitarian. Aside from the Book itself, the only other items in the box are the Surface power supply and a small quick start manual. 

Sadly, despite the fact that this notebook sells for upwards of $4,000 CAD Microsoft does not include the Surface Pen. Yes, I know, accessories like the Pen are high margin items for PC makers, but this laptop, like other top-shelf devices, is already high margin! To have to shell out another $150 or so for a Pen is unfortunate. 

Review Unit Specs

Thanks to Microsoft for the review device! The package spec’ed out below will set you back $3,849.00. Ouch.🤯

  • 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8650U, 4.2 GHz
  • 16GB RAM
  • 1TB SSD
  • Nvidia GTX 1050 discrete GPU w/2GB GDDR5
  • 13.5″ PixelSense touchscreen display (3000×2000 resolution)
  • SDXC card reader (128 GB max capacity)
  • Up to 17 hours battery (base and display)
  • USB-C (not Thunderbolt 3) port
  • USB 3.1 (2) ports
  • FullHD 1080p front (5 MP) and rear camera (8 MP)
  • Windows 10 Pro Creators Update 64-bit

What I Liked About the Surface Book 2

Keyboard

One thing that I really did not enjoy when I reviewed the Surface Laptop, was its keyboard. It was fine, but the key throw was not as good as I was expecting, especially when I compared it to my 2016 Lenovo X1 Carbon.

The keyboard on the Surface Book 2 however, is a thing of beauty. The key throw is perfect, the sound is perfect, everything about it is nearly perfect. I have been using the been using the Book 2 almost exclusively for two months now and aside from the less than stellar back-lighting of the keyboard I cannot find anything to complain about on this front. Every keyboard should be this good.

Gaming Performance

The Surface Book 2 brings the power with a GTX1050 or 1060. This isn’t the top-end of the GPU space, but for the vast majority of games you could or would want to play on a portable machine will run great on this machine. I am by no means a gamer, at least not anymore. My gaming on this PC was limited mostly to playing F1 2017 from Codemasters. With the settings dials up, the game almost never stuttered. If it did, it was because some other rogue process outside the game decided to spike, causing the overall system to slow down. Slightly frustrating, yes. I binned my car on more than one occasion thanks to a momentary lag from the system. However, despite those few lags, I got exactly what I expected out the Surface Book 2 when gaming.

One note to be aware of when using the Book 2 for gaming is the fan noise. Nearly every time I fired up F1 2017 the fans would run very loud in an effort to keep the machine cool. It achieved the cooling part better than I had expected. However, the noise created by the fans, which vent at the top of the base neat the fulcrum hinge was very loud and very irritating.

The Clipboard

This kind of goes without saying. One the stand out features of this device is its power, but also the ability to remove the screen and take advantage of a high quality, lightweight tablet. It took some getting used to, having a tablet so large when you’re used to devices the size of an iPad mini, but that transition didn’t take long and in no time using the device as a tablet become second nature. The clipboard is heavy though, so using it for extended periods will start to wear you down.

Display

The Surface Books 2 has an absolutely stunning 3:2 ratio display that is very easy on the eyes. Working with the display for hours on end does not lead to tired or strained eyes because it is very precise and clear. 

Circle back to 3:2 ratio for a moment. This aspect ratio is something every professional/business class laptop should be adopting. The days where 16:9 and 16:10 laptops were the go to are or should be over. Laptops are productivity devices mostly, not multimedia consumption devices. Most of that “play” time has moved to iPads and smartphones. Working in Excel or Power BI on a 16:9 display is a less than fun experience. I hope that other PC makers, I’m looking at you Lenovo, start to adopt this aspect ratio on a larger scale as the laptop market continues to evolve. 

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What I Didn’t Like About the Surface Book 2

Keyboard Backlight

One of the things I praised about with the Surface Book 2 was the keyboard. It is great, but one thing I never thought I would have a need to complain about was a keyboards backlight. The backlighting on the Book 2 is some kind of awful. When activated in anything less than near-complete darkness, it renders the keys nearly invisible. Fortunately, there is a dedicated key to turn the back-light off. Something I did almost immediately after turning the Book on.

I/O on the Clipboard

I’m not sure why Microsoft made the engineering decisions they did when designing the clipboard portion of the Book 2, but the positions they selected for the power button, volume buttons and headphone jack (its existence I am very thankful for, by the way) are absolutely horrible when using the Book.

The power button and volume rocker are located on the outside-edge, top-left of the clipboard. I am constantly finding that I have accidentally turned on the computer while carrying it or transporting it in my laptop bag. I also find myself hitting these keys when I am taking the clipboard off the base and turning to portrait mode. Like my smartphone, when turning to portrait, I rotate the device counterclockwise. When done with the Book 2, the button position is almost guaranteed to lead to an accidental powering down of the machine. I do not know why Microsoft had to put them there, perhaps they had no choice, but having them on the outside edge of the right-side of the clipboard, much like the vast majority of mobile devices today, would have been a far more logical choice.

The headphone jack, who’s existence I am grateful for, is in the upper right-hand side of the clipboard. The exact location I think the power and volume rocker should be. I understand the jack needs to be on the clipboard, so you can use headphones when in tablet mode, but to location selected really limits your range of motion unless you are on a very long wire.

Where’s the Pen!

 I mentioned this earlier, but it is worth bringing up again. The review unit I have here in front of me retails for nearly $3,900 CAD. That is very expensive. The device is geared towards creators and productivity power users. No “average” consumer is going to even give this computer a second look. If you are buying this device, you are likely going to need or want the Surface Pen. One would assume that a device this expensive, with this sort of margin, Microsoft would perhaps feel slightly charitable and include the Pen at no extra charge.

Conclusion/Should You Buy the Surface Book 2?

This is a tough one. If you have the cash to burn or simply have to have the latest and greatest, then yes buy this laptop! If you need to have an extremely powerful notebook for your work, say, designer, videographer, etc. Then yes, but this laptop! If you are looking for a solid, well designed, minimalist notebook that is built to last I would steer towards the Surface Laptop. I reviewed it last fall and really enjoyed it. 

However, if you are thinking of picking this up to be a gaming laptop, I wouldn’t recommend it. It can game, yes. I really enjoyed playing F1 2017 on the Surface Book 2, but heavier games are sure the lag and struggle to keep up. The Surface Book 2 with a 15″ display and GTX 1060 will fair better but will also put a larger dent in your wallet. If gaming is your objective, look to traditional gaming rigs for that. 

The bottom line is; if you are a power user, and want a notebook that can literally do everything, and do it very well, the Surface Book 2 is for you. Just be prepared to pay for that robust functionality.

If you’re looking for a good mouse to go along with your Surface Book or Laptop, give the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic mouse some consideration. I also reviewed it last year and am still using it to this day. You can check that out right here.

Thanks for reading my Surface Book 2 review. I would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Motorola Moto Mod Polaroid Insta-Share Printer Review

Check out my latest review! The Polaroid Insta-Share Printer Mod for the Moto Z-series.

I recently reviewed the Motorola Insta-Share Projector. I went into the review with a lot of skepticism, thinking that this was nothing more than an overpriced gimmick that would be sure to end up in a drawer, never to be seen again. However, after using the projector a handful of times I was amazed at how fun and useful the projector was. My kids really enjoyed watching movies on it, and my wife and I are planning on bringing this on camping trips this summer to set up an outdoor movie theatre at night. 

When Motorola sent over the Insta-Share projector, they also sent along another Moto Mod, the Polaroid Insta-Share printer. This mod, like its siblings, clamps onto the back of any current Moto Z phone and through the use of a dedicated app, prints off 2×3 pictures on a special zero-ink paper, otherwise known as “Zink”. The prints also have an adhesive backing so you can print stick them anywhere you like if that’s your thing.

What’s In The Box?

 Hi, Brad...
Hi, Brad…

The printer ships alone with no cables, but does come with a starter pack of 10 sheets of paper to get you going, and slip of paper advising you how to load the paper.

I would have liked to see Motorola/Polaroid include a USB A to C cable to make charging easier, but you can use the USB-C charger from your Moto Z to charge the built-in mod battery.

 

 

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What I Liked

The “Concept”

I really like the idea of this printer, having the ability to print any picture, any time and put it anywhere. The immediacy factor of being able to produce prints at home and on the go is a big selling point, especially if you’re looking to print off simple fun photos that you would otherwise just be sharing on Instagram. The quality of the prints will not be “photo lab” quality, but that is not the point. This printer is really geared towards a younger age group, so the ability to print the photos and pass them around is far and away more important than the quality of the image. Another potential use case for this printer would be people working in digital marketing. You, as a social media coordinator, are at an event snapping away for followers on Instagram and Twitter. Pull this mod out and spit out a few snaps for your followers on the ground at the event. Some niche uses for sure, but practical uses if it suits your business. I’m a big Formula 1 fan, and the digital marketing teams for each race team are some of the best out there. I could totally see them getting use of this over the course of a race weekend. Candid shots of the cars, fans, drivers, etc. Print these off, maybe grab an autograph from a driver or two and stick it to a fan, literally.

The Form Factor

The share of the printer gives the Moto Z phone the feel of a more traditional camera, shutter button and all. For years I used the Nokia Lumia 1020, which is arguably the most iconic phone camera of all time. One the things that made the Lumia 1020 so great, aside from the sheer power of the 41mp camera, was its snap on or dare I say “modular” camera grip. The Insta-Share printer almost brings that classic feel back, and I really like that. The only problem with the shutter button is that it is a single click only. It does not have a half-press to focus function like traditional camera shutter buttons.

The overall size is pretty good too considering this mod has a printer, paper storage and a 500 mAh battery housed inside. Keep in mind though, that the paper tray only holds 10 sheets at a time.

Consumables

 20, 30 and, 50 packs from Amazon.ca
20, 30 and, 50 packs from Amazon.ca

I was expecting the Zink paper to be very hard to come by and very expensive. However, I was happy to see that you can purchase the Zink paper from Amazon in 20, 30 and, 50packs. This is the same paper used in several other Polaroid products, which helps. If the consumables were not readily available, the printer would be dead on arrival.

What I Did Not Like

The Price

I’m not expecting Motorola to give this device away (well they were giving away many mods, including the Insta-Share Projector), but I am also not expecting that people will want to buy it for the price it is being sold for. Originally, the Insta-Share printer was selling for $199.99 USD and has recently seen a drop to $149.99 on the Motorola US site. Now, $150 is not an incredible sum of money, but relating to traditional printers, you can get them for next to nothing since the consumables are so expensive and high margin. In this case, the consumables are expensive/high margin and the device is also expensive. 

The Battery

The mod comes with a 500 mAh battery, which is required to use the mod. When the mod was connected to my Moto Z (2016 version) it would not print if the mods battery was empty. This is a peripheral, that if I am being honest, will not be used very often. If it sits for too long between uses, the battery seems to drain to zero. When I picked it up to print some samples for this review, I found that I had to charge the mod battery for a while before being allowed to print. It also charges very slow from what I can tell. Not a major deal breaker, but an unnecessary annoyance either way.

Proprietary App

This, I think, is my biggest gripe with this mod. For reasons unknown, you can only send prints via the Polaroid Insta-Share Pinter App. In the Android world, we’re usually pretty spoiled by the various ways in which you can share from app to app or service to service with little to no hoops to jump through. Not the case here; you are stuck with this less than ideal app.

What I would have expected, was giving users the ability to print from the Moto Camera app. Yes, the device is a Polaroid, but it is still a Moto Mod, and I would have expected the printer to work seamlessly with Moto’s own imaging software. From within the app, you can print photos directly from Google Photos, Instagram and, Facebook which is great, but I would have expected to be able to initiate a print via Android’s robust share menu. You can share to almost any app/service via the share menu. Being able to click the share icon from any app and have the Insta-Share printer be an option seems like a no-brainer to me.

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Should You Buy This?

It’s complicated…

The printer mod is very well built, performs well and the print quality is passable, but not by any means outstanding. Therefore, unless you have a very specific use case that will enable you to use the printer frequently, I would give this a pass. If you want to buy it as a nice to have to use at Christmas sort of thing, I do not think you would get your money worth out of it. We upgrade our phones frequently in this day and age, so investing in a mod you may use a few times a year isn’t ideal. There are a lot of other great mods out there I would pick over the printer for most people.

BUT, if you fit one of those niche use cases, like the digital marketer example I used, this mod is right in your wheel-house and pairing it with a Moto Z could be a very worthwhile investment.

You can purchase the Moto Mod Polaroid Insta-Share Printer from Motorola directly. Check it out by clicking the link below.

Motorola USA

Motorola Canada

What do you think about the Polaroid Insta-Share Printer or Moto Mods in general? I would love to hear from you, so please feel free to comment below!

Snipaste Review: Upgrade Your Screenshots On Windows 10

The built in snipping tool in Windows 10 is fine. Not good, not bad, just fine. However, for many users, myself included, it just doesn’t do enough. There are alternatives like Tech Smith’s “Snagit”, but Snagit comes at a cost.

I recently stumbled upon Snipaste in the Windows Store and was pleasantly surprised by how powerful this screenshot tool was, and even even better, it is free!

The built in snipping tool in Windows 10 is fine. Not good, not bad, just fine. However, for many users, myself included, it just doesn’t do enough. There are alternatives like Tech Smith’s “Snagit”, but Snagit comes at a cost.

I recently stumbled upon Snipaste in the Windows Store and was pleasantly surprised by how powerful this screenshot tool was, and even better, it is free!

By taking advantage of the Function keys, Snipaste has the ability to perform various different functions, and it does them very, very quickly! 

Pressing F1 opens up the capture window which allows users to change the capture shape, insert arrows or other pointers, add markings via pencil or highlight and text. There are three additional options as well, which are copy to clipboard, save, and possibly the most useful one for me so far is pin to screen page.

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This “pin to” page function is incredibly helpful in cases where you are trying to transpose a snippet of information but do not want to open it in a new window or save the file and open it as an image. It is very, very helpful. I have been using it when working in Excel to grab a formula format from one place and pin it above the sheet I am working on to complete the formula.

 Snipaste Hot Key Settings
Snipaste Hot Key Settings

Settings are fairly robust as well, allowing users to set various hotkeys, which can speed up the process for times where you want to snip and copy directly to the clipboard, as one example.

Delayed snip is another useful feature for cases where you need to access a sub-menu or share a flyout menu before starting your capture.

 Snipaste Mouse Settings
Snipaste Mouse Settings

 

 

There are also a series of mouse gestures users can enable to further the functionality of this application.

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Snipaste runs in the system tray and captures can also be initiated with a single-click of the Snipaste logo if you wish to forgo the hotkey assignments. To access the preferences to adjust the app’s behavior, right-clicking the icon from the tray will reveal that menu.

 

 

 

There are many other powerful features available within Snipaste, and as I mentioned earlier this app is free from the Microsoft Store, so it is absolutely worth a try if you take a lot of screenshots on your PC.

Motorola Moto Mod Insta-Share Projector Review

Check out the GadgetSyrup Review of the Motorola Mod InstaShare Projector.

I pint sized projector that snaps onto the back of your phone!

Motorola was kind enough to send over a few Moto mods to test drive with the Moto Z I have on hand. 

If you’re not familiar with the Moto Mod concept, it is Motorola’s take on the modular phone, allowing you to snap various different modular devices to the back of any one of Motorola’s Z series phones. 

The mods range from very simple mods like a faux-wood grain back cover to a $300+ Hasselblad camera with 10 X optical zoom.

One of the Mods I have been using over the past few weeks has been the Motorola Insta-Share Projector.

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Specs: 

  • 50 Lumens
  • 480, up to 70″ screen size
  • 1100 mAh battery with USB C
  • 10,000 lamp hours
  • 125g in weight

Those specs won’t blow most, actually any, other projectors out of the water. But that’s not the goal. The value-proposition of being able to snap this projector to the back of your phone and instantly have 70″ projection screen is what really stands out. Much like printing photos on your ink-jet printer at home compared to taking them to photo lab. At home, it will be lower quality, but the immediacy of being able to print them right away, rather than wait is a major benefit. The projector mod also comes with a handy carrying case to keep it protected when on the go.

How does it work?

The Insta-Share projector, like all Moto Mods, connects to the back of any Moto Z series phone via a combination of magnets and contact pins. The magnets hold the mod in place, while the contact pins allow for data transfer between the mod and the phone.

To use the projector, there is a power button to the right of the projector lens which turns it on or off. Once powered, the focus of the projector is controlled by a jog wheel to the left of the lens. 

The projector, once powered, automatically displays the image from the display of your phone. No extra intervention is needed. Simply connect the mod and power it on.

The mod, thankfully, charges overs USB C connection, which is welcomed since the Moto Z also charges over USB C.

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Is it any good?

Surprisingly, yes! The first time I snapped the projector on the back of my Moto Z I was ready for a grainy, dull mess but, I was blown away by just how good the picture was. The brightness was better than expected, clarity was much higher than expected and on top of it, the ease of use was incredible.

The mods 1100 mAh battery is rated to provide up to an hour of projection time before your phone battery takes over and starts to drain. In my use of the projector so far, it does not even come close to that 1-hour rating. Within 30 or so minutes the projector battery was depleted and the phone’s battery started draining, fast!

The build quality was rather impressive too. When fitted to the phone, the mod feels like it belongs there. The buttons are tactile and responsive. The kickstand provides excellent resistance, keeping the phone at any desired angle and also stays secure when close thanks to a few magnets.

 

Why would you want this?

It really comes down to the immediacy factor of being able to pull the projector out and fire up a video on the spot. My wife and I have 3 small children. When you’re on the go and need them to stop climbing the walls for a few minutes, pulling the projector from your bag and snapping it to the phone makes them stop dead in their tracks and suddenly are sitting cross-legged waiting for the video to start.

I guess you could say the mod is nothing more than a cool party trick or instant child tamer, but until you have used it and experienced the versatility of the Moto Mod eco-system, you cannot really appreciate how useful and fun they can be.

Should you buy this? 

Before even considering the mod itself, you have to ask yourself if Motorola it’s the right ecosystem for you in general. Motorola does an excellent job of keeping Android as vanilla as possible while also making great improvements with utilities like Moto-Voice and Moto-Actions, but they tend to be very slow with OS updates. My Moto Z is still stuck on Android 7.1 Nougat, while Google is full steam ahead on Android P development.

If you can live with Motorola shortcomings and after intrigued by the mod ecosystem, I’d absolutely recommend the Insta-Share Projector. The price tag, however, may deter you. When launched this mod retailed for around $400. It has been heavily discounted, but will still set you back $224.99.

For me, I have always enjoyed Motorola’s phones, but their camera tech has always considerably subpar, driving more towards the likes of the Google Pixel. With add-ons like the Mods, however, I may consider giving Moto a go as my daily driver. That does hinge on if Moto doubles down on mods beyond their 3-year commitment, or decides to retire the form factor after the Moto Z3.

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What did you think of the Insta-Share Projector? Is it enough to make you consider the Moto Z line of phones? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so feel free to comment down below!

Add QI Wireless Charging To (Almost) Any Phone

Qi wireless charging has been around for several years now. However, most phones, flagships included have chosen to skip adding the feature to their devices each year until Apple invented the technology when they announced the newest iPhone, the iPhone X. With such a limited supply of Qi enable phones accessory makers have begun to fill in the void left by the manufacturers by creating USB-connected Qi wireless dongles.

Check out this review of the Nillkin Qi Wireless USB-C Charging Receiver.

Qi wireless charging has been around for several years now. However, most phones, flagships included, have chosen to skip adding the feature to their devices each year until Apple invented the technology when they announced the newest iPhone. With such a limited supply of Qi enable phones accessory makers have begun to fill in the void left by the manufacturers by creating USB-connected Qi wireless dongles.


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What Is It?

The Nillkin Qi Wireless Receiver is a small, approximately 2.5 x 1.5-inch, dongle that connects to the USB C port of your USB C enabled smartphone, in my case, the Google Pixel XL. There are also micro USB versions of this dongle available as well (links below).


What I Liked

Well, the product itself worked as expected, so it is safe to say I liked that. Nillkin states that this dongle charges at ≥70% efficiency.

Other than basic functionality being reliable, which is always a gamble with third-party devices like this, the USB C connection was very snug. Several USB C cables I have tried with my Pixel have been very sloppy and easily disconnected. This connection did not suffer from the same problems as others.



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What I Didn’t Like

I am not sure if there is a way around this, but the bulk added to the Pixel when placed back in its Spigen case made the phone look chunky and added a bit too much wobble when lying on a flat surface.

I also particularly disliked the USB C connector. Wait, what? Didn’t I just praise the USB C connector? Yes, but I dislike it sure to one major issue. Nillkin touts how thin and low profile this dongle is. However, the USB connector is so unnecessarily large it makes it really impossible to put a case on the phone without stretching it out. I can get past this with my particular case, but any dual layer hybrid-shell design will struggle to install this dongle in any usable fashion.



Should You Buy It?

In a word. No. If you’re looking for wireless charging, make that a top priority for your next phone. This solution is proven to be a workable solution but it is far from elegant and the pros simply do not outweigh the cons.


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Nillkin Qi USB C Dongle on Amazon.ca.

Nillkin Qi USB C Dongle on Amazon.com.

Twitter Lite for Windows 10

There is a wide selection of Twitter apps available for Windows 10 users. However, from my experience most of them a guaranteed to let you down at some point due to reliability issues. What is the solution? What is the best Twitter app for Windows? Well, it may not even be an app at all. At least not in the traditional sense. Check out a short review of Twitter Lite.

Trying to find the best Twitter app for Windows 10 has not been an easy task, but I think I have found a solution and it may not even be an “app” at all.

The official Twitter app for Windows 10 has improved a lot since it was released in 2016, but it still leaves a lot to be desired. It feels very Windows 8/Windows Phone 8 when using it. Third party solutions like Tweet It!, Fenice and Aeries look great but suffer from reliability issues. Power users who are used to Tweet Deck may resort to Tweeten which is a native Tweet Deck client in an Electron app (Chrome app wrapper), but it too suffers from reliability issues despite its robust feature-set.


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So what is the solution? Well, as I wrote above, the best app is not an app at all. Not in the traditional sense anyway. 


 Twitter Lite Screenshot running on Windows 10
Twitter Lite Screenshot running on Windows 10


Twitter Lite is a PWA or “Progressive Web App” which is mostly a website running with an app like experience that provides the same user experience on any platform, can deliver notifications and offers features like offline access. If you would like a full explainer on Progressive Web Apps head over to this Wikipedia entry for more.

Users can access Twitter Lite by visiting mobile.twitter.com and using it in your browsers. However, if you would like the full app-like experience that this PWA can offer you can add it to your desktop and pin to your start menu, and it will look like any other application. 
To do this with Google Chrome, navigate to mobile.twitter.com > select the ellipses menu from the top left of the browser window > select “More tools” > select “Add to desktop…”.


 How to add Twitter Lite (and other PWAs) to your Windows desktop.
How to add Twitter Lite (and other PWAs) to your Windows desktop.


That’s it! Now Twitter Lite will be on your desktop, and you can easily drag it to your taskbar. Unlike older web apps it will stay there even if you close all other browser windows.


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The app itself is very reminiscent of the native experience offered by proper Twitter clients on Android and iOS. However, thanks to the way Apple handles Safari pages, you will not have the app-like experience on Apple’s platform like you will on Windows and Android.

If you are searching for a reliable and easy to use Twitter app for Windows 10, check out Twitter Lite.

Aukey EP-B61 Bluetooth Headset Review: Apple Beats X on a Budget?

Like the design of Apple’s Beats X neck buds? Don’t like the price tag they carry? Check out my review of the Aukey EP-B61 neck buds to find out if you can get the Beats experience on a budget.

In early 2017 Apple released the Beats X neck buds to mostly positive fan-fair. The Beats X features a variation of the increasing fashionable neckband design initially seen on the LG Tones. The biggest feature of the Beats X was the inclusion of the W1 chip, also found in Apple’s Air Pods, allows for nearly instant pairing with compatible iOS and macOS devices.

The most significant issue with the Beats X for most is the price. In Canada, the Beats X will set you back $179.99. For most, myself included, this price tag is way beyond what would be considered acceptable.

Earlier this year I reviewed a similar Aukey neck bud product, the EP-B20, which were less Beats X and more LG Tone. I argued that despite differing in design from the Beats X, they were one of the most affordable alternatives. However, Aukey had recently released their EP-B61 neck buds which are a near clone of the higher priced Apple offering. The big question is, how do they perform?


What’s in the Box?

Inside the box, you’re greeted by the typical minimal-Aukey packing (which is a good thing).

  • AUKEY EP-B61 Neckband Magnetic Wireless Earbuds
  • Micro-USB Cable
  • 3 Pairs of Ear-Tips
  • User Manual
  • 24-Month Warranty Card

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What I Liked

Battery Life

As is always the case with battery life, your mileage may vary based your usage of the headset, but in my time with the EP-B61 neckband, the battery life has been superb. On average I have been able to get two to two and a half days between charges with the majority of my use is listening to audiobooks and podcasts with the odd phone call mixed in here or there.

Dual-Device Connectivity

Most budget headsets I have encountered are only able to pair in a 1:1 configuration, meaning the headset can only maintain an active connection to one device at a time. The Aukey EP-B61s can connect in a 1:2 configuration allowing it to maintain an active connection with 2 devices at once. I have enjoyed this feature a lot during my time, allowing me to jump seamlessly from a podcast on my phone to a YouTube video on my laptop.

Comfortable Fit

I have used dozens of different Bluetooth headsets with an in-ear bud design. For the most part, they fit fairly well, but in some cases, the size of the bud plus the ear tip selection makes the seal too tight for my ear. I have been very happy with the comfort of the EP-B61s and can wear them for hours on end.

Tactile Buttons

The buttons on the EP-B61, which are volume up and down with a power/play-pause button in between. I have found with the majority of the Bluetooth headsets in this price range the buttons are very gummy-like. These buttons are very “clicky” and responsive.



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What I Didn’t Like

Wire Length

When I first took delivery of the EP-B61 Bluetooth headset, I was excited about the design with the neckband and the longer than average wired portion of the headset. When wearing both earbuds, the design works fairly well. However, when wearing them with only one earbud in or when the buds are just resting around your neck the longer than normal wire is constantly getting in the way. It hangs about halfway down my midsection and nearly to my stomach. Again at this price point, it is not a deal breaker but, since this headset courageously borrows the design of Apple’s Beats X, I would be slightly more aggravated if I paid $150 for them.

Missed Opportunity

Last year I reviewed another budget-priced Bluetooth headset, the MPOW Magnetos. That review can be found HERE.

One of my favourite features of the Magento was the play-pause functionality added to the magnetic part of the earbuds. When playing a song or podcast sticking the two earbuds together would pause your playback. Separating the earbuds and playback would resume. A very simple, but incredibly useful feature. The EP-B61s have magnets in the back of the earbuds which allow them to stay paired together when hanging around your neck. They do not, however, have the play-pause function and feel this is an opportunity missed.

Bluetooth Still Stinks

This is not entirely the fault of the EP-B61 headset, but more the failure of Bluetooth technology. The headset is Bluetooth 4.2 enabled, as are the devices I have been using them with. There have been countless times where my phone is in my back pocket, and the headset will cut out or lose connection momentarily. Bluetooth 5 is here and will be working its way into many more devices as we enter into 2018, but until then, budget devices like this will continue to suffer from laggy, unreliable Bluetooth connectivity


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Should You Buy This?

If you are looking for a Bluetooth headset that is more reliable than not, has excellent battery life, a comfortable fit and offers useful features like multi-device pairing, then yes, I would absolutely recommend these to you. The long wires coming off the neckband can be annoying, but for the most part are manageable and is by no means a deal breaker.

Sound quality was fine for the most part, but I am not using these to listen to music for the most part. My time, as mentioned, is mostly spent listing to audiobooks, podcasts, and YouTube videos. The music I did listen to sounded fine to my ears, but music listening is a very subjective experience. It is also worth noting that phone calls were handled very well by the EP-B61s audio quality on both sides of the call were good to great in my experience.


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Where To Buy

The Aukey EP-B61 Bluetooth Headset can be purchased from Amazon.com for $19.99 USD and Amazon.ca for $25.99 CAD.

Anki Supercar Review: Nuke Phantom

The Anki family of products has been growing a lot this year. So far in 2017, we have seen a new version of Cozmo, global rollout of Cozmo, a Cozmo carrying case, Cozmo treads and a new version of Overdrive; the Fast and Furious Editon. The applications that power both Cozmo and Overdrive received significant overhauls this year too. 

Check out the latest edition to the Anki family – Supercar Nuke Phantom

The Anki family of products has been growing a lot this year. So far in 2017, we have seen a new version of Cozmo, global rollout of Cozmo, a Cozmo carrying case, Cozmo treads and a new version of Overdrive; the Fast and Furious Editon. The applications that power both Cozmo and Overdrive received significant overhauls this year too. 

If you would like to learn more about all things Cozmo and Overdrive: Fast and Furious check out those reviews here:

Cozmo Review

Cozmo Collectors Edition and New Cozmo App Review

Anki Overdrive: Fast and Furious Edition Review


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Most recently Anki has unleashed a new Supercar to their lineup which adds to an already stellar Overdrive car and truck offering.

Meet Nuke Phantom

Nuke Phantom is a new take on already existing Supercar, Nuke which is an existing car available for Overdrive much like X52 ICE was a new version of Supertruck X52.

Like X52 ICE, Nuke Phantom is not just a re-skin of the existing product, Nuke Phantom has a different and exclusive weapons arsenal available to do battle with other Overdrive cars and trucks.

The original version of Nuke was not the fastest car in the Overdrive lineup. Its strengths were defense and firepower. Nuke Phantom is much of the same but as mentioned has some exclusive weapons. Check out the differences below.



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I have been testing Nuke Phantom with the new Fast and Furious Edition version of Overdrive, and I have been impressed by just how powerful it is when going up against the likes of Dom’s Ice Chargers, Hobbs’ MXT and other Supercars like Skull and Groundshock. 

Speed certainly is not Phantom’s strength, but time after time when Nuke Phantom would be trailing in a race and about to be lapped by a faster marker a strategic deployment of its powerful weapons will easily disable a quicker opponent allowing Phantom to get back in the race. When competing as Nuke Phantom, you need to make a conscious decision to fall behind early in a race to put yourself in a position to disable an opponent and get back in the race. On the flip side, when competing against an AI-powered Nuke Phantom, you need to monitor your distance at all times. Too close leading or trailing against Nuke Phantom and you will find quickly be disabled. Merely going straight to an offensive attack against Phantom is also a dangerous game too. Thanks to Phantom’s exceptional defensive strength a quick strike from a weaker set of weapons leaves plenty of time for Phantom to counter your advance with a powerful and decisive attack leaving you disabled on the track.



When I first looked at what Nuke Phantom had to offer I was slightly underwhelmed. I am a fan of the faster and agiler Supercars, but after getting beaten time after time by Nuke Phantom, it became even more apparent that Overdrive is not just another race track game, but is really a game of strategy.


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Super Nuke Phantom can be purchased Toys ‘R’ Us for $64.99.

Anki Cozmo Collectors Edition Review and App Update

A few weeks back I shared that Anki was releasing a major update to the Cozmo robot app alongside a new Liquid Black Collectors Edition Cozmo. Well, I have spent some time since then getting familiar with the update and Cozmo CE. Read on below for more!

A few weeks back I shared that Anki was releasing a major update to the Cozmo robot app alongside a new Liquid Black Collectors Edition Cozmo. Well, I have spent some time since then getting familiar with the update and Cozmo CE. Read on below for more!



I enjoyed working and playing with Cozmo when the original version first arrived earlier in the year. However, one issue I had was that some of the functionality when teaching Cozmo new abilities was that it seemed somewhat tedious. Considering that most of what Cozmo is about is geared towards kids. Having to put too much effort into playing with him would be likely to lead to a lack of interest in playing with Cozmo once the novelty wore off. With the new update, Anki has done an excellent job of fixing that issue.

Cozmo now has three basic functions or requirements for use;

  1. Tune Up
  2. Feed
  3. Play

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TUNE-UP

Tuning up Cozmo is very simple to do. Tapping the Tune-up button from the app will launch a scan of Cozmo’s major parts, his head, his tracks and lift. Now to be clear, the parts scanned do not require any actual tuning up. It is really more of a way to think of Cozmo like a pet that needs care and attention physically to stay healthy. 



When the scan is complete it will identify which area needs attention. Depending on how longCozmo has sat since his last use or how long you have been playing will affect which parts need to be tuned. As you saw above, only Cozmo’s lift needed some work. Tapping the small red exclamation mark will allow you to calibrate the part. This is done by tapping the arrows in the order directed by the app. Once you have completed the correct order, Cozmo will follow suit and repeat the sequence. That’s it! Cozmo is now tuned up and ready to go.



FEEDING

Feeding is done via the power cubes Cozmo uses to perform tricks and play games. Tapping the Feed button will launch the tutorial for feeding. Pick up a power cube and shake it vigorously to charge it. When charged you drop it in from of Cozmo and he will place his lift on top to absorb the energy stored in the cube. If he gets too hungry he will mope around the table. Again, thinking of Cozmo more like a pet shows kids that the key to learning and having energy comes from taking care of yourself through

Keeping with tradition, Cozmo’s very emotive face goes wild as he sucks up the cube-goodies. Once you have filled his belly you can move onto to play some games. 



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PLAY

Playtime is required to keep Cozmo happy, engaged and wanting to learn new things while he explores. If you do not play with him he will bug you for a while to play a game, or since a song, but after a while, he will begin to disengage with you, so a healthy amount of play is essential.



Like with Tuning and Feeding, tapping the Play button will launch Cozmo’s play mode. Using the sparks, you accumulate from playing with Cozmo over time you can “spark” him to perform a random trick that he has learned or to prompt you to play a game of his choosing. You also have the option to pick for Cozmo from the green “Tricks and Games” section to the far right of the play screen. Once you charge Cozmo’s play meter to push emotions to the max level, you are rewarded with more sparks allowing you to continue working with Cozmo. 


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Cozmo Collectors Edition

When Anki first released Cozmo in 2016, they spoke about his durability and quality design. With the original Cozmo, I was amazed by the build quality and attention to detail put into his design. The Collectors Editon of Cozmo is much of the same but with a way cooler paint job.

Overall functionality, from what I can tell, is identical to the original Cozmo and that is perfectly fine. The experience out of the box was moderately different, but any differences were a result of the app update and not the setup and operation of Cozmo himself. 

The most significant let down for me with the Collectors Edition was the lack of interaction with my other Cozmo robot. The two have met face to face a few times and have ignored each other for the most part. In one case Cozmo did see his liquid metal sibling and started making his robot noises showing that something had caught his eye. However, the terminal output that tells you what Cozmo is up to reported that he had seen a “pet.” 

Over time, I hope to see Anki add increased functionality for Cozmo to interact with other Cozmo’s as well as some recognition of other Anki products like Overdrive. Now I understand that most people will not have multiple Cozmo’s and Overdrive, but for the enthusiast that do, seeing some more cross-fucntionality would be very welcomed.


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Have you had a chance to try out Cozmo or any other Anki products? If so, let me know and don’t forget to check out my other Anki related content!

Anki Cozmo Review

Anki Cozmo Carrying Case Review

Anki Overdrive Fast and Furious Review

Microsoft Surface Laptop Review

Having been a huge Microsoft hardware fan for years and a Surface Pro owner myself I was ecstatic when the Surface Laptop was announced. I could not wait to get my hands on. Well, I have had my hands on the Surface Laptop for a while now. Check out my full review here!

I have been a big fan of Microsoft’s Surface lineup since day one. Although very dated by today’s standards the original Surface design language was unlike anything on the market at the time. It was a full-fledged laptop PC in the body of a (slightly large) tablet, and that is exactly how Microsoft potitioned it. “The tablet that can replace your laptop.”


 The original Microsoft Surface Pro
The original Microsoft Surface Pro


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Now, let’s be completely honest though. The first Surface Pro device absolutely could not replace your laptop. The kickstand, despite being revolutionary in design only had one position available, the keyboard/cover was flimsy and the typing experience was a nightmare. 

Even the Surface Pro 2 was not the laptop replacement Microsoft kept pushing on everyone through various marketing campaigns despite Microsoft’s best attempts to address the Surface’s shortcomings with a more sturdy keyboard/cover, a two-position kickstand and an improved trackpad.

It was not until the Surface Pro 3 and 4 that the marketing pitch of “a tablet that can replace your laptop” could be taken seriously.

However, despite the major leap forward in functionality fans of Microsoft Hardware still wanted more. Microsoft released a few iterations of the Surface Book which is more “laptop-like” than the Surface Pro devices but the Book still has a few functionality issues that steer your everyday laptop user away.

Finally, in 2017 Microsoft decided to complete their hardware lineup with the Surface Laptop. This product release, though welcomed, was surprising since Microsoft’s stance with hardware releases was to only create a new product if it was going to define a new category, not enter into an existing category. This justification was a way to keep its partners happy. Companies like HP, Dell, Acer, and others were put-off when Microsoft released the original Surface Pro because it looked like Microsoft was directly competing with its partners. This was not intended to be the case, but the optics were not good.

It was also reiterated by Microsoft’s Chris Capossela just before Christmas 2016 on an episode of TWiT’s Windows Weekly with Paul Thurrott and Mary Jo Foley. He was clear that Microsoft does not want to compete, it wants to lay the groundwork for a new category and aide its partners in creating great products. Which is exactly what has been seen over the last year. Looking at any major PC makers lineup you will be sure to find near exact copies of the Surface Pro, with maybe one or two tweaks.

Despite all of that though, Microsoft still decided to move forward with the Surface Laptop despite the device not being first in a new category.

If I were HP, Dell or another OEM partner of Microsoft’s I would be upset with Microsoft. As an enthusiast though, I welcome the Surface Laptop to the market because I am, 1) a big Surface fan and, 2) I feel the Surface Laptop will continue to push OEMs to build even better laptops. Take the Dell XPS 13 or HPs Evo lineups. Those two laptops are leaps and bounds ahead of the Surface Laptop.

Now, enough history, we’re here for a review!


What’s In The Box?

 I know, Brad! I was shocked too. Microsoft released a laptop! It must have taken
I know, Brad! I was shocked too. Microsoft released a laptop! It must have taken ” courage.” 


Not a lot comes in the box with the Surface Laptop. My unit shipped with only a Surface power adapter, power cord, and the Surface itself. Nothing more, nothing less. The Surface Pen is not included with the Laptop, but is compatible.



Review Unit Specifications

The review unit Microsoft was nice enough to loan me for this review retails for $1299 USD or $1649 CAD

Display: 13.5″ PixelSense™ Display with 201 PPI, 10 point multi-touch and 3:2 aspect ratio

CPU: Intel® Core™ i5-7200U (i7 on other models)

RAM: 8 GB (up to 16 GB on other models)

SSD: 250 GB (up to 512 GB on other models)

Windows Version: Windows 10 S (can be updated to Pro*)

Ports: mini DisplayPort (DP 1.2 MST enabled), USB 3.1 Gen 1, headphone jack and Surface™ Connect (power/docking)

Complete specs from Microsoft can be seen HERE.


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The Good

Build Quality

The industrial design of the Surface Laptop is very polarizing. Some users say it is too plain while others absolutely love the minimalist design. I find myself loving the design of the Surface Laptop. It is clean and crisp with very little getting in the way visually.

The laptop is just over half an inch thick but is a tad on the heavy side weighing in at 2.8 pounds. This is not extremely heavy when compared to my Lenovo X1 Carbon (2.6 pounds), the Surface is a fraction of a pound heavier, which can be attributed to the metal materials used for the body of the laptop. Despite being slightly heavier than similar machines it is a pleasure to use and travels well.



Windows Hello

Many people have ridiculed Windows Hello, Microsoft’s iris scanning technology which allows users to sign in quickly thanks to the iris scanner built into the top bezel of the display. I am a huge fan of this functionality. For me so far, it works so well that most times I do not even see the lock screen when the laptop comes out of sleep mode because the iris scanner has picked me up so quickly. The key I find to making Hello work correctly is to let it scan you in decent natural light. Getting the saved iris scan right has allowed Hello to pick me up and log me in quickly, even in less than desirable lighting conditions.

Alcantara

Microsoft also took some heat from the media and potential consumers over the use of Alcantara for the top covering surrounding the keyboard and trackpad. Alcantara is a fabric that is commonly used in high-end luxury cars for the headliner and other fabric covered accents in the vehicle. I was skeptical prior to the Surface arriving, but now that I have been using the laptop for a while now I actually really like this material. I was expecting more of a felt-like feeling, much like the keyboard/cover on my Surface Pro 2, but it is considerably thinner and therefore more firm. It has not picked up any staining during my use and my palms can rest and slide with easy on the palm rests. I think most of those who were against the fabric covering were complaining for the sake of complaining.



Display

I also am in love with the display on the Surface Laptop. It is very bright, the saturation levels are perfect (for me) and having touch is a major benefit. My previous Lenovo X1 Carbon was a touchscreen model. When I upgraded to the 2016 model it came sans-touch. Having touch, and Surface Pen support, on the Surface Laptop is great. Even if you only use to scroll web pages and emails or pinch-to-zoom on an image, it is a feature worth having.

Software

Windows 10 S has been surprisingly pleasant to use during my time with this laptop. Windows 10 S, if you were unaware, only allows users to install an application from the Windows Store. Installing Win32 legacy application (.exe files) is not possible. When attempted the OS will prompt you that it is not able to perform this task links to a page explaining how to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro. Yes, I am missing being able to use Photoshop, but Elements is in the Store if needed and the Photos app that comes built into Windows is incredibly powerful and will only get better once the Surface Laptop receives the Fall Creators update. It hasn’t all been great with Windows 10 S though, continue to “The Bad” for more on that.



The Bad

The Keyboard

The Surface laptop, like all other Surface products before it is an exceptional piece of hardware. I only have one complaint about the hardware, and it is a pretty big one. As I mentioned before, my “daily-driver” laptop is a Lenovo X1 Carbon (2016). Lenovo has for years been known as king-of-the-hill in the battle for the best laptop keyboard. No other manufacturer has been able to beat them (in my opinion). I had extremely high hopes for the Surface Laptops keyboard, but I am sad to report that this keyboard just does not cut it. For a laptop at this price point with such a great overall build quality the keyboard should be near perfection. They key-throw is too shallow, and the entire keyboard seems to wobble or shift around when typing. It is good, and for most people, it may be perfectly acceptable, but if the keyboard on the X1 Carbon eats the Surface Laptop’s lunch every day of the week. One win I will give the Surface over the X1 Carbon is the function key (Fn). When pressed it remains engaged while you complete the action you are performing; such as ALT+F4 to close a window. The key has a small LED to indicate that the F-keys are enabled. It does not automatically disengage, which would be nice, but is better than having to hold the key like on other laptops.

 Trackpad: Great! Alcantara Fabric: Excellent! Keyboard: Meh!
Trackpad: Great! Alcantara Fabric: Excellent! Keyboard: Meh!

Microsoft Edge

The software experience with Windows 10 S has been mostly positive, but there is one major complaint I had to share. Microsoft Edge. The browser that took over for Internet Explorer seemed poised to be a real contender against Chrome. This is not the case. Now, don’t get me wrong though, Edge is lightyears ahead of where Intenet Explorer was. During my first week or two with the Surface, Edge was snappy and responsive. In recent days, however, it has felt more like a Samsung phone suffering from “OS-rot” after 4-6 months of use (come at me Samsung fans, you know it’s true!). Up until this part of the review, I was using Squarespace, via Edge to type this review, lousy keyboard and all. I reached a point though where I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Everything was lagging including keystrokes, clicking links sometimes left me waiting for several seconds before responding, which leads to double or triple-clicking said links. Yes, Edge does has made a lot of progress since Windows 10 first came to market and just recently Microsoft has been touting that Edge now has more than 70 extensions available in the Store. Extensions are great, but Edge is simply not


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The Bottom Line: Should You Buy The Surface Laptop?

For most, the keyboard on the Surface Laptop will be perfectly acceptable. I didn’t even mention the trackpad either. It is near, if not at, Macbook (pre-force touch) levels of quality. 

The largest drawback for most is going to be Windows 10 S. For me, aside from Edge being mostly a pain to use, staying within the Windows Store is fine. Now, I was a Windows Phone 7/8/8.1/10 user, so I was able to get buy with limited and slightly lower quality app selections for years. However, if you need to have Adobe Photoshop or Premier you’re going to want to make the jump to Windows 10 Pro. Fortunately, Microsoft is allowing Windows 10 S users to upgrade to Pro at no extra cost until December 31st, 2017. Starting in 2018, customers will need to pay a one time fee of $50 USD. 

So, would I recommend the Surface Laptop? Yes, absolutely. This may be the best Surface product Microsoft has ever released. The hardware experience overall is excellent. Battery life has been excellent. Windows Hello login is a major win. The only thing that is holding this laptop back is Windows 10 S, but that can easily be remedied at a fairly low cost.

You can purchase the Surface Laptop directly from Microsoft HERE.


One More Thing

There has been a lot of buzz of late regarding Microsoft potentially exiting the hardware space by 2019. The Surface Laptop could be a key indicator of this desire since it is not a new and innovative product category and was released merely “just because.” I do not see Microsoft getting out of the hardware space anytime soon. The Surface lineup allows Microsoft to showcase the power of Windows 10. One of the problems Microsoft has faced over the years is OEMs picking and choosing what parts of Windows customers can take advantage of thanks to the inclusion or exclusion of specific hardware (touchscreen, iris scanning, etc.). By keeping the Surface lineup around Microsoft can continue to innovate with Windows and showcase that innovation with their hardware. 

It is also worth noting that while I was writing this review, Panos Panay, the head of the Surface team has publicly said that the news of Microsoft killing off the Surface line and getting out of hardware is “so far from the truth.”


What do you think? Would you consider the Surface Laptop for your next laptop? Would you give Windows 10 S a chance or go Pro immediately?


Anki Cozmo Carrying Case Review

Cozmo loves to explore, so make sure he travels safe and in style with the official Anki Cozmo Carrying Case. Click through to read the full review!

For the last year, Anki has been pushing new and exciting features to Cozmo and his application. With each update his abilities and level of interaction increases. This is great to see such cadence on this front and the latest update has made the experience much more enjoyable, but what if you want to take Cozmo on the road to show off his abilities to friends and family?

My solution until now was a small cardboard box just big enough to tuck in Cozmo, his Power Cubes, charging base and USB wall adapter. A functional, but not an aesthetically pleasing solution.

That’s about to change now with the release of the Official Cozmo Carrying Case.


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 Build Quality and Design

As with all Anki products, the quality of this product is exceptionally high. The exterior, made from a highly durable material comes with the Cozmo logo and his trademark skeptical eyes.



Inside you will find custom moldings for your Cozmo robot, 3 Power Cubes, charging cradle and small round cutout for a charger or extra treads. I would have liked to have seen a custom cutout for the Anki USB wall charger that ships with the original Cozmo robot though. It does fit inside the circle cutout, but it is less than ideal.

There is also a small zippered compartment in the lid of the case which you could store additional items in. I have been using this to carry around portable battery packs in this compartment. Since Cozmo has to be in his charging station to wake up, I usually elect to use a battery pack to power it rather than a wall plug. It provides for greater flexibility and less cords running across the floor when using Cozmo in a different location.


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Overall Thoughts

Compared to how Cozmo was getting around before the carrying case is a major upgrade. The round cutout for a wall charger or treads would have been better suited as a cutout for the Anki wall charger. However, the inclusion of the zipper pouch in the lid more than compensates for that. The overall quality of the materials used, as mentioned, is of a very good quality and should be able to stand up to the wear and tear of constant use.

The Cozmo Carrying Case from Anki can be purchased in Canada exclusively from Best Buy for $44.99.

In the USA, various different retailers such as Amazon offer the carrying case. Head over to Anki.com for more info.

Have you picked up a Cozmo yet? If so, will you be purchasing the carrying case as well?

Anki Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition First Impressions & Review

Anki has unleashed a major expansion to the Overdrive lineup today. Check out my first impressions of the Overdrive Fast & Furious Edition kit.

 

Last year I reviewed the original Overdrive Starter Kit from Anki as well as Supertruck X52 ICE. You can check those reviews out here:

The Overdrive lineup consists of AI-assisted Supercars and trucks that battle on a specially coated race track that is embedded with a QR-style code allowing the cars to know exactly where they are on any given track configuration. The cars also use this code to scan through 50,000 different possible actions as it plots to destroy its competition. 


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This year, rather than release more add-ons to the Overdrive family of products, Anki has unleashed a very exciting expansion of the Overdrive family with an entirely new version of the racing game. Overdrive Fast and Furious Edition.

What is Overdrive Fast and Furious Edition?

Technically speaking, the Fast and Furious release of Anki Overdrive uses the same technology used in the regular Overdrive kit with the only real difference being a very well done Fast and Furious theme.

Rather than starting with Skull and Groundshock, which is bundled with the starter kit, you can choose to do battle with Dom’s Ice Charger or Hobbs’ MXT.



As was the case with Overdrive, the Fast and Furious release allows you to make up to 8 different track configurations out of the box. However, if you also own Overdrive and any track expansion pieces, they are fully compatible with the F&F version, allowing you to create a nearly endless combination of track setups.

One special edition to the F&F track kit is an exclusive track section known as the “Power Zone” which allows players to trigger a “massive blast that disables nearby opponents” when passed over.


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What’s In The Box?

 Brad, must we do this everytime?
Brad, must we do this everytime?


Inside the box you will find:

  • Dom’s Ice Charger
  • Hobbs’ MXT
  • 3 x straight pieces
  • 1 NEW Power Zone track piece
  • 6 x 90º curved track pieces
  • 12 x guardrails
  • 2 x riser pieces
  • 1 x 4-car charging platform
  • 1 x tire cleaner

As you can see, aside from the F&F themed cars, guardrails and the “Power Zone” track piece, the kit is very much the same as the Overdrive Starter Kit.

Anki has also included a Fast and Furious Edition poster as well. Another nice touch.


Setup

Setting up your F&F Overdrive kit is very simple. The track pieces are connected using the same magnetic connections found on all other Overdrive track pieces making setup simple for game players of any age. This is a big win in from my point-of-view. Kids want to get right to it. They do not want to watch dad fight with the track pieces trying to figure out why A won’t connect to B. The simple assembly allows kids, to be creative with their track designs, especially when you have extra pieces of track. Excellent work here, Anki!

The cars use the same charging base as other Overdrive cars which is very simple to use and charges the cars in only a few minutes.

The Overdrive Fast and Furious application is required to use the cars and is compatible with iOS and Android devices. You can download the apps from their respective stores below.


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Gameplay and More

I’ve only had the Fast and Furious Overdrive kit in the office for a few days now and have been working on different aspects of the gameplay compared to the original Overdrive kit. So far I am impressed with what Anki has done to incorporate the Fast and Furious franchise into their product lineup. Once I have had a chance to dig into the gameplay further I will share more details. 

Stay tuned for more and in the meantime, check out those cars!



You can purchase Overdrive Fast and Furious Edition for $239.99 CAD from Best Buy, Amazon.ca, Indigo Books and Toys ‘R’ Us.

In the USA, Overdrive is available from will be available at major retailers in the U.S., including Amazon, Best Buy, Target, Toys“R”Us and Anki.com for $169.99 USD.

Beer Pick Of The Month – Backpaddle Blonde Ale From Upper Thames Brewing Company

It’s that time of the month again! Time for the GadgetSyrup Beer Pick of the Month. This month is a special pick from Upper Thames Brewing Company from Woodstock, Ontario!

It’s that time of month again! Time for the GadgetSyrup Beer Pick of the Month.



This month’s pick is from my local craft brewery, Upper Thames Brewing Company, the first craft brewery in Woodstock, Ontario. In 2015 the five founders of the brewery were discussing the lack of a craft brewery in the area. Rather than continue that wait, they decided to put their own plan into motion. Fast-forward two years later and UTBC has just celebrated their first anniversary and is riding a wave of growth thanks to their unique position as the only craft beer show in town.

Why Upper Thames Brewing Company?

Well, not only does UTBC make some really high-quality beer, made with all locally sourced ingredients, they recently celebrated a major milestone. Two in fact. First was their one year anniversary and second, which was the main reason I chose them this month, was that they made it onto the shelves of the Beer Store. Getting onto the Beer Store is not an easy task due to the incredible amount of rules and regulations in place, but to do it in their first year of operations, is a pretty incredible feat.


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Ok, Now Onto The Beer!

The beer I selected from UTBC is their “Backpaddle Blonde Ale“, the beer now found in our local Beer Store.

Backpaddle is UTBC’s most popular and easy drinking beer, making it a perfect choice for the final beer pick of the summer.



The pour is a delicious looking light gold colour which screams to be drank. Taste wise, this may be one of the easiest drinking blondes I’ve had. It is very crisp and not overly malty or sweet. I find that some low ABV/IBU blondes are too sweet and often do not finish well. This is not the case with Backpaddle. As you would assume, this is not a very bitter beer either at only 15 IBU, and the selection of Cascade hops for this beer creates a perfect citrus finish. 



UTBC prides itself on using local ingredients in all of their beers, and this one is no exception. The malt and hops are all sourced from farms within a 45-minute drive of the brewery.


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Until recently, if you wanted to enjoy any of UTBC’s beers, you needed to visit the brewery and take your selection home in a growler. This is not a problem if you are hosting a party or having a few buddies over to sample the brew with you. However, to commit to a growler all on your own will likely not end well for you or the beer! You will either fall flat from drinking it all in one sitting or the beer will go flat if not drank fast enough! Point is growlers are great, but if you’re like me and want to have a variety of different craft beers on hand, a growler is not the most appealing option. To get Backpaddle into the Beer Store, growlers wouldn’t cut it. So, continuing the trends of other firsts for UTBC, Backpaddle was their first beer offered in a tall-boy can. This is a pretty significant step towards opening their brand up to a much larger audience. 

Also worth noting, UTBC just released their second tall-boy beer, their Portage IPA.

 Photo Credit: Upper Thames Brewing Company Facebook Page
Photo Credit: Upper Thames Brewing Company Facebook Page

Where to Buy

Getting your hands on Backpaddle and other UTBC beers is getting easier thanks to their exceptional growth in their first year, however, they are still relatively hard to find unless you’re in Woodstock. With that said, if you happen to be in the area swing by the brewery or beer store and try this one out. You’ll be glad you did!


Beer Stats

Style: Blonde Ale

ABV: 4.3%

IBU: 15

Untappd Rating: 3.65/5 (366 Ratings)



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Don’t forget to check out previous Gadget Syrup Beer Picks HERE, and let me know what your favourite craft beer is in the comments!

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