Motorola took a few years off from making flagship phones, but 2020 was supposed to be its big chance to get back into the high-end. Well, it’s a lot harder to sell a $1,000 phone in the midst of a global pandemic, but maybe a somewhat cheaper phone has a shot? The new Motorola Edge is the pared-down version of the Edge+ that launched a few months ago. Unlike that phone, this one is unlocked and has a Snapdragon 765 for 5G connectivity rather than the 865.
The Motorola Edge is a strong offering in some respects. The battery life is fantastic, and Motorola’s version of Android avoids many of the pitfalls that trip up Samsung, LG, and others. The SD765’s performance is also surprisingly competitive with the 865. At the same time, the Edge has almost the same design as the Edge+, which means it’s slippery and awkward to hold. The Edge takes a notable step down in build quality, too. This phone might garner a recommendation at the $500 pre-order price, but the $700 regular price is a tougher sell.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
From a distance, the Motorola Edge is indistinguishable from the Edge+. You’ve still got that uber-curved OLED panel and the shiny aluminum frame, but a few things have moved around and changed to keep the price down. The top and bottom of the Edge’s frame are completely flat rather than bowed inward like the Edge+, and there are visible antenna lines interrupting the chassis. There’s a headphone jack on the bottom edge next to the USB-C port, which is always nice to see these days. The buttons on the right edge are identical to the Edge+. That is, slightly wobbly but very tactile when pressed. The speakers (on the bottom and the earpiece) are carried over from the Edge+, and that means very loud, clear audio (for a phone).
Moving to the back, we see the first major cost-saving measure for the Edge. Rather than having a Gorilla Glass panel, it’s glossy plastic. It picks up fingerprints extremely well, and it doesn’t do a good job of imitating glass. In fact, I’ve found the plastic builds up noticeable static electricity if you run your hand over it a few times. Granted, the Edge+ was obscenely heavy, and the Edge is less so in part thanks to the plastic. The Edge clocks in at 188g compared to 203g for the Edge+, which has almost the same dimensions. A slightly smaller battery (more on that later) probably also contributes to the more manageable mass.
The OLED panel is better quality than you’d usually find on a $700 phone because the Edge uses the same 6.7-inch 1080p OLED as the Edge+. I just wish it wasn’t curved. The 90Hz refresh makes the UI feel fluid, the brightness is more than good enough for outdoor use, and black saturation is spot-on. 1080p is sufficiently sharp, too—I doubt you’d notice any pixelation without 1440p phone right next to the Edge. There’s also an optical fingerprint sensor under the screen, and it’s acceptable. It’s accurate but sometimes takes too long to scan.
While I don’t love the plastic back, but I will admit it makes the phone a bit less slippery. That was one of my primary concerns with the Edge+, which I felt was constantly trying to jump out of my hand/pocket. If we were going to create a scale of phone slipperiness, the Edge+ would be a 10. The Edge? Maybe 8.5. The lighter and marginally less slippery design of the Edge makes it more stable, but the ergonomics are still not good. Honestly, there’s no way to hold the Edge 100% comfortably, and that’s a bummer. Motorola used to make some of the most ergonomically competent phones in the world back in the Moto X days. Here, I’m constantly shifting my grip, trying to keep the phone secure without accidentally touching the expansive curved edges. I understand Motorola’s desire to make a phone that stands out, and the curve is striking, but it’s bad for usability (and good luck finding third-party cases that work well). Just like with the Edge+, I end up disabling the curved area in most apps. Thankfully, Motorola makes that easy to do.
The Moto Edge (left in both) vs. the Edge+ (right in both)
It’s also worth noting that the giant camera module from the Edge+ is not present here. The more modest camera array (which I’ll talk about in detail shortly) is almost flush with the back of the phone. So, the Motorola Edge will actually lay flat on a table, something many 2020 phones are unable to do.
The Motorola Edge comes with an 18W plug and USB-A-to-C cable to go with it. There’s also a clear case to make the phone a bit less ungainly. While it’s an ugly and probably not very durable case, I applaud Motorola for including one at all.
Software, performance, and battery
The Edge runs Android 10 out of the box with Motorola’s customary changes to the OS. The menus, system theme, and home screen are almost exactly what you’d see on a Pixel or Android One device. You even get Googley features like Call Screen and Duo dialer integration. The cleaner Android build contributes to a responsive and manageable overall experience because Motorola isn’t making arbitrary changes. You don’t have to constantly avoid apps or opt-out of services, which is a common part of using phones from Samsung or LG.
Motorola’s custom features have remained mostly steady over the last five or so years (after the Lenovo acquisition). Luckily, most of it is still useful. For example, with Moto Actions you can toggle the flashlight or launch the camera while the phone is asleep with a quick gesture. Peek Display (formerly known as Moto Display) lets you see and manage notifications without unlocking. Although, waving to wake the display is much slower than it was with older Moto phones. You have to get very close to the phone and linger above the screen for about a second, making it somewhat less effective for peeking at notifications.
The Motorola Edge is the first Snapdragon 765 phone I’ve been able to use for an extended period of time, and I’m impressed with the performance. The phone has remained very responsive during my testing, with just a handful of minor hiccups, and most of those came while I was still setting up and syncing data. I can play Stadia on the Edge (which is not an officially supported device) for an extended period without any worry of overheating as well. In fact, comparing the Edge to the Edge+ with its SD865, there’s almost no difference in performance. Launching apps is slower by a fraction of a second on the Edge, but you’d never notice without another phone to compare side-by-side. Gaming is also fine on the 765. Maybe you’d want the 865 if you spend hours a day playing Fortnite, but the 765 seems otherwise excellent for all use cases. The only consistent performance issue is photo processing, which takes a few seconds and can make the phone lag.
The real benefit of the 765, based on my experience, is the battery life. The Edge has a 4,500mAh battery, 500mAh smaller than the Edge+, and it far outlasts the more expensive device. With moderate to heavy use, the Edge can last more than 24 hours with around seven hours of screen time, which I would consider an extremely good showing. That’s with a wide variety of activities like messaging, email management, light gaming, music streaming, and Stadia. This is a particularly telling comparison because these two phones have so much in common, like the software loadout and display. The 765 seems like an excellent middle-ground SoC. My only real qualm is charging: the Edge tops out at 18W, and there’s no wireless option.
Motorola didn’t retain the 108MP camera sensor from the Edge+ in this phone, but you do get a 64MP sensor that bins pixels to produce 16MP images. There’s also a 16MP ultrawide and a 2x optical zoom module at 8MP. I’m happy to see Motorola was able to equip the Edge with three useful sensors rather than cheaping out with a terrible macro camera—looking at you, OnePlus. Regardless, the performance of this camera system is very much what I expected: it’s worse than the Edge+, which itself struggled to compete with other flagship phones.
The good news is that in bright outdoor settings, the Edge can take very usable photos with good detail. For example, you can see plenty of texture in grass and dog fur in the outdoor samples below. The dynamic range isn’t as impressive as flagship phones, but the Edge can hold its own most of the time. I’ve taken a few photos that I expected to turn out well only to see blown-out highlights or dark shadows. Colors are generally accurate, leaning slightly toward flat. It also suffers from lens flare in a way that reminds me of the original Pixel. Colors from the ultrawide and 2x telephoto cams are a bit more vibrant, but it’s hard to take zoom shots without OIS.
You might remember the odd processing artifacts from the Edge+. While the Edge doesn’t have any “phantom hands,” a couple of photos have come out with irregular blobs and shadows (see below for an example). This doesn’t happen a lot, and I am taking a ton of photos to assess the camera. Still, I don’t think this should happen at all. The good news is this is a software glitch that (presumably) Motorola can address in updates. The camera also occasionally reverses photo orientation, and I’m sure that’s an easy fix in an update as well.
These two images taken seconds apart show the nature of this phone’s occasional processing fails. The right photo has a strange blob extending out from the tree in several areas, but the other one does not. Also, note the lens flare, which may or may not be related to the processing error.
The problems are more noticeable indoors as the phone ramps up exposure time aggressively. Even in what I would consider “good” indoor daytime lighting, it’s not unusual to see 1/15 second shutter speeds. That makes it difficult to photograph anything moving, and even a shaky hand can ruin a picture when none of the phone’s three camera modules feature optical image stabilization. Motorola’s processing also blurs fine details in low-light, which I assume is an effort to control noise, but it results in photos that look very soft. If Moto can address the camera performance, the Edge could be a more compelling option.
Should you buy it?
Probably not. The Motorola Edge is an overall better option than the Edge+ for several reasons, not the least of which that it’s available unlocked with 5G support for $700. Yes, it’s only sub-6 5G, but that’s the only 5G that matters (and it still doesn’t matter very much). The screen, speakers, and software are the same as you’d get on the more expensive Edge+ as well. The battery life is undoubtedly this phone’s best feature. It’s extremely hard to kill the Edge in a day, and I think most people will easily get two days out of a charge. The Snapdragon 765 is also very nearly as fast in daily use as the 865.
It’s not all good news, though. The Edge’s design is virtually identical to the Edge+, and neither of them are pleasant to hold. The Edge is slippery and awkward—there’s just no comfortable way to grasp this phone because of the glossy finish and extreme screen curve. Speaking of the screen, curved displays have had their day in the sun. They were fun for a while, but they don’t help usability, particularly when they’re this heavily curved. Important parts of the UI bleed over to the side of the phone, so I just end up disabling the curved part of the display in most apps.
The Edge is decent, but excellent battery life isn’t enough to win the day. I’d be much more forgiving if Motorola made the $500 pre-sale price permanent, and that might happen if you wait a few months.
Buy it if…
You want a somewhat cheaper 5G phone with awesome battery life.
Don’t buy it if…
You find big, slippery phones frustrating, or you want to take a lot of photos.