A lot changes in a year. In 2020, we recommended the $699.99 Moto Edge to anyone looking for 5G connectivity for under $1,000. The 2021 edition of the Moto Edge carries the same price, but 5G connectivity no longer carries the same premium. That puts more of a focus on the rest of the hardware and software, and the Edge has a nice display with a fast 144Hz maximum refresh rate, long battery life, and a capable processor. So far, so good. Unfortunately, other aspects aren’t quite as impressive, including just-average cameras and a disappointing software upgrade policy. That makes it a hard sell compared with the Apple iPhone 13 ($799.99) and the Samsung Galaxy S21 ($799.99), both of which offer the best hardware, cameras, and software you’ll find in this price range.
Bulky, But With a Better Fingerprint Sensor
The latest Moto Edge closely resembles its predecessor. The phone has a curvy plastic body with a large camera module and is available in a shiny blue finish. It’s a handsome design, but the back panel quickly attracts fingerprints and scratches.
At 6.9 by 3.0 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 7.1 ounces, the Edge is a bit bulky. Luckily, the weight is distributed evenly, making it easy to hold for long periods.
The phone’s 6.8-inch, 2,160-by-1,080-pixel LCD has a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz, and an adaptive refresh rate that ranges between 30Hz and 120Hz. Aside from the high refresh rate, this is actually a step down from the OLED panel on last year’s Edge, but it still works fine. The display is bright and crisp, with vivid but accurate colors, and it’s easy to see from any angle.
The top and left edges of the phone are bare. There’s a USB-C charging port, a speaker, and SIM slot on the bottom; Motorola ditched the microSD slot and the headphone jack on this year’s model. A volume rocker and a power button with a built-in fingerprint sensor sit on the right. The fingerprint sensor is a welcome replacement for the in-display sensor on last year’s Edge—it’s faster and more accurate.
Durability is our biggest concern here. The plastic back panel and aluminum frame should be able to withstand drops and dings, but the strengthened-glass display is unlikely to fare as well. And while the phone has an IP52 rating to protect against dust ingress and minor splashes, it won’t survive a drop in the tub.
Solid 5G Connectivity and Call Quality, So-So Audio
We’re reviewing the Verizon edition of the Edge, which is tuned to work on Verizon’s mmWave network. The unlocked version offers LTE and sub-6GHz 5G coverage for all the major carriers. Both models have C-band connectivity.
We tested the Edge on Verizon’s 5G (mostly mmWave) network and recorded stellar results. After completing more than a dozen tests across Chicago, we recorded average speeds of 448.5Mbps down and 126.4Mbps up.
Call quality is solid. Maximum earpiece volume clocks in at 87dB, which is loud enough that we had no trouble conducting calls on busy streets. Calls were clear and the phone’s noise cancellation worked well.
In addition to 5G, the phone offers Wi-Fi 6 connectivity and NFC for mobile payments.
There’s a single, bottom-firing speaker on the Edge with a maximum volume of 90dB. Audio quality is underwhelming; the speaker pushes mids to the front and its soundstage is unbalanced. The Verizon version supports Verizon Adaptive Audio, which uses AI to improve audio quality on both the phone’s speakers and any Bluetooth or wired audio peripherals you connect. In our tests, Adaptive Audio modestly improved the speaker and brought some balance to its sound signature, but software can only do so much.
Cameras Can’t Keep Up
The Edge has a triple-camera stack on the back. The primary 1/1.52-inch sensor clocks in at 108MP and has an f/1.9 aperture. An 8MP ultra-wide lens with an f/2.2 aperture and a 2MP depth sensor also sits on the back. The front-facing camera clocks in at 32MP.
The primary and ultra-wide lenses perform well in sufficient light. Our test shots came out crisp, with excellent color accuracy and depth of field. We noticed a little more noise when reviewing the photos at full size, but that’s the trade-off for sharp background detail.
Image quality suffers in low-light environments: Our test shots look flat and full of noise. We see blooming in nearly every image and background details are monochromatic. Complex distortion marks most of our ultra-wide photos.
It’s possible to take a decent macro shot with enough light and a steady hand. No one will confuse your macro shots for ones taken with a DSLR, but details pop and there’s a natural-looking bokeh in most photos.
The front-facing 32MP camera takes admirable shots in just about any light. In daylight test photos, subjects are crisp and the depth of field looks natural. We noticed some loss of fine detail in low-light shots, but the photos are fine for sharing on social media.
Ultimately, while the Moto Edge is capable of producing good photos, it’s hard to justify its price when more affordable phones, including the Google Pixel 5a With 5G, do a better job.
Leave the Charger at Home
The Edge runs on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 778G mobile platform. The unlocked version comes with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM, while the Verizon variant ships with 128GB of storage and 6GB of RAM.
Apps open quickly, but we encountered a bit of lag when swapping between a few dozen Chrome tabs and apps. And while the Edge’s display has a maximum refresh rate of 144Hz, it responded slowly to swipes through social media feeds or webpages when we switched to the adaptive refresh rate mode.
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We spent a few hours testing gameplay with Genshin Impact and Alto’s Odyssey. Both games load quickly and we didn’t observe any lag or skipped frames.
On Geekbench 5, a benchmark that quantifies raw computing power, the Edge scored a 762 for single-core performance (SC) and 2,683 for multi-core performance (MC). That’s a far cry from the similarly priced iPhone 13’s scores of 1,721 (SC) and 4,629 (MC).
On Basemark Web 3.0, a suite of tests that measure web application performance, the Edge scored 394.23. For comparison, the iPhone 13 earned 1,042.93, while the Pixel 5a came in at 442.34.
Unless you’re a hard-core gamer, you should have no problem lasting at least a full day between charges with the Edge’s 5,000mAh battery. In our battery test, which streams HD video over Wi-Fi at full brightness, the phone lasted 13 hours and 2 minutes. If you do find yourself running low, you can take advantage of the Edge’s support for 30W fast charging to get back in action quickly. Wireless charging is noticeably absent, however.
And while there are two models of the phone, most people, including Verizon customers, are better off with the unlocked version. mmWave connectivity simply isn’t worth passing up on the extra storage and RAM that the unlocked version offers.
Lagging Software Updates
The Edge ships with Android 11 along with Motorola’s My UX skin. The skin adds some useful gestures and allows you to customize your home screen, but sticks pretty closely to the stock Android experience.
Moto Actions continue to be one of the most helpful additions, allowing you to enable gestures to automate basic tasks. If you want to take a screenshot, for instance, just tap the display with three fingers. Or to quickly silence the ringer, simply pick the Edge up or flip it over.
Another feature, Ready for PC, works similarly to Microsoft’s Link to Windows feature that enables integrations with Samsung phones. With Ready for PC, you can quickly access many of the apps on your phone and share files between the Edge and your PC. Neither implementation is as refined as the one between iOS and macOS devices, but Motorola’s efforts are a sign of progress.
The Edge will get two major OS upgrades and two years of security updates. Motorola’s software upgrade policy for this $700 phone should concern you, especially because the company released the Edge just before Android 12 came out. Both Google and Samsung offer at least three years of OS upgrades, making their phones better long-term prospects.
Tougher Competition Than a Year Ago
When Motorola released the original Edge in 2020, it didn’t have a lot of competition, especially if you wanted a phone with 5G connectivity for less than $1,000. In 2021, plenty of alternatives exist, many of which are simply better choices. The iPhone 13 (an Editors’ Choice award winner) and the Samsung Galaxy S21 are our recommendations in this price range, with better cameras, sharper displays, faster performance, and superior software upgrade policies. If you’re looking to spend less, meanwhile, the Pixel 5a has better cameras and software for just $449. The 2021 Moto Edge is a fine phone, it just no longer stands out.