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Motorola Edge (2021) review: A big, unsexy smartphone

Most of the attention-grabbing smartphones these days are at the extremes. There are ultra-premium devices that are interesting because they have everything but the kitchen sink, and on the flip side, decent budget phones are getting into impulse purchase territory. And then there’s the vast, boring gulf between them known as the mid-range. Even when these phones are good, they rarely stand out from the crowd. That’s the new Motorola Edge, which retails for $700. However, the Verizon-locked version will only run you $550. Moto might as well have made this phone a Verizon exclusive because there’s no reason to buy it unlocked for $150 more. It’s not an exciting phone, but it might be a good purchase if you’re standing in a Verizon store.

The 2021 Motorola Edge is priced far too high unlocked, but the Verizon-locked model is closer to sanity at $550. There are better deals out there, like the $450 Pixel 5a, but the Verizon Edge is acceptable for a mid-range carrier phone.

Specifications

  • Storage: 256GB
  • CPU: Snapdragon 778G
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Operating System: Android 11
  • Battery: 5000mAh, 30W charging
  • Display (Size, Resolution): LCD, 6.7-inch 2460×1080, 144Hz
  • Camera (Front): 32MP
  • Cameras (Rear): 108MP main, 8MP ultrawide, 2MP depth
  • Price: $699.99
Pros

  • Big screen
  • Excellent battery life and fast charging
  • Very light-weight for being so hulking
  • Clean Android software
Cons

  • Glossy plastic back feels cheap
  • This phone deserved an OLED screen, and it didn’t get one
  • Unlocked version is $150 more expensive for no reason
  • Verizon bloatware

Design, hardware, what’s in the box

Despite the “edge” branding, this phone doesn’t bear much resemblance to last year’s Edge and Edge+. There’s no curved OLED or ultra-gloss paint job, but the flat sides are easier to hold than the curvy 2020 phones. There’s a power button with a fingerprint sensor on the right, along with a slightly rattly volume rocker. The fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable enough, but it’s a little high on the body of the phone. This is not a phone for those with small hands.

The most interesting thing about the new Edge’s design is the color. The glossy blue housing shimmers and refracts light to produce some neat effects. However, it’s all plastic, and it stops looking nice the moment you get your greasy hands on it. The screen is a fingerprint magnet, too. For some reason, the oleophobic coating on this phone isn’t doing much good; the screen gets smudged easily and is hard to get clean.

Under all the smudges, the Edge has a 6.7-inch 1080p LCD panel. It’s a big phone—a little bigger than it needed to be, in fact. The decision to step down to an LCD for this year’s Edge means the bezels are a bit on the large side, particularly the bottom “chin.” The high 144Hz refresh rate makes up for that a little, but I’d have preferred an OLED even at a lower refresh rate. The LCD on this phone is a bit lifeless, but it’s bright enough to use outside without squinting. If you just really want a big screen, this phone certainly has it. And the upshot of the plastic body is that the Edge isn’t terribly heavy. It weighs in at 200g, which is 29g lighter than the similarly sized Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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This phone has no headphone jack, an increasingly common shortcoming even for mid-range phones. Bluetooth headphones are the way to go. You are also expected to provide your own wall adapter as the Edge only comes with a short USB C-to-C cable. On the plus side, any suitably powerful USB-PD charger should be able to max the Edge’s 30W charging speed.

Software, performance, and battery

The Edge runs the same Motorola software we’ve come to know over the years. It has a new name as of last year (My UX), but most of the features are the same as ever. There’s Moto Display to monitor your notifications without unlocking the phone, and gestures like the ever-useful camera twist and flashlight chop. And of course, the interface is bone stock Android. If I were to find fault here, it’s simply that Motorola hasn’t been innovating on software like it used to—we’ve seen almost all of this before. I’m sure Moto would point to Ready For, the poorly named Samsung DeX clone, as evidence that it’s still improving Android. However, a less-good version of DeX, which has dubious value to begin with, isn’t going to make the experience better.

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Motorola phones don’t come with any of their own bloatware, much to Moto’s credit. However, the Verizon version of the Edge we’ve got for review comes with Big Red’s usual suite of uninstallable cruft. I am confused as to why the Verizon app keeps telling me to clear my application cache on a new phone. That is not the kind of service I need from a carrier app even if there was something anomalous going on with the cache. Luckily, most of the bloat can be disabled in settings.

The Snapdragon 778G is one of Qualcomm’s latest almost-flagship SoCs. It has eight CPU cores, four of which are low-power cores. The remaining four are high-power, with one of them clocked a bit higher (the prime core). It’s the same basic configuration as the Snapdragon 888, but this chip isn’t quite as fast. For basic smartphone tasks like checking messages and browsing the web, the Edge is more than sufficient. It maintains high frame rates almost all the time, taking proper advantage of the 144Hz LCD. It can even handle most games on high settings. Although, I had a pretty bad experience trying to run Fortnite on the Edge. That might be just Fortnite, though.

Motorola says battery life is a major pain point for consumers, so it focuses on optimizing that as much as possible. The Edge has a 5,000mAh battery, about par for larger phones, but Moto’s optimizations are impressive. The standby battery life is outstanding—I left the phone sitting overnight and didn’t come back to it until lunchtime the following day, and the battery level had barely changed. When I’m actually using the phone, it’ll easily last through two days with a little left in the tank. It’s a great option if you’re prone to range anxiety, and I appreciate the 30W charging.

Cameras

I can’t remember the last time I was happy with a Motorola camera. Maybe I never have been. The company seems to be consistently behind on image processing and features, and that’s despite often working with impressive hardware. This phone churns and churns after taking photos, slowing down everything else while it processes. The results, however, are rarely worth the wait.

The camera setup on the Edge feels like a half-measure. There’s a spiffy 108MP primary sensor, but that’s paired with an ultrawide at a mere 8MP and a 2MP depth sensor, something I’m more accustomed to seeing on $200-300 phones that just want to look like they have a third camera. I don’t believe these sensors are ever truly necessary—does the Galaxy S21 have a depth sensor? The Pixel 5a? The iPhone? No. If none of the best camera phones have something, it’s probably not important.

I was hoping the 108MP primary would give this phone a boost, but the results are typical for Motorola. Outside, the phone takes competent images, but I can’t say I was ever wowed by any of them. Colors tend to be muted, and dynamic range is middling. The camera operates in 9×9 binning mode to produce 12MP shots, which Motorola has dubiously branded as “Ultra Pixel” technology. There’s no telephoto lens, so you can’t zoom much on those images without losing detail. You can switch to 108MP mode if you’re planning to crop, but it won’t offer a stunning increase in detail.

Image Gallery (13 Images)

The Edge is not a phone I’d plan to carry when I expect to take a lot of photos because lighting is rarely perfect. As soon as the sun sets or you step inside, the shutter time skyrockets. That makes it difficult to snap clear photos of anything moving, and Motorola’s processing still fuzzes details. Maybe it could save some of these photos if the phone only had optical image stabilization, but no such luck.

I am pleased this phone didn’t commit the other cardinal camera sin by including a dedicated macro lens. You can take macro shots on the Edge via the ultrawide camera, which works well. You can get some nice close-ups with this phone, all of which will be better than anything taken with those cheap macro sensors.

Should you buy it?

Only if you’re a Verizon customer. At $700, the unlocked Motorola Edge is not a great deal. Spend a little more, and you can get the Galaxy S21, which is a better overall phone. At $550 on Verizon, the Edge is a much better value. Given the price difference, I think Motorola expects everyone to ignore the unlocked version. With Verizon’s lower price, the Edge is in competition with devices like the Motorola One 5G and Samsung Galaxy A52, neither of which are amazing. And Verizon would be delighted to help you finance the phone for $18.33 per month.

That lower Verizon price isn’t enough to best the Pixel 5a, which is $100 less. Even if the phones were priced the same, I’d still suggest the Pixel over the Edge, but the Pixel isn’t being sold by Verizon. So maybe if you feel strongly about going through the carrier, the Motorola Edge could be a good deal. There are certainly things to like about this phone including the stellar battery life and smooth 144Hz refresh rate, but it’s behind on a lot of other features like camera performance and update support. Motorola’s launch sale for $500 was a better deal, but that’s conspicuously gone now that the carrier variant is available.

Motorola’s 2021 Edge is not a flagship phone, and buyers will be content with it if they don’t go in expecting a flagship. It’s a big screen with a lightweight plastic body wrapped around a sizeable battery. No more, no less. It carves out a very small niche for itself, but spend a little more or a little less, and I think you’ll get more for your money.

Buy it if…

  • Battery life is top of your list
  • You don’t take many photos
  • You’re on Verizon

Don’t buy it if…

  • You are happy buying unlocked phones like the Pixel 5a
  • Photo quality is important