Motorola launched a pair of Edge phones in 2020 that stood out for their “waterfall” displays. But it wasn’t the flagship that we preferred of the two. Instead, we were impressed by the more modest Edge. It wasn’t perfect, but you got a lot of phone for the price. So it’s not surprising to see Motorola seemingly skip the Edge+ this year and focus instead on the more affordable model. But what comes as a pleasant surprise is just how much of an improvement the 2021 Edge is. Most important among the updates is a 144Hz screen, a feature normally reserved for top-tier phones. When you add a better fingerprint sensor, superior cameras, and the promise of longer software support, the 2021 Moto Edge is a phone well worth checking out.
The 2020 Edge was defined by the fact it featured the same 6.7-inch curved “Endless Edge” OLED display as the more expensive Edge+. This year, Motorola has gone with a flat 6.8-inch LCD that makes this new model easier to use. With no rounded edges for your palm to touch, you don’t have to worry about accidentally tapping on an icon or swiping to another part of your home screen.
Besides a more practical design, the panel is faster than the one on last year’s model. It can refresh at up to 144Hz, up from 90Hz on the 2020 Edge. Like phones from Samsung and Apple, the panel defaults to an adaptive mode, which limits the refresh rate to 120Hz. Two additional options lock the display to 144Hz and 60Hz, allowing you to prioritize either performance or battery life. I preferred pushing the panel to 144Hz, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment.
On paper, the 144Hz panel is an impressive spec that sets the new Moto Edge apart from phones in its price range like the OnePlus Nord 2 and even more expensive devices like the iPhone 13 Pro. The tradeoff is that it’s a phone with an LCD screen, so you’re missing out on the advantages OLED displays offer, including deep blacks and better power efficiency.
The Moto Edge’s 144Hz screen also presents some issues I haven’t seen on other devices. With the default adaptive mode enabled, it didn’t always render animations at the same speed. For example, sometimes I would scroll through Instagram and my timeline would breeze by as expected. Other times, it felt like that same action would play out at 60Hz. I suspect this is an issue with the software Motorola wrote to dynamically adjust the refresh rate between 60Hz and 120Hz. We have asked Motorola for comment.
Locking the display to 144Hz helped address this issue, but there were still moments where I witnessed slight hitching. The faster panel does make the Moto Edge feel smooth and responsive, but don’t expect the same seamless experience you can find on more expensive devices like the Galaxy S21 and iPhone 13 Pro.
One other thing I want to note is that the Edge’s 144Hz display does not necessarily make it great for gaming. Unless a developer goes out of its way to update a game for the Moto Edge’s display, as Epic Games did with Fortnite on the OnePlus and Samsung devices, you won’t see a benefit from the faster panel.
Beyond the fast refresh rate, there’s a lot to like about the Moto Edge’s display. It’s vibrant, bright and supports HDR10, but there are a couple of things that may irk some people. Out of the box, the screen is set to a saturated color mode that overbakes sRGB content. You can switch it to a “Natural” color setting to make images and videos look more realistic. I also recommend playing with the color temperature settings since my unit came with the display too warm.
You’ll also either love or hate the Moto Edge’s 19.5:9 aspect ratio. The extra real estate is great for scrolling through Instagram, Twitter and other vertical apps but unwieldy when it comes to video content. I’ve been watching a lot of guides and gameplay videos of Diablo II: Resurrected on YouTube, and it quickly becomes evident that there’s no ideal way to consume 16:9 content on a 19.5:9 display: You either leave the image as is and accept the fact that there’s about a thumb’s worth of wasted space on each end of the screen, or you use YouTube’s pinch-to-zoom functionality to crop into the image. The 19.5:9 aspect ratio may also be too tall for some people to use in one hand.
If you don’t mind that, the Moto Edge is a great media consumption device. That said, you’ll want to use Bluetooth headphones for watching movies or TV. This year’s model only has a single speaker that sounds tinny and unsatisfying. Oh, and there’s no longer a headphone jack here, one of the few steps down from last year’s model.
Motorola has made two other notable changes. First, it replaced the finicky in-display fingerprint sensor found in last year’s model with a capacitive scanner that’s integrated into the new phone’s side-mounted power button. The company also moved the camera cutout to the center of the screen, which makes taking selfies and video calls feel more natural. But it’s the transition to a traditional fingerprint scanner that makes the most impact.
Where I live, masks are still mandatory on public transit as well as in stores and restaurants. Coming from inputting my passcode every time I unlock my iPhone or pay for something, the Moto Edge made doing things like buying a croissant at a coffee shop feel, well, normal. The sensor also works well; It’s fast and accurate and I didn’t have to register the same fingerprint multiple times to get it working efficiently, which was a problem we ran into with last year’s model. If companies learn nothing else from the pandemic, I hope it’s that the humble fingerprint sensor has a place on every phone.
Another highlight of the Moto Edge is battery life. Motorola says you can get up to two days from the phone’s 5,000mAh battery. I found that was possible when I limited the display to 60Hz. On our video rundown battery test, it lasted 19 hours and 45 minutes, which puts it in good company among the phones we’ve tested. Only the Pixel 5a put up a better result, but it’s worth noting it features a more power-efficient OLED display.
Motorola has also managed to improve the camera system on this year’s Edge, but not in the same meaningful way as the display. The 2021 model features three rear sensors: a 108-megapixel primary system with f/1.9 aperture, an ultra wide-angle and a depth sensor.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the primary camera that’s the highlight. It can take stunning shots during the day and Motorola’s HDR mode does a commendable job of preserving detail. In particularly challenging scenes, the camera tends to blow out highlights while brightening shadows to the point of making them look unrealistic. But when it properly exposes a scene, the results can be eye-catching. Colors appear vibrant and life-like, and there’s almost a physical texture to small details. Unfortunately, Motorola didn’t add OIS to the main camera, which means it can sometimes struggle when there isn’t as much light.
The 32-megapixel selfie camera is also great. It takes vibrant shots that are sharp and pop with detail. But again, the issue here is when you try to use the camera in a dark room or at night. Without OIS, I found most selfies I took in those situations ended up blurry.
Lastly, there’s the 119-degree wide-angle camera that still feels mostly like an afterthought. It offers plenty of horizontal and vertical space but is almost unusable when there isn’t plenty of light. I used the camera extensively on a dark and cloudy morning, and most of the shots I took that day looked smeared.
I ended up using the wide-angle camera more for macro photography. Unfortunately, that mode has some useability issues too. Focus hunting is a problem; it often took multiple attempts for the camera to lock onto my subject.
The camera app can be slow to launch and switch between lenses, which is one of the few areas where the Edge’s Snapdragon 778G didn’t have a great showing. My review unit came with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, though you can buy it with up to 8GB of RAM. Besides the issue I noted around the refresh rate, I didn’t run into any other notable performance issues.
A Motorola spokesperson told Engadget the company plans to support the 2021 Edge with two OS upgrades and two years of security updates. That’s a significant change from its predecessor, which only got one Android update.
When you add that to all the hardware updates the 2021 Edge features, it’s a far more compelling phone than its predecessor and an easier recommendation. For the time being, you can get the unlocked 256GB model for $600. It will eventually cost $700. On October 14th, Verizon will also start selling a 5G UW variant that will go for $550.
At $600, the Moto Edge is a good option if you don’t mind sacrificing on camera quality and can live without wireless charging. It’s $150 more than a device like the Pixel 5a, but you’re getting a phone with a better display, faster processor and bigger battery. Even at $700, it still represents good value with specs comparable to devices like the OnePlus 9. It’s not without its flaws, but it’s still one of the best mid-range phones on the market.