Motorola edge (2021) review: The (promo) price is right

Motorola Edge 2021 Home Screen LeavesSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

Throughout the unveiling and subsequent advertising campaign for the Motorola edge (2021), Motorola’s language has consistently felt detached from the delivered product. Claims of a new, unique phone with cutting-edge features that we’ve been clamoring for are largely unfounded. It’s as though they were the remains of a marketing campaign for a phone that failed to launch — maybe a new Motorola RAZR, perhaps?

But that’s not to say that the new Motorola edge is a bad phone in any way. Far from it, really, so long as you get it for the right price. Since the launch of the unlocked version of the phone in September, Motorola has been selling it for $499 — a $200 markdown from the MSRP of $699. Likewise, the Verizon 5G UW version of the phone I’ve been using for the past few weeks sells for $550.

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At that price, the Motorola edge (2021) is a much better value than last year’s Edge+ and more in line as a proper follow-up to the Motorola edge — just without the actual curved screen the name referenced. So is this flat-screen redux the best budget phone you can buy toward the latter half of 2021, or have Motorola’s latest efforts fallen flat? Let’s find out in our Motorola edge review.

Motorola edge (2021) review:

Motorola Edge 2021 CropMotorola Edge 2021 Crop

Motorola edge (2021)

Bottom line: The Motorola edge (2021) is a phone with 2 (or more) day battery life, a 144Hz display, and a camera hump to be reckoned with. The $500 promotional launch price feels about right, although it’s hard to recommend this over a Pixel or Samsung phone at the same price.

The Good

  • 144Mhz panel is ultra-smooth
  • Wi-Fi 6E support
  • Verizon Adaptive Sound actually helps enhance audio quality
  • 2+ day battery life
  • Clean yet feature-rich software

The Bad

  • MSRP is high
  • Unreliable cameras
  • Low water resistance rating

Motorola edge (2021): Price and availability

Motorola Edge 2021 Back

Motorola Edge 2021 BackSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

The Motorola edge (2021) unlocked model became available in August for a promotional price of $499. The normal MSRP for this model is $699.

The Motorola edge 5G UW we’re reviewing is available at Verizon from October 14 for $549 out the door. As always, Verizon offers financing starting at $18.33 per month for 30 months.

Motorola edge (2021): Hardware and design

Motorola Edge 2021 Hold Fingerprint Sensor

Motorola Edge 2021 Hold Fingerprint SensorSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

From the outside, it’s difficult to tell the Motorola edge apart from basically any other phone in this price range. A flat display panel is greeted by curved edges on the back, making it comfortable to hold and use. Curved screens tend to look fancy but are a mixed bag for many people, as the curved edges can sometimes trigger false touches because of how you hold your phone.

Motorola’s side-mounted fingerprint sensor is fantastic. I already prefer this particular location for a fingerprint scanner — that’s nestled in the side-mounted power button — but the sensitivity and accuracy of this scanner are notably better than most other phones. In fact, I had to turn off “touch to unlock” because it was so darn sensitive. This way, I have to click the power button to activate the fingerprint scanner and unlock it.

Category Motorola edge (2021)
Operating System Android 11
Display 6.8 inches, 2460×1080 resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio, IPS LCD, 144Hz
Processor Snapdragon 778G
Graphics Adreno 642L
Memory 6GB or 8GB LPDDR4
Storage 128GB or 256GB
Expandable Storage None
Rear Camera 108MP, ƒ/1.9 aperture, 0.7 μm pixels, 2.1 μm UltraPixel virtual pixels
8MP ultra-wide 119-degree angle, ƒ/2.2 aperture, 1.12 μm pixels, macro focus
2MP depth sensor, ƒ/2.4 aperture, 1.75 μm pixels
Front Camera 32MP, ƒ/2.25 aperture, 0.7 μm pixels, 1.4 μm Quad Pixel virtual pixels
Security side-mounted fingerprint scanner
Connectivity Wi-Fi 6E, LTE Cat 18, mmWave and sub-6 5G, Bluetooth 5.2
Ports 1x USB Type-C
Audio Single down-firing speaker
Battery 5,000 mAh, 30W charging
Water Resistance IP52
Dimensions 169mm x 76mm x 8.85mm
Weight 200g (unlocked model), 201.6g (Verizon model)
Colors Nebula Blue

Camera humps have become far too commonplace for my liking, and this one makes the phone ridiculously wobbly when placed on a table. It’s a pet peeve that might not bother other people, but it’s particularly annoying when trying to swipe-type while the phone is trying to lay flat.

The star of the show is the new 144Hz display, which feels incredibly smooth.

The Motorola edge is only IP52 rated for water and dust resistance. That means that it should be fine in the rain but can’t get any wetter than that.

The star of the show is the new 144Hz panel, which runs at a variable refresh rate to help provide a great experience without sacrificing battery life. It was nigh impossible for me to tell the difference between this and the many phones I have with 120Hz refresh rates, but it felt incredibly smooth, regardless.

Notably, Motorola swapped out last year’s OLED panel with an IPS LCD one this year, allowing it to achieve that 144Hz refresh rate. LCDs generally cannot hold a candle to an OLED when it comes to overall image quality, which means you’ll notice a pronounced degradation in quality if you’re coming from a phone with an OLED display.

Motorola’s inclusion of a 144Hz is interesting enough since it’s a typical gaming monitor refresh rate and isn’t found too often on phones. Motorola also says its new digitizer is supposed to respond to touches faster than the competition, but I didn’t notice anything worth mentioning when comparing it to several other phones with 120Hz displays.

The biggest offenders with Motorola’s design are the massive camera hump and low water resistance rating.

Motorola only includes a single bottom-firing speaker on this phone and one that’s not the best quality ever, at that. It’s plenty loud, at least, and doesn’t easily distort at higher volumes. Unfortunately, you just won’t get much range with this one, particularly anything on the mid to low side of the spectrum.

Motorola edge (2021): Software and performance

Motorola Edge 2021 Themes

Motorola Edge 2021 ThemesSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

Motorola has long made one of the cleanest Android skins since it started the Moto X line nearly a decade ago. Like its predecessors, the Motorola edge’s software retains a very stock Android look and feel. It runs atop Android 11 as of launch, and our review unit had the August 2021 security patch.

As I said in my hands-on with the phone back at Motorola’s August event, Motorola is committing to software updates for the first time in recent memory. This phone ships with Android 11 and is slated for two major OS updates — that’s to Android 13, of course — and will also be updated by-monthly with security updates.

Motorola is committing to software updates for the first time in recent memory.

All of the best Motorola features are here, and I had forgotten how much I loved using them from day to day. Chopping the phone twice (like an ax) will toggle the LED on the back like a flashlight, and twisting the phone twice will launch the camera. Motorola offers many different gestures like this, and they all come in handy at just the right time, all without having to unlock the phone and prod through settings to find them.

Back on the Motorola edge+, the edge screen offered a way to pull out a shortcut drawer to launch apps and actions quickly. This time around, the power button doubles as a capacitive touch button which can be tapped twice — that’s a tap not a push — to bring up a similar menu.

Motorola Edge 2021 Hands On Power Button Shortcuts

Motorola Edge 2021 Hands On Power Button ShortcutsSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

Motorola has enhanced this functionality this time around, too, offering ways to add actions like create a note or take a photo in addition to another place for app icons.

Some hidden features, like Verizon Adaptive Sound, aren’t immediately apparent until you delve further into the settings menu. Thankfully, this particular setting is enabled by default and certainly impressed me with how it handles audio output.

In the short of it, Motorola, Verizon, and BoomCloud360 partnered together to develop this new adaptive sound technique, which adjusts the properties of any audio being routed through the speaker or Bluetooth connections. The result is, at least in my testing, fuller-sounding audio from every kind of source. It’s a nice hidden feature that just works without you needing to do anything.

This phone is fast and snappy, fitting right in with the clean and easy-to-use software.

Ready For was one new feature I wasn’t particularly impressed with, though. Ready For is Motorola’s answer to Samsung DeX — a way to view your phone on a larger screen and interact with it like a desktop computer — but ends up feeling slow and less useful than I’d like.

Since the Motorola Edge supports Wi-Fi 6E — and I’ve got a Wi-Fi 6E router — the network connection wasn’t likely the culprit here. I also tried it out with the Ready For PC software Motorola provides on its website but didn’t see much of a difference in performance. So my guess is that the Snapdragon 778G inside could be holding it back.

Motorola edge (2021): Battery

Motorola Edge 2021 Always On Display

Motorola Edge 2021 Always On DisplaySource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

One of the single best reasons to buy a Motorola edge is the battery life. With a 5,000mAh battery and that more power-friendly Snapdragon 778G processor, I would wager that many people will easily get two days’ worth of use out of a single charge.

Light users can go much further than that, as Motorola’s software does a great job of going into deep sleep mode when it’s not used for a while.

Enjoy the 2+ day battery life.

Motorola upgraded the charging speed this year to 30W — that’s up from 15W last year — but doesn’t include a charging brick to reach that peak speed. It’s likely you’ve already got several chargers that’ll get this one topped up quickly, but unlikely that you’ve got one with the exact 30W speed to take full advantage.

Motorola edge (2021): Cameras

Motorola Edge 2021 Camera Software

Motorola Edge 2021 Camera SoftwareSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

Despite the glowing marketing and noticeable camera processing improvements, Motorola still can’t escape having cameras that aren’t up to snuff. Things seem to be improved over last year’s situation — especially when the camera gets it right — but I found that it misses shots more often than it makes them.

Case in point, this outdoor shot I took just after 6 PM. The sun was still shining brilliantly onto the house, and I rather enjoyed how the trees’ shadows created a moody contrast. The phone, on the other hand, apparently had a difficult time deciding what to do and ended up giving me a blurry shot. For good measure, I took another shot and ended up with the exact same result. Not great.

Despite the glowing marketing and obvious camera processing improvements, Motorola still can’t escape having cameras that aren’t up to snuff.

The 108MP sensor is used in an interesting way — although not a unique one — in that it takes all those lovely pixels and virtually combines them to help achieve what’s known as an “UltraPixel.” This term was coined back in the HTC One M7 days to describe a pixel size of over 2 microns. Since the virtual pixels here are 2.1 microns in size, the description holds up. On paper, at least.

In practice, neither low light shots nor detail in any lighting condition is very good. Most of the time, zooming into any photo turned out to look like a watercolor painting — a result of overprocessing when lots of noise from the camera sensor is present in a shot.

The nicest thing I can say about Motorola’s new camera experience is that it’s very good at achieving proper color accuracy. When placed next to the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE — a phone known for its extraordinarily vibrant photos — the realistic colors and white balance from the Motorola phone make Samsung’s color processing look like something out of a preschool coloring book. It’s just a shame about the rest of the overall quality, though.

Like some other phones of recent release, Motorola equipped the 2021 edge with an ultra-wide camera that doubles as a macro camera. However, in practice, the macro mode sounds much better on paper and often results in poor-quality photos. Frequently, things were too blurry or lacked the detail needed to be anywhere near impressive.

On the software front, I found the interface to be a bit obtuse. There are plenty of modes present, but the mode picker is a bit difficult to read. I found myself regularly staring at the phone for several seconds whenever I needed any mode I didn’t have pinned to the carousel because all of the icons look visually similar. Some color or other outline shape would be helpful.

Motorola’s new camera experience is very good at achieving proper color accuracy.

The 32MP front-facing camera fared much better in comparisons between the Motorola edge and other comparably-priced phones when it didn’t capture a blurry shot. Motorola could also do quite a bit better with dynamic range in tricky situations. When it did take a solid shot, though, this camera retained quite a bit of detail compared to the primary sensor. It even knocked it out of the park in portrait mode, which is a pleasant surprise from a single front-facing camera.

Motorola edge (2021): Competition

Google Pixel 5a Rear 2

Google Pixel 5a Rear 2Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central

There’s almost no circumstance where I wouldn’t recommend the Google Pixel 5a over this phone. The Pixel 5a’s biggest offense is the 60Hz panel, which just feels slow compared to something like the Motorola edge’s 144Hz panel. Battery life is comparable between both phones, but the Pixel cameras and the overall quality of the display are just so much better than what Motorola offers. There’s also the guarantee of several years of software updates on the Pixel side. Motorola promises a better update schedule with the 2021 edge, but, historically, Motorola has not been the best at updating phones.

Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE is the next-best direct competition to Motorola, often selling for around the same $500 price. Sometimes, you might even be able to get a Galaxy S21 for close to the same price, especially if you take advantage of trade-in promotions. Both of these phones are better than the Motorola edge in almost every way, including display, cameras, and history of software updates. Motorola takes the win for battery life without a doubt, but most of Samsung’s phones will get you through a full day without issue, so it’s probably not a huge deal for most people.

Motorola edge (2021): Should you buy it?

Motorola Edge 2021 Home Screen Leaves

Motorola Edge 2021 Home Screen LeavesSource: Nick Sutrich / Android Central

You should buy this if…

  • You need a phone with 2+ day battery life
  • You like the look and feel of stock Android
  • You like Motorola’s clever gestures

You shouldn’t buy this if…

  • You want a camera that’s better than mediocre most of the time
  • You want to be assured of software updates for years to come
  • You like to go swimming with your phone

3.5 out of 5

This year’s Motorola edge is a mixed bag of improvements and let-downs. On one hand, the new 144Hz display feels even smoother than last year’s 90Hz panel, but because it’s an LCD panel, it just doesn’t look as good as last year’s OLED one. Likewise, the cameras have seen a substantial hardware upgrade, and even the software feels a bit more intelligent, but the results don’t match what’s on paper.

At $500, the Motorola edge is a fine purchase for someone who wants a phone that’ll last two days on a single charge and still perform as well as they’d expect from a modern smartphone. Motorola’s software experience is as clean and useful as ever, with plenty of notable features that make everyday use more convenient. If anything, Motorola’s problem is that the competition is so fierce these days — especially in this price range — and that’s what makes it harder to recommend Motorola this year.

Motorola Edge 2021 CropMotorola Edge 2021 Crop

Motorola edge (2021)

Bottom line: Motorola’s latest flagship phone comes at a reasonably affordable price with some decent specs on paper. A disappointing, unreliable camera experience and a history of missing software updates cast a shadow of doubt over whether it’s worth buying, though.

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