On paper, Moto’s return to the flagship phone world seems like it’s got all the right stuff. For less than a Galaxy S20+, you’re practically getting the same assortment of specs including a 6.7-inch OLED screen, Snapdragon 865 chip, 12GB of RAM (which is 4GB more than what you get from Samsung), and full 5G support. You also get handy bonuses like a headphone jack, a higher res 108-MP main camera, and a massive 5,000 mAh battery.
However, after stepping away from the high-end phone market for the last couple years, it seems like Motorola has forgotten how to properly refine and polish a premium device.
Let’s start with the good stuff first. When it comes to performance, the Edge+ is a beast. It’s 12GB of RAM is more than anyone really needs, even when multitasking between a bunch of apps and games, the Edge+ never seems strained. And on benchmark tests, the Edge+ routinely performed 5 to 10 percent better than the OnePlus 8 Pro, which is no small feat considering fast and fluid performance has been one of OnePlus’ calling cards for years. The Edge+ also comes with 256GB of storage standard, so there’s plenty of room to squirrel photos, videos, or anything else you might want away. Though the tradeoff there is that unlike the S20+, the Edge+ doesn’t have a microSD card slot.
Meanwhile, the Edge+’s 90Hz display offers a good middle ground between standard 60Hz panels and the 120Hz screens used by Samsung, OnePlus, and others. That 90Hz refresh means everything you do looks just a little bit smoother, letting you appreciate little details like the animation of an app opening or the way text glides down the screen while browsing the web. Moto’s 6.7-inch OLED screen also produces colourful images under normal conditions, though its peak brightness of 495 nits could be better.
On top of that, the Edge+’s 90Hz display is less power-hungry than its 120Hz brethren, which when combined with its huge 5,000 mAh battery resulted in it lasting 17 hours and 18 minutes in our battery test, which makes the Edge+ the longest-lasting phone we’ve ever tested. This thing’s got some serious runtime.
Motorola also says the Edge+’s dual speakers are the loudest of any phone ever, and while I can’t confirm if that’s true or not as I don’t have every phone ever sitting in front of me, they do certainly pack a punch. Unfortunately, what the Edge+ brings in volume is sort of cancelled out by just decent audio quality, which tends to sound a bit hollow or shallow for my tastes. The Edge+ might be a touch louder, but Moto still isn’t really dunking on Samsung’s Galaxy S20+. That said, the Edge+ does have a headphone jack, which is something almost no other high-end phones have anymore (aside from the LG V60). And with the quarantine keeping me largely confined indoors, I’ve found quite that 3.5mm jack quite useful when paired with the wired closed-back headphones I usually wear at home, allowing me drown out distracting sounds in the background.
So why am I not in love with this phone? The big issue with the Moto Edge+ is how it feels and functions during everyday use. If you swipe up from the bottom of the phone on the home screen, you’re more likely to open up the recent apps screen than the phone’s app drawer – something that feels especially strange as the Edge+ features a mostly stock Android UI. To avoid this, you have to make sure you don’t actually touch the very bottom of the screen, and instead start your swipe around the bottom row of app icons.
But what makes the phone feel even more awkward is its design. Thanks to its large camera module in back, anytime you tap the phone while it’s resting on a flat surface, it tends to rock back and forth like an annoying table with uneven legs. If you shake the Edge+, you’ll also notice that the phone produces a rattle, which is a side effect caused by ball bearings in the phone’s optical image stabilisation system. Moto claims the rattle won’t harm or damage the phone, which is nice I guess, but like a loose door handle on a new car, that noise doesn’t make you feel great about your shiny new purchase.
Furthermore, the metal band that runs around the outside of the phone that joins the front and back glass sticks out like a ridge, which when combined with the bigger battery inside, leaves the Edge+ feeling significantly more clunky to hold and use than the Galaxy S20+. And while I didn’t have a ton of issues using Moto’s curvy “Endless Edge” screen which wraps halfway down the side of the phone, the extreme bends causes some issues when using a number of apps or simply browsing the web.
Moto’s Endless Edge display can get annoying when the phone puts UI elements on the side of the screen.
On Gizmodo US’s mobile site, parts of our top navigation bar flow down into the curve, which means if you want to browse over to Earther (which you should), you have to tap the very side of the screen. And even when there aren’t UI elements hanging over each side, the extra curvy display can cause some serious visual distortion. I also noticed some situations where the Edge+ would get stuck in landscape mode and refuse to switch back without excessive swiping and pawing at its screen. I’m still not sure why this happens, but it’s behaviour when switching between landscape and portrait orientation is unlike almost any other Android phone I’ve used recently.
Moto tries to utilise its Endless Edge screen by lighting up the sides of the phone when you get certain notifications (like a text message) or charge the phone, which is nice. But this is something Samsung has been doing for years, and aside from letting you use the edge of the phone as virtual buttons while gaming, Moto doesn’t seem to have brought a lot of other innovation to the party.
Notice the green tint and how the phone’s background colour shifts from top to bottom. That shouldn’t happen on a high-end device.
Now I would be remiss not to mention that you can disable the Endless Edge effect via a simple toggle in the phone’s display settings. In fact, the Edge+ will even turn off the Endless Edge automatically when it’s low on juice, to help extend its battery life. The problem is that if you’re buying a phone only to disable one of its highlight features, what’s the point?
Another frustrating screen issue is that when you look at the phone in the dark room with the brightness turned down, the phone suffers from black crush and a green tint that makes the entire display look somewhat grainy. And if you turn the phone’s built-in dark mode on, when you look at the settings menu, you can easily see how the phone has trouble maintaining a consistent background colour across its screen. These are all things you really shouldn’t have to deal with on something that’s supposed to be a high-end device.
But what might frustrate some folks even more is that Moto won’t commit to supporting the Edge+ with major software updates beyond Android 11. Moto says “We will support with software updates as frequently and for as long as we feel it benefits our consumers. While we don’t have an absolute commitment to numbers of upgrades, edge consumers can expect security updates every other month and an upgrade to Android 11 OS this year. Additionally, we’re looking to the Play Store updates to bring new features and address consumer concerns faster.” That’s not a bad commitment for a cheaper phone, but for any flagship phone, two major software updates should be the bare minimum. No excuses.
The Edge+’s extra photo modes like sport colour are fun, but not real selling points.
As for its cameras, the Edge+ delivers some of the most up and down performance I’ve seen on a phone in a while. In bright light, the Edge+ largely delivers, boasting sharp, high-res photos that don’t leave much room for complaining. And if you’re someone who really enjoys pixel peeping, you can enable the Edge+’s full 108-MP sensor to capture pics with massive resolution. Otherwise, the Edge+ uses pixel binning to increase quality, leaving you with 25-MP photos by default, which is still twice the resolution of most of its competitors.
If you look close though, you will notice that the Edge+’s colors aren’t as saturated and don’t pop like what you’d get from a Galaxy S20+. I also prefer daytime photos taken by the Pixel 4, as Google tends to do a better job nailing white balance and contrast. Even so, it’s clear Moto has made a lot of progress when it comes to camera quality.
Unfortunately, in low light situations, the Edge+ gets weird. Without its dedicated Night Vision mode turned on, the Edge+ shot some very lacklustre pics. In a head-to-head against the OnePlus 8 Pro, both phones were blurry and lacked a lot of detail to the point where it became a contest to decide which pic looked worse. Basically, if it’s dark out and you don’t turn the phone’s Night Vision mode on, you’re at risk of capturing a disappointing photo.
When you do get around to enabling Night Vision, which not coincidentally the phone will routinely prompt you to do, image quality significantly improves. In a shot of a nearby mural, the Edge+ easily kept pace with the S20+, with the two phones only capturing minor differences in white balance. And when I pitted the Edge+ against the Pixel 4 XL in a candlelight only photo, while the Pixel 4 XL still came out on top, the Edge+ wasn’t that far behind. Motorola says it put a lot of work into the Edge+’s HDR processing, and it shows, with a number of its phones showing strong dynamic range while capturing more detail in the shadows.
Hey, a headphone jack on a high-end phone. Imagine that.
The Edge+ is a maddening device because underneath all these minor issues, there is a solid phone waiting for some tweaks. However, the bigger problem for Moto is that if you just want a fast, powerful phone with decent cameras and a 90Hz screen, the OnePlus 8 is also available for quite a bit less. The main things you lose on out are a headphone jack and a 3x telephoto zoom. And if you aren’t thirsty for performance, the Pixel 4 can be had for even less than that. That makes the Edge+ a hard sell.
On the flip side, when it comes to high-end phones, the Galaxy S20+ remains without a doubt the best premium Android phone. Its screen is better and it supports a 120Hz refresh rate. Its cameras are also better, particularly in low light. Most importantly, it has the kind of refinement you expect on a high-end handset.
All this leaves the Edge+ in an awkward spot. In some respects, it’s hard to blame Motorola for releasing a high-end device when spending time outside or on-the-go is something people can’t really do. There’s no way Moto could have predicted covid-19 a year or two ago when it probably started designing this phone. But at the same time, if you’re going to make a lot of noise about getting back in the premium phone game, you have to go hard, and make sure it can hang with the best. And even with a price tag less than its biggest rival, the Edge+'s lack of polish makes it hard to get excited about.
- Like many past Moto phones, the Edge+ still features those handy Moto Actions so you can do things like open the camera with a twist of your wrist.
- The Edge+’s optical in-display fingerprint reader is generally fine, but still gets tripped up occasionally.
- This thing has battery life in spades, along with wired, wireless, and reverse wireless charging.
- The Edge+ might need another small price cut for it to become really attractive.
All images: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)