Motorola has cornered the budget smartphone market in spectacular fashion, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a flagship of any sort from the company. Aside from the foldable Moto Razr, which launched last year, and the mid-range Moto One lineup, Motorola has kept its distance from the high-priced end of the smartphone spectrum – until now.

Despite an increasingly bloated list of sub-£200 handsets coming from Motorola’s factories, the company has embarked on a tentative return to the flagship arena. The Motorola Edge is a gratifying first attempt at breaking out of its budget comfort zone, but with well-established rivals such as Samsung, Xiaomi and OnePlus already dominating higher portions of the market, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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Motorola Edge review: What you need to know

It’s immediately clear that the Motorola Edge is an entirely different beast compared to what we’re used to from Motorola, and it represents a handful of firsts for the company. Not only is it the first 5G-enabled Moto phone – with the new Snapdragon 765 chipset onboard – but it’s also the first to have a 90Hz screen with support for HDR10 content.

Elsewhere, it has a healthy 6GB of RAM and 128GB of built-in storage alongside a large 4,500mAh battery and triple-camera arrangement on the back. It even betters its rivals by throwing in a 3.5mm headphone jack, although it lacks wireless charging and doesn’t have anything in the way of official IP-rated dust or water protection.

Motorola Edge review: Price and competition

If the core specifications are impressive, then the price is even more tempting. Available on the Motorola website and exclusive to O2 in the UK, the Motorola Edge is priced at £549 SIM-free. At that sort of price, you have a few alternatives to consider.

Our pick of the bunch right now – provided you’re willing to spend a bit more – is the OnePlus 8, a £599 smartphone that’s powered by a faster Snapdragon 865 processor and also has a 90Hz display. You should consider the Samsung Galaxy S10 Lite, too, which costs £579 and fits 90% of your requirements at nearly half the price of the Galaxy S20.

Motorola Edge review: Design and key features

Despite the bump in price, the Motorola Edge is still distinctly Moto-like in its appearance. The back is made of cheap-feeling plastic, the rear cameras are arranged in a vertical traffic light formation in the top left corner and a Motorola logo is positioned in the centre. It’s a bit of a fingerprint magnet, and it doesn’t come in the same stunning pearlescent colour finishes of rival smartphones – you only get the boring “Solar Black” model in the UK.

Pull it out of the box, however, and the first thing you’ll notice is the wraparound screen. This 6.7in OLED display curves nicely around the left and right sides at a 90-degree angle, with minimal screen-bordering bezels and a hole punch selfie camera in the upper left corner.

There’s no doubt that it looks rather swish, but the Moto Edge isn’t exactly comfortable to hold. This could simply be a design defect with my review model, or perhaps the phone wasn’t put together properly, but there’s a bothersome ridge along the left and right edges of the handset, where the curved screen meets the back panel.

These creases uncomfortably stabbed into both my palm and fingertips when I held the phone in my hand. Perhaps even worse, in fact, is that I could push my fingernail in-between a gap below this ridge. It’s no wonder the Moto Edge doesn’t have an IP rating, and while problems such as these should usually be addressed during development, the finished product instead feels rather rushed.

Clumsy design faults aside, the phone’s other physical attributes are precisely where you expect them to be. It has a slim power button and volume rocker on the right edge; a dual SIM tray on the top with space for a microSD card; and a USB-C port, solitary speaker grill and 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. There’s also an in-screen fingerprint sensor in the bottom portion of the display for secure unlocking and in-app payment authentications.

Motorola Edge review: Display

The Moto Edge’s 6.7in screen is a looker, but it takes some getting used to, especially if you have small hands as I do. The large OLED panel completely dominates the front of the device, with a resolution of 2,340 x 1,080 and a pixel density of 385ppi.

According to my measurements using our X-Rite colorimeter, the Moto Edge peaked at a maximum brightness of 469cd/m² with the auto-brightness setting engaged and reached an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 94% with a total volume of 97%. Colour accuracy is pretty much bang on, with a recorded Delta E of 1.49 in the phone’s “Natural” display profile, with only a few inconsistencies with oversaturated red tones. The other two display modes – “Vivid” and “Saturated” – dial up the colour saturation to varying degrees, if you prefer that sort of thing.

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The Moto Edge’s screen also has a maximum refresh rate of 90Hz and supports HDR10 content on Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube and the like. HDR content looks rather good, too, although it can’t quite match the punchy presence of the OnePlus 8 or iPhone 11 in ultra-dark scenes.

Motorola Edge review: Performance and battery life

The Motorola Edge is the first phone I’ve tested to be powered by the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 765 processor. This 5G-enabled chipset, which launched in December last year, is an octa-core CPU that’s built using a 7nm fabrication process and clocked at 2.3GHz. That’s a tad slower than the Snapdragon 865 – the chip that powers the OnePlus 8 – which has a clock speed of 2.84GHz.

General performance is rapid enough, but the Moto Edge is the slowest of the bunch in the Geekbench tests. I would argue that the performance gains on the other phones are largely redundant, however. Aside from the occasional power user, most smartphone buyers don’t need oodles of raw power, and the Moto Edge does things just as well in usual operation. Again, the 765’s Adreno 620 GPU isn’t the best in this price bracket either, but it does a good job at sustaining solid frame rates in games such as PUBG: Mobile and Fortnite.

Battery life, on the other hand, is excellent. In our video playback test, which requires that we switch off all data connections and set the screen brightness to 170cd/m², the Moto Edge lasted 21hrs 9mins before needing to recharge.

Motorola Edge review: Camera

As for the camera array, the Moto Edge uses a quad-camera setup on the back, which comprises a 64MP (f/1.8) main camera, an 8MP (f/2.4) 2x telephoto zoom lens, a 16MP (f/2.2) ultra-wide lens and a ToF (Time of Flight) camera for depth-sensing duties. A 25MP (f/2.0) selfie camera sits in the hole punch notch on the front of the phone.

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That’s a heck of a lot of cameras to choose from. Predictably, the results are generally very good, but it’s worth noting that although the Moto Edge can take 64MP images, it captures 16MP pictures by default. You can switch this around with a simple tap of the dedicated “Ultra-res” shooting mode, but it’s a bit of a pain to enable this whenever you launch the camera app.

Compared with the OnePlus 8, the quality of the Moto Edge’s images are a bit of a mixed bag. The 64MP mode is excellent and filled to the brim with details, but the Edge’s 16MP pictures lack contrast and generally look rather soft when placed next to the OnePlus 8’s 12MP images. Likewise, I much prefer the OnePlus 8’s detail-rich macro shots.

On that note, the Moto Edge has some issues with focus hunting when recording video. For the most part, the Edge’s 4K footage looked fine, but whenever I dipped the resolution down to Full HD and bumped up the frame rate to 60fps, the Moto Edge struggled to keep anything in focus, completely ruining footage. There’s also a mechanical ‘click’ whenever you switch to the selfie camera, which is annoying.

This is a shame, because in some areas, such as wide-angle and portrait photography, I feel the Moto Edge does a better job than the OnePlus 8. The Moto’s camera software is much simpler to use, and it isn’t burdened with complicated settings, either. It automatically suggests switching to the various shooting modes depending on the scene, too, which is handy.

Motorola Edge review: Verdict

Motorola’s return to the flagship territory is closer in scale to a muffled whimper than a triumphant roar. For a brand that continues to dominate the low-end to such a remarkable degree, I had high hopes for a new Moto flagship, but the end result is a moderately unsatisfying one.

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There’s plenty to build on, and the Moto Edge isn’t bereft of positives. A colour-accurate screen, long-lasting battery life and decent performance are usually the hallmarks of a great smartphone, but the Moto Edge needed to be completely flawless in order to successfully bring the fight to OnePlus and others.

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