Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Motorola Edge and Edge+

It's taken an awful long time to get here, but ten months on I have not just one Motorola Edge in my hands, but two! No prizes for guessing the reason - yes, money! The Motorola Edge started out at £549 and the Edge+ an incredible £1,049! Up with the Big Boys, then, I'm expecting the Edge+ to be something special indeed and the Edge leading the mid-tier pack. Let's see how they shape up, almost a year later.

I'll just pause to explain how I ended up with one of each all of a sudden. Last week (as I type) Motorola UK were making available the Edge via their education outlet to those who could access that route and a number of people got a great deal on that. One of the Phones Show Chat MeWe Group members Femi Shoyemi kindly sent it over for me to review. The one I'd always wanted though was the Edge+ and simultaneously the Lenovo website were knocking these out at £599 with a further Flash Sale £60 making it £539. Amazingly less than half the release price. I was weak!

So yes, two Edge phones in-hand and a perfect opportunity to compare them side-by-side. The Edge+ was not formally released in Europe back in May 2020, just the USA (much like the Z4 previously). Thanks Moto for not giving us the flagship until a year later! Anyway, enough whining and on with the show!

The box contents of the Edge include a tightly-fitting smoked TPU case and the Plus, a clear one - both of which scarily leave the 'edges' exposed. This is a big one which I'll come back to. There's the usual bunch of stuff included like pokey-tool, 3-pin charger (18W/15W), USB-A to USB-C cable, papers and cards but also a pair of earphones. Now, they don't suit me as they are drive-into-ear-canal ones but I do acknowledge that I'm in the minority here. I won't get those out of the Edge box as it is someone else's phone after all, but I will be able to test both phones using the pair from the Plus version.

Both devices have a sturdy
aluminium framed body, though the Plus does have a glass back rather than the Edge's plastic. No big deal as it looks pretty much like glass (especially through a case) and the same "water repellent coating" which apparently means that they've just skimped on the certification. Maybe that should have been a differentiator for the much more expensive model, for them to have grabbed that ticket.

There are some differences physically aside from that back, one of which being that the 3.5mm audio-out socket is up the top on the Plus and down the bottom on the Edge. In a similar switch, the SIM Card Tray is down the bottom on the Plus and top on the Edge. I can only imagine that this was because more space was needed up top for the electronics to read the Edge's microSD Card which forms a part of the tray's facility (Dual SIM or Single SIM and microSD) and which the Plus does not have - just a simple smaller (single) nanoSIM Card on the tray. The top and bottom of the Edge is also flat which just about allows you to stand the phone on its top or bottom, but it's a dodgy thing to do and I could see it falling with the slightest nudge! The Plus has a 'concave' edging top and bottom and because the phone is slightly fatter it does stand more confidently like that. Not sure I'd trust it still!

So yes, the Plus is fatter. Slightly. There's not much in it but presumably this has been done to accommodate the bigger battery, Qi charging coil and camera module which I'll come to later. The Plus is also heavier at 203g over the Edge's 188g but in the hand they really don't feel much different in that respect. What you might notice, however, is that both phones 'rock' slightly on a flat surface with their camera islands sticking out a tad, TPU case on or off. The Edge less so, but the Plus significantly because of that bigger, better camera cluster.

Otherwise, physically the two look very similar in many respects. On the right is a knurled power button sitting under a volume rocker towards to top but, because the screen curves round so far, they have been pushed backwards - towards the rear. Which is a bit odd as the hand expects to find those buttons centrally of course. Muscle memory time. Down the bottom we have the 'right' stereo speaker, USB-C data/charging alongside the aforementioned SIM Card Tray (Edge+) but 3.5mm Audio-Our socket on the Edge. On the left there is nothing and up top, the Edge has that SIM Card/microSD tray and Edge+ 3.5mm Audio-Out. Round the back they look very similar except for the camera islands. This stands out more on the Edge+ than Edge but otherwise arranged similarly, top-left in portrait.

The Edge phones are all about the screen, the
Endless Edge as Moto call it, that falls away left and right on both phones right around the edge. Just like the Nokia 8 Sirocco and earlier Samsung models. While others have now largely given up on this idea and gone back to flat(ter), Moto are either behind the trend with development times or they're just going their own way with it. Many have criticised the feature but actually, much like with the Sirocco, I love it! I also love flat screens. It's just different and a different experience. Nobody can deny that it looks really stylish, classy and premium. It does! I had dubbed my Sirocco my LladrĂ³ Phone - and this is much the same - the beautifully smooth edges of a fine porcelain piece. And the rest of the build around these edges fits in nicely with the same vision.

The content which 'falls away' round the edges, unlike the Sirocco, can be pulled back to the flat part of the front of the screen by smart double-taps on the edges, thus temporarily making the screen a kind-of 21:9 instead of the 19.5:9 when edges are included. There are some apps that this can't be executed within - including the launcher pages, but then the launcher pages are laid out in such a way as to not have icons falling over the edges, only maybe a character of the end of a long'ish label under an icon. You can also, should you wish, permanently turn off the edges in which case they are never used by any app (where the control is possible). Text is constrained in the Google Feed too, with only graphics really being 'wider'. I really am OK with this and think it works very nicely and retains that premium feel.

Talking of that front panel on the Edge, it's a Super AMOLED one measuring 6.7" - which sounds big, but that's 6.7" if it had been laid down, edges 'flattened out'. The 'real' measurement, say when in 21:9 mode is more like 6.3". So yes, tall in the hand but good in the hand, in the same way the Sony Xperia 5 series feels. I can get my finger and thumb round the 'waist' even with the supplied TPU in place. It would be lovely to use these phone with no case, but it would break! Even with the supplied case on, the edges are really vulnerable. The edges need to be available to touch because they are a part of the experience and beauty of the phone, so the payoff is that yes, be very, very careful, get insurance or put the phone in a 'pouch'!

Anyway, the Gorilla Glass 5 protected panel on both phones is probably manufactured by Samsung, LG or BOE (I can't quite pin this down from the data available), which means deep blacks and popping colours, saturated, colourful and bright. It's when you see screens like these that you realise that OLED is just so much nicer than LCD. The colours and brightness can be adjusted of course but not as exhaustively as some others with colour temperature adjustments and so forth. But it's really not needed. Motorola claim that the screen can produce a billion shades of colour! The brightness is just fine outdoors to see what you're doing and indoors can be wound right down. There's a single Selfie camera hole top-left at the start of the Status Bar, but it really isn't very noticeable - at least to me!

It's a 1080p panel returning 385ppi which seems to be set on a 90Hz refresh-rate for the Edge as I can't find any controls to change that to 60Hz or make it auto-controlled (apparently this used to be present on the Edge but Motorola took it away in an update in late 2020) but is available to adjust on the Edge+ between 90/60. Odd. Either way, that's fine - and possibly a good compromise between the basic and ludicrously high values.

Moto have also made available some other functionality for the edges, including notification/calls/alerts lighting, which can be seen even when the phone is screen-down (or even set for only when screen-down) and providing a marker for the reverse wireless charging location on the Plus. There's also a charging edge-light which shows briefly when you first start charging, which is very pretty - or you can turn all of this off if you prefer in Settings. An Edge Touch feature is also included which provides a panel of (6 assignable) shortcuts to apps, tools or contacts. The same as we now see from many Android phone manufacturers. The Edge Touch is also smart in that it can be double-tapped to turn the edge on/off, as I said earlier, swipe-in for that panel, swipe-up for Recents and swipe-down for the Notification shade (like you can do on some capacitive fingerprint scanners). This functionality is genuinely useful and the trigger 'bar' can be place anywhere you like to fit your hand size and where your controlling finger falls, made dark or light and even offers opacity and vibration feedback on use. Nice stuff.

Then we have the Gaming Toolkit to make use of those edges which by choice can drop down the main content to the screen and give the gamer left and right trigger buttons on the top edge for index fingers, gaming in landscape, assigned on a game-by-game basis for functionality. Gamers seems to be typically using them for right for 'fire' and left for 'aim' in a first-person shooter, for example. There's a 'L' and 'R' circle, greyed-out, which you basically just 'sit' over an on-screen 'button' and the shoulder triggers then execute that command by auto-pressing that part of the screen remotely from the shoulder. Not terribly smart, but then I guess every game would need to be deep-coded for this to work better. Don't know. I'm no gamer but if I was, no doubt I would make it work for me. Then there's the usual array of Gaming DND functions and exclusions for disruption. So anyway, another use for that edge if wanted.

Motorola remain one of my favourite phone manufacturers for the stuff they add over the top of Android, being useful but not feeling like bloat. Particularly with their Peek/Approach version of AoD. Once again, they excel here with those functions working beautifully as you move your hand over the screen, popping up a sliding notification with 'docks' to slide it to, depending on how you want to deal with it. Dismiss, read, execute some appropriate functionality or just leave until later with a summary of the data in the top half of the screen while you long-press the item while you decide. True, it's not a 'real' AoD but the way in which it works more than makes up for it not actually being on all the time. Fiendish.

The latest version of Moto's front-end also allows some customisation of colours, fonts and icon shapes which they (and Google) call Styles, layout array for icons on the home screens and a bunch of wallpaper options. You can also choose which fingerprint animation pops up when you go to unlock the screen by that method. There are three options, all having their charms! 
Talking of the fingerprint scanner, this Moto is supplied with an under-glass optical one which is not as fast as a physical capacitive one but it does the job very well. Those who are picky about the slight delay will do well to use the Face Unlock which, along with the fingerprint scanner is quick and easy to register and reliable in use. There's also a 'screen on when you look at it' setting which works well when sat in a cradle on desk or in car.

Then we have the ever-present Moto Actions - chop-chop for torch, twist-twist for camera, 3-finger screenshot from anywhere lift to unlock and swipe-to-split, which was a new one on me. If you swipe your finger quickly left and right across the screen the system will offer you a quick route to push the currently-in-foreground app to the top and allow you to put another one in below. Seems to work well enough (with supported apps) for those who need to multi-task every waking hour! And that's about it. No bloat (unless you got the Verizon USA version of the Plus) and a clean near-Vanilla version of Android.

Yes, a near-Vanilla version of Android which offers a near-standard Notifications panel with adjustments and links, choices and shortcuts, a homescreen which allows for almost limitless customisation - even more so than a Pixel which locks-in the At A Glance and Search Widgets and an App Drawer vertical scrolling popping up with a swipe. Gesture navigation controls or three buttons legacy version, Google Feed to the left, drag-down for notifications (as well as the aforementioned edge control) and the standard method of invoking the Google Assistant via corners. Just lovely. Both phones have Android 10 and a guarantee of Android 11 (at least) and as I write in March 2021, both have February Google Security Patches.

The software on the two phones is near identical and only changes where some element of the hardware differs - so not very often. The Settings pages are all-but the same, though one where they are clearly not is the Storage. The Edge has a microSD Card, as I said above, and 128GB of UFS2.1 storage whereas the Edge+ has no microSD Card but 256GB of UFS3.0 storage. I guess for most people they won't care either way especially as media can so readily be played via plug-in storage in the USB-C port. One of the differences is also that the Edge+ supports HDMI-Out and the Edge does not. This means that the Edge+ laid on a Qi charging pad (or well charged) could be used as a powered media server for a TV, for example, but the Edge not so (at least by cable). I would always prefer to have microSD of course but to be fair I've now been living with a 128GB Pixel for most of the last 6 months and haven't needed it once.

Powering the Edge is a Snapdragon 765G chipset but the Edge+ steps this up to a Snapdragon 865. To be honest, I can't tell the difference in normal day-to-day tasks. I have tried running car-racing games on both and they seem to do the job as well as each other. I have tried to see if moving files around, copying data back and forward makes any difference, but I can't really see it. Makes you wonder what all this extra beef is for really. Same is true of the 12GB RAM coming as standard on the Edge+ over the 6GB of the Edge (or even 4GB in the USA version). Switching between tasks, running apps, observing how long they stay open and background tolerance for shutting down - yes OK, technically there may be a difference when you look back over a number of days but as apps open very quickly anyway, the average user really isn't going to notice. So yes, nice to have the power under the bonnet, but again, it makes you wonder. For those who think it matters, I ran the GeekBench 5 Test on both phones and the Edge had an overall score of 2488 and Edge+ 4273.

The two phones have different size batteries, as I said earlier so interesting to see what difference that makes, given all the previous about chipsets and RAM to take into account. I have been testing the two over the last week and quite honestly there isn't much between them. Edge is 4,500mAh and Edge+ 5,000mAh. Maybe the 500mAh more of the Edge+ is used up by the more powerful chipset and RAM to just about keep them even. The bottom line is that the Edge+ is a bit better but not by much. Both phones' batteries are excellent in everyday use. My usual 10% Reading Test returned just under 2 hours with the Edge and just over 2 hours on the Edge+. The Average Use for Me test returned for the Edge about 50-60 hours between charges with 5-7 hours screen-on-time and the Edge+ 60-70 hours between charges with 6-9 hours SoT. So, both excellent however you want to view it but the Edge+ does indeed win out. A fabulous performance. Usual test conditions apply as for all my other phones reviewed in my blog, so as close to a level playing field as I can reasonably get.

The Edge+ however offers Qi Wireless Charging, which is a great bonus - and it works perfectly on a number of devices tested here. It's very forgiving of position which presumably means that it has a big coil in the back. It charges up at 18W (with the right charger) and even offers reverse-charging (power-sharing) at 5W. This means that you can charge another wireless-enabled device from the back of this one. This feature is becoming quite common now, but good to see Moto keeping up. The Edge+ comes with an 18W charger in the box to fuel up quickly when needed. There's no Qi Wireless charging on the Edge so just the 15W charger in the box, but plenty fast enough.

I have never used 5G Connectivity and can't get it where I live, but both of these phones have 5G capability for those more fortunate than me. I still maintain that 4G is good and fast enough for pretty much everything an individual might need to do with a phone, but accept that a family sharing a signal would make a difference. Anyway, on 4G both phones hold on well to voice and data. I have had conversations with people on both and reception is good, lock is good and break-up non-existent. The Edge+ is ahead of the Edge with mmWave 6 capability, not that here in the UK it's of much use! The Edge+ also has an advantage with Dual-band A-GPS which apparently means that locks onto satellites will be faster and more accurate, so to within a foot rather than a road's width. Could be critical, I guess, for indoor tracking though it ain't half bad as it is anyway! WiFi 6 is also present on the Edge+ but not on the Edge. Something else I have never used, but understand that when available speeds can reach 2-3 times faster for data exchange.  I haven't tested NFC on either phone in a shop with Google Pay due to the pandemic, but the technology seems to work fine as it locks onto other devices as you'd expect. I understand from others that there is, of course, no problem with Google Pay.

The two phones come equipped with stereo speakers. One fires from the bottom and the other utilises the phone-call's earpiece, like many phones these days which have stereo. Motorola boast that these speakers are "the loudest, most powerful stereo speakers in a smartphone ever, plus precision tuning for professional-quality sonic performance and deeper, fuller sound." They have got a company called Waves to tune them to "deliver professional-quality sonic performance on smartphone speakers in a way that’s never been done before". So how about in practice.

The sound coming out of the speakers is great on both phones but I do believe that the Edge+ just pips the Edge on volume and quality, but it’s a close thing and I might be convincing myself! It may be that the components are the same and the slight difference is based on the small case size enhancement of the Edge+. It's slightly bigger so has more space for the sound to move around. Maybe. I put the sound output up against the Pixel 3 and the Edge devices are certainly louder than the Pixel but maybe not quite as good quality. By this I mean the bass, low-end and middle-range sounds. The stereo separation is good and placed 18" in front of the head visual media can be enjoyed to good effect. The more phones I review, the better this gets these days and it's often hard to differentiate.

The sound can be adjusted with the Moto Audio facility, device-wide, accessed via the Sound menu or Notification Shade toggle. There is a caveat here though and difference between the two phones, favouring the Edge. On the Edge we find lots of adjustments, switches, sliders and pre-sets to tweak the output and it's really rather good when this has been done. Strangely though, the Edge+ version of Moto Audio does not let the user drill down as far with settings - see that 'pencil' is missing and you just get the basic three pre-sets. So more control on the Edge for sure. In reality, even without custom controls it's fine on both and I have no complaints about the output on volume though as usual, some of that volume is compromised when equalisation is employed. You can't beat physics it seems. Yet!

There does seem to be a difference, however, with the headphone output utilising a pair of reference 3.5mm Sony headphones for both tests. The Edge doesn't quite seem to reach the high standard of the Edge+ with the latter blowing my ears off at 100% volume! When I try the same trick on the Edge, it's not the same. The sound is not as loud, nor such good quality. The Edge is not bad, it's just that the Edge+ is louder and better quality. Incidentally, the supplied earbuds are good enough for almost all, laying aside audiophiles who will expect the extraordinary. The difference between the phones' output here is clearly in the DACs in the two different chipsets, the Edge+ having a more advanced and powerful one.

Bluetooth connectivity is excellent, as we have come to expect which, when employed, blew my ears off with the Edge as well! Bluetooth goes from strength to strength these days and really does produce a great output. Tested here with AirPods and various loudspeakers, the fix is quick, the pairing robust and the range (depending on attached equipment) good enough for roaming around the average house/garden.

The cameras on the two phones offer very reasonable facilities, especially the Edge+. The Edge+ boasts the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra's 108MP f1.8 main camera with OIS and a 1/1.33" sensor. By default this shoots down to 27MP but 'Ultra Res' allows shooting at the 108MP so loads more resolution for post-editing and cropping. This supported by an 8MP f2.4 3x Optical Zoom with OIS and a 16MP f2.2 wide-angle/Macro unit. The Edge has a less capable 64MP f1.8 main shooter with a smaller 1/1.72" sensor supported by an 8MP f2.4 2x Optical Zoom and that same 16MP f2.2 wide-angle/Macro unit. Again, the main camera can be forced to shoot at 64MP but the default similarly makes use of the Quad Pixel tech to produce 16MP stills. Note that there is no OIS available on the Edge at all. Both phones have a 25MP f2 Selfie and also a ToF Depth sensor, though on the Edge+ this is hidden next to the LED Flash. Video on the Edge+ can be shot at 6K@30fps whereas the Edge 'only' has 4K!

The camera app is very much the same on both units with variations only where specs dictate, like the Ultra Res level or 6K video. To the Moto user, the camera app is most familiar with all the usual suspects like Spot Colour, Cutout, Night Vision, grid, spirit-level etc. with options for manual overrides of the AI and Auto shot-optimisation and smart-composition if chosen. At this point I'm going to do my usual trick of asking my Phones Show Chat co-host Steve Litchfield if he'll take some samples of what I have shot here with the Edge and Edge+ and add his thoughts after putting them through some of his fine testing and pixel-peeping. So here are his thoughts - many thanks to him.

Steve's Cameras Verdict
Having looked through Ted's sample photos from each phone, there are no major horrors in terms of image processing. Which is good. The optics don't seem flagship level, as in competing with the Samsung and iPhone flagships, but the whole camera package seems well thought out. Obviously the Edge+ is slightly more flexible, with better zoom range and options, and with AF on the wide angle, but either phone will be fine for every day photos of a variety of subjects. With, obviously, the caveat that due to Covid-19 restrictions, the test scenes and their analysis were limited. Roll on sunshine, summer and freedom!

Summary
I'm very pleased indeed with my Edge+ and it's commanded my SIM Card and attention since it arrived. I really thought I'd be back on my Pixel and returning the Edge+ as there's a significant amount of cash tied up here, even if under half price. I also like very much the Edge and for the £199 some were able to get it for, it's a steal. I'm a big Moto fan, as you might know if you're reading this, so maybe it was always going to be a win-win for me personally. I had been eyeing this up since release-day! As for the difference between the two, for me, the extra money was worth it for the Plus version, but the Edge is certainly no slouch, performing very well.

Which one the next person might go for will depend on how much they value that higher resolution camera, Qi Wireless Charging, bigger battery, faster and more powerful chipset, significantly more RAM, mmWave connectivity and WiFi 6. On the other hand, they might more highly value the Edge for the (very) slightly smaller size, microSD Card for expanded storage and dual SIM Card capability. They are both cracking devices and as we often say on Phones Show Chat, last year's phones represent great value almost always - and as time goes on, that equation gets better and better for the buyer.

The broader question is more about the non-Moto Edge competition I guess. One that comes readily to mind for a similar 21:9 is the Sony Xperia 1 II (or 5 II) but they are still big money and nowhere near the value of this pair of Edge phones priced as they are now. In order to get the feature-set of the Edge+ you will need to go to flagships, Samsung maybe as long as you don't want to stick closely to Vanilla Android. Or there's compelling arguments from well-priced Xiaomi, Redmi, Oppo, Realme and OnePlus offerings - but none of them can tick all the boxes which the Edge+ does for the same (current, reduced) money and, like Samsung, are far from Vanilla. As always, it's a personal thing - and for me, personally, I know which way I would jump, have done, and am happy!

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