Wednesday 9 November 2022

Motorola Edge 30 Neo

It's a long time since I had a new Motorola phone. In fact, since 2020 and the Edge Plus - now abandoned by Moto in terms of security updates, but let's not go there again! The Edge+ (2020) remains close to me however, still the best sounding speakers on a phone I've ever had. For those who want to remember that one, here's a link to my review from 2020. Meanwhile, I'm excited to explore the new Edge 30 Neo.

When phones have 'Neo' attached to them, we expect them to be cut-down, 'lite' versions of flagships (or even mid-rangers). The lower-end versions with compromises left, right and centre, making them less attractive to buy for us nerdy types! However, the major Chinese manufacturers are changing that landscape, slowly and surely over time - adding more and more mid-range (and in some cases flagship) features which defy their position in the plethora of possible choices for the consumer. And Motorola have caught on, it seems!

Caught on, because the Edge 30 Neo is really rather impressive at the £349 price-point. Sales going on all over the place of course - I got this one for £319, but I'm sure you could find it for £299 as I write now. For under £300, what you get here is staggeringly impressive and a really aggressively-priced challenge to others in the space. Motorola have just released this phone in autumn 2022 alongside the Edge 30 Fusion and Edge 30 Ultra - both further up the price range.

The box
looks like an eco-friendly affair, brown cardboard which at least looks the part with claims of being plastic-free and recyclable with the use of 'soy ink' where printing is done. It's a nice enough little box, much like previous Moto ones in terms of size. There's a pokey-tool for the SIM Card Tray included, unusually hard-plastic (not soft) transparent case, USB-C to USB-C cable and a 68W Turbo-Charger - yes, in the box! They've done a deal with the colour-design creation firm Pantone to introduce some interesting colour options for the outside and with matching wallpaper - so you can choose 
Very Peri, Black Onyx, Ice Palace or Aqua Foam - inside and out! I have the Black one here.

The phone is almost dinky! I say almost, because it's not quite Pixel 5 dinky, but it's much smaller than many phones out there (especially Motorola's kind of 'standard' 6.7") and therefore, very pocketable and great for one-handed use. I'm likening it in terms of size to the Pixel 6a in fact. They are very close, but the 6a being a tad wider and with 'squarer' corners makes it a little less dinky than the Neo. Soft TPU cases (I bought one for the Neo) in place on both and the finger/thumb test around the waist of the phone is more difficult on the Pixel, no problem on the Neo.

The back of the phone is plastic with a very slight texture to it. Not enough to stop it slipping out of the hand, but it's certainly not glossy-shiny. There's an embossed Moto 'M' in a dimple in the centre and a Pantene sticker making sure you know what colour you chose! The camera island is a strange-looking two-tone - one lens and LED Flash sitting in a 'glossy' half following the Pantene colour and the other, a matt grey colour. The most interesting thing about the camera island though is the Notification LED surrounding it, which I'll come to. The island sits top-left in portrait.

Around the plastic edge
we have various microphones - and even a tiny 'Dolby Atmos' with logo, next to the top front-firing speaker/earpiece. Nothing on the left, volume rocker over power button (which seem sturdy) on the right, then the other speaker, USB-C port and Dual (double-sided) NanoSIM Card Tray on the bottom. Motorola do their usual trick of avoiding IP-rating certification by claiming 'splash and dust resistant' but without guarantees and/or testing. So anyway, it's all plastic - but I'm OK with that. It's certainly very light to add to the dinky nature - at just 155g.

Despite the ongoing 'Edge' name Moto use, the front panel is flat Gorilla Glass 3, a 6.28" P-OLED, 1080p, 20:9 ratio, returning 419ppi. There's a 120Hz refresh rate with manual step-down, forced max or Auto settings. And it really is a bright and colourful display. Certainly up there with Samsung with saturated colours and deep blacks. You get almost 500 nits with manual control but over 1000, amazingly, in auto. And you can tell, outside in sunlight as you can see it very well. Also, the auto-brightness works wonderfully well - so much better in terms of auto-adjustment for environment than others, especially, recently, our experience with some Sony Xperia devices. I can happily leave it on auto - and trust it to get it right.

The black bezels are about a millimetre left and right, a bit more top and bottom. It is all symmetrical and it looks just fine to my eyes - as does the central punch-hole Selfie camera. Very subtle and quickly becoming a blind-spot. You can adjust the display in settings between Natural and Saturated (pre-sets) and also colour temperature with the warm/cool slider. The Night-light has an intensity slider too, with a scheduling option thrown in. I'm very impressed with this panel overall, certainly at this price point.

What you don't get with Moto is a 'proper' Always on Display. However, you do get their own Peek feature which I have spoken about a lot in the past. I accept that it's not 'always on', but the way in which it works almost makes up for it. There are two flavours of Peek. One uses a proximity sensor to wake up the screen, so you can wave your hand over the screen and it wakes and the other, present here, needs the user to nudge, lift or double-tap the screen to wake it. Notifications coming in will wake it if chosen of course - and this is where Peek comes into its own. Press and hold the Notification icon that you want to see and you get a summary at the top of the screen of what it's about. Still holding, if you want to go through and read it properly, slide down to the on-screen, fingerprint scanner and the phone will open up, taking you directly into the relevant app and message. Want to dismiss it without looking? Drag it to the Dismiss 'x'. Then there are app-context options, so if it's a Messaging/GMail app, you get a 'Reply' or 'Delete' option to slide to, YouTube (for example) 'Play', 'Watch Later and so on. It really is a well-coded and thought out system.

You can, of course, if you're not happy with having no Always on Display install a number of Android apps to conjure it up. My favourite is AoA: Always on Display or if you fancy Edge Lights like Samsung's, I recommend aodNotify which does a great job. This is all assuming that the LED Notification lighting around the camera island that I mentioned earlier isn't enough. Moto have done this before. I explained all about it when I had the Motorola One Zoom and it was a great feature, like a toned-down Razer or Nothing Phone. Here they have gone a step further in carefully designing the supplied hard-case so that when the lights go off and the phone is face-up on a desk, the lights reflect around the sides so you can see it going off. Not quite as good as the outrageously-rounded edges of the Edge Plus (2020) but going some way towards. This also works (perhaps not quite so well) with the clear soft TPU which I bought. There are some basic controls for this light, to choose which events make it light up. You can have it stay on whilst charging, but it's white-only and pulse-only for a set length of time. You can change the brightness from Adaptive to High/Medium/Low but anything other than High makes it much more difficult to see (unless it's a darker environment and/or the phone is face-down).

The phone arrived with Android 12 onboard, not 13, but with a promise of two OS updates (so to Android 14 sometime after Google release it in autumn 2023) and the usual bi-monthly security updates for 'at least' 2 years, giving this a supported life until autumn 2024. We hope. Fingers crossed. Motorola have been committing to 3 OS updates and 4 years of security with their 'flagships' but not, it seems down at this end, which I suppose is fair enough. Especially when we talk about what they have included here in terms of features for the price. Writing at the beginning of November here, I have the September Security update.

Powering the unit we have a SnapDragon 695 (6nm) and although that might feel a little low-end, it really isn't in terms of functionality. It's been perfectly fast enough with all that I threw at it - even some light car-racing gaming. No judders or shudders. Throw something really demanding at it and of course it might buckle, but the battery payoff here of a lesser chipset, for the target buyer, is well worth it. Even under load, copying loads of files from one device to the other, or installing 130 apps during setup, it was chugging along very nicely. When executing this kind of task, if you put it alongside a real flagship, of course you can see the difference in speed, but at least it's not heating up while it's doing it, even if it takes a tad longer!

Depending on where you are in the world you can get this in 3 flavours, 128GB/6GB RAM, 128GB/8GB RAM or 256GB/8GB RAM. I have the middle one here and didn't seem to have much choice in the UK. The 8GB RAM seems fine to me as well, switching tasks, not shutting stuff down, swapping back and forward etc. Not noticed a glitch with all that. As for storage, sadly there's no microSD Card slot - which is a diversion for Moto (and others) at this price point. We could always rely on memory expansion at this place in the market, but apparently that's now slipping away. There will only be Sony left soon - I wonder when they'll give up on it. Having said all that as if it's critical, I am changing! I've always been a great advocate of microSD but, actually, I hardly ever use it these days. I have about 60GB of data I want to carry, which leaves 128GB half-free. There's always USB-C on-the-go, so if push comes to shove, a card can be plugged in and read on-the-fly. And with cellular connectivity getting better all the time, being always-connected means that streaming (particularly music with low file-sizes) is really not much of an issue. Yes, it could be, stuck in a train tunnel or on an aircraft, but even those services are becoming more accessible in our ever more connected world.

I mentioned the under-glass optical fingerprint scanner earlier and the only complaint anyone could have with it really (laying aside the fact that it's not capacitive and on the side) is that it's pretty low down on the display. Very low down, in fact. Having said that, I've soon adjusted to it, especially when the Face Unlock works so well. The fingerprint scanner is really very good - you don't have to linger there like you do with the Pixel devices for a second - it's much quicker. Unless it's really dark, your face unlocks the phone before your finger gets there anyway! I watched one reviewer having difficulty getting their face recognised during the registration process - and this happened to me, too. This has happened before with Moto phones and me, which I've always put down to having a full beard. But to be fair, when the September Update came in, I tried it again and it worked fine, so I wouldn't be surprised if it's been tweaked in software. Attentive Display is also present, so the screen stays on when it continues to see your face via the Selfie Camera.

The 68W charging is very fast indeed - we're talking about 0-100% in just over 35 minutes. And about 75% in 20 minutes. It's great for when you really need a quick blast - by the time you've had a shower and breakfast, it's done! Not that the 4,020mAh battery will need charging too often as I'm finding it to be good for 48 hours between charges with about 6-8 hours of screen-on time. My 10% Reading Test is returning somewhere between two and three hours, usually somewhere in the middle, so very good indeed. All tests conducted with auto/adaptive-power features turned off. Added to this, we even have Qi wireless charging! Wow! This was a major draw for me, again, at this price point, a feature that is as rare as hen's teeth, so kudos to Moto. It's only charging at 5W, but actually, sitting on my bedside charger for my typical 7 hour sleep, I always wake up with it being on 100% - which is more than I can say for some other systems - looking at Sony and Nokia! So yes, I'm delighted with the power and charging department.

As you might expect, we have a very clean version of Android here from Motorola. In terms of Bloat, there was FaceBook pre-installed - but it was Uninstallable - and that was it. Google Discover to the left, completely standard Android 12 Notification Shade buttons and options. There is technically a My UX skin over the top, but it doesn't meander far from 'stock'. And the features it adds are useful - and worthy of the intrusion. I won't go through them all again, but the chop-chop torch, twist-twist for camera, three-fingers for screenshot - you will know all this by now if you have read my previous thoughts on My UX. There's some new stuff since the Edge+ though - some of which is Android 12 standard, but some that's not. Enhancements to the available Styles and Wallpapers, for example. Taking the standard Android 12 stuff and expanding it out, for example, meeting somewhere in the middle with what Moto was doing anyway under Android 10 and 11. There's also the new double-tap on the back of the phone to execute an action - open audio recorder, open Ready For (see below), play/pause music or pick any app installed to launch it. Seems to work very well, every time, whatever's assigned. Wonder why there's no torch - probably because of chop-chop! The Neo is largely Vanilla though - and that's a very good thing. Another Motorola-specific enhancement is the Ready For suite...

Ready For is Moto's shot at Samsung's DeX. In some ways, they do it better. Take a phone's brains, connect it to a PC, Display or TV and get an interactive UI up - then make use of the phone's screen as a mousepad to control the screen (with a TV) - or enjoy your PC's mouse and keyboard as pass-through control. You get a custom-designed UI via Windows software (called, imaginatively, the Ready For Assistant, which looks very much like Windows) where you can control the opening of apps on the phone, making use of the phone's software on a bigger screen. Some apps play ball better than others, some are rendered in helpful landscape, others behave just like they are on the phone. Developers are working with this, as are Google with enhancements to Phone Hub for Windows (to catch up with Chromebooks) and Microsoft/Samsung on the Phone Link tools.

Phone Link, unless you have a Microsoft or Samsung phone, is a watered-down version of these ideals and for a full immersive experience, DeX and Ready For have it nailed. Pass-through audio being an example. It doesn't work with Phone Link but it does with DeX and (wired) Ready For. You notice I said wired there because all of the above applies to the wired/USB-C version of Ready For, which this Neo doesn't have - it's wireless only (even though it has the supported hardware, DisplayPort, USB-C 3+ ready to support it). Moto have clearly decided to not throw the switch to make it happen.

However, it's far from all being lost as the Wireless version of Ready For is not that far behind the Wired. You don't get pass-through audio on a PC, for example (like Phone Link) and with a TV you connect via your network to a compatible TV (or in my case, Roku). It all works well enough but not quite as well as wired. For example, film/video lip-sync with some apps is not up to scratch, though on others it is. With wired, it all just works as if it's on the phone. You can choose to use the phone as an 'air mouse' if you like - or trackpad. The TV UI is much better than DeX's as you get a dedicated big-button interface which is much easier to navigate than a 'desktop' environment, which is what Samsung offers. Anyway, all good stuff for consumers. Maybe one day Moto will throw that switch in an update - I shall keep my beady eye on them!

The phone is supplied with stereo speakers which I mentioned, above, and they really are very good indeed. I've been comparing the output here with the Sony Xperia 5 Mk.IV and Motorola Edge Plus (2020) and the results are surprisingly comparable. The volume is really very loud and it's only at the very top-end of that where the components start to show that they're not as top-notch as the Edge+'s reproduction. Tweak it down a bit in volume just a tad, maybe 90%, and it fills out nicely in quality too. Alternatively, employ the Bass Boost (particularly) in the Dolby Atmos Pre-Sets or use the excellent Wavelet app to achieve similar. Whichever method is employed, you get to that same equation of quality/volume which shuffles it down a notch under the Edge+. I was surprised, however, that whatever I did with the output from the Xperia, I preferred the sound coming from this Moto, £600 less to buy! Yeah, I know, there's lots of other stuff you're paying for with the Sony too, but up until now I really thought that the Mk.IV was only being beaten by my Edge+, not coming in 3rd here.

The Dolby Atmos settings are the extended set, so lots of control over speakers as well as headphones - including full manual sliders - and yes, they really do make a difference with the right combination. They also continue to make available the Surround Virtualiser which, again, makes a significant difference to the stereo impact with both music soundstage/width and video/film with decent soundtracks. Placed 18" in front of the head and the listener can appreciate some clever software-driven speaker output enhancement going on, which is most impressive and enjoyable. There's no 3.5mm audio-out, unlike the Edge+ and Sony, but there's always dongles. Like with microSD, I think I'm learning to adjust to life with Bluetooth, particularly as the sound output via that route is staggeringly good these days from, well, pretty much any phone it seems. This unit is equipped with Bluetooth 5.1 utilising A2DP, LE, aptX HD and aptX Adaptive.

Connectivity is sound, it seems. The Bluetooth range seems to be solid, depending on quality of connected equipment of course, NFC for connecting to other gear seems to work as it should along with Google Pay and cellular connectivity seems very good indeed. I had a 2 hour voice call with my sister last night and it didn't flinch for the whole time. She was hearing me perfectly well, and vice-versa. When it comes to WiFi, it seems that here is where Moto have saved a few pennies as it's a bit like stepping back in time I guess... no WiFi6 of any flavour so it's back to 5/ac. Having said that, I have not noticed a thing wrong with my connection, no slower and no battery hit that I can detect. Makes you wonder if these 'improvements' in real-world use, are pretty minimal. Back in the days before these latest versions of WiFi I never had a problem, so maybe it's a bit like 4G and 5G. I'm more than happy on 4G - there's nothing I do or nowhere I go which makes me think that I might need 5G, even if I had it in my area, but I guess everyone's lifestyle is different. I might be worse off in a football stadium than those with 5G. Anyway, this phone might be behind the curve with WiFi but it does indeed have 5G.

I've always quite liked what Moto do with their Camera software and this is no exception. There's a pretty basic set of shooters here - a 
64MP f/1.8 main camera with OIS, a 13MP f/2.2 wide-angle secondary and a 32MP f/2.4 Selfie round the front. In my tests I think that the main camera shoots fine pictures, certainly in good light, and the wide-angle at 0.5x too. The jewel in the crown for me here though is the close-focus, dubbed 'Macro' of course by them, regardless of the misuse of the term! But it's really very impressive compared to most others which I have tried here. There's a 'Macro' badge present in most modes on the main view next to '0.5' and '1' - like Moto expect people to be shooting a lot of close-ups!

The Night Vision seems to me to work very impressively - you are led through that 'hold still' procedure, then watch as a photo appears - with subjects in the frame that even the human eye can't see! I'm sure a pixel-peeper will zoom in and pick up on loads of noise and so forth, but for the rest of us 98% of users, the shots are just great. The portrait mode seems to do a decent enough job with controlled depth of field - and you get that fun Spot Colour toy to play with along with an Ultra-Res 64MP forced-mode (to use the whole sensor and stop 'binning') - and bunch of other stuff too. You can edit which modes you want to see on the main view (Samsung style) and dive into settings for a bunch of other tweaks and adjustments. The one thing which seems to annoy people (who care about cameras in phones) is the lack of 4K Video shooting. There's also no optical Zoom, one of the clear advantages of the Edge+ with its 3x Optical which is very handy.

Anyway, I shall soon be out of my depth with digital photography, so I shall do my usual trick here of handing over to the folk at GSMArena who do a great job as they test, prod, poke, sample, assess and conclude. They seem to always know what they're doing (much more than I could) which is why I refer to them so often. Do please support them by visiting their site for the latest mobile news and to tune into their excellent phone reviews. They seem to think that the Neo punches above its weight generally and can produce good results, but is let down by no optical zoom or 4K video recording.

I really like this phone. So much so that I might just have to keep it for myself! I had fully intended to review and move it on, but there's so much to like about it that I don't want to now! It's a lovely size, which always goes down well with me - in the hand for one-handed use. In the pocket it's light and easy to carry, it has a great Macro mode for me and a super bright and colourful screen. The speakers really surprised me - not the best, but for this price, real contenders, the 68W charging is stunning in use, a good long battery life between charges and the cherry on the top is the Qi wireless facility, again, at this price point. Something that many, many are just not including at this price point - so well done Moto.

I started out comparing the Neo with the Pixel 6a and, yes, we all know that the Pixel phones give the user the smartest, cleverest, AI-driven camera stuff that there is (pretty much) but if you take that away (or are uninterested in digital photography) you're left with a very ordinary experience. Yes, you get all the Google goodness, first out of the gate and long support, but there is much enjoyment to be had playing with phones from other OEMs too - and I've always had such a soft spot for Moto. If they would get their finger out with regards to updates, I'd never look back!

There's also the Pixel's IP-rating over Moto's wishy-washy statements about protection from the elements, but there's no Qi charging, which the Moto has. Always on Display against Moto's Peek. The Pixel is certainly similarly priced and has very good stereo speakers too - and with that 4K video recording (which everyone but me seems bothered about)! The only reason I was really comparing the two devices at the outset was size - most other attributes seem arguable. But I remain in the Moto camp with that - the Edge 30 Neo is much nicer in the hand and this could lead me - by the hand - back into a new Moto era! Very impressed and highly recommended at this price.

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