Tuesday 18 June 2024

Motorola Edge 40 - It's All About the Size

Motorola enthusiasts and reviewers in the tech world have now moved their attention along to this year's Edge 50 series of Moto phones from last year's Edge 40 series units. Yes, the Edge 50 Fusion, Pro and Ultra are doing the rounds on YouTube and elsewhere with gusto!

But as is often the case, we at the Phones Show Chat podcast (now with over 800 shows under our belts incidentally as I write in June 2024) quite enjoy taking a back seat, follow the hubbub of course, but take our time, let the dust settle, then take a longer-term view. One of the benefits of this is that quite often various bugs in initial releases have, by then, been ironed out.

Which brings me nicely to last year's Motorola Edge 40 which just arrived for review. That's not the Pro, not the Neo, but the 'middle' one in terms of global releases. It's quite timely too as I was able to buy myself an Edge 40 Neo at a good price quite recently, thus forming a natural comparison here. My Initial Thoughts: Motorola Edge 40 Neo were posted to my blog, but now I shall be able to expand and compare two of the models - which, spoiler alert(!) - look almost identical. But are they?

You could be forgiven for thinking that they're actually the same phone really. Fortunately, my 40 Neo is Peach Fuzz colour and the 40, black. I actually prefer the former, being not so stuffy, formal and conservative. I'd have made a good hippy, ten years older! So anyway, yes, very similar. Dimensions prove this, any differences being less than a millimetre. Even the third party TPU cases fit both (apart from the odd misalignment of a microphone hole). Using the phones without a case at all is even better. They are beautifully petite in the hand and for the brave folk, unlike ham-fisted me who would no doubt drop them, they'll enjoy a beautifully-crafted experience.

They look the same too, in terms of design and curves, edges and covering on the back - both being vegan leather. It's kind of smooth and velvety - doesn't really feel much like leather - but it does afford more grip than shiny plastic or glass. The 40 does seem less low-end, more ‘premium’, perhaps the 40's aluminium frame helps with that look/feel, but they are both beautifully slim in the hand.

The eco-friendly box it comes in is that standard (now) Moto buff colour and inside it you get a hard, plastic, clear case with sides cut out to allow easier grip and access to buttons. I have to admit that I do still prefer a soft TPU case personally, but I can see the appeal for others. Fortunately, my kind of case is often less than a fiver on Amazon! You also get a 68W charger in the box and decent USB-C to USB-C cable with which to use it. Well done Moto. Keep it up. We'll come to charging later, but I do admire these firms that stick with these old-fashioned ways when most around them drop 'em!

The screen on both is the amazingly bright and colourful LG-sourced pOLED panel, 1080p, 20:9 ratio, with a refresh rate of up to 144Hz, almost the same nits of brightness as the Neo, 1200 vs 1300 peak, and the excellently one-handed, pocket-friendly size of 6.55" on the panel. I used to think that the Edge 30 Neo's 6.28" screen was even better but I'm not so sure now. The latter has a flat panel and these have curves around the sides, making it feel not far off the same. Note that in the auto display refresh rate will peak out at 120Hz - you have to go manual to always get 144Hz.

The Edge 40 was released in May 2023, the Neo in September '23. It arrived with Android 13 on it and it would not give me an Android 14 update or update the Google Security patches, for love nor money! However, Moto provide a Windows-based flashing tool so I headed for that to force the issue! It's called the Rescue and Smart Assistant and can be freely downloaded. Using it via the phone's IMEI number it goes off to check what it can offer, let you download the ROM and then with a cable to the PC, update the phone. The only downside is that it wipes the phone - but as I was doing this very early on in the setup process, this was not an issue. (Incidentally, the Edge 40 Neo is still 'stuck' on Android 13 but the tool doesn't offer me Android 14 yet for that.) So when I'd done all that, I was right up to date with current month security and Android 14 on the Edge 40. I think Moto's rationale is that most ordinary users outside of our tech bubble won't be bothered about any of that so they don't need to hurry. Both of these devices, incidentally, were promised at launch to get Android 14 and 15 and 3 years of security.

The release price in the UK for the Edge 40 in May 2023 was £529 and for that, there's an awful lot of phone here. Obviously, where it can be bought now, a year on, it's significantly cheaper - I've seen it for under £300 here and there - and there's also the used market of course, where bargains can be snapped up. And, as we'll discover, it might well be worth doing so. Especially when the less well-specified (in some ways - we'll come to that) Edge 40 Neo is around the same price new, now, being released later in the year. Along with that, you do get a significant amount of so-called Bloatware, though kudos to Moto for allowing every one of them to either not be installed at setup or easily uninstalled later. I guess this is part of the price-point target for this near-flagship-grade phone, doing deals with app-devs. So, Royal Match, Pinterest, Woodoku, Candy Crush Saga, Temu Shop, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Opera and Weather (by Swish Apps, not Moto’s own). I've seen worse!

The Edge 40 comes with a MediaTek Dimensity 8020 chipset which, under demanding tasks, shows that it has a clear advantage over the Neo's 7030. In day-to-day use, they're both fine but when, for example, setting up the phone, installing loads of apps, copying data from the PC or updating software, yes, the Edge 40 shows that it's more powerful. Those in the know study comparisons with various SnapDragon chips and there are all sorts of tables drawn up and YouTube videos produced. As for me, I go by real-world use. And it's very clear that the Edge 30 Ultra I have here runs rings around both the Edge 40 and (certainly) Edge 40 Neo and, as I say, the Edge 40 is ahead of the Neo. But in reality, for almost all users out there, they simply wouldn't notice (once the phone is set up and running and not being used for demanding gaming/file transfers). This is all testbench stuff for nerds.

The top storage available on either of these phones is 256GB, though in some regions there was/is a 128GB version. Careful with that, as there's no expansion via microSD. One difference between the two Edge 40 units here is the amount of RAM. Just 4 months between the release of the Edge 40 and later, Edge 40 Neo and Moto had decided to stuff 12GB into the Neo's top-end spec'd variation of the Neo and (as far as I can tell for global releases) 8GB across the board with the Edge 40. So yes, the more capable and generally higher spec'd device here without an option for 12GB RAM. Again, not that it really matters. Going forward, processing heavy AI-based stuff on-device? Well, I don't think we're there yet and these phones certainly didn't have that agenda up-their-sleeves last year on release. Moreso, maybe things like running lots of tasks with heavy gaming and the likes of Ready For, Moto's 'desktop mode'.

Ready For
 has now formally morphed into Smart Connect and is a great addition to the Motorola devices. It's great to see here that they are including it in even the Neo line of devices, making it more accessible to more people, for less money, down the range. My Edge 30 Ultra and ThinkPhone have HDMI-Out support as well, but these two Edge 40 variants don't - only wireless. I do wonder if, going forward, that might be a thing as Samsung DeX is now not always cable-available with some hardware and even NexDock (the LapDock makers) are favouring wireless hardware over wired. The world is going wireless and we have to keep up! My concern always with this was latency when watching video or gaming. When hooked up to my TV by cable with the Edge 30 Ultra or ThinkPhone, there was none of that. As you'd expect. But with wireless-only arrangements, you did, under Ready For, have to be a little careful about compensating for that, depending on apps. Some apps, for example, allowed control of 'delay' to audio/video so that it can be matched, some do that automatically. Some better than others. Streaming, of course, shouldn't be an issue where the feeds are not being sourced from local media, but I guess I'm old-fashioned and want the best of both worlds! But with the change to Smart Connect this seems to have been almost eradicated - at least, working with my home network and router - but also with local files. Lip Sync issues are almost undetectable. So perhaps Moto's clever engineers have caught up with the demands of not only our fast-moving online/streaming world but also locally held file streaming/transfer in the mix.

Laying aside that issue, the Ready For, er, Smart Connect experience is great - and in some ways, better than Samsung's DeX. Certainly in terms of rendering screen resolutions on different monitors it feels like Moto just get that right and DeX sometimes doesn't - which may be a problem if you have a low-re or high-res monitor and expecting the PC-based software to just work it out for itself. Furthermore, Samsung seem to have just lost a bit of interest in developing for DeX whereas Moto are in full-swing with it, initially, clearly, trying to catch up with Samsung, but now taken the lead. In some respects. Another one being the vertical app-scrolling on-screen against Samsung's horizontal (though Samsung fans will be used to that), the user-friendly front-end on Ready For with big buttons, easy to use for non-geeks, non-business-people, the UX and UI is just, well, more friendly.

One fail for Ready For, er, Smart Connect compared to DeX is using it with my NexDock, incidentally. The trackpad, keyboard and touchscreen simply don't work with the cabled-up Moto devices I've tried, like my Edge 30 Ultra. Motorola wants the user to clearly attach a bluetooth keyboard, mouse and use the trackpad on the phone to move the mouse around. Whereas, with Dex, all that just works on the device itself. I asked NexDock about this and they replied saying that they have not tested their NexDock Touch (which, to be fair, is getting a bit older now) with Moto phones, only Samsung. But in any case, my NexDock Touch doesn't have wireless functionality, so the two Edge 40 phones can't be used with it anyway! I'm sure it would work with a wireless model, but suspect strongly, with the same limitations. I have asked NexDock to send me one to review but they didn't reply, even!

Battery is 4400mAh
(so less than the Neo’s 5000 but) good for over 2 hours on my 10% Reading Test and all-day with general, average use is no problem at all. Yesterday I used 3 hours of SoT and 14 hours later it was still on 80% in the tank. As usual with Moto phones, particularly with no AoD as-such, they do really well on ‘stand-by’. As always, YMMV depending on how it’s caned. A b
ig difference between the two (at least, for me) is that the 40 has Qi Charging and the Neo doesn’t. Only 15W but it’s fine for overnight routine charging. It’s a shame that Moto dropped Qi Charging between the Edge 30 Neo and Edge 40 Neo. Maybe Moto concluded that their target audience for that model are not bothered about it, especially with fast charging. There's the usual bunch of battery-saving options available for the user to engage or not - I haven't felt the need.

In terms of device access security, we have an under display, optical fingerprint scanner and face unlock. The fingerprint scanner is thorough in setup and works pretty well, though I think not quite as well as the ultrasonic of some Samsung models and certainly not physical, capacitive ones. But the technology/software does seem to be getting better. The Face Unlock is even more thorough. The combination of both of these is excellent.

Moving to the software experience, the usual set of Moto features and gestures are onboard here with chop-chop for torch, twist-twist for camera, 3-finger screenshot, Lift to Wake, tap to wake, Attentive Display (stays on when looking at it), flip for DND and more. The excellent Peek Display has gone now on all new, updated to Android 14 models (and some that haven't). They've gone instead with the 'standard' lock screen arrangement, so when notifications come in you can set it to wake up and offer either a summary of the messages, buttons to tap or bubbles, which take you through to the lock screen and/or dive in for the full item in question. At first I wasn't convinced, but it's grown on me now and, well, maybe they were right!

You get the personalisation options of layout, font, colours (like Material You), choose Icon shape, system theme and more. This is well thought out and in keeping with what Google are doing on Pixels. Edge Lighting is another great Samsung feature which is present here. This gives the user a choice of 5 colours to 'glow' the edges on notifications from a list of options. Another way Moto is getting more Samsung-like, I noticed, is with App Drawer 'folders'. Yes, you can now arrange your App Drawer in the same way you can as if it's on the home screen, thus becoming another home screen, I suppose! The Backup/Restore works pretty well phone-to-phone using Google's tools - either wirelessly or by cable.

Gamers
have some special settings to enhance their enjoyment with a dedicated Games front-end (app) where installed games are automatically included. Launching from inside that wrapper then sets things going and Moto presents an icon on the left which brings forth a little gaming control panel, with controls for volume and brightness, blocking buttons for calls and notifications, a dedicated screenshot button, share, touch sensitivity and even one to launch live Twitch streaming, for those who want to do that! The software experience is otherwise very close to Google, to Pixel, to AndroidOne in many ways and not veering off into a multi-layered virtual OS of its own, like Samsung. Some will see this as positive, while others will appreciate the bells and whistles of the latter. For me, it feels like a good balance between the two and I end up liking, very much, the Moto approach.

The output from the stereo speakers is very similar to that from the 40 Neo, but I do think that the Neo devices for some reason have just been given a slightly better-sounding pair. There's not much in it, but side-by-side testing reveals that both the 30 Neo and 40 Neo take the crown in the whole of the Edge lineups from 30 and 40 series. I have yet to have hands-on with a 50-series Edge, so will be keen to see how that compares. (I shall also be keen to see if a Neo version of the 50-series will be added at some point to the Fusion, Pro and Ultra - but that's a topic for another day). I've been comparing the output with the Sony Xperia 1 Mk.IV too and yes, the Sony nails it over the Moto, but that's probably not surprising given its audio-centric nature. Still, both Edge 40 devices here have good volume and decent quality with options to play about with the Dolby. 

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. This unit is equipped with Bluetooth 5.2, but the 40 Neo, again, released just 4 months later, seems to have v5.4 which is quite a leap. Having said that, to the casual user, I'm not really sure what difference that makes with 
A2DP and LE in the mix. I don't notice any difference with latency, as mentioned earlier, nor extended range/reliability. I do think that these incremental upgrades are probably just that. Particularly on this level of hardware. But I guess that depends on what you attach it to.

I have tested the phone with the Pixel Watch, FitBit and other Google-based supporting software installed as well as simply using Google Fit instead and it all works beautifully well, as if it's a Pixel phone really. I also have a Samsung Galaxy Watch here and once all Samsung's supported health and fitness software (that isn't exclusive to Galaxy phones) is installed. It's similarly perfectly functional (just without some of the higher-end functions that only Galaxy bring like Blood Pressure Monitoring and some of the fitness stuff talking to their Cloud services and so forth). But yes, you pays your money and takes your choice. There are, of course, other wearables out there - loads actually - but these are the two that I have some experience of using, so focus on commenting on them.

Connectivity is good. 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 have had various phone calls and it didn't flinch, the whole time. When it comes to WiFi, Moto have equipped both these phones with 6e (for those who can make use of it). I have not noticed anything wrong with my connection, good and fast with no hitches or blips. There's 5G connectivity on the phone of course and it's blazingly fast where I live and GPS locks on and holds on to tracking-related stuff very nicely.

ThinkShield
is Moto's version of Samsung's Knox, I guess. Lenovorola claim business grade security for the users' data. 
It features secure boot and tamper-resistant hardware to protect your device from physical attacks, a clean version of Android which helps to reduce the risk of vulnerabilities, a variety of security features such as malware protection, phishing protection, and remote device management - so yes, a security solution that can help to keep your Motorola smartphone safe. Or so goes the blurb! In practice there are some security clean-up tools which the user can invoke and trust, I guess, that somebody's looking out for you in the background!

I've always quite liked what Moto do with their Camera software and this is no exception. There's a 50MP f1.4 main camera on the Edge 40, which drops to f1.8 on the Neo, both have OIS and the 13MP f2.2 wide-angle unit with autofocus looks to be identical on the two models. The latter is good for close-focus and as with most modern Moto phones, because of this, the so-called 'macro' feature is really quite impressive. There's a 'Macro' badge present in most modes on the main view next to '0.5' and '1' and it seems to switch to the wide-angle lens when you get close enough. There are plenty of manual controls to override this and use it how it suits. The difference with the wider aperture on the Edge 40 makes for better/more light-gathering of course and a shallower depth of field with, for example, portraiture. I was dubious about this with these tiny optics and sensors so did some testing for myself and discovered that there is certainly a difference under the right conditions.

In my tests I think that all the cameras shoot fine pictures, certainly in good light, and the wide-angle at 0.5x too. 
The Night Vision seems 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! The shots are just great (so long as you don't zoom in and pixel-peep)! 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 a bunch of other modes too. You can edit which modes you want to see on the main view and dive into settings for a bunch of other tweaks and adjustments. There's 4K (30fps) video shooting available in the main camera and the same via the Selfie.

One visible difference is with that camera island as the 40 has two LED lights and the Neo, one. (A dual LED flash consumes more power but emits twice the light a single LED flash does. So faraway objects can be easily captured. The two LEDs are of different colours. By adjusting their ratio, the camera can adjust the colour of the flash for suitable white balance according to the surroundings. Apparently!) The two lenses on the Neo’s island look like they are exactly the same size, but on the 40, the lower one is smaller than the bigger. I guess that this is because unlike the Neo, the 40 has an f1.4 aperture on the main shooter.

There's no optical zoom here on either phone but there is a half-decent 32MP f2.4 selfie shooter at the top of the screen. For a deeper dive on the camera setup with samples and more informed opinion, I'll point you those good folk at GSMArena and the camera coverage starts hereDo please support them by visiting their site for the latest mobile news and to tune into their excellent phone reviews.

The Edge 40 is a fine phone are in keeping with original pricing, more capable in most ways than the 40 Neo. The modest chipset in both phones gets the job done for 98% of users, no doubt, but won't please gamers particularly. Most people will be very pleased with the sound output, slightly more so with the Neo in fact, the access to Ready For functionality albeit wireless only, good storage (at least in this region) at 256GB, the lovely bright and colourful p-OLED panel, the 68W charging with brick in the box and quality, premium build/look/feel - and more importantly, a year on, the price with still a promise of Android 15 and security updates to May 2026.

Both of these phones are cracking devices. The Neo punches way above its weight, but for that bit more power and quality, with many boxes ticked, it's the Edge 40 for me. As I said at the outset, it's all about the size! In a world that's gone 6.7" mad, it's so nice to have a smaller phone that is still capable, nay, near-flagship quality/featured. The 6.55" screen with those curved edges, slim too, feels smaller than it is, so suits me fine over the giants around it. Both of them highly recommended.

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