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Motorola Edge 5G UW (2021) review: Battery for days and a superfast display

The Motorola Edge 5G UW on a desk
Motorola Edge 5G UW (2021)
MSRP $699.99
“The Motorola Edge 5G UW stands tall in the crowded midrange field, with a big 144Hz display, long battery life, and support for both mmWave and sub-6GHz 5G.”
Pros
  • Crisp 6.8-inch display with a 144Hz refresh rate
  • Supports 5G NR mmWave and Sub-6GHz
  • Extremely responsive touchscreen
  • Long battery life
Cons
  • No wireless charging
  • Single bottom-firing speaker
  • Camera struggles in low light

The Motorola Edge 5G UW (2021) is a Verizon-only handset (largely identical to the unlocked model currently available) that delivers more than you might expect based on its midrange pricing. It looks more like its siblings in the 2021 Moto G lineup than its immediate predecessor, the Motorola Edge (2020), but looks can be deceiving. It packs in a super-responsive 144Hz display, an impressive main camera, and enough juice in the battery to keep going for days between charges.

While there’s more good than bad, Motorola did stumble a few times here. There’s no support for wireless charging, the single speaker produces underwhelming results, and the downside of a screen this big is that the phone will just be too cumbersome for some people to use comfortably.

The Motorola Edge 5G UW held in one hand.
Jeremy Laukkonen/Digital Trends

Design

The Motorola Edge 5G UW (2021) is the Verizon-exclusive version of the second-generation Motorola Edge, and it’s a sharp departure from the first generation of the hardware that launched last year. That phone had a bold curve to the edges of the display and zero bezel on the sides, while the second generation of the hardware looks a lot more like Motorola’s other 2021 phones. It features a big 6.8-inch LED display that dominates the front of the handset, but the bezels are fairly chunky all the way around. The top bezel is too thin to house a camera sensor, so it has a pinhole cam.

The overall construction of the Edge 5G UW feels solid, with a silky-smooth 2.5D glass screen with the barest hint of a curve, and a clear plastic back that looks and feels a whole lot like glass in the hand. It weighs in at just a bit over 7 ounces, which feels deceptively light for a phone that measures 6.5 x 2.9 x 0.35 inches. That’s likely due to the use of plastic in construction, but it neither looks nor feels cheap at all.

The volume rocker and power button are both located on the right edge of the frame, with the power button pulling double duty as a fingerprint sensor. The sensor worked flawlessly during my time with the phone. It never misread my thumbprint even once, and it’s incredibly responsive as well. Tap the sensor with your thumb, and the response is so close to instant that my eyes can’t tell the difference.

The left edge is clean and bare, the top features a microphone, and the bottom edge houses the SIM drawer, another microphone, the USB-C port, and the single speaker grille.

The glass-like plastic back is beautiful, but it’s also an absolute fingerprint magnet. When wiped clean with a microfiber cloth, it catches the light in a way that’s almost a shame to cover up with a phone case. Motorola calls the color scheme nebula blue, and it’s the only color option on offer for this model.

The camera array rises from the back of the case a few millimeters, which makes the phone a bit wobbly when you set it down with the screen facing up. The three camera sensors are arranged vertically, with a microphone and flash located to the side.

Display and audio

The Edge 5G UW features a big 6.8-inch FHD+ LCD  display that’s a bit of a downgrade — and also a bit of an upgrade — from the previous generation of the hardware. The first-generation Edge had a 6.7-inch OLED with a 90Hz refresh rate, while the Edge 5G UW (2021) has a 6.8-inch IPS LCD with a blistering 144Hz refresh rate and a slightly higher pixel density.

It’s a shame to lose the OLED, but the faster refresh rate and higher pixel density are absolutely worth the trade-off.

It’s a shame to lose the OLED, but the faster refresh rate and higher pixel density are absolutely worth the trade-off. Everything from menu navigation to games looks slick beyond belief — to the point where it’s almost difficult to go back to a phone with a significantly lower refresh rate.

Sound is a completely different matter, as the Edge 5G UW fails to impress in that area. It has a single down-firing speaker that just doesn’t sound good. When I fired up the game Genshin Impact, I immediately cringed when a character started talking, and the speaker screeched and struggled to handle the high register.

Volume isn’t an issue, as the speaker is more than loud enough, but it’s unpleasant at max volume. At lower volumes, it’s hollow and tinny. If you accidentally block the grille of the single bottom-firing speaker, the sound is muffled into nothingness.

The Motorola Edge 5G UW with Verizon Adaptive Sound and iPods Pro.
Jeremy Laukkonen/Digital Trends

While the speaker itself is a disappointment, the listening experience is completely different if you connect a Bluetooth speaker or earbuds. The Edge 5G UW supports Verizon Adaptive Sound, which is Verizon’s version of spatial audio. I connected my AirPods Pro and my Pixel Buds to test the feature, and it makes a big difference. The bass boost mode is similar to the Pixel Buds bass boost option, but Verizon Adaptive Sound provides you with a number of presets and a customizable equalizer as well.

Camera

The Edge 5G UW features a 108MP main camera sensor, which is a massive upgrade over the previous generation of the hardware. That’s backed up by an 8MP ultrawide camera and a 2MP depth sensor. Around front, you’ll find a decent 32MP selfie shooter.

The 108MP main sensor turns in extremely strong results given decent lighting, with brilliant color and excellent details. Shots also turned out pretty good in mixed lighting conditions, like landscape photos that included bright swaths of sky and deep shadows on the ground. In lower lighting conditions, like dim light inside, I noticed more noise than I’d like. The same is true of night mode shots, which came out plenty bright even in relatively dark conditions, but at the price of a lot of grainy noise.

The front camera works well enough for selfies and video chat, but it doesn’t turn in the kind of results I expected just from the raw numbers. I noticed a lot of grain in shots taken in anything less than perfect lighting, but details came out pretty good. Portrait mode washes out both colors and details, softening and lightening everything.

The camera comes with a number of fun and useful options beyond portrait mode. Spot color lets you pick one color and have everything else in the shot rendered in grayscale, cutout lets you capture images of people with the background automatically cut out, and dual capture lets you snap a shot with the main camera and selfie cam at the same time — just in case that’s something you ever wanted to do.

Software and performance

The Edge 5G UW ships with Android 11, and it’s pretty close to a stock experience. Motorola adds some functionality on top, with the same focus on gestures that it’s had for a while, but most things work the way you would expect.

The biggest thing to overcome if you’re coming from a stock Android experience is that dragging up from the bottom brings up the app switcher instead of the app drawer. To get the app drawer, you have to drag up from just slightly above the bottom of the screen. You can also access Assistant by dragging up from the bottom-left or bottom-right corners of the screen.

The gesture controls allow you to perform useful tasks like grabbing a screenshot by tapping the screen with three fingers.

The most important change Motorola makes to stock Android is the addition of motion and gesture controls. These controls can be toggled off if you don’t like them, but the gesture controls allow you to perform useful tasks like grabbing a screenshot by tapping the screen with three fingers, turning the flashlight on with a chopping motion, and opening the camera with a quick twist of the wrist.

Navigation is snappy and silky smooth, and apps launch fast. Overall performance is excellent, leaning on the Snapdragon 778G chip and your choice of 6GB or 8GB of RAM. The unit I tested came with 6GB, which was enough to have a dozen apps open with zero slowdown when swapping between them.

The Edge 5G UW turned in some decent benchmark results that dovetail perfectly with my hands-on experience. It scored a hefty 13,249 overall in the Work 3.0 benchmark, which is almost twice the score I saw earlier this year when I looked at Motorola’s less expensive 5G option, the Motorola 5G Ace. I also ran a couple of 3DMark gaming benchmarks, and the Edge 5G UW doubled the performance of its lower-priced sibling there as well.

The Motorola Edge 5G UW playing Genshin Impact.
Jeremy Laukkonen/Digital Trends

For a bit of hands-on testing of gaming performance, I used the Edge 5G UW to run through my Genshin Impact dailies. While I prefer the desktop version of the game for anything serious, it looks and plays great on the Edge 5G UW. I was able to knock out my dailies without issue and even log some time in the Moonlight Merriment event. My only complaint is that the single bottom-firing speaker gets blocked when gaming in landscape mode.

Connectivity

True to the name, the Edge 5G UW supports 5G NR mmWave and Sub-6GHz on the Verizon network. Of course, it’s also still compatible with older standards like 4G LTE if you live and work in an area where Verizon hasn’t finished building out its 5G infrastructure. The area where I tested the Edge 5G UW fits that description, with somewhat spotty 5G reception, but the speeds I saw were about twice what I’m used to measuring on 4G. That’s pretty similar to the experience I had with the Motorola 5G Ace I tested earlier this year, which only supports sub-6GHz. If you do have access to Verizon’s mmWave network, you should see some pretty great speeds from the Edge 5G UW.

Rounding out its wireless connectivity, the phone also supports NFC, Bluetooth 5.2, and Wi-Fi 6. Wi-Fi connectivity is solid and fast, with support for Wi-Fi calling. I was able to send and receive calls over Wi-Fi, download and stream games, and stream music and videos without any issues.

For physical connectivity, the phone has a USB-C port to connect accessories and facilitate rapid charging. Motorola’s lower-priced midrange phones and budget-range handsets come with headphone jacks, but the Edge 5G UW doesn’t have one.

Battery and charging

Motorola advertises the Edge 5G UW as having a two-day battery, and that isn’t just marketing. You could feasibly drain it faster with some pretty intense usage, but I found that my relatively light use actually let me go three days between charges. When I left it to loop YouTube videos over Wi-Fi, with the screen at half brightness and the cellular radio off, the Edge 5G UW ran for just shy of 24 hours before shutting down.

The Motorola Edge 5G UW outside with a golf app.
Jeremy Laukkonen/Digital Trends

While the battery size and battery life are high points, the overall charging situation isn’t as positive. The Edge 5G UW does support rapid charging to the tune of 30 watts, which is an improvement over a lot of the other phones in the current Motorola lineup, and you’ll get a 30W charger packed right in the box.

Other manufacturers offer faster charging in this price range, but 30W is perfectly serviceable in my experience. I was able to charge the Edge 5G UW from dead to 100 percent in about 90 minutes. Wireless charging isn’t supported at all, though, which is disappointing.

Price and availability

The Motorola Edge 5G UW (2021) is available exclusively from Verizon, with a release date of October 14. Pricing starts at $700 for the 256GB, though it’ll be on sale for $550. Motorola, Amazon, Best Buy, and B&H also sell the unlocked model for $700, though there’s a $600 promotion price as of this writing.

Our take

The Motorola Edge 5G UW is a solid midrange handset that excels in some areas and not as much in others. It lost the fancy curved-edge OLED display that the previous model had, but the IPS LCD it does have looks fantastic and boasts a truly impressive refresh rate. Overall performance is great, battery life is exceedingly long, and the camera performance is decent enough in most lighting conditions. This is one of the best affordable 5G phones of the year, with a higher refresh rate and bigger battery than other handsets in that category.

Verizon Adaptive Sound adds an extra dimension if you connect Bluetooth headphones or a speaker.

The bottom-firing speaker could use an upgrade, but Verizon Adaptive Sound adds an extra dimension if you connect Bluetooth headphones or a speaker. I’d also prefer to see wireless charging in a phone at this price point, and the camera performance does suffer in low light, all of which does hold this phone back a bit. This particular model is also locked to Verizon, which is a hitch if you’re married to a different carrier, but Motorola does offer an unlocked version if you’re on board with everything else and that’s your one hang up.

Is there a better alternative?

At the promotional $550 price point, this is one of the best options on the table, though the calculus changes a bit once things revert to the $700 MSRP. If you’re looking for a phone with an exceptionally fast refresh rate on the display, that’s especially true. The Samsung Galaxy A52 is one decent option, as it offers a 6.5-inch AMOLED with a refresh rate of 120Hz and costs about $500. It does have a slightly slower processor and a weaker camera array, but it’s an extremely solid option at that price. Your next best option is the Google Pixel 5a. You won’t get the high-refresh screen, but it has a beefed-up battery and great camera capabilities, especially in low light.

How long will it last?

Aside from the standard one-year warranty, Motorola is set to provide two major Android updates along with bimonthly security updates for two years, which means the Edge 5G UW can be expected to remain up to date for about that long. The build quality is great, so it’s likely to keep working just fine well past that, but you won’t be able to count on security updates past year two, and within three years, you’ll be one version of Android behind the handsets that will be available at that time.

Should you buy one?

Yes, you should consider picking this phone up, with a couple of caveats. The extremely attractive $550 price point is technically an introductory price, with the potential that the phone will be back at its $700 MSRP for the unlocked model after the launch window. The competition gets a lot stiffer the further that price climbs, so keep an eye on that if you’re buying later.

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