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Why this $350 Motorola is the most underrated phone I tested in 2023

The Motorola Edge (2023) manages to stand out with a gorgeous display, vegan leather design, all-day battery life, and a price that won't break the bank.
Written by Max Buondonno, Contributing Writer
The Motorola Edge (2023) display against a blue background.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The Motorola Edge (2023) is a step below the Edge Plus model but still manages to pull off a solid smartphone experience.
  • It has one of the nicest displays you'll find for under $600 with an OLED panel, a 144Hz refresh rate, and 1,200 nits of brightness.
  • The cameras and performance could be better, but for $600 (or $350, as it's on sale at the time of writing), it's easy to forgive the shortcomings.

The Motorola Edge has flown under the radar since its release a couple of months ago, mostly due to it being overshadowed by the foldable Motorola Razr that was launched at the same time. It also didn't help that the phones had similar price points: at $699 for the Razr and $599 for the new Edge, all of the focus went to the one that bends in half by reviewers and consumers alike.

Also: This Motorola is still $200 off, and it's surprisingly capable

But I'm here to say that the Edge deserves your attention. It isn't a mind-blowingly good deal or the phone everyone should buy, but it checks a lot of boxes for basic smartphone users and even impresses in key areas. And for its current sale price of $349, that makes it compelling enough to recommend, as long as you can live with a few of its quirks.

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The first thing that grabs your attention is the design. Motorola kept the profile of the Edge incredibly sleek and minimal, with curved edges to help it feel thinner than its 7.6mm thickness lets on. Pick this thing up and you'll immediately be surprised by how lightweight it is; I kid you not, I thought my unit was a dummy model when I first got it. At 168 grams, it's easy to forget you're holding it after a while. This is one of the most comfortable large-format smartphones I've ever held.

Also: The best Android phones that we tested this year

It helps that the Edge is backed by a vegan leather exterior that feels grippy and unique in the hand (although it's only available in Eclipse Black), an IP68 certification for water resistance (which is far stronger than Motorola's typical IP52 rating), clicky buttons, and matte aluminum rails unscathed by fingerprints. You also get dual stereo speakers like with most phones, but they're not the best I've heard; you'll want to pick up some earbuds if you plan on listening to music or watching movies.

The Motorola Edge (2023) streaming Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

Speaking of which, this is a phone I'd have no problem watching a movie on. Not only is the display large at 6.6 inches, but it's also beautiful. The P-OLED panel Motorola uses is bright, vibrant, and full of life, with inky blacks and excellent contrast. From the bright orange hues in Oppenheimer to the shadowy streets of New York in Spider-Man: No Way Home, this display is built to show it all. The Full HD+ resolution keeps things sharp for reading text, and the 1,200 nits of peak brightness is ample for most direct-sunlight viewing.

Also: Motorola wants you to wear its new bendable phone like a watch - but don't get too excited

Oh, and it refreshes at 144Hz. That's practically unheard of for smartphones under $600, yet Motorola was able to include it here. Granted, out of the box, it's set to hover between 60Hz and 120Hz, but if you dig into the settings, you can increase it to 144Hz for the smoothest experience possible.

Under the hood, Motorola includes the MediaTek Dimensity 7030, an upper mid-range chipset that rivals other chips like the Snapdragon 778G. Day to day, the chip was perfectly fine for ordinary tasks, although I did notice some choppiness while playing games like Asphalt 9. Paired with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, the Edge is equipped with plenty of power for normal usage like email and social media, while heavier things like gaming get a bit harder to pull off.

Motorola Edge (2023) camera sample

Captured with the 50MP f/1.4 main shooter on the Motorola Edge (2023).

Max Buondonno/ZDNET

You'll find a couple of cameras on the back of the Edge, and they might be the weakest link in the entire story of this device. The 50MP f/1.4 main shooter is decent in good lighting, but it struggles in post-processing with strange artifacts around sharp edges. It's also not very good at capturing detail; instead, it mushes similar colors together to create a watercolor effect when zoomed in. The same can be said for the 13MP f/2.2 ultra-wide camera; while the 120-degree lens is handy, it's by no means a great camera due to its issues with lighting and sharpness.

Review: Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra: Best phone of the year

On a lighter note, battery life was generally good. I was able to get through full 16-hour days of mixed use with the device's 4,400mAh cell. I couldn't get it to stretch to two days since it generally only had about 10 percent in the tank when I went to bed, but hey, at least you can consider this all-day endurance.

The best part? When it comes time to recharge, you've got 68W fast wired charging along with 15W wireless charging. Unfortunately, you'll need to BYOC -- that's Bring Your Own Charger -- since there's no power brick in the box. Regardless, at least you have truly fast charging on this phone, which can't be said for most modern flagships.

The Motorola Edge (2023) gestures in the Moto app.
Max Buondonno/ZDNET

I've always enjoyed Motorola's software experience on its phones, and that didn't change with the Edge. I'm a sucker for vanilla Android, and that's just what you get on this phone with a few neat enhancements. Plus, you get three years of OS upgrades and four years of security patches, which is pretty decent for a $600 phone.

ZDNET's buying advice

At $600, it's hard to pick the right phone since competition is so stiff nowadays. But the Motorola Edge, despite its average cameras and performance, can hold its own with its beautiful display quality, clean software experience, all-day battery life, and a design that makes this phone feel way smaller than it actually is.

Of course, if you need faster performance, better cameras, or a phone that's smaller than the rest, you'll find that in devices like the Pixel 7a, Galaxy S23 FE, or Nothing Phone (2) that are all priced similarly to the Edge. But as long as you can live with its downsides, the Edge is a true force to be reckoned with at under $600. It helps that the device is regularly on sale for much less, even going for $350 during the holiday season.

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