Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4 is the best big-screen smartphone on the planet. But what if you took that great phone and put a crazy curved screen on its right side that let you control apps, manage notifications, and even act as a ruler? Would that make it better?
For the answer to that question, see Samsung’s new Galaxy Note Edge. The latest in Samsung’s seemingly endless parade of smartphones to make a debut this year, the Note Edge is the company’s top-of-the-line handset, and, boy, is it priced as such.
The Note Edge costs $400 with a two-year contract through AT&T, $35 a month for two years on Sprint, or $950 unlocked. Verizon, T-Mobile, and U.S. Cellular haven’t announced pricing for the Edge, but expect the handset to cost about the same amount on those carriers as well.
Now, the question is, should you spend such a big chunk of change on a Galaxy Note 4 with a curved screen?
Size and design
I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Note Edge is basically a mutated Note 4. Both handsets have the same metal frame and soft-touch, faux-leather removable back panels. Both let you insert a microSD card.
Where the two differ is the curved screen, obviously, and button placement. For the Note 4, Samsung wisely chose to position the power button on the phone’s right edge, making it easily reachable with one hand.
Because the Note Edge’s screen takes up the phone’s right side, however, Samsung placed its power button along its top edge, meaning that you have to reposition the Edge in your hand to lock its screen or turn it off.
The Edge’s curved screen also means that the handset is a hair wider than the Note 4. The Edge measures 6.0 × 3.2 × 0.33 inches, while the Note 4 measures 6.0 × 3.1 × 0.33 inches. Despite that, the phone is actually more comfortable to hold, as the slope of the curved screen contours to the shape of your hand.
It’s still not exactly easy to use the Edge with one hand, but the screen’s curve certainly helps.
The Note Edge’s curved screen may look like it’s separate from the phone’s main display, but the two are actually one panel. As a result, apps look as though they cascade over the side of the Edge.
Unfortunately, the Edge’s main viewing area is slightly smaller than the Note 4’s, 5.6 inches vs. 5.7 inches. At times the Edge’s cascading effect makes apps look as though they are being cut off, even though they aren’t. It’s a rather odd optical illusion that takes a bit of getting used to.
Like the Note 4, the Note Edge’s main viewing area is absolutely gorgeous. Both phones use the same Super AMOLED (active matrix of organic light-emitting diodes) display technology, which means colors look brilliant, though somewhat exaggerated. And thanks to its high pixel resolution, images, photos, and text all look incredibly sharp on the Edge’s screen.
The Edge’s side screen, which Samsung calls the Edge Screen, offers equally crisp, vibrant visuals.
Using the Edge Screen
The Edge Screen is meant to make navigating your phone easier, while providing you with notifications and news updates. It delivers on all three counts.
The Edge Screen can display seven different “panels” such as a main panel with customizable shortcuts for favorite apps, a notifications panel, a Twitter Trends panel, panels for Yahoo Sports, and others.
Of all the panels, I found the main panel to be the most useful, as I could jump between apps by simply tapping their icons. Normally, to switch apps in Android, you have to exit an app by pressing the home button and tap the icon for the app you want to open. Sure, the Edge Screen eliminates only a single step, but it’s surprisingly helpful.
The notifications panel was probably my least favorite, as it simply duplicated the app notifications I received in the Edge’s drop-down notifications drawer.
So if I get an email, I’ll see the email icon light up on the Edge Screen and at the top of the main display. You can prevent specific notifications from appearing on the Edge’s screen, which is useful, but the fact that there is any overlap at all is annoying.
There is, however, one thing about the notifications panel that I do appreciate, and that’s the fact that things like incoming calls will appear on the Edge screen only if you’re already using another app. That means you won’t be interrupted by your crazy Uncle Ted’s incessant calls while you’re watching super serious documentaries like Ancient Aliens.
And, yes, the Note Edge’s palm rejection is top-notch, so you won’t have to worry about accidentally touching the Edge Screen while using the main display.
A useful tool
In addition to the added convenience the Edge’s side screen offers, it also provides a handful of practical tools, including a ruler and quick access to the phone’s flashlight, stopwatch, timer, and voice recorder.
Enable the Edge’s Night Clock feature, and the handset’s Edge Screen will act as a digital clock for up to 12 hours, while the main panel stays dark.
Even non-Edge apps are improved thanks to the Edge Screen. The camera app, for example, sees its controls moved from the main screen to the Edge Screen, giving you more space to frame your photos. The Edge’s native video player and music apps also move to the Edge Screen. Even Spotify can be controlled from the Edge Screen.
There’s just one potential problem with the Note Edge’s design, and that’s the fact that the Edge Screen is on the phone’s right side. While that’s perfect for right-handed folks, the lefties out there will feel burned.
To address this, Samsung has added a 180-degree setting to the Edge that flips the screen when you rotate the phone 180 degrees so that the Edge Screen is facing your left hand. Unfortunately, it’s an inelegant solution, as it means that the Edge’s power and home buttons are also flipped.
Aside from the Edge Screen and its associated apps, the Note Edge’s software is exactly what you’ll find on the Galaxy Note 4. Both phones run Samsung’s TouchWiz interface on top of Google’s Android 4.4 KitKat operating system, though an upgrade to Android Lollipop is forthcoming.
TouchWiz continues to be a rather heavy-handed interface and can be confusing to navigate for first-timers.
Still, the software does have its benefits, chief among them the ability to multitask apps by opening two onscreen at once. Samsung’s new pop-up apps feature lets you open and resize as many individual apps as you want and move them around the screen.
The downside to this feature is that it doesn’t work with every app. So some apps like Spotify can be resized, while others can’t.
Like the Note 4, the Note Edge also includes Samsung’s impressive S Pen stylus, which lets you do things like take handwritten notes, take a screenshot and write on it, and easily crop images.
Best of all, though, is the ability to select text with the S Pen the same way you would with a computer mouse. Seriously, I can’t express how helpful this feature is.
The Edge also comes with Samsung’s S Health fitness app, which, when used in conjunction with the handset’s rear-mounted heart-rate monitor, can provide you with your pulse, blood oxygen level, stress level, and even measure the amount of UV exposure you’re being subjected to.
I’m not exactly sold on the accuracy of the phone’s heart-rate monitor, nor do I think it can accurately measure my stress levels. So take any health-related readings from the Edge with a grain of salt.
The Note Edge packs the same 16-megapixel rear camera as the Note 4. What’s more, it also gets the same optical image stabilization (OIS), which means that you don’t have to worry about your hands shaking while taking photos or shooting videos, because the Edge’s camera will physically move its lens to compensate.
In other words, your pictures look less blurry than usual if your hand moves a bit while you take them.
Since the Note Edge and Note 4 have the same cameras, they capture nearly identical photos. Details were sharp, and colors were vibrant, though a bit exaggerated. Photos taken in low-light settings, however, were a bit dim.
Apple’s iPhone 6 Plus offers an 8-megapixel iSight camera that shoots similarly detailed photos but manages to capture colors more accurately. On top of that, the big-screen iPhone also fires off pictures faster than both Notes.
While the Note 4 comes with a 3,220 mAh battery, the Note Edge packs a smaller 3,000 mAh battery. The difference between the two is negligible, though, as I was still able to get through one day and well into the next with the Note Edge.
If you are running low on juice, however, you can always enable the Note Edge’s Power Saving or Ultra Power Saving modes. Power Saving cuts back on the Edge’s power consumption by reducing the phone’s processor performance and restricting background data, so you’ll have to manually pull down email and social media updates.
Ultra Power Saving mode, on the other hand, goes all out to save your battery by limiting the apps you have access to and setting the display to grayscale.
If you do happen to run out of power, you can plug in the Note Edge’s Fast Charging power adapter, which can fill your phone with 50 percent battery life in 30 minutes. To see such fast charging, though, your Edge will have to be running seriously low on juice, as the battery meters the amount of energy it draws in.
Should you buy it?
The Note Edge’s Achilles’ heel is also its defining characteristic. In order for apps like Twitter and Yahoo Sports to take advantage of the phone’s screen, developers have to make their software compatible with the Edge Screen. That means more work just to make an app use a single feature on a phone that won’t be a high-volume seller.
Which means that the number of apps that are compatible with the Edge Screen will likely remain small.
To recap, the Note Edge is essentially a Galaxy Note 4 with a curved screen that’s gimmicky, though it does add some extra usability. The Note 4 is the best big-screen smartphone on the market, and the idea that it could be even better is intriguing, but I just can’t bring myself to say that the Note Edge is a superior device.
Yes, it does make jumping between apps easier, and being able to take photos without half the screen being covered by the camera controls is great. Being able to control my music from the Edge Screen is pretty convenient, too.
But in the end, the Edge’s price is simply too high to recommend over the Note 4. The benefits just don’t outweigh the $100 premium the Edge has over the Note 4.
If you’re a serious Samsung fanboy and have the money to burn, the Note Edge won’t disappoint you. But for everyone else out there, stick with the Note 4.