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Life on the edge: Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge reviewed

By Leigh D. Stark | 5:46 pm 05/12/2014

Phones are getting thinner, but the people making them are also getting more experimental, and that’s something we’re seeing in Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge, a take on the phablet that makes the screen wrap all the way to the edge.

Features

Samsung’s second Note for the year, it’s time to see what life is like on the edge as a phone is made with a screen that gets startlingly close to the edge of the phone.

The screen and concept are very unique, and the idea really has never been seen in Australia, with a 5.6 inch display that wraps around one side of the phone, pushing past the right edge and providing a different panel to use along the corner edge. Samsung’s screen in this instance is a 5.6 inch Super AMOLED screen running a resolution of 2560×1600, with Corning’s scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass 3 protecting the display.

Under this is all of the technology that makes a phone tick, with the Qualcomm quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor clocked at 2.7GHz, Adreno 420 graphics chip, 3GB RAM, 32GB storage, and a microSD slot to expand the latter of these when needed.

Google’s Android 4.4 “KitKat” runs on the Galaxy Note Edge out of the box, equipped with Samsung’s TouchWiz overlay ready for action.

Connections on the Note Edge are pretty standard for a flagship phone, with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1 with Low Energy and A2DP, Near-Field Communication (NFC), infrared, GPS, and of course 4G LTE which in this phone supports both Category 4 and Category 6 LTE, though you’ll need a telco supporting either the Cat4 150Mbps or Cat6 300Mbps speeds to get download speeds like them.

A microUSB port is also included, found at the bottom, while a 3.5mm headset jack is up at the top.

Cameras are of course included, with the rear camera set to 16 megapixels with a flash and support for 4K Ultra HD video capture, while the front-facing camera is set to 3.7 megapixels and can capture videos in self-portraiture at roughly the same resolution of the screen, shooting at 1440p or 2560×1440.

Samsung’s Note-friendly S-Pen also makes an appearance, catering for note taking, image and screen crops, as well as drawing and other things that are rolled out over time through apps found on the Google Play and Samsung app marketplaces.

Buttons are pretty much the same as other Samsung phones, with a power button up top and a volume rocker on the left edge, while the rest of the buttons sit below the screen including a multitask soft button and back soft button flanking a physical home button.

You’ll also find a fingerprint sensor here, found under that very same home button.

Samsung’s rear cover is removable, and under it, you’ll find a microSD slot, microSIM slot, and a battery which is rated for 3000mAh.

Why an “edge”?

When Samsung calls this version of the Galaxy Note the “Edge,” what the company actually means is that the screen curves on one side in a way that it practically meets the edge of the handset, different to how other phones generally let their screens stop near the frame at the top, but not to the point where they would meet the table.

But “what” the edge is isn’t as important a question as “why” an edge, so why do we want an edge, and what problems does this seek to address?

Rather than solve something, a woe with smartphones if you will, the Edge looks to have come out of Samsung’s research with curved displays, something we saw at CES earlier in the year when Samsung’s own curved screen faced off against LG’s concepts.

Back then, the two companies started dabbling in curved LCD technology to make screens more foldable and drop resistant, because if a phone with a curved screen can flex a little when it hits a surface, there’s a stronger chance it won’t break.

Interestingly, Samsung and LG went in opposite directions on this one, with Samsung opting for a curve that arched on the phone’s shortest side, making it a curved portrait phone, while LG made the arch on the longest side, essentially affording it more form to adopt to a leg in a pocket, or, heaven forbid, a butt cheek and not crack.

Australia never saw Samsung’s effort in this area (we reviewed the LG G Flex, however), but what we did hear about it told us that while the phone wasn’t necessarily a huge success, it gave Samsung some research to work with, especially since the phone could rock from side to side, which gave Samsung a clock that could pop up in one side based on that one very unique gesture.

How does this relate to the Edge?

Samsung’s clock concept is back in this phone, appearing on that “edge” of a curved screen, though the screen isn’t plastic like it has been on previous curved efforts. Rather, there’s Gorilla Glass protecting it, though we hope the curve gives the display some wiggle room if the phone unfortunately meets something hard.

Performance

Samsung isn’t making the decision of a new phone easy this year.

We’ve seen some real stunners, and last month’s Galaxy Note 4 already grabbed attention with its high-end very bright screen, super speedy performance, and pen abilities.

But Samsung isn’t done with big phones, and if the idea of the Note 4 grabbed you but you’re after something a little more unique, there’s an answer, and it’s one most people probably won’t be looking at.

It’s called the Galaxy Note Edge and it’s like a Galaxy Note 4 but with a curved screen that wraps around on one side at the right-hand side of the screen.

We’ll get to the importance of that in a moment, but everything else about the phone is more or less identical with what you can find in the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 because the two share a very similar template.

Pick it up and there’s a metal frame surrounding a body of plastic, with glass on the front and that typical Gorilla Glass 3 coating, a part that will hopefully protect your phone from the odd drop and the occasional scratch.

The back is still a plastic textured to feel like leather, and this provides a texture that is easy to grip, though we’re not too fond of the power button placement, now up top thanks to the curved screen making it hard to put a button on the right side of the phone, while volume retains the same left edge.

Buttons for home, back, and multitask are still at the bottom, and they’re easy enough to grip, but it’s worth noting that the Edge is also a little thicker than the Note 4, though we didn’t find it made gripping the phone any more difficult.

The screen is a little different, of course — being bent around the edge will do that to a handset — but you’ll find near similar output with just a little more resolution.

Technically, this is a fraction smaller than the Galaxy Note 4, dropping from the 5.7 inch display of the Note 4 to a 5.6 inch screen on the Note Edge, but it’s a minor drop, and one that with a slightly better resolution works out better for our eyes.

A jump to 2560×1600 means you’ll find a pixel clarity of 539 pixels per inch, though the difference is so small that it’s hard to pick up, and really at this level, we’re just pushing pixels to a level most eyes won’t be able to spot discrepancies between. The long and short of this is the screen in the Galaxy Edge is excellent, and when you take it into sunlight, pulls from a reservoir of power that makes it possible to see your phone outside, which is especially handy.

Performance of the Note Edge is spot on what it was with the Galaxy Note 4, and that should come as no surprise since the phones are practically the same.

Glance through the spec sheet and you can see that the phones are more or less identical, with a quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 clocked at 2.7GHz, Adreno 420 graphics chip, 3GB RAM, and 32GB storage, with that microSD card to bring the storage higher if you need it to be.

With identical specs comes identical performance, so there’s only a hint of lag exerting itself when you hit the multi-task button, but solid stability and speed of performance almost all other times, telling you there’s very little to worry about for the next year or two with this phone.

Phone calls are also possible here with HD audio quality, though the person on the other end of the phone will need the technology, too, but we found pretty much general use of the phone was excellent across the board.

Use of the phone is spot on, too, with Android 4.4 and Samsung’s TouchWiz taking centre stage with the typical assortment of home screens, menus, dropdown notification bar, and a lock screen with a basic unlock mechanism and a camera shortcut.

We’ll get to what the edge screen does for using the phone shortly, but for now, what you really need to know is the Note Edge runs such a similar version of the operating system that it is just as easy to use, and even offers an “easy” home screen option for people struggling with anything in the menu that can be regarded as complex.

And hey, Samsung’s included pen also makes an appearance because, as we’ve said, this is basically the Galaxy Note 4 with a slightly different wrap around screen.

As such, you’ll find you can sketch ideas, jot notes, and crop things happening on screen, with a piece of technology that can technically replace the pen and pad you’ve been harbouring in your bag.

Performance also extends to the 4G capabilities of the handset, and with Category 6 LTE technology support here, you can expect very, very fast mobile broadband speeds.

Our GadgetGuy tests revealed speeds ranging between 30Mbps and 130Mbps, a result that practically blows the eyebrows off this reviewer, just like the 127Mbps speed did on the the Note 4.

It’s impressive, and provided you’re using a telco with support for the high-speed technology, you’ll be happy, as it’s possible we’ll see speeds as high as 300Mbps later on, the maximum supported speed of Category 6 4G.

Most will see speeds closer to the 20-60Mbps regularly, which we did when tested on Telstra’s 4GX network, and rarely did we struggle with mobile broadband speeds using the Note Edge in Australia.

The other part of the phone where performance has to be noted is the battery, and Samsung’s effort on battery has found mostly a day for the power users out there, a mediocre effort, though one we can likely attribute to the high-end screen which itself is a higher resolution than the one found on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4, but only because the screen is larger and wraps around the side.

If you do use your phone a lot, you’ll find one day of life from pushing email throughout the day, listening to music, playing the odd game, social networking, web surfing, and even making a few calls throughout the hours you’re awake.

Use your phone a little more sparingly and you might see a day and a half, and Samsung has even left its ultra-power saving mode in tact, so if you need to get more like out of the phone, there’s a mode supporting that.

But overall, the battery isn’t exactly the strongest part of the phone, and you may find you want more.

Thankfully, Samsung has left support for its fast charging in the box, and one of those little over-amped charge plugs is included in the pack, as well.

The camera is also pretty good, too, with the 16 megapixel shooter working well in daylight and acceptable at night, layering images to produce slightly soft scenes when there’s little light around.

Close-up, we found decent macros could be found, especially when there was an abundance of light, and you’ll even find some image modes can be downloaded from the web, as well as the camera sound silenced, the latter of which makes us very happy.

Sample image from the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge camera

Samsung’s choice of front-facing camera is also better than what you’ll see on many a competitor, too, with a 3.7 megapixel shooter that does a great job of face-tracking and can fire the shot with the heart-rate sensor used as the trigger mechanism.

To do this, simply hold your finger over the heart-rate sensor under the camera and pull it away, with the action firing the front camera for you.

Other features we’re pleased to see include the support for high-resolution audio, the aforementioned heart-rate sensor which can — as you’d expect — measure your heart-rate, the fingerprint sensor built into the home button, infrared port for a remote control, ability to load two applications on the same window with multi-window working, and Samsung’s extra left screen which is a news briefing powered by Flipboard that unfortunately can’t be removed but can be ignored (unless you like it, of course).

And then finally there’s the use of the screen with the edge, which we’re covering last because it’s just such an unusual premise.

Overall, the Galaxy Note Edge is the Note 4, except for that edge, making it totally unique.

If the descriptions we’ve used thus far haven’t really made the case for the phone, Samsung has basically provided a curved screen that wraps past the right edge of the display, stretching to a little of the side, with all of this protected by a piece of curved Gorilla Glass 3.

In kind of looks like two screens stuck together, but the reality is that this is a curved display, and for the most part, Samsung is using it as a notification and dock system, which basically replaces the top of your screen for information.

For the dock, you’ll see an extended version of the shortcut dock you would normally have at the bottom of the screen, and it works well here, allowing you to run apps and show more of the shortcuts to apps you want, while always leaving a phone icon at the bottom left of the display.

More edge notification bars can be swiped in and out, with one for Samsung’s S Planner event calendar, one for tweets, one for notifications and weather, and even one for games.

There’s even a small tools slide out menu you can pull out from the top of the dock, one that gives you easy access to a torch, stopwatch, voice recorder, timer, and a most useful ruler which offers an easy way to measure something in either centimetres or inches.

That’s a great use of the edge of the phone, it really is.

But our favourite has to be what happens when it’s time to go to bed, with a small bedside clock appearing, showing the time, date, and weather on the edge, which is especially handy when you realise if you leave the phone flat on a night stand, you’ll be able to look at the phone while it’s lying down and still see the text. Awesome work with that one, Samsung.

But there are also problems with having an “edge” to a screen, or rather a curved display, because as nice as having a ruler is (which is a pretty cool feature), and scrolling Twitter updates, and news feeds, and all that jazz like your phone is some personal kind of news network, there are plenty of apps Samsung hasn’t thought about.

Primarily all of them.

Yes, if you load an app where the edge isn’t needed, it will just go to black and pop up with either a present message or — if you’ve modified it — whatever the modification is.

By default, the Note Edge is set to display “Samsung Galaxy Note Edge” almost as if to constantly inform others of the phone you’re using when you’re using the bus, but we decided to set it to “The edge doesn’t do much” to show off basically what it’s doing — or not doing, even — when we’re out and about, and taking screenshots for this review.

For instance, it is pretty much useless in Chrome, Instagram, TripView, Evernote, Twitter, Email, Gmail, Inbox, the phone dialler — oh hell, let’s just say it doesn’t show anything a good 90 percent of the time, revealing itself only when you want it to pop up by sliding it in.

On the one hand, this is kind of a neat thing as it means your screen is totally yours, revealing only the app you wanted at the time, but on the other hand, Samsung has included soft buttons on its devices for so long that this only becomes an issue on the home screen, and unless you care about a full screen front page, it’s not a huge benefit anyway.

That lack of use, however, is one of the problems with the Galaxy Note Edge, because you’re paying an extra sum for a really neat display that just doesn’t really do anything for most of the phone, and we’re not even sure how much use we’d get for long out of anything other than the dock.

Would we use the appointments drawer on the edge screen? Probably. The notifications? Maybe. The shortcut dock? Definitely, and when we’re playing music, it’s nice to see the information pop up here, too, but anything else just seems like a waste, and we’d be happy to keep it in our regular drop down menu on Android which is where we’re used to using it anyway.

There’s also a matter of what you do if you use your phone as a lefty.

For that, Samsung has made it possible for the phone to work upside down, which is kind of a first and not normally something a manufacturer has to make happen, but then again, there’s a specific edge here and you might want to use that edge on the left side rather than the right.

When you engage this mode, you’ll find the edge appear on the left providing you hold your phone with the Samsung logo at the bottom and the home button at the top, and that provides you the icons on the left, which is great. Samsung even gives you a slide in set of on-screen soft buttons, giving you multi-tasking, home, and back just like the physical buttons on the phone, except through the screen. Great.

Where it becomes problematic, however, is that if you try to answer a call in this way, you’ll find you’re holding the speaker at your mouth and the microphone at your ear, which isn’t particularly handy.

This writer is a lefty, and yet is so used to holding his phone in the right handed configuration that it didn’t bother him.

That said, if you’re expecting to use your left thumb to control the Galaxy Note Edge with that left edge screen, be aware that while support is here, the experience isn’t the same.

One final thing is compatibility for one of Samsung’s killer apps, and that’s the Gear VR technology. While this is technically a Note 4 and that handset is designed for Samsung’s entertainment oriented headset, we’re told ahead of time that the Note Edge will likely be incompatible, with the reason being a slightly different body design (the edge).

We hope this is amended, but we’re doubtful.

Right side or left side, the edge can be utilised regardless of how you hold the phone.

Conclusion

While it is something of a gimmick, we like the Note Edge, though we’re not really sure why. There’s really no reason to have a curved display like it in a phone, and in some instances, it makes using the phone downright difficult.

For instance, you’ll have to re-learn how to hold the phone when in camera mode, as it’s kind of comfortable one way, and plain weird the other, as the screen slopes in such a way where it’s hard to hold. You may even get used to pressing the home button often to get away from Samsung’s impossible to switch off Flipboard homescreen, as it mercilessly sends you there if you swipe just barely away from the curve too far to the left.

And yet. And yet.

And yet, there’s something about the curve that works well.

We like the extended dock, and it’s especially handy if you have lots of icons and shortcuts to work with, and we like how it can show you appointments and the weather and other notifications, and we’re even told there’s a case coming that will show just the edge, making it even more handy for these things.

Edge of today: a difference in design with the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge on the left, and the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 on the right.

But most of the time the Edge does nothing, and is basically just a Galaxy Note 4 with a slightly bigger screen curved to one side, and that means a high performing phone and camera with a pressure sensitive stylus and a battery that scan make a day but not much more (in our tests).

And that’s where we run into a problem: we’re not sure whether that combination of features makes the Galaxy Note Edge worth the premium Samsung is charging.

And it is a premium, with this model grabbing a $300 cost increase, sitting firmly at $1249 outright compared to the Note 4’s price of $949.

Frankly, we’re not sure. It’s nice to have, but having the Edge won’t make or break your life, and if you’ve already started to invest in smartwatches and/or other notification-enabled wearable or off-hand gadgets, you’ll probably use it even less, especially since it does nothing most of the time anyway.

But if you want a phone that few people have, Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge will make you stand out as it’s just that much of an individual, like you.

Price (RRP)

$1249

Pros & Cons

Product Pros

Super speedy performance; Very, very fast Category 6 LTE support; Feels great in the hands with a metal frame and textured back; Like the Galaxy Note 4, that screen and its extra-bright power reservoir are amazeballs; A camera you can silence (woot!); Includes the Samsung S Pen; Same support for high-res audio as its Galaxy Note 4 brother; The "edge" section is more useful than you might expect, providing a taller dock with support for more shortcuts; The edge section works with lefties (sort of);

Product Cons

The edge doesn't do anything most of the time; Touchscreen is very responsive, and it doesn't help that you're always touching it; Battery could be better; Won't likely work with Samsung's Gear VR despite being a Note 4 technically;

Ratings

Overall

Features

Value for money

Performance

Ease of Use

Design

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