You've never seen anything quite like the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. The phone looks like it's melting. The entire right edge of the device is a second screen. And though it feels like a gimmick at first, that extra, angled real estate can be surprisingly cool.
What Is It?
The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 all over again, except the right side curves down to form a sort of second screen. The most interesting take on a phone screen I've ever seen. A gimmick at a glance with some actual awesomeness to back it up. A phone that will cost you a staggering $400 on contract.
Why Does It Matter?
We've seen curved-screen phones like the LG Flex and the Samsung Galaxy Round before, but these were just pretty normal (and frankly mediocre) smartphones with a inexplicable insignificant curve. The Galaxy Note Edge is a way bolder, more interesting experiment that hearkens back to crazy dual-screen devices like the Sony Tablet P. But here, you get your tried-and-true top of the line smartphone and your conversation starter at the same time.
It's like somebody left Salvadore Dali alone in a room with a Galaxy Note 4. The entire right edge of the screen positively cascades—like a glass waterfall—down to meet the back of the phone. The rest of the Edge's design is virtually identical to the Note 4; the same stylus that goes in the same slot, the same faux-leather backing, the same nice metal trim. Only here, that rim traces three sides of the Note Edge, before dipping down to accommodate the curve on the right.
The Edge looks both familiar and totally uncanny at the same time. There's nothing aggressively bad about the design, but that curved section does look a little bit like a fanciful last-minute tweak. It's definitely eye-catching, but not immediately awesome. People will ask you what it is because it looks weird, not necessarily because it looks cool.
The Note Edge has a few other very subtle differences from its twin, even if you'd be hard-pressed to notice looking at the two side by side. Most important is probably that the Note Edge's screen is actually just slightly smaller. The conventional flat part is just 5.6 inches as opposed to the Note 4's 5.7. The curved part of the panel adds an extra 160 pixels of width, but it's generally reserved for specialized side widgets. The phone screen proper doesn't bleed into it, so it doesn't really contribute to the overall size of the display.
The Edge is also two grams lighter than its twin, 2mm shorter, 4mm wider, and just a hair thicker. It's not much to notice in your hand, but it meansthat the Note Edge will not fit in Samsung's super-promising Gear VR headset, which is a major bummer. On the inside, the Note 4 has all the same specs except for the battery, which comes in at a slightly undersized 3,000 mAh compared to the 3,200 mAh battery you'll find in the version without the curved screen.
Since the Note Edge is basically the Note 4, I'm just talking about Edge-specific experience here. If I don't mention something here, it's because I already said it in my Note 4 review and it's functionally identical in the Note Edge.
The first thing I noticed about the Edge—after gawking at the curve—is that it's weird to hold. Not impossible or even hard but just plain awkward. The sharp, grippy bezels I loved on the Galaxy Note 4 are kind of undermined here by the one edge that's just melty and slippery. The bottom of the curve can still lock nicely into my palm, but it just doesn't feel quite as great. More troubling is that the sleep button has moved from a perfectly-placed right-handed thumb position on the side to a perpetually inconvenient perch at the top of the phone. Sure, you can just turn the thing on with the home button, but putting it to sleep is a drag.
But back to the curve. Essentially the curve exists as kind of its own bolt-on screen. Movies and games and whathaveyou don't extend onto it, and when you're just using the phone as a phone, it defaults to black and useless except for displaying a little "personal message" of your choosing in small text. It's wasted space—at least until you swipe down on it with your finger.
When you do that, one of your "panels"—basically horizontal widgets—appear. You can have up to seven of them selected at a time and cycle through them, but right now there aren't a whole lot to choose from. You'll find Yahoo Sports and Finance to keep you abreast of sports scores and stock prices, and one or two silly little memory games. Maybe there will be more if developers make them—Samsung even released an SDK—but it feels dangerous to be optimistic that the Note Edge will sell enough units to tempt many of them.
Fortunately, Samsung's built-in applications for the Edge show off some potential. There's a "favorite apps" panel which gives you a handy little app drawer that's always just a thumb swipe away. You can hop from app to app without having to go back to the homescreen or dig through a multitasking menu. Still, I found that most times I hop from app to app it's because a notification just showed up, and I can just as easily pull down the notification shade.
Of course, you can also get your notifications on the curved edge, reading snippets of emails, seeing missed calls and unread message counts, and other assorted items without so much as a swipe. That's nice, and the edge panel has a lot more room for that kind of info than the status bar, but it's not without its issues.
The problem is that text running at a 90-degree angle to the rest of your phone is just obnoxious to read. Really, any widgets that display text are only really helpful if you have the Edge on a desk or table, face up, with its curve facing you. This lets you peep your notifications—or sportsball scores or whatever—without anyone seeing. With a little rubbing gesture, you can even turn on the side-screen without lighting up the main one, and get access to your own, private, skinny screen. I could see it being handy if you're in a lot of long, uptight meetings, though I don't find myself in many where I can't just sneak a peek at my phone under the table.
A few other highlights that really showcase that edge's ability to get stuff out of your way are the S Note app, which relegates options like draw width to the side-screen, and the camera app, which moves all of the pesky viewfinder-cluttering controls to the edge panel where they're out of the way. Yeah, maybe this would be more easily accomplished with a shutter button and a less crowded interface, but the curved solution works too.
But I think my favorite feature the curved screen offers is the "Night Clock." This setting will display the time on the Edge's edge in super duper dim white numerals. It's perfect for my nightstand. I haven't had a bedside clock that doesn't require pressing a button and being blinded by light since I moved out of my parents' place, and having a phone that doubles as a clock is way cooler than I expected it to be at 4 AM.
Then, of course, there's the issue of that smaller battery. Unfortunately, the Note Edge isn't quite up to snuff with the normal Note 4. I found that the Edge can still last into the night easily enough, but at the end of the day I tend to wind up with 10-15 percent less battery than I got from putting the same amount of stress on the Note 4. Which is to say this should still get you through a day pretty easily, but if you need super late night or early morning wiggle room, the Edge leaves something to be desired.
Oh, and if you're left-handed, don't worry; Samsung has a solution for you. There's a left-handed mode where you can flip this thing and use it upside down, with some onscreen nav buttons to replace the hardware ones that will sit at the top of the screen. It's weird, but it works.
It's basically a Galaxy Note 4. The best part of the Note Edge is that it's based on a phone that's already great. It still has an awesome screen and multitasking features that make big screens make sense. Almost everything I liked about the Note 4 is still there.
Some of the phone's special features can be genuinely cool. The Night Clock feature is awesome. The favorite apps panel can occasionally be useful as well. And while I haven't had the chance to secretly look at notifications during a meeting, I imagine it's thrilling in a depressingly white-collar nerd sort of way.
It's weird-looking! The Note Edge will score you envious (or at least curious) looks from friends and strangers alike. It's not particularly beautiful, but it's unique in a way that's not offensively bad. It can definitely start a conversation... about phones, if you're into that.
A lot of the special features on the Note Edge barely even benefit from the curve. Like 95 percent of this stuff would also work on a Note 4 that just had a strip of display devoted to it. Anything that does make use of the curved edge is pretty circumstantial and not remotely life-changing.
Please do not put sleep buttons on top of big phones. It is the worst.
It won't fit into the Gear VR. I understand why—it's shaped differently and has a different-sized screen—but that really sucks.
The Note Edge is more expensive. AT&T has it for a staggering $400 on-contract. That's absurd.
Should You Buy It
Nope. The curved screen on the Note Edge can surprisingly useful, and way less of a random gimmick than any curved-screen phone that's come before. But! It's not useful enough to be worth the extra $100 you can expect to pay for it. Besides, it's not worth the drawbacks; You lose compatibility with the upcoming (and awesome) Gear VR, you sacrifice some precious battery life, and you'll hate yourself a little bit every time you try to put the phone to sleep.
If the Note Edge was the only new Note phone, this might be a tougher call, but since it's not, the decision is easy. The Galaxy Note Edge is not a total disaster by any means, but you should definitely just get the Galaxy Note 4 instead, and maybe use some of the money you save to buy a bedside alarm clock and a book of conversation starters.