Samsung, with its high R&D bills has always strive to venture into things which not many other companies tend to follow. So after the Galaxy Round, Samsung now unveils the Galaxy Edge.
If you take the basic shape and concept, it’s the spitting image of the curved-screen Youm prototype spied at CES a little less than two years ago. Now, though, it’s a for-real smart phone you can buy. It launched in Japan instead of the Note 4, although both the Note 4 and the Note Edge will eventually be available in the US. Fortunately, despite the unusual, curved screen, it still packs all of the good things that made the Note 4 such a strong choice.
The Galaxy Note Edge is an experiment, yet it’s one that’s able to stand on its strengths, despite any reservations you might have about that curved display. In short, you get all the benefits of the Galaxy Note 4, but with a hardware twist to set it apart. Unfortunately, there’s that price.
The Galaxy Note Edge grabs your attention. Its curves are subjective and divisive; my friends and colleagues have offered up reactions ranging from outright bemusement to adoration. The screen looks great with the punchy contrast and sharpness that’s been a Samsung flagship mainstay for years. It houses a 5.6-inch Quad-HD+ display. The screen is marginally smaller than the Note 4, despite the cranked-up pixel count. This means a little chunk of extra screen makes the phone just less than 4mm wider, and around 2mm shorter, than the Note 4.
Regardless, you get the feeling that this is the bleeding edge of Samsung’s phone-making skills, right here in your hand, and that’s because of the curve. Samsung’s explained, officially, that it put the curve to the right to replicate how we read books. Lefties aren’t going to be too happy, but the one-sided design is what gives the phone a kick.
The company was able to curve the display using the same technology it featured on the Galaxy Round, but there’s more emphasis here on giving purpose to the uniqueness of the Edge.
There are also machined-aluminum buttons to match the sides, an IR remote and headphone socket up top, and a USB charger, a downgrade from the Note 3, at the base. This means slower transfers, but I can cope for the aesthetics. In time-honored Samsung style, there’s also a physical home button with capacitive multitasking and back buttons balancing out the lower bezel. Lastly, there’s a built-in heart rate monitor nestled alongside the flash, while a single speaker grille sits in the lower-left corner, ready to be obscured by your hand when you hold it. Whoops.
There’s been no corners cut with regards to specifications and fantastically, it goes toe to toe with the Note 4. It’s the same high-resolution (2,560 × 1,600) screen — we’re certain a mere 1080p “Plus” curved display would have been cheaper to make as well as a 2.7GHz processor, 3GB of RAM and 32GB of storage (and a 64GB option), with a microSD slot for expansion. On paper, the only place that’s been limited is the battery: a smaller 3,000mAh pack powers this special edition Note, compared to 3,220mAh in Note number four.
There are Touch Wiz bits running on Android 4.4 Kit Kat, but Samsung continues to clear away unnecessary bloat and options. It’s still a work in progress, though, and I feel the settings menus are particularly obtuse compared to other Android phones — and especially iOS. It takes some getting used to.
But let’s focus on what’s different here: that edge. There are two display modes you can flirt between: a slender, unassuming bar that can display a customized message and a more substantial column that attempts to offer extra functionality, notifications or context-dependent menus for certain apps, like the camera. When it’s expanded, the UI is a basic row of icons, which you can navigate with a little swipe. This may look a little unusual, but swishing through the various mini-screens (you can configure what it shows, and even install third-party “edges”), is immensely satisfying.
While you can cycle through up to seven edges, each can also be toggled off, so you could strip it down to simply a notification and app shortcut bar. Or you could keep seven different things there: weather, stocks, bizarre memory-matching game, your pedometer stats or a Japan-only navigation bar that’ll offer traffic alerts and your nearest train station.
The edge of the screen also comes into its own when Samsung went to the effort to add dedicated menus. For the camera, this means your viewfinder isn’t obscured, which is nice. Similarly, when playing video, you get the full screen playback, and tapping the screen brings up controls along the curved edge. Notifications will also appear here, which is a nice touch. However, app-dependent edge functions stop there, and the camera and video player both seem like the most useful scenarios for it.
You can also turn the edge into a centimeter ruler. Not sure how much you’re going to use that function. I didn’t use it once. Something I did like was the night clock setting, which, when it hits a certain prescribed time, will light up the edge with simple clock readout.
Again, Samsung didn’t cut any corners when it came to the phone’s imaging prowess. The Note Edge packs a 16-megapixel camera, with Samsung’s “smart OIS” intended to eke the light (and detail) in tougher lighting. The front-facing camera is also a top-end sensor compared to the competition, 3.7 megapixels with an f/1.9 lens. There’s also a selfie mode that stitches a trio of pictures together for widescreen, “best friends!” capture, when you have more than two BFFs.
All told, it’s an excellent camera. The image stabilizing works well on all the neon lights, while even people were neatly captured. There’s some noise, but it compares favorably against older Galaxy phones. Daylight meant effortless captures and some really nice shots, if I say so myself. Focus was swift, and auto white balance seemed to gauge scenes perfectly. If you have a proclivity for HDR, rest assured the Edge does an excellent job there.
PERFORMANCE AND BATTERY LIFE
It bears repeating: Samsung’s treated the Galaxy Edge buyer to some of the best components underneath that curved display: 3GB of RAM to ensure multitask windowing runs smoothly, and a quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor to back it up. Like the Note 4, lag and slowdown simply didn’t happen. However, there were the occasional hiccups where the edge widget would refuse to cycle to the next page. The only fix I found was to reset the phone. It’s a shame, as it’s a minor issue that stops the phone getting full performance marks.
The Edge goes toe to toe with the Note 4, because well, it’s pretty much the same phone. But about the smaller battery, it was one of the only hardware differences. With a little more screen resolution and less capacity on the cell, we feared the worse. Well, in our battery of battery tests, it lies somewhere between the Note and Galaxy S series. It’s not quite as good as the former, but better than the latter.
Is the Note Edge a gimmick? It’s hard to say, but I don’t think the curved display is a bad thing. The best part is that even without the edge, you’ve still got, for all intents and purposes, a Galaxy Note 4, with a stylus, power, long battery life and a capable camera. The more I used the Note Edge, the less the edge part seemed to matter: I’d use the shortcuts to apps from the edge, but gradually disabled most of the widgets. Pervasive uses for the curve aren’t quite there. What did remain was how gosh-darn eye-catching the display was, augmented by that curved AMOLED glow. And if fold-able smart phones and tablets are going to happen, if devices with more useful, innovative displays are to appear, phones like the Note Edge are the iterations that need to happen. If you liked any of the previous Galaxy Notes, or were at least intrigued by them, then the Galaxy Note Edge deserves the same amount of attention, even if, at $980 off-contract, you’re really paying for that progress.