The Galaxy Note 4 is so 2014, but the Note Edge is Samsung looking forward. Despite what you might first think, this is a hint at what we can expect from the company’s future smartphones.
The Edge was sort of a surprise announcement at IFA in Berlin earlier this year. For the most part it matches the vanilla Note 4 spec for spec, but there is one very obvious difference.
Design: Smarter (looking) than your average Sammy
The Edge is the latest member of Samsung’s new premium design club. Along with the Note 4 and the Galaxy Alpha, the Edge sports a precision milled aluminium frame that ups the feel and build quality over the plastic fantastic smartphones the company kicked the year off with – in particular, the Galaxy S5.
This being a Note, you also get a removable back that adopts a faux leather pattern and hides the battery, micro SIM tray and microSD slot, not to mention the S Pen, which pulls out from the base. It’s a step in the right direction, but it still doesn’t quite match the HTC One (M8) levels of metallic goodness.
Aside from the tweaked layout as a result of that specialised display, you get the same centrally positioned, rear-mounted camera and heart rate sensor, a fingerprint sensing home button for unlocking the Note Edge and authenticating PayPal payments as well as capacitive app switching and back keys. It’s all rather familiar actually.
Screen: All the right curves, in all the right places
The hook of the Edge is centred around its screen technology. This 5.6-inch Quad HD+ Super AMOLED panel is slightly smaller, not to mention shorter and wider than the vanilla Note 4’s, with an extra 160 pixels on the right-hand side where the screen actually curves over.
It’s a single panel, but Samsung refers to this additional curved region as the phone’s Edge screen and in certain scenarios it can act as an independent segment from the primary, flat display. Thanks to the way the reflections curve over the Gorilla Glass 3 edge, it’s pretty to look at, on or off, but there are some changes in practicality that take a little getting used to.
Ergonomically, it’s clearly geared towards right-handed use as the power button has moved on top and swiping the Edge screen with your left hand can be a little precarious, unless you’re blessed with huge mitts. The thin edge can also prove a little tricky to prize off of a flat surface as there’s far less surface area to get a purchase on.
Despite these little troubles, using the display as a whole feels pretty slick, and thanks to its insanely dense 2560×1600 resolution, there’s no shortage of pixels to push stunning, vivid, sharp imagery. We’d go so far as to say that this is one of the best looking smartphone screens out there right now, alongside the LG G3 and the Galaxy Note 4, naturally.
OS: Like the Note 4, but with a kink in it
Aside from a cool new lockscreen animation, the Edge screen changes the TouchWiz interface design too. The scrolling apps that you’d usually find at the bottom, now live along the edge and as it’s treated like a separate, secondary display, it can be accessed at any time without exiting an app and even whilst the main display is off, which doesn’t use extra power because it’s based on AMOLED technology.
Swiping down from the top of the Edge Screen grants you access to handy tools like a flashlight and even a ruler that can display measurements in centimetres and inches. How often such a feature comes in handy is questionable, but it’s nonetheless a nice use of that special display.
You can also customise what the Edge Screen displays when the phone is locked or unlocked, and give it it’s own set of panels: from trending Twitter topics to news headlines to downloadable games (Burger Time was a personal favourite).
The only problem is that there really aren’t that many things that support it beyond Samsung’s existing TouchWiz apps, and that’s unlikely to grow dramatically in the near future unless it sells like hotcakes. It’s useful for keeping tabs on notifications, and as a night clock too, but these are pretty niche examples and that might not be enough to garner the extra cash over the Note 4.
Speaking of which, aside from the Edge Screen-specific tweaks, the Note Edge runs just like the Note 4. You get the latest suite of TouchWiz apps from Samsung, including tools for office work, the latest S Pen functionality and support for online payments via PayPal.
Performance: Cutting Edge
The brains of the operation are the same top of the range quad-core Snapdragon 805 and 3GB of RAM found on the Note 4 too, meaning you’ll experience near identical performance to its launch partner, which is to say, wonderfully fluid.
Most apps, including 3D games don’t make use of the Edge Screen and as such run in a more conventional aspect ratio, just as on the Note 4’s 2560×1440 display.
Elsewhere you don’t lose out on microSD expandability (up to 128GB) alongside the 50GB of Dropbox storage and 32GB internal memory out-the-box. You can also expect top of the line connectivity with Cat 6 LTE (that’s up to 300Mbps theoretically), dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, GPS, NFC and an IR blaster for controlling your telly.
In fact, the only other change inside the Note Edge versus the Note 4 is the smaller 3000mAh battery, which still gave us two days of continuous use, which isn’t as impressive, but still at the upper end of today’s average smartphone’s longevity.
Camera: Trust us, images are stable
The imaging experience is a treat, putting an impressive OIS (optical image stabilised) and DIS (digital image stabilised) 16-megapixel snapper at your disposal.
In true Samsung style, post processing on shots is pretty heavy, with increased sharpness and high colour saturation, which as ever means you get pretty, but not necessarily accurate snaps. We like the overall picture quality and thanks to an extremely effective HDR mode, you can get some notably stills, even when conditions are less than ideal. There’s also fast and slow motion recording as well as a competent 4K mode, so this device is well and truly future-proofed in that regard.
Another smart move Samsung’s made is to reduce the amount of modes available from the off. You can cycle through a few nice options from auto, to more specific scenarios and you have the option to download more should you wish.
That curved edge plays a part when snapping or shooting too, by taking the on-screen controls and moving them up and out of the way, meaning you have a clearer view of whatever it is that you’re trying to capture. It’s an interesting alternative to having a dedicated hardware shutter key along the phone’s edge, but it feels natural when you actually come to use it.
Verdict: Ahead of the curve
The biggest barrier for the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge is that it’s one of the most expensive handsets on the market right now, especially if you want it free on a contract, but it’s a device that needs to exist whether you think it makes sense or not.
Like LG’s first G Watch, last year’s G Flex and even the now antiquated Nokia 808 PureView, the Edge is here to give us that initial taste of the future. It’s the first consumer-ready smartphone to make curved screen tech useful and it’s already based on a solid, established sub-brand in the form of Samsung’s Galaxy Note family.
We’d pick the Note 4 over the Edge based primarily on price and ergonomics, but we’re glad the Edge has finally got the ball rolling on what will no doubt be a notable pillar of future devices. Honestly we can’t wait to see what’s going to happen in its wake.