In Samsung's vision of the electronics future, curved is the new flat. Since 2013, the Korean conglomerate unveiled curved wearables, TVs and even a smartphone, the Galaxy Round. (Rival LG had one too.) Now, the Galaxy Note Edge furthers the curved campaign with a subtly arched "second screen" that's devoted to productivity. If a phone like the Edge could one day redefine the flat face of smartphones, Samsung wants to be at the crest of that wave.
While it isn't hard to use, the Galaxy Note Edge still isn't a phone you master overnight. Both its asymmetrical shape and wraparound Edge display require you to navigate this handset differently than you would any other phone.
On the one hand, Samsung's new Revolving UI and Edge display apps and widgets make the most of the curved portion of the screen, opening up new possibilities for interacting with your phone controls. On the other hand, there's no actual need for the waterfall effect, other than to showcase its makers' ingenuity with material properties.
I vacillate between really liking the Note Edge's conveniences and finding them redundant. The truth is, there's no way to fully and truly evaluate what it's like to use the Edge display in our extremely short review period. Look for many more more follow-up impressions from me in the coming weeks.
So far though, the Edge seems like a clever, well-designed piece of aspirational hardware that probes future shapes and modes of interaction. Those looking for a showpiece of a phone will love it, but more conventional devices like the Galaxy Note 4, LG G3 and Sony Xperia Z3 or Z3v are simply better for mainstream buyers.
It's almost expected that phones using new technologies or methods could cost more, but it's a cost few could be expected to bear. The off-contract Edge costs of $840 to $946 in the US, about £650 in the UK and AU$1,249 in Australia, so those rival phones are much cheaper, too.
Note Edge versus Note 4: What's different
Apart from its different physical shape and Edge display screen, the Note 4 and Note Edge share top-of-the-line hardware and the Samsung-tinged version of Android 4.4. A few differences include:
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge versus Note 4
5.6-inch 1,440p HD AMOLED display
5.7-inch 1,440p HD AMOLED display
3,000mAh quick-charging battery
3,220mAh quick-charging battery
5.96 x 3.24 x 0.33 inches
6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33 inches
151.3 x 82.4 x 8.3 mm
153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5 mm
6.1 ounces / 174 grams
6.2 ounces / 176 grams
Black, white, silver, gold, blue, pink
Since the Galaxy Note Edge and Galaxy Note 4 have nearly identical specs, this review focuses on the differences between the two models. There are a few tiny variations with the TouchWiz UI as well. For any other details, see CNET's Galaxy Note 4 review.
Design: The curve that makes a point
The more you think about it, the more ironic it becomes that the standout feature in the Galaxy Note Edge is actually its curve rather than any straight, sharp line. This glossy waterfall of a right spine, which Samsung calls the phone's Edge display, measures 2,560x160 pixels in a vertical ribbon of screen.
About that screen: it's made from one continuous piece of glass that tops the flexible (but fixed) AMOLED display beneath. Instead of having a straight right spine, the curve joins the back of the phone, creating a kind of pointy edge.
You'd think this triangular shape would feel off-kilter or sharply uncomfortable to hold. I certainly got that impression when when I first saw the Edge, but it's surprisingly balanced when you actually use it, even for extended periods of time. I carried the Edge in my right and left hands for an hour at a time during a hike. I did grip it differently than I would other phones, but it felt sturdy and secure the entire time, and I quickly grew used to the altered feel.
The same leatherlike coating used on the back of the Note 4 also adds some extra tactile support, and feels pretty good. Unlike most Samsung phones, the power/lock button migrates from the right spine to the top.
One last point is that although the screen is a hair smaller than the Note 4, the phone itself is a little bit wider. With my smaller hands, I'd have to use both to maneuver the phones regardless, but it's something for prospective buyers to keep in mind.
Second screen: Samsung's revolving UI
Samsung made brand-new software to fit the Edge's brand-new shape, and the company calls its interface the Revolving UI with good reason. It's best to think of it as a multifunctional home screen that you can swipe through to see various icons and widgets. Like a revolving door, you swipe your thumb toward the phone edge to advance, and to circle back to the beginning.
You have some control over the icons you can include on the primary panel, and how many panels you want in all. Samsung is wooing developers to make more. A panel manager and editing tool help with customization, though you can't add every phone app to the primary panel, and many of them you can't edit at all. There's also some underbaked functionality in the weather widget. You can see it at a glance, but tapping the widget won't open up a fuller forecast.
Apart from icons and tools, you'll see notifications linked to many apps flash in the Edge display. You can open and close with a single tap, and missed alerts greet you in the notifications display (the one with the weather widget) as well as the traditional notifications shade at the top of the screen. Just like your home screen, the Edge display supports folders, too. These take longer to pop out though, and the animation didn't seem as smooth, so using them wasn't my favorite.
Pull down from the top of any Edge window to open quick tools like a flashlight, voice recorder, timer and stopwatch, and a ruler. I really like these in theory, but didn't have a chance to try them in a natural, unforced way during my trial.
You can also customize the color of the Edge display when the phone is locked, and personalize the message that appears when it's idle.