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Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review: Note Edge breaks the mold and the bank in its quest for curve

What's it really like using the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge's funky curved screen? Read CNET's full, rated review to find out.

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Jessica Dolcourt
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Jessica Dolcourt

Editorial Director / CNET Money, How-To & Performance Optimization

Jessica Dolcourt leads the CNET Money, How-To, and Performance teams. A California native who grew up in Silicon Valley, she's passionate about connecting people with the highest standard of advice to help them reach their goals.

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13 min read

Editors' note, January 29, 2015: This review was updated with comparisons to LG's new dual-curved screen phone prototype and additional impressions of using the Note Edge for several months. There are also thoughts on Android Lollipop and extended discussion of the phone's second interface.

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8.3

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

The Good

The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge's curved, asymmetrical shape and brand-new interface deliver a cutting-edge design that really lives up to its name.

The Bad

It's wider and much pricier than the Note 4 without dramatically increasing the phone's functionality. You'll have to adapt to navigating from a second screen.

The Bottom Line

Samsung's swooshing Galaxy Note Edge is a triumph of novel design, but its high price tag and minimal extra usability make for a niche appeal.

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 has two too .) Here, the Edge -- first released in November 2014 -- 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 per se, 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, it's really expensive and there's no actual need for the waterfall effect, other than to showcase its makers' ingenuity with material properties. And now, in the wake of an even bolder LG attempt at a screen with two curved edges, this original here is looking a little passe.

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge rocks a curved sidebar screen (hands-on pictures)

See all photos

When I first reviewed this phone, I vacillated between really liking the Note Edge's conveniences and finding them redundant. Now that I've used the Note Edge as my go-to Android phone for several months, my perspective is much more crystallized, and a little more wearied. Read more below to see what I mean.

On the balance, the Edge is a clever, well-designed piece of aspirational hardware that probes future shapes and modes of interaction. It's also a little too clever for its own good. 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 goes for $840 to $946 in the US (or $400 on-contract with AT&T), 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

Note EdgeNote 4
Screen size 5.6-inch 1,440p HD AMOLED display5.7-inch 1,440p HD AMOLED display
Battery 3,000mAh quick-charging battery3,220mAh quick-charging battery
Dimensions, Imperial 5.96 x 3.24 x 0.33 inches6.04 x 3.09 x 0.33 inches
Dimensions, Metric 151.3 x 82.4 x 8.3mm 153.5 x 78.6 x 8.5mm
Weight 6.1 ounces / 174 grams6.2 ounces / 176 grams
Colors Black, whiteBlack, 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.

One flowing piece of glass bends around the Edge's face. Sarah Tew/CNET

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 leather-like 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 bear 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 under-baked functionality in the weather widget. You can see it at a glance, but tapping the widget won't open up a fuller forecast.

Scroll through the Edge's strip of a second screen with your thumb. James Martin/CNET

Apart from icons and tools, you'll see the notifications that are linked to many apps flash along the Edge display. You can open and close these with a single tap. Missed alerts greet you in this side notifications display as well as the traditional notifications shade at the top of the Note Edge's 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.

In addition to seeing alerts, the Edge display has its own set of settings. Pull down from the top of any Edge window to open quick tools like a flashlight, a voice recorder, a timer and stopwatch, and a ruler. I really like these in theory, but I rarely needed them in a natural, unforced way. With the exception of the ruler, which is really clever, I'm also not convinced that tying these tools to the Edge display offers any real value. They'd be just as convenient to access from elsewhere on the phone.

The ruler is one quick tool you can access from any sliver of Edge screen. James Martin/CNET

For customizations, there are a few. You can personalize the color of the Edge display when the phone is locked, and customize the message that appears when it's idle. That's about it.

Edge-only tools

There are two times you'll use the Edge display alone, and I like both modes. First, when you want to wake the phone up (by swiping vertically along the curve) to see just the date, time and weather. Swiping up and down some more activates a ticker to view your notifications. If the phone is facing you, colleagues across the table from you (for instance) can't see your screen.

I never used the Edge display as a way to keep notifications private -- there's little need for that in my world -- but I do like the ability to call up a little information without waking the entire phone. This just feels like minimal effort is required, which is exactly how it should be.

Now for the second benefit, one that's actually one of the phone's best "unique" features. After-hours, the date and time will dimly and persistently glow out at you from the Night Clock. This is an optional mode that lets you set the times you want it. In my case, from 11pm to 6am. And glow it does. With the Note Edge laying flat on its back and the edge turned toward you, it becomes as effective and far less obtrusive than other docked alarm clock setups, but is still bright enough to read.

Although battery drain is low, you should probably keep an eye on the overall battery life if you use this mode. The last thing you want is the phone to die before your morning alarm.

What about lefties?

The Edge is a phone made for righties and adapted for the southpaws among us. A setting to flip the icons 180 degrees lets lefties turn the phone upside down so they can swipe and tap on the Edge display with their dominant hands. Since that orientation now puts the home button and navigation keys along the top (and well out of reach), you can swipe up to surface some on-screen navigation controls. It's a workaround that seems to do the trick.

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Lefties can flip the phone and icons 180 degrees to scroll with their dominant hand. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

Using the Edge display

I've now had months to scrutinize what it's like to use the Note Edge display, some good, some perpetually a little weird, and some kind of bad. Here are a few common scenarios that sprang up repeatedly.

Camera controls

Taking photos on a hike in the mountains around San Francisco, I mostly launched the camera from the phone's lock screen or from the Edge display. It was there by default and I didn't add the icon to my home screen.

At first, the camera controls on the curved portion of the screen felt a little awkward, since I kept trying to take photos by pressing my index finger to the screen (the usual for many smartphone cameras) instead of the button along the Edge's ridge. It shows up at the top when you're in landscape mode and the middle in portrait.

After that, my brain won out over muscle memory and tapping the screen near where a physical button would be felt pretty natural. I noticed this finger placement also let me better stabilize the phone while shooting. Whenever I use the Note Edge now, my index finger automatically leaps to the sot where the shutter control will appear. In fact, most of the time, I have to wait around for a split second before the icon blips to life.

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The Note Edge camera controls take over the curved edge. Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

The placement of the digital shutter button at the top of the screen is also perfect for selfies, although I took a few accidental pictures and turned the camera around a couple times while setting up shots and adjusting my grip.

Using the Edge display isn't without its faults, and some of these have only crystallized as time wears on. One downside to condensing camera controls along the top is that you have to dig a little deeper to get to the usual Samsung settings grid (settings, then the ellipsis). Another is that -- for me, at least -- the placement means that the way I grip the phone to take a picture, I often accidentally press the volume button, which takes a series of burst mode shots by default. This means that I wind up having to stop what I'm doing and delete a series of 20 blurry shots of who-knows-what. Annoying.

Here's another irritating issue I've run into with some frequency: there you are, launching the camera to take a photo, finger poised to tap the shutter icon on the screen. The thing is, it doesn't materialize for a few seconds because a stream of notifications has popped up onto the Edge display, and you have to close them out in order to take the photo. In the meantime, you've just missed your shot waiting for the alert to clear.

This is even worse if you've turned off your phone (say you drained the battery all the way and it's just recharged) and you have a veritable buildup of notifications to get through before you can take the shot.

Reading, texting, watching video

It's nice that the Edge display backs off when you begin writing and viewing things on the screen. It recesses when you launch an app, reappearing when you swipe to wake it up, and disappearing again when you tap back to the app. It mostly behaved like that, too, but often popped out when my typing finger approached the Edge while sending messages.

Notifications and tickers

As a notifications window and ticker, the vertical nature of the Edge display means you're reading messages and headlines sideways. At first I found this redundant and, until I edited down my white-listed apps, too noisy.

Customize the screens you see using the panel manager. James Martin/CNET

Then I started to appreciate that I could read more of the message as it streamed down the side, and open it if I tapped the edge quickly enough. If not, swiping to the notification screen is another fast way to open the alert.

For the biggest downsides to notifications streaming along your bar, just revisit that camera section up above. Also, you can manage which apps give you notifications here, but it isn't the most intuitive to find.

Battery life and performance

Samsung claims that the Note Edge's battery life is comparable to that of the Note 4. The battery has a slightly smaller capacity, and if you light up the display, especially at night, it'll drain faster as well.

Regardless, a full charge still lasts a day, and seeing the battery at 35 percent in the later hours didn't spin me into panic mode; I still felt I had plenty of time before needing to recharge. During our battery drain test for continuous video playback, the phone lasted 11 hours and 16 minutes.

The stylus works on the curved edge as well as the phone's flat face. Sarah Tew/CNET

In terms of performance and task-switching, there were a couple of lulls. Opening a folder from the Edge screen was one performance hangup. You also have to wait a long second for the Edge display to awaken and show you the time.

One fear that many CNET editors had when we first heard about the Note Edge was how often we'd unintentionally press icons on the Edge screen. For me, this mostly only happened when I used the camera, but not during regular phone use.

The biggest issue with battery drain is an ongoing one I experience with a lot of phones, many of them Samsung-issued. The power/lock button and my purses just don't get along. When the Note Edge isn't hitching a ride in my back pocket, it's in a dedicated purse pocket (upside-down so that S-Voice doesn't go off). Oftentimes, I'll look down and see that the screen is lit up for no good reason, which just drains battery when I'm not using the phone.

By the time I discover this problem, the phone is drained of all life and I have to charge it (quickly thanks to Qualcomm's Quick Charge 2.0 protocol) and turn it back on before I can once again put it to work. So, the phone holds a charge for a long time...until it leaks it all for no good reason.

What about Lollipop?

Since the Note Edge and straight-screened Note 4 share the same internals, I've kept from repeating those in-depth comparison charts and all that jazz over here too. This one is worth an update, however.

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Google Android 5.0 Lollipop is on its way...eventually. Google

Right now, the Note Edge runs Android 4.4 KitKat. Google's latest operating system, Android 5.0 Lollipop, is starting to come out to some phones, mostly those that use an unadorned version of the Android OS, or lightly modified if anything. Next will come the top-selling mass market phones that require more developer work to get right. After that, the slower-selling or niche phones will get their Lollipop share.

Although Android 5.0 is meant to quell fragmentation fears by its design, I still think that the Note Edge will be one of the last phones to get an update. Why? There are a few reasons, in fact. First, the Edge is a niche device that Samsung will need to deal with after it gets the build right for the far more popular Galaxy S5 and Note 4.

Second, you've got that extra interface layer to grapple with. Samsung engineers don't just have TouchWiz to grapple with. Now they must also make sure that the revolving UI of the Edge display works unhindered on Lollipop as well.

Third, before carriers and handset-makers can deploy an over-the-air update, they have to make darn tootin' sure that there are no glitches in operation on the given network. So carriers essentially test everything all over again, which just takes longer (but is also an important step.)

Are two curves better than one?

Earlier I talked about how lefties have to adjust with the curved screen on the right. Samsung rival LG used CES 2015 in Las Vegas to show off a display that uses two curved edges, apparently a concession for left-handed users.

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Watch this: LG Display shows off screen with double Note Edge-style curves
LG Display shows off screen with double Note Edge-style curves
0:55

I'm not sure that this is the answer, either. Clearly, though, curved screens are holding manufacturers' interest. Rumors also point to the forthcoming Samsung Galaxy S6 (we're guessing at the name here) as a phone that might also have a curved screen. Or maybe only a variant of the phone will, much like the Note 4 and then pricier Note Edge.

More than just a wacky screen?

So here's what I think. In the Note Edge, Samsung has undoubtedly made something new and different that doesn't get in the way of usability all too much. In fact, for some, the Edge display may make them slightly more productive, depending on how heavily they come to rely on that second screen.

For my purposes, it worked best to get to apps faster, especially if it helps you avoid using folders on either the home screen or the Edge display. I also liked its notifications assistance on the whole -- as long as it didn't obstruct photo-taking, and once I reduced the number of alerts. The nighttime clock feature easily fit into my life. Still, I personally wouldn't pick it over the excellent Note 4, mostly for reasons of its higher price. I'd mayyyybe consider it if the price were identical, but even then, I'm not entirely sure.

The Edge's design is refreshingly different, but is it compelling enough? Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung, of course, is counting on you to go beyond the basics of alerts and icons with other apps like built-in informational tickers or perhaps the matching game, or any other Edge apps that developers create down the line. Another problem is, developers haven't jumped on board. There's no real big surprise here, but I have noticed that the number of apps I can download through the Edge screen manager is still contained to about a handful, rather than dozens and scores of new apps. In fact, my unit still warns me that the app store isn't open.

With a product as daring as the Note Edge, much could have gone wrong. In this case, most of the technical stuff went right. The problem is justifying the high price and swooshing body shape compared to more straightforward phones out there. Samsung spent a great deal of effort and energy to change the way people navigate their phones without vitally deepening what you get out of it.

I like the Note Edge, but it doesn't blow my mind. Unless you're after a standout device of the future and have cash to burn, skip the Edge for another high-end smartphone.

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8.3

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8