In Samsung's vision of the future, everything with a screen is curved, from your TV, to your smart watch, to your computer monitor, to your smartphone. Even devices without a curved form factor have curved displays, like the new Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, which for the most part resembles a Galaxy Note 4, but has a display that curves right off the edge of the phone like a tiny super AMOLED waterfall. While the asymmetrical shape and wraparound display make the Note Edge look more like a proof of concept than a smartphone you can buy today, you'll actually be able to purchase this phablet in Singapore on 22nd November for S$1248.
But is the Note Edge the future of smartphones or is Samsung just showing off? Before we get into the review, here's a quick hands-on we did with the Note Edge showing some of its features when it was announced at IFA this year:
Specs-wise, the Note Edge shares the same hardware as the Note 4, including a QHD display, Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 quad-core 2.7GHz processor and 3GB RAM:
|Samsung Galaxy Note Edge 4G+|
As mentioned, the Note Edge is basically an enhanced version of the Galaxy Note 4. It's nearly the same size (it's a bit wider), it's almost the same weight (it's 2g lighter), and it has the same faux leather rear that by now you've come to either love or hate (we're still not too keen on it, but we can't deny that it does provides a nice non-slip grip). Despite this, it's impossible to mistake the Note Edge for a Note 4 thanks to its most striking feature: that curved edge display. The iPhone 6 and Motorola Moto X (2014) may have displays that curve slightly, but the Note Edge takes it to an entirely new level with the display curving completely off the edge like an infinity pool.
The curved display makes the phone look ridiculously cool, and while the curvature may feel a little odd at first, using your thumb to swipe and navigate across that curve soon becomes second nature. Here's how it works: when you're on the home screen, the curved area displays a series of widgets that you can swipe to rotate through, something Samsung has aptly named the 'Revolving UI'. There's an app launcher, a Samsung health widget, and Yahoo news, stocks and sports tickers here.
When you're in an app, certain apps (mainly Samsung ones) use the curved area to display buttons or menu settings, freeing up the main display for more content. The default camera app is a great example of this. With the buttons all located on the curved edge display, the main viewfinder is completely free of clutter. Non-supported apps will instead roll slightly over the edge of the display, leaving a tiny strip of black with a customizable message showing, and you can then swipe in from the right to bring up the full-width homescreen widget again.
The screen is made from one continuous piece of curved Corning Gorilla Glass 3 with a flexible Super AMOLED display beneath it. The right edge of the phone has a sloping triangular shape that ends in a pointy edge where the display meets the rear. With the right edge taken up by the curved display, the power button has migrated to the top of the phone, which is probably the worst place possible for a 5.6-inch phablet as it's a long stretch for your finger to reach it - Samsung should have just put it on the left edge next to the volume rocker. The home button once again doubles up as a fingerprint scanner, while the micro-USB port sits at the bottom of the device, with the headphone jack on the top. Despite the Note Edge's weird asymmetric shape, it's comfortable to hold, and feels well-balanced.
As for build quality, we're happy to report that Samsung continues to improve in this area, and the Note Edge feels just as premium and solid as any other high-end smartphone. Like the Note 4, it has an aluminum frame with polished chamfered edges and a thin powder coating that matches the main color of the phone. It's a nice touch and shows that Samsung has started to care more about details and aesthetics. The back of the phone however, doesn't give you the same feel as with the rest of the phone; it's a little too plasticky for its own good. At least that's what we felt with the white edition of the Note Edge. The black edition has a softer, more soothing faux leather feel even though it's still plastic.
One pretty obvious point that's worth mentioning is that the Note Edge is designed with right-handers in mind. There is a left-handed mode that flips the display vertically, putting the curved section on the left, but it also puts the home button awkwardly above the display, which looks kind of silly. You get soft keys at the bottom for navigation when in this mode, but you won't be able to use the fingerprint scanner, so it's not an ideal solution. It's not really possible to use the edge display the right way up with your left hand (you really need your thumb to navigate it), and Samsung tells us they have no plans for a true left-handed model, so lefties, you should probably sit this one out.
At 5.6-inches, the Note Edge's display is actually slightly smaller than the Note 4's, but you'd be hard pressed to notice without the two side by side. It also has a slightly higher resolution than the Note 4, as the curved section adds an extra 160 pixels, making for a 16:10 resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. This means there’s no compromise when using the Note Edge - even if you ignore the curved display area, you still have the same usable screen space and resolution as the Note 4.
The display itself is a Super AMOLED panel and, as we've come to expect from Samsung, one of the best around. Brightness and contrast are top notch, and colors are vivid, if a bit oversaturated. Viewing angles are near to 180 degrees, without any loss of color or brightness.
Audio on the Note Edge is supplied via one speaker located on the rear of the phone. Single rear speakers that direct the sound away from you (or into your palm) don't really cut it anymore and, while the Note Edge is reasonably loud, there's nothing to get excited about here.
The Note Edge has all of the software features of the Galaxy Note 4, including the same S Pen stylus functionality. For a more complete look at those features, check out our Galaxy Note 4 review.
Obviously, the Edge also has a few tricks of its own. On top of the aforementioned home screen and in app usage, you can also activate the curved part of the screen independently. You do this by swiping vertically down then up along the top of the curve, which will then light up to show the date, time and weather. Swiping left or right will then display a ticker that will show your notifications as well as any news feeds you've set up.
With the phone in your hand, the vertical nature of the Edge display means you're reading messages and headlines sideways, which is doable, but not really ideal, but if you put it down on any surface, the display will flip and face outwards (note that this only happens when the edge screen is turned on independently - it's stuck facing inwards when the main display is turned on). I much preferred this orientation as I had the Edge on my desk with the curve facing me for most of the day and it allows for a quick and easy way to check and read notifications and other news stories.
I also found that with the Edge in this mode, you can use it to discretely check your notifications, for example, if you're in a meeting, with the Edge facing towards you, your colleagues across the table won't be able to see anything on your screen. If any developers out there want to develop a game that can be played entirely on the Edge's side display, I'm sure you'll get plenty of downloads from bored office workers.
Another useful feature is the Night Clock, which permanently displays a dimly lit clock for up to 12 hours a night. While it doesn't drain much power from the Super AMOLED display (partially because it's so dim), you'll still want to plug the phone in to charge while it's in night clock mode, because the screen will be on all the time. There's also a silly ruler app that lets you measure anything under 10cm with the Edge's side display.
Overall I liked using the Note Edge's side display, but honestly I didn't feel like it added that much to my user experience. I used it because it was there, not because it solved any problem that I had previously been experiencing. Having said that, it does feel very natural to use and the ticker provides some nice multi-tasking functionality if you want to read notifications without exiting the app you're currently in. I also appreciated how clean my home screen looks with the app launcher on the side, and it was nice not having to stretch my thumb into the main screen area to open an app.