"With its cascading side display, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge takes a page out of the future. Our review"
While Samsung continues to dominate smartphone sales (controversial data aside), of late, the South Korean behemoth has been slipping. And we’re not talking about the usual reasons we love to hate on Samsung – plastic, fake leather and TouchWiz – but its inability to keep up with changing market conditions. The budget space where it once ruled the roost is now peppered with offerings from Indian and Chinese brands, which put Samsung’s pricing and specs to shame. And while the company’s recent mid-range and high-end products haven’t turned many heads either, Samsung’s Note range of premium phablets have done their bit to ensure it a top spot in the flagship smartphone space. The Galaxy Note 4 was one of 2014’s star smartphones (adjudged so even by our panel of experts), but Samsung didn’t just stop there. Making use of its curved OLED technology, the company added an extra display on the side of the Note 4 to create the aptly named Note Edge. As far as smartphones go, the Note Edge has got the unique quotient covered, but underneath, Samsung has added the same powerful internals as the Note 4, while dousing it with several features that make use of this curved screen. So, should you play it safe and opt for the Note 4, or take a plunge into the future with the Note Edge? Our review has the answer.
We’re always complaining that smartphone manufacturers don’t do enough to innovate when it comes to design, but the Note Edge doesn’t have that problem. When viewed from the top, the front of the Note Edge appears to be a single large screen cascading down gently to the right, almost creating an infinity pool effect. Apart from this one distinguishing feature though, the Note Edge is the Note 4’s (almost) identical twin.
Above the screen, you’ll find the earpiece, Samsung branding, notification LED, front camera and sensors. The standard Samsung home button is located at the centre of the chin, and also integrates a fingerprint sensor. On either side of this are located backlit Android capacitive keys. The power button has been evicted from its usual position on the right, and now accompanies the audio jack, IR blaster and noise-cancelling microphone on the top edge. At the bottom you’ll find the micro-USB port, two microphones and a slot for the S Pen. The left side has only the volume rocker for company.
Flip the smartphone around and you’re greeted by the textured back panel of the Note 4. Towards the top of the rear panel you’ll find the large square primary camera which protrudes slightly. In a small cavity underneath you’ll find the LED flash and the heart rate sensor. Also crammed inside are an SpO2 and UV sensor which contribute to the Note Edge’s health features. Samsung branding and two notches for the loudspeaker complete the setup at the rear. Prying open the back panel reveals slots for the removable 3,000mAh battery, a micro-SIM and a microSD card.
When it comes to picking a colour, take our advice and opt for the black. Our review unit was dressed in white, which coupled with the textured finish made the rear look like 80’s style tight white pants. The black variant in comparison looks several notches more classy and premium.
Displays have always been Samsung's forte, and the Note Edge is no exception. Like the Note 4, it gets a dazzling 2K resolution, but is marginally smaller at 5.6-inches (the Note 4 has a 5.7-inch display). The edge screen features a resolution of 160 x 2,560 pixels. Protecting the displays is a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. Since Samsung uses Super AMOLED panels, the displays are expectedly vibrant and bright, with colours bordering on oversaturation. Sharpness and clarity are excellent, and the display is legible even outdoors. We didn’t have any complaints with regard to responsiveness either, and this goes for the edge screen as well. In settings, you can enable Samsung’s Smart Stay feature which keeps the screen on for as long as you’re looking at it. There’s also a glove mode for extra sensitivity.
The Note Edge runs the Android KitKat-based TouchWiz, just like the Note 4, but a Lollipop update has already started rolling out in some regions. By now, we’re very familiar with TouchWiz and the smorgasbord of features it brings. Apart from the usual Multi Window, Easy Mode, Blocking Mode, Private Mode and the host of S Pen additions, there’s also the new dynamic wallpapers that we saw on the Note 4. The fingerprint sensor isn’t really a new addition, and works well enough, although the swipe mechanism requires a few tries sometimes.
The Note Edge also offers a bunch of health-related features that we saw with the Note 4, including the pedometer, heart rate, SpO2 and UV sensor which display data in the S Health app. We’ve discussed these software additions in detail in our Note 4 review, so we’re going to avoid repeating them here. Instead, we’ll concentrate on the new features the edge screen brings to the smartphone.
The edge screen is undoubtedly the star of the show, and Samsung has packed in tons of cool features to justify the Note Edge’s inflated cost. Navigation works by both horizontal and vertical swipes. The curved display features several panels, which you can scroll through by swiping from the left or right.
By default, the first panel you see is the favourites bar. This panel has shortcuts to all your favourite apps, and you can pick and choose which ones you’d like to have displayed here by going into settings and dragging and dropping them in or out of the bar. We found the favourites panel to be one of the most useful features of the edge screen, because it not only declutters your homescreen, but it also makes it easy to multi-task and access frequently used apps from anywhere. By swiping left, the next panel you see displays notifications and the weather at a glance. By swiping up from the bottom, you can delve into the edge screen settings. From here, you can manage panels by adding, removing and organising the order of panels displayed. Apart from a bunch of pre-installed edge panels, there are also a few others you can download from Samsung Apps, although we didn’t find any of these particularly useful. In settings, you’ll also find an ‘Express Me’ option which lets you customise the look of the edge screen when the screen is locked.
An interesting feature of the edge screen is the Night clock, which turns your Note Edge into a bedside alarm clock. When enabled, this option dims the edge screen, leaving only the date and time glowing faintly. It’s an interesting use-case idea, and you can specify the hours during which Night clock is activated. Of course, this could take a toll on your battery so you might want to keep your phone fully charged if you intend to use this feature.
Apart from the aforementioned panels, you can swipe down from the top to bring up a utility bar, which provides shortcuts to a stopwatch, a timer, a torch, a recorder and even a virtual ruler. The last option is pretty neat, letting you switch between cm and inches, although you may not have many occasions to use it.
While the edge screen is a permanent fixture on the homescreens, it discreetly slides out of view when you’re using an app, and stays hidden unless you choose to bring it back up with a simple swipe. For when it’s recessed, you can customize some text to be displayed, or choose to remove it altogether. One of our favourite features of the Note Edge is how it handles incoming calls and notifications. When the phone is in use, incoming calls flash on the edge screen, and you can swipe to dismiss or answer them without interrupting what you're currently doing. New text messages appear the same way, although they disappear after a few seconds.
Tap-to-wake the display is a pretty common feature on smartphones, and Samsung has incorporated this into the edge screen as well. When the screen is asleep, you can swipe your finger along the length of the curve to wake it up. It displays the time and date by default, but you can also swipe through the other panels to check notifications, quick access your favourite apps and more.
Apart from its standalone functions, Samsung has made use of the edge screen in some of its native apps as well. In the camera app for instance, the edge screen is home to all the controls, with the shutter button appearing on the right corner. This is actually a pretty useful arrangement, because it comes right in line with your index finger, but due to the size of the Note Edge, we often found ourselves unable to reach the shutter button with one hand. Those with bigger hands might find it easier to use it though. You’ll find a similar arrangement of controls in the native video and S Note apps.There’s no doubt that Samsung has put in a great deal of effort into equipping the edge screen with several features. Some of these are useful, and some of them not, but we expect we’ll see a lot of progress over the next few months, especially if the rumoured Galaxy S6 Edge is released.
Handling the photography on the Note Edge are the same pair of snappers seen on the Note 4 – a 16MP primary camera capable of 4K video recording, and a 3.7MP front shooter. Like the Note 4, the cameras on the Note Edge deliver some great results, both in daylight and in low light. We’ve already covered the details surrounding the camera app and various modes in our Note 4 review, so we’re just going to show you some image samples captured with the primary camera.
Powering the Note Edge’s internals are the same combination of a quad-core Snapdragon 805 chip clocked at 2.7GHz, an Adreno 420 GPU and 3GB of RAM. Specs like this don’t just look good on paper, they translate into some impressive real life performance too. Multi-tasking, intensive games and even benchmarks blow away most of the competition, and won’t leave you disappointed. We did notice some heating issues though, both while playing games and using the camera for extended periods, but nothing that gave us much cause for concern.
In the storage department, the Note Edge gets a generous 32GB of storage, out of which around 24.4GB is available to use. If you need to expand the storage further, you can use the microSD card slot to add an additional 128GB of memory.
The Note Edge is equipped with a 3,000mAh battery, slightly downsized from the 3,220mAh unit on the Note 4. Even so, it delivers stellar performance, easily lasting us until the end of the day and into the next morning with regular usage. The Note Edge also scored well on our video loop battery drain test, lasting for exactly 13 hours before giving up. The bundled 2-pin charger supports fast charging, and the Ultra Power Saving Mode helps you prolong the juice in extreme situations.
As if the internals weren’t loaded enough, the Note Edge boasts an array of connectivity options that would put the competition to shame. There’s dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.1, NFC, A-GPS MHL 3.0, infrared and USB OTG, not to mention support for India’s 4G networks.
After extensively using the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, many of the fears we admittedly had about this unique device dissolved into nothing. When we first saw images of the smartphone, we thought the curved display would be cumbersome to use, becoming accidentally activated when held in the hand. But instead, we were pleasantly surprised. The Note Edge delivers the same Note 4 experience, while adding another layer of functionality. Admittedly, at this stage, the edge screen is still in its nascent stages, and you could easily opt for the Note 4 without missing out on much. But it's important to note that the edge screen isn't a one-off, like Apple’s short-lived iPhone 5c, and with the Galaxy S6 around the corner, we expect Samsung to invest a lot more into what the edge screen can do, possibly integrating it with more native and third-party apps for starters. Our only quibble with the Note Edge would be its price, which at Rs 64,900 is significantly more expensive than the Note 4. In fact, it's one of the costliest smartphones in the market, overshadowing even the iPhone 6 (review), iPhone 6 Plus (review), Google Nexus 6 and BlackBerry Passport (review). But if price isn't a factor (which it shouldn't be if you're considering the Note series) and you don't mind adding some quirk to your life, we'd suggest opting for the Note Edge. Just remember to go with the black option.