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Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review: Stroke of genius in a black slab world

Samsung's latest large screen smartphone offers a unique experience that has made me more efficient. The second edge display looks great and offers more than you might think at first.
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1 of 22 Matthew Miller/ZDNET

AT&T Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

We don't see a ton of innovation in smartphones today with most of them in the black slab form factor. However, Samsung recently launched the Galaxy Note Edge with a unique curved edge/secondary display that adds real value to the smartphone experience.

I reviewed the Galaxy Note 4 last month. The Galaxy Note Edge is practically the same device with the new premium Galaxy design, S Pen functionality, and industry leading specifications, but priced $120 more for the unique right side design.

Specifications

  • Processors: Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 2.7 GHz quad-core CPU
  • Display: 5.6-inch quad HD Super AMOLED screen with 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution and small 2560 x 160 edge display
  • RAM: 3GB
  • Storage capacity: 32 GB internal with microSD card slot
  • Cameras: 16-megapixel rear with optical image stabilization (OIS), and 3.7 megapixel front facing
  • Radios: 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2x2 MIMO)Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 LE, near-field communications (NFC), ANT+, infrared, GPS
  • Battery capacity: 3,000 mAh with ability to fast charge to 50 percent in 30 minutes
  • Dimensions: 151.4 x 82.3 x 8.4 mm, and 174 grams (6.1 ounces)

These are the top specifications available in any smartphone today. In comparison to the Note 4, you will see that the main display is slightly smaller and the device slightly wider to accommodate the second edge display.

On the hardware

Clearly, the most distinct aspect of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge is the second display that runs along the right edge of the phone. I've never seen anything like it before and I highly recommend you visit your local carrier store to check it out in person.

The Galaxy Note Edge has the same premium metal edge as the Galaxy Note 4 around three sides. On the right side, this metal edge extends down and along the back. The metal frame runs along the entire back with the removable back cover meeting up to it.

There is no physical transition on the front of the display, the glass just wraps around down the right side from the front. When you turn on the Note Edge, you will see that the lock screen image actually extends all the way down and across the secondary display. There is a line to differentiate this secondary display and after you unlock the phone the edge display lights up with the widgets that you have setup in the settings.

The edge display can be activated in a 'tabletop' mode when the display is off by stroking the edge. Simply rub your finger up and down the edge display, like coaxing a genie out of the bottle, and a widget will launch with the items that you have selected. You can also enable a night clock mode that appears on the edge display during your selected hours.

The edge display has palm rejection technology built into it so you shouldn't accidentally active it while holding your phone. I have yet to launch anything unintended after using the Note Edge for a week.

The rest of the Note Edge is the same as the Note 4 with a fantastic display, excellent camera, solid battery life, and productive S Pen performance.

Pros Cons
Gorgeous, industry-leading Super AMOLED quad HD display Non-functional fingerprint scanner
Innovative secondary edge display No water resistant rating
Premium metal frame Overpopulated notification area
High quality camera and useful front facing camera software  
Advanced S Pen functionality  
Removable battery and microSD storage expansion  

On the software

The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge runs Android 4.4 out of the box. TouchWiz is minimized in these latest Note devices and the only thing in the software that still really bugs me is the overwhelming notification shade. I hope that Samsung implements the Lollipop quick actions or does something to minimize the screen real estate their quick actions consume.

Thankfully, the secondary display helps address some of my notifications area concerns because notifications can be setup along the edge display so my time with the shade has been reduced. Those who hold their phones in their right hand will be pleased to know that Samsung includes a toggle for 180 degree rotation. This lets you turn the Galaxy Note Edge upside down so the edge screen is on the left. It's a great solution for unique hardware the only thing really odd is getting used to having the physical home button at the top of the display instead of the bottom.

The secondary display is a highlight of the software package as well as the hardware package. There is a small arrow at the bottom of the edge to provide access to the edge screen settings. In these settings you can manage the panels, add a personal touch to the panel that appears when the display is off, setup the information stream, define night clock times, and rotate the screen.

11 panels are available by default with support for having up to seven active panels at one time. You can download panels as well, with seven currently available for Note Edge owners. Available panels include shortcuts, notifications and weather, Yahoo! Sports, Milk Music, S Health, Twitter, Yahoo! Finance, Yahoo! News, contacts (up to 10 can be added), and games.

In the shortcuts panel, simply tap the star at the top and then drag and drop whatever app shortcut you want to the edge. You can even setup folders to appear on the edge. This capability makes the edge screen one of the most efficient ways to launch apps on a smartphone.

Panels are viewable on the home screen and within apps. The edge screen appears by default on the home screen. If you are in an app, simply swipe from right to left to have you edge screen appear and then continue swiping to switch between panels. I love seeing the ticker tape scrolling of sports scores on the edge screen and look forward to further development.

Samsung also includes a handy widget panel that is accessible by dragging down the two lines from the top of the edge screen. The widget panel includes a ruler, stopwatch, timer, flashlight, and voice recorder. The ruler is simply fantastic and lets you measure things up to four inches or 10 centimeters in length.

I might be worried about limited support for the edge screen, but given Samsung's active developer support I believe we will see even more available panels. If not, the ones they have available now provide enough functionality to justify buying a Note Edge over a Note 4.

The edge screen is also used for controls in other applications. For example, camera controls and video player controls appear in this area so you get more usable display.

The S Pen is present, along with all of the advanced software functionality provided by Samsung.

The review unit I am using now is an AT&T model so it unfortunately is loaded to the hilt with bloatware. Given Samsung's success in the Android market I would think they had power like Apple to limit carrier bloatware. I don't mind having a carrier area where owners can choose to download these apps and services if they want them, but having them clog up a device out of the box is unacceptable.

Pricing and availability

The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge is available from most carriers now. The full retail price ranges from $870 to $950 with subsidized pricing starting at $400 with a 2-year agreement. This is $120 more than the Note 4 for the full price and $100 more subsidized.

The competition

The more I use these Note products, the more convinced I am that the S Pen makes these the best true phablets. Many manufacturers are going large just to offer more screen real estate, but Samsung actually offers additional value with the Note Edge and Note 4.

Looking at phones with displays greater than 5.2 inches, we have the LG G3, Apple iPhone 6 Plus, Nokia Lumia 1520, Xperia Z3, new Moto X, and more. They are all excellent smartphones, but the Note Edge stands out with the top specs, unique form factor, and S Pen functionality.

Conclusion

As a smartphone user who enjoys high end specifications and unique features, I have to say I am seriously considering a Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. My wife is a Samsung Galaxy S5 user and as soon as she saw the Note Edge she said she wanted one. I would love to upgrade her S5 to the Note Edge so she could get the better camera and Note experience.

The Galaxy Note 4 is a fantastic device and one that sets the bar for large screen smartphones. There is indeed added value with the Note Edge additional display, enough to justify the $120 price premium. The edge display is unique and will turn heads. People I have showed it to have all reacted with genuine surprise and interest.

The Galaxy Note Edge was announced at IFA and then we heard it was going to have limited release. It turns out that all major US carriers are launching the device and that's a great thing. Those interested in the Note line should definitely consider the Note Edge. With the amazing specs, S Pen, and secondary display, the Note Edge is the most advanced smartphone available today.

Contributor's rating: 9.5 out of 10

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iPhone 6 Plus, Note Edge, Galaxy S5, and Xperia Z3

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Back of the iPhone 6 Plus, Note Edge, Galaxy S5, and Xperia Z3

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Camera, flash, and heart rate sensor

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S Pen silo and curved edge display

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Another view of the curved secondary display

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Add shortcuts to the second screen

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Use your Note Edge as an actual ruler

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Note Edge in hand

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SI units ruler and typical home screen panel

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One tap can switch the ruler to metric units

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You can put any app shortcut on the second screen

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Sports scores flow by in ticker tape fashion

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Drag and drop to the second screen, including organization in folders

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Default utilities provided by Samsung

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Manage your second screen panels

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Customize the Note Edge with these panels

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Select what you want to see when the main display times out

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Enable and manage night clock mode

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Customize the second screen notifications

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Yuck, too many AT&T apps on this review unit

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Edge display is accessible within apps too

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