Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review: Lightly flawed, Undeniably special

It has been a long time since we've seen a smartphone this special

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
  • Samsung Galaxy Note Edge
  • Expert Rating

    4.50 / 5

Pros

  • Unique form factor with tailored UI
  • 1440p screen
  • Fast charge battery
  • Integrated S-Pen stylus
  • 16 megapixel camera
  • Metal chassis

Cons

  • Below average battery life
  • Frustrating finger scanner
  • Uncomfortable form factor for phone calls

Would you buy this?

All of the trademarks that make the Note 4 a wonderful large-screen smartphone can be found on the Note Edge. It has a large 5.6-inch, 1440p display. The bottom left conceals the popular S-Pen stylus. Multi-tasking modes are aplenty. The best of the Note 4 accounts for its core, except it is completely different from anything we have seen.

One-hundred-and-sixty-pixels run over the Note’s left edge, like water spilling over a waterfall, so that the screen extends beyond the front and to its side. Samsung treats the edge display as a news ticker with information trickling from the top downwards, often in the form of notifications.

Such daring design hasn’t been seen since 2008 when Sony Ericsson released its first Xperia smartphone, the Xperia X1. It had a curving slide out, chiclet-styled keyboard, an optical trackpad and metal casing. Along its perimeter were four colourful and pulsing LED lights. They weren’t effective as much as they were a thing of beauty.

The curving screen of the Galaxy Edge brings to mind the same sentiment. Curving the edge is a technological feat. It lines our days with little benefit other than the opportunity to appreciate it can be done.

It is a waste that Samsung doesn't ship the Note Edge with its tailored case. The whole point of the Note Edge is that it can be resting idle on a table, its screen covered by the case save for the edge display, so that it can feed you glanceable notifications. Important notifications will warrant the tempo of a meeting to be interrupted; those less important can wait until you get the job done.

Other tricks performed by the edge display are not new. The extra screen space is used as an application dock, to display a few widgets and to house some controls. It can be customised and more panes can be downloaded. Beyond the novelty lies little value.

(We have written an in-depth article on the different widgets and panels available for the Galaxy Note Edge.)

Different apps can be docked; the various types of notifications displayed on the edge; Picking the different edge faces
Different apps can be docked; the various types of notifications displayed on the edge; Picking the different edge faces

But what novelty there is to be had as the Note Edge is easily Samsung’s most elegant looking smartphone. Shaved steel corners contrast with the Note Edge’s black body. The rear case is faux leather. Couple it with the optional Montblanc stylus and the Note Edge stands as the ideal business accessory.

We have often lambasted Samsung for its needlessly heavy TouchWiz software. The software of the Note Edge is a marked improvement with its uniform styling. The gallery and music player are stylistically linked to the settings and task manager, for instance. The Note Edge feels more like it was built fresh from the ground up, as opposed to a phablet recycled from old ‘parts’.

The Edge stays true to the Note family by packing a wide range of multitasking options. The split-screen mode remains our favourite on account of being most practical; however, there’s also the option of miniaturising a number of applications into windows and widgets.

The Montblanc stylus designed for the Note range retails at $290
The Montblanc stylus designed for the Note range retails at $290

The fourth generation S-Pen is Samsung’s most refined. Using it to take notes on the Galaxy phablet replicates the texture of notetaking with old-school pen and paper.

The S-Pen is far more versatile than an ordinary Bic ball point. Slide it out (or press its button) and an ‘Air Command’ menu populates with tailored modes. These include the ability to write on screenshots, crop screenshots on the fly, and the option of writing memos.

Handling the S-Pen is reminiscent of using a computer cursor. Hover the stylus over a webpage’s button and it will generate a description. Hold the button down while swiping and text can be selected. Tap a scroll bar on a webpage and you can scroll by motioning. Such functions make the Note Edge feel as though it’s more than a smartphone: it’s a computing device.

Reading the spec-sheet reveals this phablet has powerful hardware, but at times, handling the phone leaves you wanting for more. Signs of lag occasionally spoil the experience, usually when it is being awaken from standby or when its RAM is being tapped out.

Read more: Samsung Powerbot review: Something out of the Jetsons

Lag isn’t expected from a smartphone that has a 2.7GHz quad-core CPU and 3GB of RAM — these specs are at the forefront of the smartphone industry. Joining them is 32GB of internal storage, the option of having a 128GB microSD card and the full gamut of connectivity options.

Smartphone companies are under pressure to keep smartphones thin. Phablets, on account of their enormity, endure even more pressure. Samsung deserves praise for managing to keep the Note Edge slender without having to integrate the battery.

The battery in the Note Edge is 220 milliamps smaller than that in the Note 4 at 3000 milliamps-hour (mAh). Oddly that fraction is enough to make a significant difference in overall battery life.

We used the Note Edge heavily during our review period. We streamed music over Bluetooth to an in-car entertainment system, watched Google Play movies, relied on it for emails, calls and texts, and used it for social networking. Good Gear Guide found the Note Edge would average 14-hours of use under these conditions, which is a couple of hours less than the score achieved by the Note 4.

The Note 4 differed by lasting 22-hours under light use; we couldn’t break the 20-hour mark with the Edge. Compensating for the mediocre battery life is the Note Edge’s fast-charge feature. Leaving the Note Edge on charge for 50 minutes replenished the battery by 54 per cent.

Mounted on the back of the Note Edge is a 16 megapixel camera. It’s a stellar camera inherited from the Galaxy S5. Naturally Samsung places beneath it a single LED flash and a heart rate sensor.

Read more: Samsung teases curved Galaxy flagship in Unpacked invites

Captured with the Note Edge
Captured with the Note Edge

The photo above cropped at 100 per cent - Captured with the Note Edge
The photo above cropped at 100 per cent - Captured with the Note Edge

Captured with the Note Edge
Captured with the Note Edge

The front camera has been specifically reworked for the Note range. It can capture photos at 3.7 megapixels, has an aperture of f/1.9 and a wide 90 degree lens. More people can fit into a frame in a wider range of lighting conditions as a result.

Fans of the ‘selfie’ can use the heart sensor as a shutter key. Using the heart sensor this way is practical, although it’s a shame Samsung hasn’t implemented this functionality to be used with the rear camera.

Final thought

Better smartphones than the Note Edge are on sale. It’s pricey at $1249 and the curve of its screen delivers little benefit. Other smartphones have software and hardware that are more refined and deliver a faster experience.

And yet there’s something undeniably perfect about the Edge. A small number of professionals will buy this smartphone and never look back, partly because it bundles multitasking with a stylus and an innovative screen. Mostly, though, the Note Edge will win their affections over time because there is nothing like it, not even the Note 4. Truly, it is special, and that is something lost among the ‘me too’ masses.

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Read more on these topics: samsung, galaxy note, edge, Android 4.4 KitKat, Note 4
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