Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review
Innovations in the smartphone sector have long since lost the capacity to shock or leave us in awe: since the launch of the iPhone, aside from a little ill-advised dabbling in 3D cameras, it’s all been pigeon-steps along the road to better hardware and more capable software. With the curved-edge screen on its Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, however, Samsung is aiming to do something genuinely novel. See also: what’s the best smartphone of 2015?
The Note Edge looks like no other smartphone on the market. Instead of a screen that’s flat and contained within borders, the right side of the display rolls steeply away from the flat face of the main display, forming a curved strip of screen along the edge of the phone.
It sounds gimmicky – and to a certain extent it is. Before we’d heard of the Note Edge, it certainly wasn’t the feature we’d been dreaming of; we’d much rather have a battery that lasts a bit longer, or a phone that charges itself up kinetically – or something else equally useful.
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge: what’s the edge screen for?
Still, in the absence of any such groundbreaking advance, the curved-edge screen does at least offer something different, and that has to be a good thing. The good news is that the curved screen isn’t only innovation for innovation’s sake.
The key thing to note is that, although physically the curved and flat parts of the display are all of a piece, the software behind it treats the two separately. The flat bit behaves just as you might expect it to on a standard smartphone, while the curved strip serves up notifications, hosts shortcuts and presents useful information on the side.
By default, a series of shortcuts line up along the edge screen, allowing you to tap to launch your favourites apps. When notifications come in, you see them peek around the edge of the phone. Swipe down and you can access a series of handy apps that run right in the edge screen: a ruler (yep, you read that right), a stopwatch and timer, plus a flashlight shortcut and voice recorder.
You can add extra edge screen panels, too, which can display fitness-tracking information, the weather or stocks, and these can be navigated through by swiping horizontally across the radius of the edge.
Usefully, the edge screen can also be set to display a clock while the phone is in standby overnight – so you can roll over in bed and view the time without having to pick up your phone – and in other apps, controls appear here: the camera controls for the camera app, and your transport controls for Samsung’s video app.
A good deal of thought has been put into the development of the underlying software, and in some ways it works well. When you hold the phone in portrait orientation in your right hand, it falls comfortably under the thumb, making it simple to tap shortcuts and notifications and navigate through the screen.
In other scenarios, it isn’t nearly as effective. Left-handed folk will have to turn the phone upside down to operate the edge screen; this isn’t ideal, since the back, home and multitasking keys sit above the screen in this orientation.
In landscape it isn’t a complete success either. While it’s a great idea to move the controls off the main screen in the camera app, we found it rather too easy to hit the buttons by accident. You also lose the ability in landscape mode to swipe down from the top of the screen to access your usual notifications area and shortcuts for screen brightness and so on.
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review: design and features
The Note Edge is based on the bones of the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, a phone we loved for its finely tuned balance between screen and chassis size. The edge screen adds 3mm to the width of the chassis, but otherwise the dimensions are largely similar.
What’s more noticeable is that the screen has forced Samsung into rejigging the positions of buttons, with the power/lock button moved from the right edge to the top of the device. On a handset of this size, it can make it a touch tricky to reach that button one-handed. Also, there’s no aluminium frame, as with the Note 4 and the Samsung Galaxy Alpha. There is a pin stripe of chrome surrounding the rim of the phone, but the rest is plastic, including the thin rear panel.
That aside, though, the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge does feel well made, and since it’s based on the Galaxy Note 4, it shares its top-end features and specification. That includes the fingerprint reader built into the home button; the heart-rate monitor mounted on the rear beneath the camera; the infrared transmitter, which allows the phone to double as a universal remote control; and the S Pen pressure-sensitive stylus for jotting down notes, sketching and handwriting recognition.
And there’s a benefit to that thin, removable rear panel: it makes the battery accessible for replacement. Beneath the panel you’ll also find the phone’s microSD slot, which you can use to add up to 128GB to the existing 32GB. Elsewhere, the Note Edge supports all the latest wireless standards, with 802.11ac, 4G, NFC, Bluetooth 4 and ANT+ all making the grade.
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge: performance
The main screen is a little smaller than on the Note 4, but it has a similar specification: it’s a Super AMOLED panel with a full 1,600 x 2,560 resolution. This is slightly higher than the Note 4’s 1,440 x 2,560 screen, although since the edge screen adds 160 pixels, the main part has the same effective resolution.
More importantly, the screen performs just as well as that of the Note 4. Tested in its Basic mode with adaptive brightness and Auto tone disabled, it delivered good colour accuracy, with an average Delta E of 1.93 and a maximum of 4.49. The screen covers an impressive 98.2% of the sRGB colour gamut in this mode, and together with AMOLED’s perfect contrast, it results in a sumptuous display.
The only weakness is a tendency to crush dark greys into black, which means you lose some shadow detail in dark areas of photos and movie scenes, but it isn’t a deal breaker. Plus, as with the Note 4, readability in bright sunlight is exceptional. As long as you enable auto brightness and slide the adjustment up to +5, it will reach 474cd/m2, which is bright enough to be readable in all but the most extreme conditions, and a match for most IPS screens.
A quad-core 2.7GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, backed by 3GB of RAM and an Adreno 420 GPU, powers the phone. Not surprisingly, benchmark results are similar to the Note 4, with a frame rate of 26fps in the GFXBench T-Rex HD test and 9.9fps in the more demanding Manhattan test (both with the test in onscreen mode). In Geekbench 3, single- and multi-core scores of 1,088 and 3,222 put the two phones dead level.
Generally, it’s pretty darned slick to use, too, with impeccable responsiveness when navigating around Android 4.4.4, launching apps, and scrolling and panning around web pages and maps. Every game we tasked it with played faultlessly as well, and with notifications appearing off the screen on the edge display, they never obscure important parts of the display.
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review: battery life
Surprisingly, one area that the Galaxy Note Edge disappoints is battery life; it’s surprising because the Note 4 was pretty good here. This is partly explained by the fact that it has a smaller power pack than the Note 4, by 220mAh, at 3,000mAh, but it doesn’t explain why the Note Edge routinely gave up the ghost short of a day’s moderate use where the Note 4 routinely lasted longer than 24 hours.
Our battery tests back up this experience. While playing a 720p video with the screen set to 120cd/m2 brightness, it used up its battery capacity at a rate of 7.5% per hour – 1.3% faster than the Note 4. And, even more worryingly, while streaming a podcast over a 4G connection with the screen off, it consumed battery capacity at a rate of 6.1% per hour – double the rate of the Note 4. We were concerned this might be a one-off, so we ran the test several more times – the outcome was the same each time.
Still, with Samsung’s Ultra Power Saver mode to hand, which is capable of eking hours of extra battery life out of only a few per cent of battery life, you should be able to keep all rudimentary services running when you need them.
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge: camera
Fortunately, there’s no such disparity when it comes to the quality of the Note Edge’s 16-megapixel camera, which produces excellent results.
Meanwhile, optical image stabilisation and phase-detect autofocus help to keep images looking their sharpest and video free from handshake.
Images captured in low light don’t teem with quite as much detail as those captured outdoors during the day, thanks to noise smearing out the detail. In general, though, unless you’re taking pictures in the dark, even low-light photographs and video are pretty usable.
Samsung Galaxy Note Edge: verdict
Sporting most of the same features as the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, with the addition of that funky curved-edge display, it’s hard to criticise the Edge, given that the Note 4 is our firm favourite when it comes to phablets right now.
However, with shorter battery life, a price that’s around £100 higher than the Note 4 and a slightly cheaper feel, you have to ask yourself if that Edge display is really worth having.
In the final analysis, we’d have to say no; it may be a useful extra, and we welcome any kind of innovation in the smartphone space, but it’s far from an essential. We’ll be sticking with the Note 4 as our favourite large-screen smartphone.