When we first saw the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge we thought of it as a design showcase; a "look at what we can do" smartphone with greater precedence given to its show-off factor than to usability. Why else have a modified Galaxy Note 4 with a single curved screen edge? It made us think of a Citroen Saxo with a body kit worth more than the car.
Although the show-off factor hasn't changed - and, don't get us wrong, it looks rather lovely unlike the car analogy - our stance on the usability of that curved edge has: the embedded software means it's a lot more useful (or, at the very least, interesting) than we had at first anticipated. From notifications to independent access of apps, shortcuts and alerts, the extra edge panel adds a different way to interact with the phone. Of course it's somewhat dependent on third-party development, which we suspect will lack going forward, but as it is there's a strong foundation.
Upon announcement the Note Edge was never due to make it to the UK, or the States or, well, anywhere except the Samsung homeland of South Korea. The level of interest following its unveil seemingly forced Samsung's hand, and now, for the princely sum of £700, the Edge can be yours.
It's undoubtedly pricey, but at a premium of £100 more than the Note 4 it's actually less expensive than we had anticipated. Is the Galaxy Note Edge worth it, or - and just like curved TVs and bendable phones preceding it - just the latest fad in consumer tech?
For all intents and purposes the Note Edge is a modified Note 4, in a body that's a few millimetres taller and wider (it's 151.3 x 82.4 x 8.3mm for the measurers out there). Which bodes well as the Note was our favourite phablet of 2014, bagging the Pocket-lint Awards prize in its category.
As such the innards and base software (excluding the edge aspect of the design) operate in the same fashion, and there's an S Pen stylus integrated into the body for added control and multi-tasking options too.
If you want to know all about the software, from Air Command and S Pen operation, to TouchWiz advancements and S Health fitness monitoring integration, then read our Note 4 review where that's extensively detailed.
For the Note Edge, morphing the right screen edge into a curved platform does - and to state the obvious - mean the design differs between the two devices. There's no full right side on the Note Edge, per se, so the power button that did live here on the Note 4 has moved to the top of the handset, where it feels entirely misplaced. The volume up/down control resides on the opposite left-hand side, just as on the Note 4, which feels a little too high-up for entirely comfortable use. But you won't be using physical buttons all the time, so these are relatively small downsides.
The Note design mantra also carries the typical Samsungisms: a removable plastic rear lacks the premium quality of many similar-price competitors, but which means a removable battery and microSD card slot are easily accessible. Both of which are definite positives to counter the negative.
Despite small criticisms of the design, the Note Edge it otherwise a good looking, solid construction that will turn heads. Just like the Note 4, it has a lot going for it, even if happens to be a fingerprint magnet both front and rear.
Living on the edge
On paper the Note Edge's 5.6-inch AMOLED screen reads as though it's slightly smaller than the 5.7-inch panel found in the Note 4. That's not the case, though, it's quite the opposite. The resolution delivers the same 2560 x 1440 pixel main panel, but there's an added 160 pixels to the width to accommodate the curved edge extra, totalling a 2560 x 1600 resolution. By that measure it's the highest resolution phone on the market right now. And it looks great, bar those fingerprints and reflections.
The screen is one complete unit, rather than two separates as it may sound, but both the main screen area and edge panel area can be commanded separately. It's all down to software, which Samsung has implemented well to avoid conflict with existing Android apps thinking that the additional resolution is usable space. It's one screen in physical terms, but feels like two screens in terms of operation.
Out of the box and the Note Edge lacks the typical Android apps tray - the four-wide assignment of key apps to the base of the homescreen - with the edge panel acting like a vertical-run replacement for this, complete with the usual quick-access favourites.
For our needs that took some getting used to. We like core Gmail, calls, messages and camera to be locked into the lower position, but now they had to be uprooted and live to the right-hand side panel instead. But, and after a long weekend of use, that made more sense in many ways - particularly after editing what lived there.
For one the Edge doesn't restrict you to just four or five icons like with the typical Android app tray, instead you can view up to seven at any one time. But that's not the limit: add up to 20 favourite app shortcuts in total and a flick of the thumb will scroll up and down through them in a very natural fashion.
You'll need to be particular about what goes where for best use, though, as it's not ideal to reach the top icon with a thumb in single-handed use. However, we ended up with most frequently used apps in the edge panel and many of the rest just bunched in folders on the homescreen. It's compressed our usage habits in a positive way that we hadn't expected.
The edge panel isn't restricted to favourite app shortcuts though. A second briefings panel sends notifications from designated apps (which you can toggle on and off, although some alerts from unlisted apps still arrive), so rather than the usual simple email alert, you'll be able to see the full name of the sender, as one example, at a glance. As the software is just pulling Android notifications and presenting them in a fuller format, any app that alerts you already can now do so in a more expanded form - whether that's your bank, Facebook, Twitter or whatever.
Multiple other edge panels exist too, ones where developers have plugged into Samsung's SDK (software development kit) to make expanded use of the design. The pre-loaded Twitter app can only present what's trending in real-time, though, not plug into your personal account, whereas the Yahoo Finance app allows you to cater for which stocks to monitor. Some others, such as Yahoo sport are entirely Americanised in what's covered, so won't have much use for most Brits. But the core ideas are there.
To navigate between these active panels it's a simple left/right swipe, while editing their content is accessed through a separate settings option via an upward swipe - not the menu-digging mayhem that going through the usual Android path might pose (although there is a route that way if you want it). Should you elect to have lots of panels then some of the speed and worth of the edge feature is lost in our opinion, so choose wisely and it's a useful tool.
There are also passive panels. A fine example is the night clock, which will display date, weather and time for up to 12-hours on minimum brightness, acting as a bedside clock. It's clearly visible, and makes fine use of an AMOLED panel: the rest of the screen doesn't illuminate, it's a very neat solution that's not distracting.
And just for fun there are five permanent tools available via a swipe downward from the top: to-scale 10cm ruler, stopwatch, countdown egg timer, light on/off, and voice recorder. Yep, we laughed when we first saw the ruler, but bet it'll come in handy when you least expect it.
We've had very few zero issues with any touch-based conflict between main screen apps and the edge panels too. Open an app on the main screen and the edge panel will shrink to a minimal view, displaying custom text, with a side swipe bringing the panels back into play. But even with the edge panel on view, and whatever it's been showing - whether shortcuts, bookmarks or notifications - we've not once misplaced a palm and opened something by accident.
The only oddity we've spotted is in Facebook Messenger where the edge panel overlaps slightly more than it does with other apps and also pops open a lot when using other apps if not dragged to its closed position.
Despite the Note Edge running the same 2.7Ghz quad core Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor and 3GB of RAM, the curve in the design forces a smaller battery to be used. We mean that in both physical and capacious terms: its 3000mAh cell is less than the Note 4's 3220mAh offering.
It can be felt during use too, often literally given the heat which emanates from the rear processor under certain loads. On day two from 8am to 4pm we had dipped to 38 per cent battery in relatively normal use, which is not nearly as stamatic as the Note 4.
Yes, that meant lots of emails, a dabble in gaming, plenty of screen grabs and menu digging to get all the review ins and outs that we wanted. But we wanted a bit more, particularly in that last 20 per cent which seems to zap away extra fast. The Note Edge is a single day battery kind of device, but a battery saver mode will help it along a little further by limiting applications and power outage.
The use of Snapdragon 805 does mean ultra-fast 4G LTE-A download speeds up to a theoretical 300Mbps. Add the Download Booster that allows for 4G and Wi-Fi to simultaneously download files and things are very speedy indeed. Just make sure your provider's data package is fair to avoid insane download costs. You'll need to live in the right part of the country for the best results too.
Some other operational differences, such as app compatibility, have progressed over the course of time too. When we reviewed the Note 4, certain apps were unavailable due to the ultra-high screen resolution, but with the Note Edge we're yet to run into such issues. There may be such incompatible apps, but we've not had issues - a good sign considering the unusual resolution.
Overall the Note Edge offers great performance, but given the additional software demands and less capacious battery, it's not as long-lasting as its Note 4 brother.
We could brush over the camera section, given the Note Edge's 16-megapixel rear-facing and 3.7-megapixel front-facing cameras are, again, identical to those of the Note 4. But with the Edge its camera software integrates the curved edge panel to provide soft keys to control settings and, given the lack of a physical button, the shutter too.
It keeps the buttons moved away from the main screen, which has obvious merit when composing a shot, and makes for an interesting use of the design. Not a flawless one, though, as it feels a little fiddly to control.
Shots are generally impressive too, just as they were from the Note 4, with rich blacks and an ample colour palette on display. Image noise isn't too much of an issue either, with even low-light shots faring well, although detail when viewed at actual size isn't nearly as impressive as it appears on the phone's smaller screen.
If you're into video then also say hello to 4K capture (3480 x 2160) should you want it, or the more standard Full HD (1920 x 1080) is also available.
The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge is certainly a spectacle that will turn heads, and while we still can't see it taking off as the next big thing in terms of volume sales, it's a mighty fine modification of the Galaxy Note 4. We thought the Edge would be the benchmark of nonsense, but instead it's a benchmark in forward-thinking; a smartphone experience on the edge of excellence.
Yes, the battery life isn't as long-lasting as the Note 4, the price is significant (but not as absurd as we thought it might be), it's got the usual Samsung build shortcomings, along with strange button placement and loves attracting fingerprints both front and back.
But it's one big sell, that edge screen and customisable edge panels, has genuine merit. Meld that with the super-powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 processor, often impressive multi-tasking software, integrated S Pen stylus, and you have one surprising Android smartphone.
Surprising in that it's not just a gimmick, instead it's the best use of a curved screen we've yet seen in a smartphone.