Samsung Galaxy Note Edge review

Samsung has been at the forefront of new display technologies throughout recent history, pushing the limits of what AMOLED panels in phones and tablets can do. And beyond improvements in resolution, brightness and colors, Samsung has recently tinkered with curved and flexible displays of all sizes and types.

But in terms of real consumer products, that history is much shorter. It started with the Galaxy Round — a pretty basic phone that didn't do anything new aside from being curved. Then Samsung applied the curved tech to wearables with the Gear Fit, a neat little fitness band, and later in the year the Gear S, a 2-inch curved glass behemoth of a smartwatch.

And then the Korean giant came out with something entirely different— the Galaxy Note Edge. Launched right alongside the flagship Galaxy Note 4, the Note Edge reveals its biggest trick in its name. Although it looks like a "normal" phone from most angles, the entire right edge of the screen is dramatically curved — enabling a few neat experiences that aren't possible with a flat display.

The Galaxy Note Edge is unlike any phone you've ever used before, and that's both good and bad. Read along with us for our full impressions of Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, and see how Samsung is trying to make curved displays a mainstream feature.

About this review

We're writing this review after a week using the black T-Mobile branded version of the Galaxy Note Edge in San Francisco and Seattle, with solid LTE coverage from the carrier. For a large portion of the review we also had a Gear S smartwatch connected over Bluetooth.

Galaxy Note Edge

Galaxy Note Edge hardware

The Note 4 you know, now with a curved screen

When you first look at the Note Edge you immediately see that it's based on the design of the Note 4. It has a similar metal band around the outside edge — though the total quantity of metal is lower — as well as the same curves, shape and button layout.

You'll find the same S Pen, volume rocker, home button, camera pod, heart rate monitor, faux leather back plate and overall styling of the Note 4 — no extra changes were made outside of the necessary ones. But of course there's the little detail of the right edge of the phone looking like a Salvador Dalí painting — and that's where things change dramatically.

It's not just the display that's curved — the entire side of the phone is rounded off to accommodate this design change.

Galaxy Note Edge

And it's not just the display that's curved, as the entire side of the phone is rounded off to accommodate this design change. The metal band that surrounds the sides of the Note Edge swoops down and around the curved portion of the display, providing a small lip at the edge of the screen that isn't present on the flat side. Samsung says this helps cut down on accidental touches and swipes of what it calls the "edge screen."

Though the physical designs are very similar, the Note Edge feels a bit different, not just because of the edge screen — we'll get to that a bit later — but because of the material choices.

It's apparent there's far less metal in use than in the Note 4.

Holding the Note Edge in your hand, it's apparent there's far less metal in use than before, and you don't quite get that higher-end, slightly cold to the touch feeling of the Note 4. The phone doesn't feel flimsy or bendable, but it does feel less premium than its flattened sibling, which in itself represented a positive step away from plasticky Samsung devices of old.

And that loss of quality is only partially made up for with the solid piece of screen glass flowing over the right-hand side, which does feel good once you get used to it — usually your palm never rests on the phone's screen.

It's a shame the Note Edge doesn't feel as nice, mainly because it's being positioned as a higher-end version of the Note 4, with a $120 jump in price to boot. But the design decisions were apparently necessary to deliver the edge screen, and you just can't make that big of a change to the footprint of a phone without making compromises elsewhere.

More: Samsung Galaxy Note Edge specs

Galaxy Note Edge display

No compromises with this curved panel

Unlike previous curved displays from Samsung (and other manufacturers), there's really no inherent tradeoff for having the curved portion of the Note Edge's display. Curve aside, this is a very similar 2560x1440 (QHD) Super AMOLED display, with the same brightness and color quality as you'll find on the Note 4, at 5.6-inches diagonally rather than 5.7. But of course it does have the curved portion, which adds 160 pixels of width, curved at a pretty tight radius along the right side.

Although Samsung lists the resolution as "2560 x 1440 + 160," it's actually all one panel. There's no physical separation of the screen at any point, just as we'd expect, and the distinction between the flat and curved portion is determined purely by the software. The curved glass on the display is of course also one piece, and it's quite nicely done too.

The Note Edge's so-called "edge screen" is really just a logical progression of tech demos Samsung been showing off at trade shows for some time now, but the fact that it's here and in a real consumer-buyable product is a big deal. It's hard to find any issue with the hardware implementation of the bendable display, and the ability to do it this time around opens up doors for more interesting curved form factors going forward.

Using the Galaxy Note Edge

An exercise in asking yourself 'why?'

We've covered the interesting physical and technical aspects of the Note Edge, but the most intriguing (and confusing) portion of this phone is what it's like to actually use. Samsung didn't curve the edge of this phone so that you end up using it the same way as any other, of course — the hardware and software aim to offer a unique user experience.

Interacting with the edge screen

When you're in an app the edge screen is simply pulled off to the side and blacked out, acting as a normal screen bezel would.

First, let's explain the basics of what the edge screen actually is. The edge screen has two main states — expanded and retracted. When you're in an app the edge screen is simply pulled off to the side and blacked out, acting as a normal screen bezel would.

A single swipe (but not a tap or palm press) in from the edge with any finger deploys the edge screen up over whatever content you're looking at, launching into the first panel you've selected to be there. Additional swipes in either direction scroll through the other panels you've enabled. Swipe up from the bottom edge on any panel to access the edge screen settings, or swipe down from the top of any panel to bring down the tools panel. As soon as you interact with the main display, the edge panel retracts.

That's your basic navigation paradigm, and it feels incredibly natural, even on a curved screen that not many of us are used to dealing with. Samsung has absolutely nailed the tap and palm rejection software, and the edge screen really only reacts when you want it to.

Edge screen software

Galaxy Note Edge

The software for managing the edge screen is actually very basic, fitting in line with the minimal screen real estate you have to work with. Most of the functional customization comes down to the "panels" that you choose to have on your edge screen, of which you can have up to seven enabled at any given time.

The primary panel you're encouraged to enable is "favorite apps," which takes place of the standard bottom row of your app launcher on a normal phone (the Note Edge lacks that fixed bottom row of icons on the launcher, in fact). It can hold seven of your often-used apps or folders (or more if you want to scroll) in any order you wish, and it'll be the first panel shown whenever you're on the home screen or swipe in on the edge screen in any other app.

Out of the box there are nine panels in total to choose from:

  • Favorite apps (explained above)
  • S Health — displays step, distance and calorie information
  • Twitter — trending topics in a scrolling list
  • Yahoo Sports — scrolling list of updating sports scores from user-selected teams
  • Yahoo News — scrolling worldwide news headlines
  • Yahoo Finance — scrolling finance news and information
  • Briefing — displays weather, missed calls, messages and notifications
  • Contacts — scrolling list of your contacts
  • Memory Match — a card matching game
  • S Note launcher — mirrors functionality of the S Note widget

There are few panels available at launch, none are particularly compelling, and organizing them is a pretty clunky experience.

In addition to the pre-installed panels, there are also (at the time of this writing) eight panels in the Galaxy Apps store for download, though Samsung is naturally hoping that third-party developers use its edge screen SDK to make even more.

You can organize the panels in whatever order you want, though the way you do so is quite clunky. To change the ordering of the panels you need to check the boxes to enable panels in the order which you want them displayed, which isn't immediately apparent when you're customizing the edge screen. I'd greatly prefer a long press, drag and drop method or something of the sort. The way it's done now seems very rudimentary.

For panels that have customizable elements, such as the Yahoo Sports or Briefing panel, you can tap an edit button in the settings to choose what content gets pulled in by the panel or how it acts. Most of them are pretty basic or not customizable at all, though.