Living with the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge: a long-term review


Introduction


The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge is a unique and extraordinary phone, there's no denying that. But does its curved display offer any usable function, rather just a fancy look? And does the latest generation of Samsung's Note interface empower users, or impede them? I spent the last month with the Note Edge in hand as my daily driver, nitpicking and looking for benefits, drawbacks, features, and bugs, posting weekly updates, which you can check out below:


Now, it's time to sum everything up – Living with the Note Edge will provide a more personal look on how using Samsung's curved phablet actually feels in a day-to-day situation. If you wish to check out the subjective review prior to, or after reading this piece, you can find it here. So, here we go!

Design

In terms of looks – the Note Edge does not get old fast. The metal frame, the faux-leather back, the chrome accents on all the right places – this all makes the handset look amazing and it's hard to get tired of the sight. The subtle stripes on the front, which keep it from looking dull, and the fact that its notification LED and capacitive buttons are completely invisible, when not glowing, just adds that pinch of premium feel and attention to detail that one can appreciate every time they lay their eyes on the device.

As far as feel goes – week 2 covered how the phone handles in deep detail, so you might want to check it out. Here's the main points – it feels slightly wide, a bit harder to grip than a regular phone, and is definitely not the best handset for those who often find themselves operating their smartphone with one hand. It takes some getting used to, and handling is somewhat of a compromise, which one must willingly make if they want to have the Edge panel's functions and / or “cool” factor.



Display

I praised the display in week 3 and continue to do so until this day – set to Basic mode, it's whites are a bit off of what I am used to seeing, but the Note Edge's (and Note 4, actually) screen glows with some of the softest, most pleasant, accurate, and inviting colors one can find on a flagship today. The Edge's curve adds even more of an effect, by giving the handset a sort of a “bezel-less” illusion on the right side, and adding more soft glow to hypnotize you at night.

Compared to the Galaxy Note 4, the Note Edge's display is slightly shorter in height, and slightly wider, allowing it to fit a few more characters per line of text, which I found to my liking, though, this is definitely up to the individual user's preferences.


Interface

TouchWiz is back with full force. Now, Samsung's homebrew Android-based interface has split users in two – some enjoying its plethora of functions, others – believing that most of them are redundant, and are contributing to the UI's lag-ish feel. A month in with TouchWiz, I am happy to say that the interface does not chop up when scrolling home / app drawer screens, and its settings menu is somewhat less of a cluttered mish-mash than it was in the Galaxy S5 (still huge, though). Unfortunately, launching apps and getting back to the home screen can still be sluggish, which can be annoying when working with apps that are core to the Note experience – such as the S Note or S voice.

Multi-tasking has definitely been upgraded from what we saw in the Note 3 / Galaxy S5 – setting apps into window mode, or split-screen is very easily accessible this time around, making for a workflow that actually encourages the user to use these features. The phone can have up to 5 separate apps on-screen, and the user generally feels empowered and confident that they can do some light tasks with ease, rather than having to switch to a desktop PC. Adding to that, the Note Edge's Task Manager and Favorite Apps panels allow the user to switch between screens in an instant, providing even more multi-tasking options, and contributing to a more even workflow.

The S Voice assistant has been getting a bad rep, probably because its first iterations were not very advanced, though, I've kept Google Now disabled for the entirety of the month, relying only on S Voice, and I find it does its job just fine, even without hassle. One thing I had to get used to, though, is to not wait for the app to actually show up after saying the activation phrase – indeed, as mentioned earlier – the delay in launching apps can lead to awkward moments, such as staring at the screen for 3 seconds, then seeing S Voice activate itself in listening mode, only to come out of it the moment after – turns out, even if I wasn't seeing it on-screen, the app was listening for input. This would all leave me wondering “Why didn't I use my hands to do this, again?”. So, in order to make it work, the command should be spoken out evenly and naturally, without waiting to see S Voice on-screen – for example – “Hi, Galaxy, call John Doe”. After S Voice activates, it will finish the command “Call John Doe” and put the call on loudspeaker, unless its settings were specifically changed.


The Edge Panel

And now we come to the Note Edge's unique feature – its side panel. What does it offer? Well, after sifting through all the currently available panel faces for it, I ended up with four of them, which I found to be the most useful – the Favorite Apps panel, which allows you to place some of your favorite icons on it and effectively clear up some home screen space, as well as let you access said apps in any scenario, without having to go back to home; the Task Manager panel, which shows currently active apps – not recently used ones, mind you – giving users a sort of an alt+tab experience; S Planner panel, which shows you upcoming events straight from your schedule; Data usage panel – real-time data monitoring – neat.

Additionally to the panels, the Edge will show us caller ID whenever we are busy looking at a full-screen app and someone happens to call, or if we minimize a call with the intent on doing something on the phone, while the conversation is going. It will automatically add a playback controls panel when we are playing music, and will also house controls for some of the TouchWiz apps – for example, the S Note's editing tools and the camera's shutter key / quick settings – freeing up more real estate on the main screen. Other uses include the night clock, which can only be on for up to 10 hours, a rub-to-activate clock, which allows you to quickly check the time by swiping the curved screen up and down (takes a while to come out of sleep, though, so don't bother), and a personalization tool, which allows you to change its background, and have a personal message displayed on the Edge panel, while it's inactive.

Notifications will pop up on both the Edge screen and up top, in the good ol' Android notifications panel, but their text will only appear on the Edge, which holds up to 47 characters per line, so you'll get a much more comprehensive preview of whatever you've just received.

All in all, most of the Edge panel's functions can be placed in the “Nice to have” category, while some would fit the “Redundant” one. Is the Edge Screen a must-have? If you are a proud member of the “Smartphones Я Us” club – you will enjoy it – I certainly do – and should most definitely give it a consideration. If your usage leans on the casual side, or requires a bit more battery life (as the Edge fits a smaller juicer), then the curved phone would be a useless expense, over the already potent Galaxy Note 4.


S Pen

There are many Note users out there who rarely use their S Pen, while others aren't sure of its usability. Well, it's a perfect tool for those who like the idea of taking memos by hand, and, as I've said in week 4 – sure, you can do the same on Google Keep or Evernote by using virtual keyboard, but nothing beats the ability to be able to scribble whatever and wherever on the screen you wish – after all – that's what makes notes useful. There is a bit of a learning curve to the experience – writing on slippery glass is definitely not the same in feel, as is paper, plus – the tracing line still lags behind the pen, instead of staying dead-on under it at all times, but after a short time with the stylus – the user learns. From then on, it's note-taking bonanza – having a small notebook in your pocket at all times is certainly reassuring when you need to jot down some memos, I'll tell you that.

Furthermore, the S Pen's Smart Select, with its text recognition and scrapbook functions make sharing or storing information a breeze, while the Photo Note and Screen Write help you send or remember specific imagery and / or instructions.



The Camera

An amazing snapper – the Galaxy Note Edge has me addicted to its camera. What it lacks in manual options, it makes up in outright image quality, fantastic HDR, and an Auto Mode, which has me never miss said options. There are still some fun modes, such as the Animated Photo, Selective Focus, Panorama, Virtual Tour, et cetera, which we've already seen in the Galaxy S5.

In most conditions, the snapper will provide soft images with great color reproduction and detail, and minimum over or underexposure (HDR definitely helps with that). The camera manages to collect enough light even in dim rooms, so flash usage is only needed in extreme cases. Granted, low-light photos are not the best, as colors tend to oversaturate, while contrast, naturally, goes way up, but that's pretty much where the tech for small snappers on mobile phones is right now.



Performance and Battery

TouchWiz stutters aside, both the Note 4 and Note Edge are performance monsters – I haven't encountered any situation, where I'd feel like I am using an inferior, or bottle-necked, handset. Of course, it'd be hard to say I did, since the Edge is powered by a quad-core, 2.7 GHz Snapdragon 805 – no contemporary game or app could make this monster pant.

On the topic of battery life – with somewhat casual usage (~ 90 minutes of actively using the handset for various tasks throughout the day), I'd end up having around 40% or more by the 12th hour of off-the-charger time. Falling back on Power Saving, when I happen to go down to 20%, or Ultra Power Saving for that one time I was down to 10% kept the phone going that extra mile in the days when I hadn't properly pre-planned my charging schedule. All in all, I've not once had to turn off the phone, or felt the need to charge up in a rush. That said, the fact that it charges to 100% for less than 90 minutes is also a huge plus.



Final words

So, is the Galaxy Note Edge a great smartphone? Definitely so – the handset has a premium look and feel all over, offers plenty of power, invites multi-tasking with open arms, sports a great camera, and touts that brag-worthy curved display. As long as one is looking for a phablet-class handset – the Edge is a viable option.

Sure, if one is put off by the feature-packed TouchWiz, they can go ahead and pick any of the large-screened competitors, which offer the same powerful hardware, with snappier performance (cue Nexus 6). However, perplexing as it may be, no other manufacturer has even tried to deliver a proprietary stylus the way Samsung has – and once one gets used to that little S Pen gizmo, it can become quite the selling point.

Does the Edge screen make up for the extra cost, slightly uncomfortable handling, and limited availability of the Note Edge over the Note 4? Well, the handset is not for everybody – some will be willing to compromise with the wider girth and small battery life, in order to get the extra boost in multi-tasking, “cool” factor, and wider screen; others will be fully content with the more traditional design and handling of the Note 4. Assuming that price is no concern, I'd say the Edge is the better choice, but if every buck matters – then grab a Note 4 and rest assured that you are not missing out on that much extra features.

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Galaxy Note Edge
  • Display 5.6 inches
    2560 x 1440 pixels
  • Camera 16 MP (Single camera)
    3.7 MP front
  • Hardware Qualcomm Snapdragon 805, 3GB RAM
  • Storage 32GB, microSDXC
  • Battery 3000 mAh
  • OS Android 5.1 Lollipop

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