REVIEW: Samsung's New Phone With A Curved Screen Shows It Can Still Innovate, But Perhaps It Doesn't Need To
If there's one recurring theme with the company, it's that it tests products in public and sees what sticks. Phablets. Six different smartwatch models in the last 13 months. A virtual reality headset. Sometimes those things take off and influence the entire industry, like phablets did. But a lot of times those attempts don't work.
Samsung's latest undertaking is a new phone called the Galaxy Note Edge. The Edge is almost the exact same phone as the Galaxy Note 4 that launched earlier this fall but with one big difference: The screen curves over the right edge of the phone and displays additional content like notifications, stock tickers, and launchers for your favorite apps.
But that curved screen doesn't come cheap. The Edge starts at $946 off contract, or almost $200 more than the Galaxy Note 4. Carriers will offer on-contract discounts and other payment plans, but they'll vary.
I've been using the Edge for a few days. It has all the elements that make the Note 4 a wonderful phone, but I don't think the curved portion of the screen adds enough to justify spending so much more.
A Familiar Phone
Feature-wise, the Galaxy Note Edge is pretty much the same phone as the Galaxy Note 4. It has the same sharp screen (the best ever put on a phone), same stylus, same camera, same fingerprint sensor, and same multitasking options. So I'm not going to waste too much time going over all that again. The Galaxy Note 4 is the best phone Samsung has ever made. The Galaxy Note Edge is an experimental version of that.
Still, there are a few differences.
The Edge's screen is 5.6 inches, including the curved portion. The Note 4 is slightly larger with a 5.7-inch screen. And a few things have been shifted around. The power button is now on the top instead of the right side to make room for the curved screen, for example.
The "edge" portion of the display functions independently, so you can swipe and tap away without affecting what happens on the rest of the screen. From the home screen, it displays your favorite apps, which Samsung says is good for freeing up space on the rest of your screen. You can load it up with as many apps as you want.
It also lets you quickly switch between apps when you have another one open without having to hit the home button first. If you get an incoming call while using an app, you can answer it from the edge and keep doing what you were doing.
You can set the edge to display incoming notifications from your apps instead of seeing them in the title bar at the top of your screen like on other Android phones. Through Samsung's app store, you can download more "panels" for the Edge. Right now, the selection is limited to a few panels like Yahoo sports, Twitter trends, and a match game called Tiny Burger.
Finally, the edge doubles as a bedside clock. You can set it to light up with the time during certain hours when the main screen is switched off. It's dim so it doesn't drain the battery too much, but ideally you'll have this feature on when you're charging at night.
Is It Worth It?
That's it. An extra $200 or so on top of the regular Galaxy Note gets you a curved display that makes it moderately easier to check notifications, news, and launch apps. I found that it all worked well, but with a few annoying quirks.
In many apps, the image spilled over to the curved portion of the screen instead of staying on the flat portion. And when a new notification would come in, or when I would swipe to activate the edge display, the tray would cover up a tiny bit of the app. It seems like Samsung was only able to get that to work perfectly on the home screen and its own apps without any overlap.
Plus the panels are kind of hard to view. Most run perpendicular to the screen, so you have to turn your head or the phone to get a full glimpse at incoming stocks, weather, notifications, or whatever else. I still think it's much easier to use Android's regular drop-down notifications center. I also wasn't crazy about the Twitter panel, which only shows trending topics. I wish it showed notifications like replies and direct messages instead.
I also enjoyed the alarm clock feature that keeps the curved portion lit up with the time all night. I always use my phone as my bedside clock, but that means having to switch it on if I want to check the time in the middle of the night. It was nice to be able to just quickly glance at the Edge instead.
If It Ain't Broke...
The Galaxy Note 4 is a wonderful phone, one of the best you can buy. The Note Edge may mostly be the same device, but I don't think the incremental improvements the curved portion of the screen add are worth the extra $200.
The Edge attempts to solve problems that don't really exist with smartphones today. Android already handles notifications and widgets really well. There's no reason to add a separate portion of the screen for them, especially if it costs so much. If you want a great Android phone, I suggest going with the Galaxy Note 4. It's Samsung's best phone and offers a much more consistent experience than the Edge.