The Galaxy Note Edge is basically the same phone as the Galaxy Note 4, with one odd difference: The right side is sloped. As in, it looks like someone took the Note’s screen and bent its edge with a finger. Samsung teased its flexible display efforts at CES a couple years back (remember the Youm?), but seeing the first official fruits of that labor is both startling and stunning. The company deserves props if only because it has an idea for smartphones that is structurally different and genuinely interesting.
Here’s how it works: The Note Edge’s display is identical the one on Note 4, with a quad HD resolution and everything, except the farthest 0.1 inch of that display is sloped downwards. The back is still flat, and everything else looks and acts the same – though there are some negligible spec differences, such a slightly smaller 3,000 mAh battery and a body that’s marginally wider and shorter – but that one edge is bent. From here, that bent edge (which is made up of 160 pixels) serves up a bunch of contextual and customizable information that compliments whatever you’re looking at on the main display.
So, when you’re on the home screen, it shows a vertical list of app icons that serve as shortcuts. If you’re playing a song or video, it carries your playback options, allowing the rest of the display to devote itself to video. If you’re going to bed, you can turn it into an alarm clock while the phone proper is in sleep mode. It can also show notifications, a stop watch, news tickers, weather updates, cropped photos, flashlight controls, a ruler, and even some games (though I wasn’t able to play one of those). Think of it like a cross between a desktop toolbar and a superpowered notifications tray.
I like the premise of this quite a bit, and in many ways it’s perfect for a screen-heavy phablet like the Note 4. Taking the controls off the display’s hands while viewing videos and just letting it be pretty is a legitimately useful idea, and these kinds of app shortcuts are much more efficient than any weird floating “mini-apps” you’d find on other devices.
It doesn’t hurt that all of this is implemented quite well too. The edge is still an extension of the display, so it’s just as responsive; apps open very quickly on the “main screen” when you activate them on the side. And from a design standpoint, it somehow doesn’t look all that out of place. The Note Edge is every bit as premium looking as the Note 4 — it just has a weird spot.
But there are still a couple of pitfalls here. First, I’m a righty, so the sloped edge’s placement isn’t all that inconvenient to me. I can use my left hand to hold the phone and my right one to swipe, as I normally would. Lefties are getting a bit of a raw deal, though, because the side they naturally hold is curved on top and sharp on the sides. A Samsung rep told me that lefties can just turn the phone upside, but that still puts the home button and loudspeaker out of position by default.
Secondly, much of the edge’s utility is going to rely on developer support. You can set the side to show more universal info if you’re in an app that doesn’t directly support it, but much of that stuff isn’t all that necessary to see at all times. It’d be easy to see this turn into a bloated notifications bar without enough app compatibility, and given that this is a very niche product, devs might not be willing to rework their programs for it.
We’ll have to wait and see if that ends up being the case, though. For now, the Note Edge is something unique in an increasingly repetitive market. Samsung hasn’t given it an exact release date or price point, only noting that it’ll be available later this year in black and white.