As expected, Samsung packed a lot of power into the Note Edge, not only because it’s a variant of its flagship phablet, but also due to the extra screen space and its added functionality. Inside you’ll find a quad-core Snapdragon 805 running at 2.7 GHz, along with 3 GB RAM for strong performance with apps and media. High-end games in particular scream on the Note Edge, especially on that gorgeous display.
Why, then, did we encounter some startling bits of sluggishness all around the operating system? It’s nothing dramatic, but clicking the recent apps button or flipping between menus exposes little hangs here and there. And despite all of that fancy hardware within, getting around Android is slower on the Note Edge than on the comparatively less-equipped Samsung Galaxy Alpha.
If we had to guess, we’d say it’s TouchWiz, the UI skin that Samsung continues to layer on top of Android despite wide dissatisfaction. It’s cluttered and less attractive than stock Android, but on something like the Galaxy Alpha, it at least runs without noticeable slowdown. That’s not the case with the Note Edge, and we believe it’s because of the extra demands of the curved screen segment. It’s not a deal-breaker, but those slow reactions do nag from time to time, especially on a phone of this caliber.
Like the Note 4, the Galaxy Note Edge includes the S Pen, which tucks into the bottom right of the device and both triggers a vibration and illuminates the screen when removed. It’s a handy little smart stylus, with a button that triggers a floating on-screen menu for access to stylus-related functionality, like taking notes, clipping an image, or writing atop the current image. The pressure sensitivity is solid, making the S Pen a useful tool for professionals and students in particular — everyone else will be fine with their finger, though.
The Galaxy Note Edge has just one internal storage option, at 32 GB, but with support for microSD cards ranging up to 128 GB, it’s easy to increase capacity quickly and cheaply for heavy local media needs.
We reviewed Verizon’s version of the phone, which has its logo emblazoned on the faux leather backing. Otherwise, it looks and acts the same as the unlocked handset. Verizon’s 4G LTE network is very reliable here in Chicago, and calling and data usage alike all worked admirably during testing.
The Galaxy Note Edge includes a hearty 3,000mAh battery within — trimmed down from the 3,320mAh battery in the Note 4 — which even for a phone of this size and amenities is more than enough to get the average user through a full day. Stretching that sum to two full days is a tougher task if you’re regularly playing games or using media, but there are certainly ways to trim down your power consumption if you’ll be away from a charger for a while. The Ultra Power Saving mode is one option, as it cuts down non-essential functionality when you need to stretch a few extra hours.
Once you’re able to refill the juice, it comes quickly thanks to the “Fast Charging” ability via the included charger. It can get the phone’s charge from nothing to about 50% in 30 minutes, with a full charge taking a little over an hour. It’s sort of amazing to see if you haven’t had such a device in the past, and it’s super handy to be able to quickly top off your phone before going out for the night.
As of this writing, the Note Edge runs Android 4.4.4 (KitKat) tweaked with the aforementioned TouchWiz skin. It’s unclear when the device will receive Google’s latest Lollipop (Android 5.0) upgrade, with its dramatic visual overhaul, but here’s hoping it’s soon — especially with rumors that Samsung is dialing back TouchWiz for the move. Fingers crossed, at least.
TouchWiz isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t make Android any easier or more enjoyable to use. Lollipop in particular is a gorgeous, refined operating system, whereas the TouchWiz skin on KitKat here feels constantly cluttered, delivering too many options spread out across too many screens. And as noted earlier, there’s a surprising amount of slowdown here and there, which is certainly irritating.
Obviously, the biggest point of focus with the Note Edge is how the phone utilizes and integrates the curved portion of the screen. Primarily, it’s used for housing favorites and delivering notifications. You can put up to seven icons along the edge when on the home screen, and even have a second panel of them if desired. Scrolling through panels is done with a left or right swipe, with a maximum of six active at any given time.
Notifications pop up along the edge instead of the top of the screen, but they’re sideways — which means turning the phone to actually read the text. However, the notification center and quick access to settings are still found with a downward swipe from the top, creating some dissonance in use. You’ll also occasionally see pop-up alerts appear partially obscured by the panels; there’s some refinement lacking here. If there’s ever a Note Edge 2, we’d like to see more done to corral these UI elements together, even if that means braking from usual Android conventions.
When running apps, there’s a small portion of the curved screen that isn’t used, which simply has a black backdrop and drops dimmed text of your choosing right in the center. This, by far, is our least favorite aspect of the Edge screen: all of the time during which it’s totally useless. And it’s not just useless, but ugly, because you’re forced to use a Comic Sans-like font that looks tacky on an otherwise modern smartphone.
And you’ll see that most of the time, which makes us wonder why Samsung didn’t offer more options, or better plan for that smidgen of dead space. It doesn’t look right on an $800 phone. Furthermore, the panels that do use that space when on the main menu are very few indeed. You’ve got news and Twitter trending topic feeds, and a couple of dumbed-down games, but nothing we’d consider essential beyond the convenient column of favorites.
Still, there are a couple of neat perks that come with the Edge. For example, when the display is off, you can swipe up and down along the curve to wake up just that portion of the screen, offering quick access to notification panels or a fast way to launch a favorite app. At night, you can set the curved section to display the time, date, and weather in a dimmed fashion, so you always have a lightly visible clock handy. That’s smart thinking. Samsung needs a lot more of that — or rather, partners with a lot more of that — to make the Edge seem essential.
While the Galaxy Note Edge doesn’t provide any sort of mind-blowing use of the curved screen for its camera functionality, it puts that lip to use in a smart, subtle manner: it’s where the virtual shutter button rests.
When taking a photo in landscape, with the edge up top, the shutter button moves to the right, almost simulating the sensation of clicking in a real shutter on a point-and-shoot camera. In portrait orientation, it’s found at the middle of the edge, which is pretty thumb-friendly for one-handed shooting. The rest of the controls are also found along the curve, which makes for a relatively clean view on the screen.
Thankfully, the Note Edge loses nothing in translation from the Note 4 in this regard: The same 16-megapixel back camera remains intact, and it can capture pretty wonderful shots at its best. With ample lighting — so typically, in outdoors scenarios — we snapped bright, pristine photos of people, nature, structures, and everything in between, with visible details and very realistic coloring. Frankly, we pulled some of the best shots we’ve ever snagged from a smartphone camera.
Not everything lived up to that high mark, however. In lower light, or with any level of motion, we struggled to get share-worthy shots due to frequent blurriness. Low-light struggles are common on smartphones, but we expected the optical image stabilization to help out a little more in that regard here. The camera does have a few fun tricks to play with, however, including a selective focus mode for changing the focal point after shooting, as well as face-recognizing rear-camera selfies.
And the front camera will be appreciated by traditional selfie fans, especially those who love pulling in pals. It’s a 3.7-megapixel shooter with an optional 120-degree wide shot for those must-have “grouphie” photos.