Twenty months ago, it was a nameless prototype at CES 2013. Now Samsung’s sloping, curved OLED phone is real: meet the Galaxy Note Edge, the highest-end phone in Samsung’s lineup.
The Note Edge is, on paper at least, only the slightest variation on the new Note 4. It has the same metallic design, a huge improvement on anything Samsung’s done before. It has the same soft-touch back, blissfully without the fake stitching. It has the same 16-megapixel camera, the same heart-rate monitor, the same processor, the same memory, the same software, the same new Multi Window feature, the same everything. It's an incredibly high-end, incredibly powerful phone. It even has a Quad HD, 2560 x 1440 display like the Note 4, though this one is slightly smaller at 5.6 inches rather than 5.7.
But there's more to the Note Edge than its spec sheet.
It’s on the right side of the phone’s front face that a sharp difference appears between the two models. The screen starts to slope downward, falling off toward the edge and wrapping around the side. It’s as if two screens have been connected to each other at an acute angle, but there’s only one display here. The asymmetry of the phone feels a little odd, like I chipped part of the right side off by accident, but it doesn’t really hurt the aesthetic appeal of the phone. It’s still very comfortable, the metal body both solid and dense, and I like the way the screen curls under my right thumb. (If you’re a lefty, using the Note Edge in one hand is going to be terrible — but then again using a Note in one hand is already terrible.)
Samsung uses software to separate the two parts of the display, to allow them to be simultaneously independent and connected. The sloping screen’s default status is as a quick launcher of sorts, with easy access to a bunch of your most-used apps. There are a number of widgets, though, tickers of sorts that let you flip through news or tweets or information about how many steps you’ve taken. And you can do it all without ever changing or disturbing what you see on the larger display. In some apps, the edge acts as a toolbar, offering easy access to font menus or camera modes or in-app settings. At night, it can be your alarm clock, the time displayed on the side of the phone so you can see it without taking your head off your pillow.
It’s an odd idea, turning this vertical rail into essentially an always-on secondary display. Is it best-suited as a ticker? A notification center? A quick-launch taskbar? Samsung doesn’t seem entirely sure, and in a few minutes of using the Galaxy Note Edge it was clear that while well-implemented and useful the whole idea isn’t necessarily fully formed.
Still, by releasing the Note Edge broadly – it’s coming to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint — and giving both users and developers a chance to figure out what they want, Samsung could find itself with a truly unique smartphone feature that no other manufacturer can copy.
Photos by Sean O'Kane, who also contributed reporting.