Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

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It has a cool Edge with plenty of innovations including a camera relocated on to the spine and away from the clutter. Could this be a device the company’s boffins have thrown at the wall that will stick?

Samsung takes a very different approach to new smartphones than arch-rival Apple. While the latter only introduces a new technology when it’s good and ready, and is certain of what customers will use it for, Samsung likes to throw everything at the wall just to see what sticks. Remember the Samsung Galaxy Beam with its built-in projector? Or the Beat DJ, which featured integrated turntables?

Samsung might not make the insane profits that Apple does, but you can’t say the approach doesn’t work some of the time. Back in 2011, the then gigantic first Samsung Galaxy Note was a shot in the dark – who would want to use something so darn big? Millions, as it turned out. And just as Apple has finally entered the ‘phablet’ fray with the iPhone 6 Plus, Samsung is expanding on the category with its next technological leap forward: screen-edge functionality.

Display gives shortcut access
The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge is a Note 4 – an excellent base to start with – it has one unique addition: a screen that folds down and wraps around the right-hand edge of the phone. This second sort of display gives you access to shortcuts and notifications when you need them, or so the theory goes.

In practice, it feels like more of a gimmick than a useful addition.

It’s certainly a conversation starter, though. The Galaxy Note Edge looks like a Note 4 with one side melted or sloughed away. It shares most of the Note 4’s pros and cons. On the downside is the sturdy but cheap plastic and the faux-leather material of the rear. But on the upside, it offers access for replacing the battery, as well as boosting storage with a microSD card.

It’s massive, which is not in itself a criticism, but it could have been made easier to use. Since one side is now all screen, the power button has been moved to the top of the phone, and is all but impossible to reach. You’ll constantly be stretching just to turn the phone on and off, when it would have been so much easier just to double-tap the screen to lock and unlock, as you can on the LG G3.

Touch the fingerprint scanner
There’s a heart-rate monitor included, as found on the Samsung Galaxy S5, which seems fairly accurate, but isn’t great for anything other than resting pulse, since you won’t want to run with a phone this big in your pocket. You’ll also find a fingerprint scanner built into the home button, but unlike Apple’s effortless Touch ID sensor, it isn’t worth using. You have to swipe your finger across the button rather than simply hold it there, and since it only works swiftly nine times out of 10, it’s not worth using. After all, a simple and secure PIN lock works 10 times out of 10.

Best screen on any phone
The display is beyond beautiful, so long as you can cope with asymmetry. The quad-HD resolution AMOLED display is arguably the best screen on any phone in the world right now, with stunning vibrancy, undetectable pixels and broad viewing angles. The same is true of the Galaxy Note 4’s display, of course, but it’s the unusual ‘spine’ screen that really stands out here. In use, it’s hit and miss.

Samsung has aimed to discretely provide extra control options here, for whatever app you’re in, so you can get on with your day on the main display area. It’s exceptionally handy for shortcuts to frequently used apps such as quickly jumping to the Chrome browser or controlling the camera, but not much else. A few apps offer extra controls on the sidebar – Spotify track controls, for instance – but this is seldom as handy as the lock screen controls Spotify offers on any Android phone. There’s also a pop-out ruler should you need to measure something less than five inches.

It’s infuriating for notifications. The spine is keen on giving you needless weather updates, but these are far less irritating than the scrolling message notifications that run down the spine rather than across the top, as with other Android phones. Unless you leave your phone in a cradle on its side all day, you’ll constantly be tilting your head to read these perpendicular updates, and it’s annoying.

Full article in Mobile News issue 585 (March 30, 2015).

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