Hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge

Samsung makes an original design statement with the Edge and it's an upsell that should make sense to anyone in the market for the Galaxy Note phablets.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge smartphone has a screen that curves to the right for a little extra touch interface. Source: Joanna Stern/The Wall Street Journal

Samsung’s latest curve is the Galaxy Note Edge, a phablet due in the US this fall with a screen that gracefully cascades off to the right to add a little extra touch real estate.

In my hands-on time with the Edge, I experienced what that smooth 160-pixel-wide strip can provide: access to your favorite apps and controls, a bit of extra personalisation, and an unobtrusive night-time clock that faces you when you’re in bed.

While the Edge is mostly a “they did it because they can” product, it’s an original design statement and an upsell that would make sense for anyone in the market for one of Samsung’s oversize Galaxy Note smartphones.

In my brief demo, the night-time mode was useful. Having rid myself of a clock radio a decade ago, I tend to grab my phone to check the time if I’m awakened at night. The Edge’s subtle feature—showing the time and date along the extra curved strip—would make it much easier to get right back to sleep.

The strip’s personalisation option borders on cheesy: You can select photos and apply animations to let them subtly glide across the narrow, curved edge. But the tools give you enough free rein that creative people may find ways to make it truly beautiful.

Samsung’s Galaxy Note Edge side by side with the Galaxy Note 4. Source: Geoffrey A. Fowler/The Wall Street Journal

The edge-based app launcher and music controls make sense. But the other main features, including text and email notifications and tickers for news, sports and stocks, aren’t yet customizable (or, frankly, attractive) enough. I’d like to see some other app developers and content providers weigh in on what to do with the Edge’s edge to make it truly compelling.

The rest of the phone is nearly identical to the just-announced Galaxy Note 4, the latest generation of 5.7-inch phablet. Its key features include an extremely high-resolution 2560 x 1440-pixel display and a 16-megapixel camera with optical image stabilisation—a feature typically only found in standalone cameras. There’s one difference, though: a slightly smaller battery. There’s no telling how that will affect battery life —Samsung isn’t saying how many hours either device will run on a single charge.

Whether or not it finds a true utilitarian reason for existing, the Note Edge struck me as subtly avant garde, the kind of hardware that lets you one-up others without being too flashy.

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