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Samsung Galaxy Note Edge Review: Cutting-Edge Curve or Gimmick?

Samsung is back with another curved-screen smartphone, but is it more than just a gimmick?

Re/code

Smartphones come in all different sizes nowadays, but their overall look hasn’t changed much in the past few years — flat, rectangular, meh. Samsung is looking to change the standard shape of this situation with its latest device, the Galaxy Note Edge.

It’s an Android phablet that shares many similarities with the Galaxy Note 4, but it has one distinguishing feature: A 5.6-inch touchscreen that curves and wraps around the right side of the phone.

This isn’t Samsung’s first curved-screen phone. Last year, it introduced the Galaxy Round; rival LG also released one called the LG G Flex. But while those phones left you wondering about the benefits of a bending display (other than looking different), the Galaxy Note Edge offers a better glimpse of the design’s potential.

galaxy-note-edge-bottom

The curved portion of the Galaxy Note Edge’s screen acts as a secondary display, where you can quickly access your favorite apps, view notifications and more. Because of it, I found the phone easier to use one-handed, and the way it displays some notifications can be less obtrusive than other smartphones.

But given some of its current downsides, such as limited app support, the Galaxy Note Edge’s curved screen still feels more like a gimmick than a valued feature. It doesn’t vastly improve on the user experience or functionality of the smartphone, which makes it hard to justify the high price tag. The Galaxy Note Edge costs $400 on contract at AT&T, while Sprint and T-Mobile are offering the phone for $840 and $870, respectively, on their device-financing programs. I’d recommend saving some money and going for the Galaxy Note 4 instead.

The Galaxy Note Edge is an attention-grabber, though. The sloped edge of the phone is unlike anything out there, and gives the screen a bit of the effect of an infinity pool or waterfall. I got mixed reactions when I showed it to my friends and family. Some oohed and ahhed over the curved screen, while others kind of scrunched up their faces and asked, “Why?” I was also on the fence about the design.

The Galaxy Note Edge is a tad shorter and lighter than the Galaxy Note 4, but wider at 5.96 inches tall by 3.24 inches wide by 0.32-inch thick; it weighs 0.38 pounds. Gripping the phone and carrying it in a pants pocket aren’t very comfortable. I was also afraid the sloped edge might make the phone even more awkward to hold, but I got used to it pretty quickly.

galaxy-note-edge-hand

The smartphone’s screen measures 5.6 inches and has a resolution of 2,560 by 1,440 pixels, with an additional 160 pixels for the curved part of the display. Overall, it’s a very sharp-looking screen that boasts rich, if somewhat oversaturated, colors.

Though made from one continuous piece of glass, the curved part of the screen can act independently of the main part of the display. The main side panel offers a vertical list of your favorite apps and folders, which you can edit through the Settings menu.

You can also remove or add other panels (up to seven), such as news tickers for sports scores, headlines, stock prices and even trending topics on Twitter. To navigate among them, swiping right or left while tapping on a panel will open the corresponding app. If you swipe down from the top of the bar, it brings up another menu of shortcuts for tools like a stopwatch, flashlight and even a ruler.

My favorite feature might be Night Clock mode. When enabled, it displays the time, date and temperature on the edge of the screen, even when the main display is off. It made for a great bedside alarm clock while I was traveling over Thanksgiving.

In day-to-day use, I found the Edge display most useful for launching and switching between apps — not that it’s extremely difficult to do this by adding app shortcuts to the main home screen. But having them within thumb’s reach made it easier to use the phone one-handed, which isn’t easy to do on large-screen devices like the Galaxy Note Edge.

By the way, lefties can turn on the Rotate 180 feature and flip the phone 180 degrees to use the curved display on the left side. Doing so places some controls in awkward locations — for example, the volume buttons end up on the bottom-right edge and the power button is on the bottom. It’s not the most sophisticated solution, but it works.

I also liked that certain notifications, such as incoming calls, didn’t completely take over the screen while I was working in other apps. I could keep reading my email or continue watching a movie while still being able to view the incoming call on the secondary screen, where I could also accept or decline it.

On the other hand, some notifications were more trouble than they were worth. For example, incoming text messages would require rotating the phone 90 degrees or trying to read sideways. The same was true of some of the news tickers. After a while, it was just easier to open the dedicated app and get all my information that way, rather than craning my neck or waiting for the text to scroll by.

Also, at this time, there are very few apps that take advantage of the side display. From what I could tell, only the camera and Samsung’s note-taking application S Note worked with the extra screen real estate. Samsung has released software that will allow developers to create apps and different panels that work with the Galaxy Note Edge, so that certainly could change in the future.

As I noted before, the Galaxy Note Edge shares features similar to those of its flat sibling, the Galaxy Note 4. This includes the good, such as a 16-megapixel camera and a quad-core processor from Qualcomm, but also the bad — namely a lot of extraneous apps. For more on the Galaxy Note 4’s features, you can read my full review here.

In general, the smartphone performed well. The only time I experienced some delay was when launching folders from the side panel. Call quality was clear when I tested the T-Mobile version of the phone in San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Samsung said the Edge screen isn’t a huge power drain, and battery life is comparable to the Galaxy Note 4. I didn’t run a formal battery test, but with moderate to heavy use, the Galaxy Note Edge provided enough power to last a full day. I got more mileage out of the Galaxy Note 4 (it lasted about a day and a half), but it also has a bigger battery.

Samsung certainly deserves kudos for its innovation in smartphone design and functionality, but the Edge simply doesn’t do enough to make it anything other than a niche product for now.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.