[Update] Added video demo of the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. More below.
Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 4, like its predecessors, can’t really be distinguished if you looked at them from the front. But don’t let that fool you this time around though, as a closer look will reveal plenty of refinements to the world’s best Android phablet.
Not content with one premium phablet, Samsung’s also introduced the Galaxy Note Edge, featuring a screen that slopes to one side of the device, which gives new, innovative ways of using the smartphone. Head on after the jump for our hands on as well as demo videos of both the Note 4 and Note Edge in action.
Galaxy Note 4
While the Note 4 isn’t quite a looker from the front, Samsung has taken measures to add some interesting design cues without really changing the overall design. Gone are the odd fake stiching along the back cover’s edges, but the “soft touch” faux leather cover remains – if you didn’t like it the first time around, you probably wouldn’t appreciate it too much here. Then again, it offers good grip, and the matte surface means there’ll be no ugly fingerprint marks.
Along the sides, that’s where you can see more of Samsung’s refinements. The metal frame, while closely resembling that on the Galaxy Alpha, is again evolved a little, where the sides have a nice matte anodised finish that follows the colour of the phone; if you’ve got the Charcoal Black version, the metal strip is anodised black. It’s a lovely touch, and again adds grip to the phablet.
On top of that, the Note 4 also has some really attractive curves along the bottom and top part of the metal frame. These gentle curves, which expand near the microUSB port at the bottom and the 3.5mm audio jack at the top, again lends some design uniqueness that lends more identity to the Note 4 compared to the previous Samsung phones. Finally.
Samsung has again improved on the software aspect of the Galaxy Note 4, with particular attention paid to the S Pen. The UX is now a lot more toned down, and again, Samsung is finally addressing the fact that many are simply not enthralled by the TouchWiz UI. The Android skin is now more simple, with less clutter especially in the home screens. The multi-tasking window takes a cue from Android L, showing a 3D cards-style interface of open apps instead of a 2D window. It does feel somewhat disconnected from the rest of the UI, but again it shows Samsung is listening and adapting its software from user feedback.
As for the S Pen, it is likely that power users will find the new features a godsend. The new S Pen has double the pressure levels (2048 instead of 1024 in the Note 3) but is still as light as it used to be before. The handwriting software has been further improved, and now also supports calligraphy and fountain pen modes.
On top of that, the Multi Window interface has integrated the use of the S Pen, where if you pull down an open app from the top right corner of the screen, the app will now be a floating app, letting you navigate to other parts of the phone without closing the first app. Open another app, then drag the mini app to the bottom or top of the screen, and the two apps will “snap” into the top and bottom of the screen into a more traditional split view. The transitions are easy and intuitive, which makes the enhancements quite brilliant in the execution.
Furthermore, with Smart Select, you can “cut out” portions of what is on the screen to save it for later use, or to send them to someone via text or email. The S Pen also can be used similarly to a mouse on a PC, where if you click on the S Pen’s button and drag across a number of items (like on the Gallery app), you’ll highlight all items that you’ve dragged across. You can also use the “click and drag” mechanism to highlight multiple text passages, and then copy the highlighted portions. It’s very useful, and will likely save plenty of time for those who use the S Pen always.
S Note, the note-taking app on Samsung devices, has one new, really cool addition: Snap Note, a feature that lets you snap a picture of, say, notes written on a blackboard, or even content printed on a piece of paper. What’s very impressive about it is the fact that the subject (blackboard, paper, or anything else) need not be directly facing you when you take the picture; the software readjusts the photo and makes it straight. You can then select “Convert to Edit”, and all the text can now be edited, from changing fonts to even changing colours on the text. From our quick test at the experience zone, you really can take a picture at an angle before the software readjusts it, but it is highly dependent on the lighting conditions, as the camera will not capture until it determines that a shot can be taken.
The Galaxy Note 4 is the first Galaxy Note smartphone to feature Smart OIS in its rear camera. Coupled with a new 16MP sensor, the Galaxy Note 4 promises to capture fast-moving images with less blur and preserve more detail. As we tested it out, the camera output is still a little blurry when capturing moving objects, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt due to the poor lighting conditions.
Here are some sample images taken on the Galaxy Note 4 in the show floor.
Click on each image for full resolution
With every iteration of the Galaxy Note, Samsung has further refined on a winning formula that it pioneered. No other phablet comes close, while the new S Pen will likely be an indispensable tool for power users. With the Note 4, it looks like other companies will continue to play second fiddle once again.
Galaxy Note Edge
[Update] Samsung Germany PR Chris Lachmann has given us an extended preview of what you can do with the new Edge Screen on the Galaxy Note Edge.
On the other hand, the Galaxy Note Edge feels like a blast from the future. The display melts away on the right into the side, giving an “infinity pool” impression on the Note Edge. Of course, we’ve seen this before: at CES 2013, Samsung demonstrated a display technology called Youm, but has been quiet on it ever since. The thing is, while the display technology certainly is impressive, the big question lies on how best to use it?
More than a year on since its reveal, not much has changed: the 2560 x 160 strip – called Edge Screen – offers short cuts to commonly used apps, and changes contextually based on which app is open. In the camera app, for example, the side strip contains all buttons, including shutter, settings and mode selection, lending almost the entire screen as a viewfinder.
But beyond that, proper use of the Edge Screen remains scarce. Samsung is toying with the idea of a notifications ticker, or another area to personalise your phone, but beyond that, the company quite simply does not yet know. Perhaps it is for that reason that the company has released a software development kit (SDK) to allow developers to craft apps that fully utilise the Edge Screen. Who knows? It may actually prove to be useful.
At the moment, though, the Galaxy Note Edge does not feel entirely revolutionary. There aren’t actually any compelling reasons to choose this over the Note 4, which will likely cost a lot less. The hardware on both devices are almost entirely similar too: besides having a smaller battery (3000mAh), the Note Edge’s effective display is also slightly smaller, at 5.6-inches across, to accommodate the Edge Screen.
The Note Edge is also almost 6mm wider than the Note 4, making it pretty unwieldy – using it with one hand is almost impossible. Nevertheless, the introduction of an extended display could have the potential to unlock some amazing uses that we may not think of just yet.
Who knows, this may be another Galaxy Note moment for Samsung.