updated 05:01 pm EDT, Wed September 3, 2014
Is the Galaxy Note 4 or the Galaxy Note Edge the star of the show?
Samsung launched the next iteration of its Note phablet series today, the Galaxy Note 4, but that model's almost incremental updates weren't what stole the show here at the New York launch event, timed simultaneously with launches in Beijing and Berlin. Rather, the real excitement was generated by the newly-launched Galaxy Note Edge. Electronista got its hands on with both devices, and found a great deal to like about each, and some quibbles.
The two phones continue Samsung's trend favoring large screens, but they don't push the limits any further than we've already seen. The Note 4 did not boost its screen size from 5.7 inches. Rather, Samsung chose to boost the resolution on the Note 4, upping the screen to a Quad-HD 2560x1440-pixel resolution Super AMOLED display. As we saw on the Galaxy Tab S series, we noticed colors looked brighter and more realistic. Samsung didn't discuss battery life, but in theory the use of a Super AMOLED display should help improve the battery life. As for the size, while we might have liked a slightly larger display, presumably Samsung is approaching the limits of how much glass it can fit in a given display.
Beyond the display, the Note 4 boosts both rear and front-facing cameras, with a new image sensor that Samsung says has optical image stabilization. This could be a real boon for shooting images in low light, or even in bright light, as it will help remove the shake and jitter that's easy to introduce when capturing stills. However, any judgments on performance will have to wait for when we can perform objective tests.
The cameras do sound appealing, though. The Note 4 has a 16-megapixel rear-facing camera, and a front-facing 3.75-megapixel camera with a super-wide-angle lens. A new feature that was discussed at the IFA press event called for "wefies" -- selfies with everybody in them. This can now be accomplished similarly to panoramic shots, users can now pan the camera back and forth to get a panorama stitching-styled selfie that gets everyone into view.
In hand, the Note 4 feels about the same as the Note 3. The Note 4's design has been enhanced with an aluminum frame, giving it a bit of stiffness. The back is still made of plastic, though, but we liked that there was more texture to it. The phone gains many interface enhancements, and some features from the Tab S tablet series and the Galaxy S5 phone. For example, it has the same adaptive display technology (though buried under a menu option), and the same battery-saver feature. Plus, the new device gains the heart rate sensor and blood oxygen level sensor. Unfortunately, the Note 4 lacks the waterproofing of the Galaxy S5, which is odd, given the heavy rotation of commercials touting the feature on the Galaxy S5.
Galaxy Note 4
Meanwhile, the real star of the show was the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. The Edge's curved glass along the right-hand side is both eye-catching and functional. The glass technically adds 160 lines of resolution to the Edge's display, though it is normally used as a "second" display. The result is a handset that felt like no other we've handled. Granted, that extra space left us fumbling the phone occasionally when playing with it one-handed, but we found that the curved area worked well, and it didn't respond to our hand, just to our finger taps and swipes.
The included apps make a compelling case for the edge-driven design. Samsung declined to say how many apps would support the Edge glass at launch, but the company did launch a developers kit to get software developers working to support Edge's glass. On today's pre-production model, the company demoed a number of native apps -- like the camera, S Note, and video player -- that took advantage of the curve. Samsung also showed several apps that provided an example of why you'd want to use the curved edge for app controls or mini-versions of apps.
Galaxy Note 4
Beyond the Note Edge's curvature, the Note Edge's features and specs are nearly identically to the Note 4. There are slight differences in dimensions, and the Note Edge's display measures 5.6 inches to the Note 4's 5.7, but that's about it.
While we appreciated that Samsung brought its higher-resolution Super AMOLED display to the Note 4, we'd have liked to see the company eke out a smidge more in screen size (without growing the overall size of the device) with the use of smaller bezels and software trickery blocking out holding fingers. We'd also have liked to see dust and water resistance to at least the IP67 rating that the Galaxy S5 has. For this, and more, there's always next year's model.
Galaxy Edge - left side
The Note 4 will launch in the U.S. in October, with pricing to be announced by mobile carriers. The Note Edge will launch later this fall.