IRL: Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge isn't great for lefties

I've been using my phone upside-down for the last two weeks. I didn't lose a bet, nor am I carrying out some weird social experiment. I'm doing it because I hold my phones left-handed, and that's the only way I can comfortably use the Samsung Galaxy Note Edge. With a screen that wraps around the right side of the phone, the Edge is the only smartphone I've used where being a righty or lefty has had a direct impact on my purchase decision; to a lefty, it's uncomfortable and inconvenient to use, and you're better off sticking with its close relative, the Galaxy Note 4. Here's why.

The curved part of the Edge's display works as a notification bar, shortcut menu, clock and information ticker, all of which you can access using swipe gestures with your thumb. This can be quite useful if you hold the phone with your right hand, because the curve nestles naturally into the palm and provides easy access for your thumb. The left side of the Edge, much like the Note 4, is flat and offers a solid grip for your fingers. When you hold the device in your left hand, however, your thumb simply won't reach to the other side of the display without one heck of a stretch, and the point where the curve and the back meet is incredibly sharp and isn't something you want to hold for more than a few minutes at a time.

Recognizing that this isn't an ideal situation for lefties, Samsung came up with a solution: Turn the phone upside-down, and the screen rotates 180 degrees. This makes the handset much better to hold in your left hand. Problem is, that's about as much as Samsung was willing to compromise, because this phone suffers from several basic usability issues that will drive most users insane.

Samsung came up with a solution: Turn the phone upside-down.

The first and most important factor is making calls. Unless you want to use the speakerphone every time you ring someone up, you have to flip the device around so the speaker goes up to your ear. The incoming call UI doesn't orient 180 degrees either, so you're faced with an upside-down interface anytime you receive a call. For the same reason, it's not even practical when you're on speakerphone: The dialer app flips back to regular orientation as soon as the call begins.

Another issue is the arrangement of the physical buttons. The power key is on the bottom left of the device, the volume rocker is close to the bottom part of the right side, and the home button, capacitive soft keys, micro-USB connector and S Pen holster are on top. None of these are in a convenient location, and many of them are difficult to place somewhere that makes sense for both orientations (the holster and navigation keys come to mind).

Fortunately, lefties don't have to reach all the way up to the top of the device to navigate to home, back and recent apps. Samsung added a virtual tab that you can slide out from the bottom of the screen by swiping up from the bottom. Sadly, there's no way to leave it on the screen permanently, so you have to coax it out of its hiding place every time you want to use it. And when the screen is off, you'll need to hit the physical home or power buttons to pull up the lockscreen. If there's any better reason to add tap-to-wake functionality to your phone -- not to mention replace physical keys with a virtual navigation bar -- I can't think of one.

It's like patching up a flesh wound with a Hello Kitty Band-Aid.

But it's not just a matter of where the buttons are situated; their functionality is affected as well. When the phone is upside-down, I shouldn't have to remember that the volume up button is on the bottom and the volume down button is on top. And if you insist on using the camera in portrait mode (pro tip: don't), you'll find its location often gets obscured by your hand.

The Galaxy Note Edge is a solid first-generation device that showcases the latest and greatest display technology, but I can't recommend it for anyone who holds phones in their left hand. While it's possible to use the Note Edge this way, it's nowhere close to ideal. Samsung's solution for lefties is like patching up a flesh wound with a small Hello Kitty Band-Aid: It's the right idea, but the wrong implementation.