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Living with Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge in an S6 world

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I was torn this past winter. I knew the Galaxy S6 was imminent and that there'd likely be a model with a curved screen, but I was dying to see what it was like to live with its bigger precursor, the Galaxy Note Edge. Would I feel a twinge of regret when the shiny new Samsung handset arrived, even if the older phone still had some advantages? There was only one way to find out. I spent a few weeks with the Note Edge to see not just whether I would enjoy that uniquely shaped screen on its own terms, but whether it would still hold its own against the faster, curvier Galaxy S6 Edge.

Gallery: Samsung's Galaxy Note Edge half a year later | 13 Photos

Things didn't look good for the Note Edge at first -- the S6 Edge has a nicer design, hands down. While I prefer the texture of the Note's leather-like plastic back over the S6's glass, that's offset by an asymmetrical shape that's awkward to hold no matter which hand you use. When you combine that with the larger size, it's hard to get a firm grip on the Note without grabbing the screen. There were more than a few times when I worried the device would fly out of my hands, like when I was taking a bumpy bus ride or walking on a less-than-dry sidewalk. The S6 Edge may have two curves instead of one, but its smaller dimensions make it decidedly easier to keep in my palm.

As you probably know, though, the Note Edge has an ace in the hole: expansion. I didn't have a burning need for either microSD storage or a removable battery, since I stream a lot of music and have an external battery in case I need a top-up. Still, it was hard to deny the appeal of adding more storage down the road, or swapping batteries during a long workday. And of course, I can't talk about a Note without mentioning the pen. I only used it once in a blue moon, but it was nice to have for sketching an idea or copying an image.

Performance was a tougher call. The Note Edge may no longer be the most powerful phone in Samsung's roster, but it was still exceptional. The interface was typically glass-smooth, with only the very occasional stutter. And this is the first Samsung camera that I've truly been happy with. Unlike the Galaxy S5, the Note Edge snaps low-light photos I'd be glad to show to friends; I could count on good photos in most conditions. Don't pick up an S6 Edge in hopes of getting a major camera upgrade, then. About my only performance-related gripe with the Note is a battery that doesn't last much longer than a day, which is disappointingly mediocre given the 450mAh capacity improvement over the smaller phone.

Samsung Galaxy Note Edge

Unfortunately, the Note Edge falls down in terms of software -- you know, the one area where it most needs to excel. There's technically more functionality than you get on the S6 Edge, such as alerts, news tickers and shortcuts, but it isn't much of a time-saver in practice. For example, the playback controls are frequently less convenient, not more. I had to swipe the strip two or three times to take a look at music in Sonos or Spotify, while either is just a single flick from the status bar. And sometimes, those edge screen features actually worked against me -- notifications partly obscured running apps, and it was too easy to snap photos by accident with the awkwardly placed shutter button.

It's this clunkiness that ultimately left me disillusioned with the Note Edge, as much as I wanted to like it. Simply put, it felt like the experiment that it is, an exploration of what works (or in this case, doesn't work) with curved screens. The S6 Edge wins out not just because it's easier to hold and has newer components, but because it's more honest about why you'd want curves in the first place: It's about cool looks first, and any extra functionality is merely icing on the cake. While the Note Edge is still very capable, I'd rather get the plainer Galaxy Note 4 or "settle" for the smaller S6 Edge.

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