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Samsung is unveiling a suite of new devices today at the IFA technology show in Germany. The company recently invited Consumer Reports to its Galaxy Studio in New York City for a sneak peak at two new Note "phablet" smart phones and two wearable devices that all should be coming to the U.S., beginning in October. Below is our first look at Galaxy Note 4 and the curved-screen Galaxy Note Edge. Click here for our first look at the the Gear VR virtual-reality headset accessory and Gear S smart watch.
Aside from its new aluminum edges, the Note 4 looks very much like the Note 3. It’s negligibly larger and heavier, and the Super AMOLED display remains the same size, 5.7 inches. But that’s where the similarities end:
A better display. Samsung upped screen resolution from about 100 pixels per inch to 540ppi. Besides displaying sharper images, the higher resolution enables the Note 4 to function as a 3D display for the Galaxy VR headset, which it snaps into. The display is much more sensitive than the one on the previous model, making it easy to select text by dragging the S-Pen stylus over it.
Easier multitasking. The Note 4's updated MultiWindow tool can now shrink the windows of up to 16 open applications and arrange them on your desktop so that you can quickly jump back and forth between apps without switching screens. MultiWindow also promises to simplify app-to-app tasks such as dragging and dropping photos and other files from one app into another open app on the desktop.
Better battery. Samsung says the battery life on the Note 4 should be noticeably better than on the Note 3, which earned high scores in our tests, though the company declined to say how much better. Samsung also claims the Note 4 should be able to charge to 50 percent capacity in about 30 minutes when you use the 9-volt adapter that comes with the phone. You can also use a conventional 5-volt USB charger, but recharging will take longer. The Note 4 adds one more trick to extend battery life: Ultra Power Saving Mode, a feature introduced with the Galaxy S 5 that prolongs battery life by several days.
Sharper cameras. The Note 3 has one of the best smart phone cameras we’ve ever tested. Samsung said it made the Note 4’s camera better still by upping resolution from 13 megapixels to 16 and by adding an optical image stabilizer, which we know from our tests on other devices helps reduce blurriness with hand-held shots—especially under low-light conditions. There’s also an 8x digital zoom. Digitally zoomed images are rarely as good as their optical counterparts, but Samsung says it tackled this problem by interpolating multiple images to compose a zoomed shot with fewer distortions.
And Samsung has added special functionality for the selfie-obsessed. The Note 4 ups the resolution of its front-facing camera to 3.7 megapixels, and has a new panorama mode that allows you to get more friends—or more of the background—into the frame. In this mode, you aim the camera at yourself, then pan left and right. The camera then takes three pictures and stitches them into one wide-screen selfie.
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As it's name implies, the Note Edge has a display that curves off on the right side of the phone, forming a second ¼-inch-high display surface on the side of the phone. We've seen curved displays before, such as the one on the LG G Flex, but the Samsung Edge is the first we've seen that makes the screen's curve part of the user interface.
Although the “edge” screen is part of the phone’s main display (the wallpaper bleeds into it), it functions independently to keep notifications, controls, and frequently used apps close at hand, without interfering with what’s happening on the front screen. For example, it keeps the controls for the video player permanently on display in a way that doesn’t block what’s playing on the screen. Sliding your finger from one end of the edge to the other also changes views to frequently accessed apps, as well as a tool bar for utility widgets such as a flashlight, stop watch, and ruler.
There’s also a Night Clock app that uses just the edge portion of the screen to display the time, weather, and other info. You set the Night Clock app go to sleep after an interval of time to conserve battery life.
Using the Express Me app, you can convert any logo or photo into personalized strip for the edge display. Or you can download ready made edge strips from Samsung’s app store.
Aside from its curved screen, the Note Edge has the same capabilities and features as the Note 4, except that it doesn’t currently work with the Galaxy VR headset.
While Samsung has yet to reveal details on pricing and availability on these models, it says we can expect them to reach U.S. store shelves sometime in October. Stay tuned for our reviews of these phones in the coming weeks.