In Depth

YotaPhone 2 review: the e-ink phone with two screens

Reviewers 'wowed' by two-screen YotaPhone 2, with a battery-saving e-ink reader on the back

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Apple and Samsung have a new Russian rival: the two-faced YotaPhone 2, which has a regular backlit touchscreen on the front, and a Kindle-style e-ink reader on the back.

The recent crop of handsets from the big smartphone players has offered larger displays, better cameras and more storage, but with the YotaPhone 2, the Russian company has "brought something mythical to the mix," says Forbes's Ewan Spence.

But is the handset anything more than just a gimmick?

Two screens

With "perfect pre-Christmas timing" YotaPhone has come up with "one of the most intriguing devices on the market," The Verge's Vlad Savov says.

The five-inch Amoled front screen is little different from those on most Android handsets, and with its sleek black curves and elegant design the device "looks the part of a modern smartphone". Without its rear screen the phone would be a "perfectly competent mid-range device", the reviewer says. But when you flip the YotaPhone 2 over, it offers something different.

Its 4.7-inch rear display offers a touch-responsive e-ink screen with a broad range of functions, including email, text messaging, social media, games and e-books that can be operated without having to activate the power-sapping front display.

What this means is that the device has a greatly extended battery life: YotaPhone delivers over 50 hours of battery life when reading on the rear display, the Daily Telegraph says.

Yota CEO, Vlad Martynov says that the new phone "constitutes an entirely new species of mobile device, not just by integrating a power efficient electronic paper display but by making two screens work in harmony."

Bespoke apps

Any Android application can be used on either of YotaPhone 2's screens. But the device has several bespoke applications that have been optimised for its rear screen, including the three main programs that drive it: YotaCover, YotaPanel and YotaMirror.

YotaCover allows users to set up wallpaper or a carousel of pictures to display on the device's rear screen, including images taken directly from social media services such as Facebook.

YotaPanel is a series of widgets that deliver instant information such as message notifications, weather updates, calendar appointments and music player information.

YotaMirror is the system that allows the device to directly reflect any application onto its e-ink screen, "mirroring" them straight onto its rear face. This works well with some applications such as Amazon Kindle for Android, but less well for more complicated apps and games.

Two sides to the story

Most early reviewers agree that the e-ink screen comes with some downsides, such as its slow response time. The screen does not refresh instantly but takes a moment to update, making for a bumpier experience than a familiar phone screen.

The handset is also powered by a slightly older Snapdragon 800 processor, with 2GB of Ram, meaning it performs slightly slower than some of its immediate rivals. And with no micro-SD slot, the 32GB of internal storage cannot be augmented with extra memory – unlike the HTC One M8 or Samsung Galaxy S4.

Verdict

Like all multipurpose devices, the YotaPhone 2 "has its issues", says Savov, but unlike most phones, "those compromises are not enough to quell my enthusiasm. There’s something legitimately new here, and it’s done well enough to make me want to use it regularly."

Valentino Palladino says on tomsguide.com that the new phone is an "eye-catching handset" that will "stun your friends while saving battery life".

The main problem that the phone will have to overcome is its price, Savov says, noting that at £555 it is more expensive than an Xperia Z3 plus a Kindle. But, he adds, even though the YotaPhone 2 is expensive, "it is also unique".

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