How many times have you wished that your smartphone’s battery would last for more than a day of moderate use? A few Tweets, checking emails, browsing the web and using a a couple of apps is enough to drain your battery in next to no time. But Russian smartphone company Yota has just released the YotaPhone 2 which it claims is the world’s first dual-screen smartphone with a high-res AMOLED display on the front and a battery-sipping E-Ink display on the back, promising to make your battery last for days on a single charge.
Since the inception of the smartphone, the rear of the devices has been largely a wasted space – just look at the back of an iPhone 6 Plus, for example. In this article we take a closer look at the unique phone all the way from Russia.
The story of Yotaphone
The YotaPhone 2 is the first dual-screen phone to be released to the public. Actually, the Yotaphone 1 can probably claim those honours as it was demonstrated at CES in Las Vegas several years ago.
“Slim, powerful and beautiful, Yotaphone 2 combines Android familiarity with something that has never been accomplished before: two fully touch-enabled displays with two very different personalities.” – Yota
The original concept started development in 2010, shortly after which Russian president Dmitry Medvedev reportedly was shown the idea and concept. Later, in 2011 the functional prototype and business case was signed off by the investors, after which Yota Devices was spun off as a separate company from Yota. Also that year, a partnership was struck with an E-Ink manufacturer and production followed in 2012.
By 2013, the first version of Yotaphone was unveiled and made available for sale in Russia in Q3 of that year, followed by select international markets by the year end. Since then, the company has clearly been hard at work on the next version, updating the product to the second version within a year of the initial launch.
There is certainly no other phone quite like it, and if it proves a hit with consumers, it may be the first of many we’ll see that sport both front and back screens.
The front display of the YotaPhone 2 looks like a fairly normal smartphone that runs Android KitKat (no word yet when it might receive the Lollipop update however).
It’s a sizeable 5-inch AMOLED display with a full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution and 442 pixels per inch. Such displays tend to have very bright, saturated colours and the YotaPhone 2 is no exception.
But turn the phone over and you’ll immediately notice the rather unusual 4.7-inch back screen – it’s an always-on electronic paper display with 16 grey levels. However it’s also a touchscreen made using Gorilla Glass 3 with a 960 x 540 resolution at 235 pixels per inch. That’s not quite as high as the Amazon Kindle Voyage (300 pixels per inch) for example, a device which has a similar E-Ink screen.
But while Amazon’s Kindles are primarily intending for reading, the YotaPhone is much more versatile – the rear can be used to read your email, check Twitter and receive notifications. There’s a lot of flexibility in terms of how the two displays can be configured – for example you can choose to use the E-Ink display rather than the main one for maps, which only drains the battery by 1% per hour. In fact, there are a whole bunch of apps which never really need to be used on the main screen, since the rear is perfectly acceptable for more apps than you might think.
Because smartphones’ high resolution screens account for the majority of battery drain, the ability to turn it off on the YotaPhone is incredibly useful. The electronic paper display requires almost no power since it’s not emitting any light – however, the downside is that you can’t really use it in dim (or completely dark) conditions. That’s a small price to pay though for the flexibility and power-efficiency of the rear display.
The back screen is also completely customisable – for example, you can choose four “YotaPanels” and swipe between them just like standard Android home screens. These special panels allow you to pin items such as contacts, apps, and various phone functions (and even play chess, it is Russian after all)…
There is also a great selection of built-in widgets that come ready to use – weather, RSS, SMS, email and music for example. They pop into the grids you have created, and provide dozens of options to fine-tune and tweak their appearance and behaviour. If you’re worried about the security aspects of having an always-on screen, there’s a feature called “YotaCover” – a screensaver that only allows access to the phone, messages, email and notifications but doesn’t show any more details. A nice touch is the ability to customise this cover with pictures from social media accounts or stored locally on the phone itself.
We believe our technology 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 – Yota CEO, Vlad Martynov.
YotaPhone benefits and unique features
The E-Ink screen is admittedly a fairly innovative and useful feature, and one that will hopefully lead to some unique applications and perhaps a few surprising ways to use the device.
Apart from the obvious power-saving advantages, here’s a quick summary of the benefits of the YotaPhone 2 according to Yota:
- The Yota Always-On Display can drastically improve battery life, offering up to five days of e-book reading from a single charge. Ordinary Android phones also have power-saving modes, but Yotaphone 2 lasts up to three times longer based on usage that involves reading, messaging and calling. Reading on the Yota Always-On Display is up to 7x more power efficient than on the AMOLED HD screen.
- The Yota Always-On Display offers almost 180 degree viewing angles and excellent readability even in direct sunlight, making it easy to see and use any Android app while you’re outdoors.
- The Yota Always-On Display offers an “at-a-glance” view of what’s happening in your personal world, removing the need to constantly pick up, turn on and navigate to your emails, social networks or text messages. Just like a wristwatch, all you have to do is look and everything you need is available at first glance
- Yotaphone 2 is lightweight at only 145 grams. It’s also very slim (144 x 69.5 mm x 8.9 mm) and, with durable Gorilla Glass 3 on both sides, it is far from fragile. It’s a mobile device that is both useful and elegant.
In addition to the features listed above, Yota goes on to describe more of the phone’s key software features:
- YotaEnergy – This mode automatically switches all key functions, including calls and texts, to the Yota Always-On Display once battery life reaches 15%, providing another 8.5 hours of use.
- YotaMirror – You can use any Android application on the Yota Always-On Display. This includes everything from the most popular e-reading apps (such as Amazon Kindle) right through to messaging apps (like WhatsApp), music streaming apps (like Spotify) and any other activity that could benefit from superior battery life and readability.
- YotaSnap and “Life after death” – grab a crucial bit of information from the colour display – such as a map, meeting location, or the QR code from a travel ticket — and preserve it on your Yota Always-On Display. What’s more, you can hold this information on the screen even if your battery dies completely.
- YotaCover – Make your Yota Always-On Display private with a single tap. YotaCovers are user-designed photos and notifications that bring beauty and personalisation to your device without giving anything away to onlookers.
The battery life improvements are undoubtedly a huge benefit to smartphone users, but the YotaPhone’s features and applications also appear to have been carefully designed to make effective use of the rear display, rather than just using it as a gimmick.
Yotaphone 2 specifications
YotaPhone 2 is not necessarily the most powerful smartphone that you can buy today, however looking at the specifications it’s no slouch either. The processor is fairly decent, and the rest of the specs are competitive with other mid-range Android smartphones:
- A Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 2.2 Ghz quad-core processor
- 2GB RAM and 32GB eMMC
- An 8MP autofocus camera with LED flash (which can be used to take high-res “selfies” using YotaMirror)
- A front-facing 2MP camera.
- 4G/LTE, WiFi and Near Field Communications (NFC) connectivity
The YotaPhone 2 represents an attempt to create something truly original which hasn’t existed before – that’s definitely welcome in a smartphone market which is flooded with lookalikes and features that do little to distinguish between competing phones. After all, most smartphones these days look almost exactly the same and have almost identical capabilities.
For anyone interested in trying out the YotaPhone, it costs £555 in the UK (and around 700 Euros elsewhere in Europe) and is on sale now in 20 countries around Europe and the Middle East. The first YotaPhone store opened on 3rd December in Shoreditch, London, so you could always pop in for a hands-on session.
Let us know in the comments if you’ve used a YotaPhone 2 yet, and also what you think of the concept in general.