Few smartphones -- outside the range of devices from Apple, Samsung and other major electronics makers -- ever make it to market without being turned down for being too gimmicky or having low quality.
The YotaPhone 2 by Russian smartphone maker Yota Devices is different. For the company that launched the first YotaPhone, having two heads, or more specifically having two faces, is much better than one. The premium-priced YotaPhone 2 is not one's ordinary high-end Android smartphone. On the front panel is a 5-inch 1920 x 1080 high-definition AMOLED display. On the back is a slightly smaller 4.7-inch 16-level grayscale e-ink display.
"This is much more powerful than YotaPhone 1," says Yota Devices Vlad Martynov. "It looks nicer; there is a wider variety of 'what you can do' and it's a lot more interactive if you want to dive deeply into your content. The touchscreen makes it easy. They are optimized for the electronic paper and while there is an out-of-the-box preset, everything is customizable."
For many customers, Martynov says the first dual-screen YotaPhone was a "proof of concept." As the market jumped in and provided Yota Devices with the much-needed feedback to launch the second YotaPhone, the company's idea quickly grew into a tangible product, with demand growing not just in Russia but also in Europe.
Both screens are protected by a tough layer of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. While the front display also offers all the standard functionalities of any old smartphone screen, the second screen is what opens an entire world of possibilities for users. One of the obvious reasons to get an e-ink screen smartphone is the ability to read books on the paper-like display, the same technology that made Amazon's Kindle e-readers a niche on their own.
However, it's not just the e-reader functionality that makes the YotaPhone 2 a device worth more than a cursory glance. The e-paper display gives the phone's 2,500 mAh battery, which would have been considered meager if it only had the front LCD display, a boost. Because the e-ink second screen uses up seven times less than the regular display, it can serve as an always-on screen for notifications and information that change regularly, such as the time, weather and even a map for users on the go.
With YotaPhone Mirror, which allows users to transpose an entire Android screen to the e-ink display, they can do pretty much everything on the second display, including browse the web, read emails and play Yota-provided games, such as chess, Sudoku and checkers, but without quickly running out of battery the way they normally would during heavy use on the LCD screen.
"Our custom applications all use the second display for 'always on' functionality, but not every feature or facility is available," says Martynov. "There is now the opportunity for any application to be made available on the back screen, even if it's not perfectly optimized.
Combined with YotaEnergy, which does things such as dim the LCD, turn off Bluetooth, and reduce clock speed to encourage the use of e-ink, the Mirror is a great way for users to save up on energy when their phones run out and they don't have a charger nearby. Martynov says the YotaPhone 2 can last up to two days on combined LCD and e-ink screen usage and up to five days as an e-reader.
The phone's panel is not actually black, but a dark color that was chosen to match the color of e-ink, making the second screen an attractive way to customize the phone's back panel. Users could, for instance, display album art on the second screen while playing music on their YotaPhones.
Under the hood, the YotaPhone 2 is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 SoC with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. On the rear panel is an 8 MP camera with LED flash paired with a decent-enough 2.1 MP front-facing camera. It has all the sensors one would expect from a high-end smartphone, including an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, ambient light sensor and a proximity sensor. It runs on Android KitKat but will receive the full Lollipop treatment in the future.
The only thing that is holding it back from being fully integrated into a saturated smartphone market, however, is the massive price tag that goes with it. In the United Kingdom where it was unveiled, the YotaPhone 2 costs £555, or approximately $870. With that amount, users can buy an LG G3 or an Xperia Z3 and a Kindle Paperwhite and still have some money left over for the week's groceries.