Yotaphone.

The YotaPhone is an example of one of the things we like the most about Android -- crazy hardware implemented in new and interesting ways. Dual-screen smartphones are nothing new -- recall the ill-fated Kyocera Echo of old. But Yota Devices' YotaPhone is the first we can recall that packs both a traditional LCD front and e-ink back, and today we went hands-on with the phone at Mobile World Congress. Both sides are coated in Corning Gorilla Glass 2, though the back has more of a matte texture to it. This gives the YotaPhone a unique appearance, which is accentuated by its slightly curved back.

Android Central at Mobile World CongressPowering the YotaPhone is a dual-core Snapdragon S4 CPU at 1.5GHz. Around the back is a 12MP camera, and the power button cleverly doubles as a SIM tray. On the software side, it's near-vanilla Jelly Bean running the show -- Yota's left the Android UI mostly intact. Both screens are 4.3 inches diagonally, and the LCD clocks in at 1280x720 pixels. As you'd expect from the vanilla Android UI running on an S4 chip, the UI is smooth and lag-free.

The phone's also lacking traditional Android buttons -- instead, button commands are activated based on gesture controls on a panel under the LCD. Swipe halfway from right to left to go back, all the way to go home, and long press the middle for the task-switcher. Similarly, you can copy images from the front screen to the rear by swiping from top to bottom with two fingers.

Certain apps, such as Calendar and Weather, can also run natively on the rear display, and there's an in-app button for transferring things to the rear screen. This means you're able to view content without burning through quite so much juice -- and it could also be useful for viewing certain types of information in bright sunlight.

The YotaPhone probably won't be a mass-market seller in the West, but it is an incredibly cool device nonetheless, playing to the strengths of both LCD and e-ink. We've got hands-on photos and a quick video demo after the break.

 

Reader comments

YotaPhone hands-on - gestures, e-ink and vanilla Android

29 Comments

Been using gWallet for waaaaay over a year. Who cares?!

JK...I'm sure of people do. NFC payments are a very cool feature. Gimicky? Definitely. Do I still get a kick from the "oos" and "ahhs" from cashiers etc? Hell yes! Although it did save my @ss once big time when I discovered I forgot my wallet when I was ~50 miles from home and out of gas.

BTW gWallet and passbook don't belong in the same sentence. Maybe ISIS. Passbook is like Key Ring.

This is a really cool device. I can see my self, almost, using this thing saving battery life.

For battery life, a phone that uses that space for a larger battery may be a better option. However, having notifications and a clock always on would be a real plus, as long as the display turns off when its held up to the ear to talk on the phone.

Not enough info in the article (can't hear the video yet). Is there a way to interact with the e-ink screen at all? I know touch may be out of the question but maybe a gesture area under the screen? I could see a lot of uses for the e-ink display (ereader, email, txt msgs) but the lack of any interaction may blow it for me. And I'm not sure how much battery saving this is going to do if you have to actively push content to the e-ink display. Also, I know it has gorilla glass but that doesn't mean the glass is impervious to scratching. I tend to lay my phone down on the side without a screen or, if something else is in my pocket, that side touches whatever else is there. How do you protect both screens?

The battery savings will come if you just have something on your phone that you want to see w/o refreshing the screen b/c e-ink displays only use up battery from refreshing an image. So, you can have an image of your boarding pass at the back of the phone the whole day w/o wasting a drop of battery. If you plan to use this as a Kindle, then you'd probably lose those savings.. if it even has the ability to interact w/ it in the first place.

Yes. I know how e ink works. But if the most useful, and yeah that's subjective, apps or even apps that could benefit most from the e ink aren't compatible, then you'll have to do a lot of flipping and sending pages to e ink to get use out of the display. That could potentially use more battery than just using the main screen for a shorter time.

I haven't wanted a device this bad since the dual flip Motorola MPx300 back in the mid-2000's. Ordered that one from Malasia at a huge premium since I new it wasn't coming to the States. Would consider doing the same with this device if it supports any US frequencies.

IMO replacing the on screen buttons with a huge gesture bezel doesn't make sense. the rear e-ink display makes no sense either.

while i applaud the effort - they are trying to solve problems that don't exist.

"they are trying to solve problems that don't exist."

that sums up all of technology.

on screen buttons takes up screen real estate, though I would rather have capacitive buttons. the eInk display is quite brilliant I think, if they can make it keep updating the time and showing weather then Id be happy.

IMO good technology solves existing problems and isn't just technology for technology's sake. is it innovation if no one buys it?

huge gesture bezel takes up space. i'd rather have a larger display on a proportionately sized phone. as far as the e-ink i don't see myself wanting to flip the phone over and over and back and forth again. however, an expandable flexible high res seamless color display would be interesting.

I could easily see myself buying this phone. I actually thought of this idea for a tablet like the Kindle Fire to become a better e-reader before I heard of this guy. As long as it's implemented well, I can easily see its advantages. For example, that boarding pass will stay on the e-ink display even after the battery dies. I also wouldn't have to turn on the LCD screen to check the time, my next appointment, or the weather.

Also, they didn't really show us this time any interaction on the e-ink side. There's actually a capacitive strip below the e-ink screen similar to the one below the LCD screen where you can flip pages and other things. Search for YotaPhone on YouTube to see it in action.

Additionally, if a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? As far as we know, yes, it does. By similar reasoning, it's still innovation even if no one buys it. It could be advertised poorly, for example.

Oh, and VANILLA ANDROID 4.2!!! (It's running on a "quad-core Qualcomm" CPU--hopefully meaning Snapdragon 600 or 800, but I could settle for S4 Pro.) Isn't this what most of us want? For readers of this site, that should be a big differentiating factor.

Oh, and this is a prototype. Other YouTube videos reveal they still have changes to make in both hardware and software. They're planning on releasing it in Q3 in Russia and Q4 internationally (possibly including the US), so they have time to get things just right. Remember last year how the Galaxy Note 10.1 was shown off at MWC 2012, then released months later after Samsung made some beneficial changes (adding an S Pen slot, for example)? Same deal, I reckon.

Besides your other fine points, did you not bother to read the article or is it incorrect? It states dual core S4...which is fine and capable...but not in the same league as the S4 Pro, 600, and certainly not 800.

I wouldn't say it's attempting to solve a nonexistent problem, I'd say it's presenting an alternative. The bezel doesn't look *huge*, it just takes up whatever space would have been used by buttons instead. Still, pressing buttons is a lot less tedious than scrolling your thumb across the screen :P

I think it would be great if someone could make an e-ink phone for those who don't care to have a "smart" phone, but would like basic functions like phone calls, email and books. All could be handled with e-ink and give a GREAT battery life.

Close. I'm thinking touchscreen for a full keyboard. Imagine a 4"-5" Paperwhite that can make calls and check email/text.

WANT! WANT! WANT! WANT! WANT! WANT! assuming it's implemented well ... but I'm the same guy that thought the Kyocera Echo was an excellent idea. (Though that WAS pretty poorly implemented.)

I'm not sure that I wouldn't just be hitting accidental stuff on the opposite side of the screen. Unless the e-reader side isn't touch active and it is just a display; might have missed that.

If it were possible, the only way a feature like this would be extremely useful to me would be if you could change display technologies on the same side. Obviously a harder task of course, but useful. Moreoever, it would really only be nice from my point of view for e-reader on tablet sized displays.