YotaPhone 2 review: An e-ink screen on the back of a phone: Audacious but expensive

Making your phone stand out in an increasingly crowded world of similar products isn’t easy. You can insert a laser into the camera, try curving the display around the edge as if the phone is melting, or in the case of the YotaPhone, squeeze a second display on the back.

The first YotaPhone it was definitely a novelty and its second e-ink display showed promise. Its poor quality and lack of compatible software meant it never really shone. Not willing to throw in the towel, the Russian phone maker is back with the second generation YotaPhone, the YotaPhone 2, would you believe it? – and has seen a lot of changes.

It has had a complete design overhaul, with better quality front and rear displays, a more powerful processor, and makes better use of the e-ink screen. It is available for pre-order in the UK and the rest of Europe from today directly from the company’s website. Launches are planned in the United States and Australia, but no official date has been confirmed.

It costs £ 550, SIM-free and unlocked, which converts directly to around $ 860 or AU $ 1,025. This places it squarely in the price range of the smartphone elite: successful phones like the iPhone 6, Samsung Galaxy S5 , Sony Xperia Z3 and LG G3. Fighting these guys is hard enough for established names, let alone an unknown Russian brand. Its rear screen certainly makes it unique in the smartphone world – which is no small feat – but is it enough to justify its high price?

Two screens

The whole point of the YotaPhone 2’s existence is the second display on the back. It uses e-ink technology, which is not backlit like typical LCDs and only uses power when it refreshes what’s on the screen. It is therefore incredibly energy efficient. You’ll find e-ink screens on Amazon’s Kindles, whose batteries can last up to a month on a single charge.

On the YotaPhone, the idea is to use the LCD for activities like browsing the web, sending text messages, playing games or watching videos, and the e-ink side for reading e-books or other long pieces. of text. Not using the LCD for long periods will save energy, and since e-ink screens don’t use backlighting, it should be easier on the eyes too. At least, that’s the theory.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

The YotaPhone 2’s e-ink display has improved over its predecessor in both display quality and what it can do. It has a resolution of 960×540 pixels, compared to the measly 640×360 pixels of the predecessor, which helps make text sharper and easier to read. However, it still has problems.

Its biggest problem is with “ghosting”. When the display updates the content, a faint trace of the previous screen is left. Although YotaPhone has stated that this is a bug in the software and it will be fixed, it was also an issue on the first model, so my hopes are not high for a big improvement here. I will update this review if an update arrives that fixes the problem.

The rear screen has three main modes: YotaCover, which acts as a lock screen, displaying images from your gallery; an Android-like set of four home screens with widgets for weather, favorite contacts and app icons; and a mode where it simply shows the same Android interface you see on the LCD side.

Programming the rear screen is done almost entirely using the Yota Manager app, which can be very complicated to use. You need to tap a lot, sometimes at random, trying to find small settings icons to select just the app icons or contacts you want to view. I also found that even after setting up my Twitter account, it still wasn’t showing any recent tweets on the Twitter widget, which I would have liked it to remain visible.

The e-ink screen is fully touch-enabled (unlike its predecessor), so you can swipe on Android as you normally would. It’s a lot less responsive than the LCD screen and a lot less sharp, so it’s not good for quick texting or emailing, but it does offer more functionality to the rear display than its predecessor. The main attraction is that you can use apps like Kindle, Kobo, or Google Books, giving you access to a much larger selection of literature than is available using just Yota’s e-book service.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

By pressing and holding the Home button on the LCD side you can instantly take a screenshot of everything on the screen and view it on the rear panel. It will stay there until you replace it, even if your phone’s battery drains completely. If you are going to an unfamiliar pub with a 2% battery and need to save driving directions, you can take a Google Maps photo and keep it on the back for reference. Manageable.

The simple ability to use Android out of the box makes the YotaPhone 2’s e-ink screen considerably more useful than its predecessor’s, but it still has a lot of room for improvement, particularly with ghosting issues, making widgets easier to customize and improving. the appearance of Android mode, which is still far from crystal clear.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle is simply learning how to use it and figuring out which of your daily activities can be done on the rear display, thus using less battery power. In that sense, there’s a steep learning curve and chances are you won’t see an immediate benefit in using the rear screen unless you’re particularly keen on reading e-books on a small phone, instead of a reader. dedicated e-book.

Main display

However, it’s not just about the e-ink screen – there’s still a regular LCD display on the front. It’s a 5-inch affair with a Full HD resolution (1,920×1,080 pixels). This provides a pixel density of 440ppi, which is enough to make the display extremely sharp. Icons and text are displayed clearly and high definition images have great clarity.

It is also bright and has strong colors. The black levels are beautiful and deep, which results in great contrast. It’s an impressive screen overall, good at showing the basics of Twitter and Facebook as it displays glossy Netflix shows and your photo collection.

Design

The YotaPhone 2 has undergone a significant design overhaul over its predecessor. It looks and feels noticeably more refined. The boxy and boxy design has disappeared, replaced with a more attractive oval shape. Instead of leaning in the middle of the phone, the back panel is slightly curved, making it very comfortable to hold.

It’s still pretty basic, but I feel it works in the YotaPhone’s favor – it hasn’t tried to clutter up any of the sides with unnecessary additions like chrome edges or fancy metal-effect grilles. Instead, it looks very functional. The front glass panel is intact except for the speaker. It is also completely flat and runs all the way to the edge of the body, which I like. At 145mm long and 69mm wide, it’s not big enough to be bulky to use and at 145 grams (5.1 oz), it’s not too heavy either.

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