YotaPhone 2 review: Russia’s dual-screen smartphone impresses with rear-facing e-ink display

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 December, 2015, 7:27pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 December, 2015, 5:15pm

The YotaPhone 2, a smartphone created by Russia’s Yota Devices, never fails to draw a second glance whenever one uses it in public. The dual-screen phone sets itself apart from the rest of the Android smartphone pool by featuring an always-on, e-ink screen on the back of the smartphone.

The phone went on sale in mainland China back in May and is now being heavily promoted in the run-up to Christmas. It was re-released in Hong Kong in November after a previous attempt to launch it in the city was aborted after just one month at the end of 2014.

Hong Kong’s REX Global signed an agreement to purchase a majority stake in Yota Devices for US$100 million this October, and the company said it has plans to take its upcoming YotaPhone devices to the mainstream in Asia.

Compared to the likes of Samsung and Apple, the YotaPhone 2 may still be fairly unknown to the rest of the world. But in Russia and China, the phone catapulted to fame about one year ago when Russian President Vladimir Putin presented President Xi Jinping with two YotaPhone 2s in November.

READ MORE: Russia’s Yota Devices sees partnership with China’s ZTE on next dual-screen YotaPhone as means to supersize fan base

From video footage, Putin demonstrated to Xi the dual-screen capabilities, and Xi looked understandably fascinated by the device. This reporter got her hands on a YotaPhone review unit and it is not difficult to see what piqued Xi’s curiosity.

In Russia and China, the phone catapulted to fame when Russian President Vladimir Putin presented President Xi Jinping with two YotaPhone 2s

From the front, the YotaPhone 2 looks like a regular Android smartphone. The front of the phone has no unique details to speak of, and simply sports rounded edges. Weighing in at 145g and topped with Corning Gorilla glass 3, the YotaPhone 2 has a good heft to it. Its rounded back is ergonomically designed and fits well in the hand.

But flip the phone around and that’s when the YotaPhone 2 truly starts to stand out. The e-ink screen, similar to those that you get on your Kindle, allows users to personalise the back of the phone with a photograph, or serves as a second screen where you can put up widgets.

For example, users can choose to place widgets such as weather, clock, messages or e-mail on the e-ink screen. The best part about the e-ink screen is that it’s always turned on, which allows one to glance quickly at the screen for any new updates without having to constantly unlock the primary LCD screen.

Another excellent function of the e-ink screen is for reading. The YotaPhone 2’s e-ink screen makes for a better reading experience, be it for long e-mails or an e-book. Yota Devices has developed a suite of apps to cater to the phone, including its own Yota Reader app that comes pre-loaded with e-books.

E-ink screens are superior to LCD screens for reading because they are less straining on the eyes, and allows one to read fairly comfortably in bright sunlight.

Another benefit of the e-ink screen is the ability to activate YotaPhone 2’s Yota Mirror mode. The Yota Mirror mode allows users to duplicate whatever app is on the regular LCD screen for use on the e-ink screen.

This means that you can choose to type e-mails, or even surf Instagram and your Facebook News Feed on the e-ink screen if you want your device to last longer on its 2500 mAh battery, since the e-ink screen is considerably more battery-saving than a back-lit LCD screen.

However, just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. The reaction of an e-ink screen to swipes and typing is much slower than that of an LCD screen, so it is best to use the front-facing AMOLED screen for usual typing and surfing activities, and the e-ink screen for reading books and longer documents.

The front-facing screen is a 5-inch AMOLED screen with a resolution of 1920 x 1080. The colours are rich and a joy to look at, and the quad-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 processor and 2GB of RAM gives little to no lag when using the device. With regular use of both the LCD screen and the e-ink screen, the 2500 mAh phone battery lasts slightly over a day.

However, the YotaPhone 2 comes with 32GB of storage without the option of external storage, such as a microSD card slot. Power users who store many photographs and apps on their mobile devices may want to choose a smartphone with more flexible storage options.

YotaPhone 2 comes with Android 4.4 KitKat out of the box, but the Android 5.0 Lollipop updates have also been rolled out for the device so users can update the smartphone almost immediately.

The device does occasionally have an overheating problem, especially with heavy usage or syncing. The YotaPhone 2 is currently being sold at Expansys in Hong Kong at HK$3,488, and this fairly expensive price tag is going to be what puts off potential customers from purchasing the YotaPhone 2.

The YotaPhone 2 may be novel with its secondary screen, but at the end of the day it is still a niche feature that will appeal to few unless the price of the YotaPhone 2 drops. With more affordable phones by Xiaomi and OnePlus on the market, consumers may choose to opt for a cheaper option and deal with just one screen.