What do you do with a smartphone? Chances are you read on it more than anything, looking at texts, email, tweets, webpages, and the like.
What’s the best display tech for reading? E Ink is hands down the best as it is extremely similar to ink on paper, which is why it’s the preferred tech of the number #1 reading device on the market, the Amazon Kindle.
So it seems like an E Ink smartphone makes a ton of sense on paper. At least that’s what the folks at E Ink were thinking when developing the novel YotaPhone series with Yota, a Russian broadband service.
Now in its second iteration, the YotaPhone differentiates itself from the rectangular pack with its rear panel. Whereas most phones have branding and a camera lens, the YotaPhones have an E Ink panel and a camera lens. With the YotaPhone 2, the E Ink panel can be customized with various information widgets, or be used as a direct mirror of the Android 4.4 display on the front LCD panel of the smartphone.
Yes, it’s a full-on Android smartphone with full array of Google services, and that rear E Ink panel also supports touch. So, anything you can do in Android, you can now do in E Ink.
E Ink Limitations
Of course, there are limitations. The E Ink side refreshes roughly as quick as a Kindle turns pages, about 0.12 seconds, meaning there is a noticeable delay between any taps, swipes, and the resulting Android action, like opening a web page. It means video is out of the question, as are most games. But texting, typing, and even calling can all be done in E Ink, as can reading. In fact that’s its specialty. Load up the Android Kindle app and you have yourself a 4.7-inch eReader.
The phone itself falls in line with the mid-tier models of the day. It measures 5.7 x 2.7 x 0.35 inches and weighs a hair less than 5 ounces. Its front 5-inch LCD sports a 1920 x 1080 resolution, while the rear 4.7-inch E Ink display has a 960 x 540 resolution. It has a 2.3 GHz quad-core CPU, which Yota reps claimed is a Snapdragon unit, though couldn’t state which one specifically, along with 2 GB of RAM. It has 32 GB of internal capacity, but no expandable storage. It has an 8-megapixel rear shooter, and 2-megapixel front-facing camera.
Now here’s the rub. It’s expensive. Too expensive for those specs. As it’s not available via carries in the US (at least not yet), buyers have to get it unlocked overseas, where it runs upwards of $840 US. Thankfully, it does support LTE, and the demo we tried was on the AT&T network.
It also has some slight design kinks that need to be ironed out. An active rear panel kills any chance for a standard protective case. Even though the YotaPhone 2 is coated in Gorilla Glass, its edges and corners are ripe for bumps and scrapes. And at $840, you’ll want this thing to last.
Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the YotaPhone 2 has an incredibly innovative and useful design, especially when one considers battery life. Turning to Android-on-E Ink mode, which also blanks the LCD display, will extend a battery not by hours, but by days as E Ink only consumes power when the display refreshes. Yes, the background processes and wireless antenna will also suck the juice, but we’d still put the YotaPhone 2 against the Motorola Droid Turbo or any other power sipper.