The YotaPhone breaks a lot of new ground with its dual display design, opening up a lot of new opportunities for users. With a regular LCD display on one side and an e-ink panel of equal size on the other, the YotaPhone could well be the ultimate smartphone device for many out there; well, theoretically at least. The device isn’t exactly cheap either, having already gone on sale in select European countries for a cool 499 Euros, though it’s not known when it’s going to land in the US.
One question that is on top of everyone’s mind is whether the YotaPhone is as good as it claims. The device comes close, but leaves some space for improvement. To begin with, the device lacks the sleek shine of many of its ilk. Instead, the YotaPhone comes across as a chubby device with thick bezels that give it somewhat of a budget smartphone look.
The lack of the typical Android set of buttons along the front makes things look clean and interesting, though it also requires the user to use a few swiping actions to get going. A right swipe is needed to reach home, while a left swipe accomplishes what the back button does. To see recent apps, one will have to double tap on the display. Similarly, a swipe down using two fingers will take a screenshot of the display and transfer it to the rear display. The gesture controls might be a little disappointing to Android loyalists, which is further amplified by the fact that the swipe pads can be unresponsive at times.
This takes us straight to the most interesting aspect of the device, the secondary e-ink panel along the rear. Unfortunately, being used to the likes of the Amazon Kindles, the rather low 640 x 360 pixel e-ink panel leaves a lot to be desired. Text can be fuzzy to hardly readable at times on the display that has been fetched from the front LCD panel.
However, reading ebooks can be satisfactory, though not the best. The biggest issue here is that the e-ink panel is bogged with ghost images, with a faint image of the previous display lingering. If that is not enough, the lack of adequate ebook reading apps can be telling. While popular ebook reading apps such as Kindle or Kobo can be downloaded on the device, the same won’t work with the e-ink display. Instead, those who’d like to read books will have to make do with the Bookmate app, and it suffers from a very limited collection. There aren’t many apps currently available that can make the most of the e-ink panel, though the notepad that the device comes with can be pretty handy.
These issues however cannot dent the biggest advantage that the e-ink panel has to offer, that of its power saving credentials. The display can hold an image all day long without draining the battery and the rear e-ink panel can also be handy for checking email, notifications, and incoming messages without having to wake up the phone, thus saving power. The e-ink panel also allows for reading just as comfortably in bright sunlight conditions as it would indoors, adding tremendous flexibility to the device.
As for the front LCD 1,280 x 720 pixel display, things are pretty much the same as can be expected of a device running Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean except that its controls require getting used to. The dual core chip rated at 1.7 GHz does a good job at keeping things quick and peppy though it doesn’t have the more advanced quad core chips.
In the end, what can be said is that it’s still a work-in-progress. The YotaPhone needs to be fine-tuned before it can deliver a complete and enriching user experience. While the device as a whole needs a fresh and thorough once over, the rear e-ink panel will definitely benefit from more third party apps being developed to make the most of it, something that is practically non-existent right now. As things stand right now, there isn’t much that can be done with the e-ink side of the YotaPhone even though it does have the potential of being a pretty handy ebook reading device.