YotaPhone 2 review: Novel, but expensive, dual-screen smartphone

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good
  • $863.00

Pros

  • Second e-ink screen delivers extra information and enables battery-saving mode
  • Good hardware design
  • Decent specification
  • Great sound quality

Cons

  • No Micro-SD card slot
  • Relatively low-resolution e-ink screen
  • Non-backlit e-ink screen is unreadable in the dark
  • Expensive

The original YotaPhone appeared towards the middle of 2014 and was a first: a handset with two screens -- one colour and one monochrome e-ink. We were impressed with the concept, but clear that the device needed refining to be really useful. The Russian development team has now come up with the YotaPhone 2, which is a much better proposition than its predecessor. However, it remains expensive at £555 inc. VAT (£462.50 ex. VAT), and this is likely to limit its appeal.

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The YotaPhone 2 has a 5-inch colour AMOLED screen and a 4.7-inch e-ink screen on the back. Image: Yota Devices

The basic premise of offering two screens on a handset is a good one. The colour screen does all the usual Android smartphone stuff, while the 16-greyscale e-ink screen offers a range of extra features.

Both screens are protected by Corning's extra-durable Gorilla Glass 3. The e-ink screen delivers 540 by 960 pixels in a 4.7-inch panel (235ppi), while the main screen is a 5-inch colour AMOLED with a resolution of 1,080 by 1,920 pixels (442ppi). The latter is perfectly good enough for the usual smartphone activities such as email, web browsing, video watching and so on.

The e-ink screen is always on, and responds to screen taps and sweeps just like the main colour screen. There several 'YotaApps' designed for the always-on screen, including games (chess, checkers and Sudoku), an RSS reader, a calculator and the Yota Reader for DRM-free ebooks. You can also mirror anything on the colour screen to the e-ink one using a service called YotaMirror, which you access by holding down the home touch-button.

We installed the Kindle app and read purchased ebooks on the always-on e-ink screen. It isn't as good an experience as our old Kindle Paperwhite and nowhere near as good as the new Kindle Voyage, but it's good enough, and less power hungry than using the Kindle app on the colour screen. It's not backlit, however, so you won't be able to read it in the dark.

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The e-ink screen can also display a range of different interactive widgets, which you can customise via the colour screen using a utility called YotaHub. These widgets are effectively a lock screen with alerts, and you don't have to power up the handset to see these.

You can also take a screenshot of any screen via a second dedicated button that shows when you hold down the home button.

This is quite a comprehensive set of features, and one of the plus points of the YotaPhone 2 is that the e-ink screen consumes almost no power, only drawing from the 2,400mAh battery when it's refreshing the display. This can really help extend battery life while still showing meaningful information. That's potentially useful in any handset, and could be very handy here as we only got average battery life when using the colour screen (the spec sheet claims 4.4 hours wi-fi web browsing, 5.5h video watching). When the YotaPhone 2 is employed as an e-reader, using the e-ink screen only, the battery life claim is 109 hours.

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You can configure a custom e-ink screen to activate when the battery reaches a certain level, providing access to a basic feature set. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

A utility called YotaEnergy gives you some granular control of what apps will do when the battery reaches a set level: there are presets at 5, 10 and 15 percent, and you can also configure a custom setting. You can even set up a special e-ink screen panel to kick in at a low battery point, to provide access to a few basic features, including the phone dialer. This could prove useful if you find yourself low on charge with no mains socket or battery charger to hand. As a test we switched into this mode with 63 percent charge remaining, whereupon the e-ink panel told us we had 18 days' battery life remaining.

The handset supports wireless charging, and given the two-screen design, you obviously can't get the back off to swap the battery.

In terms of physical design, the YotaPhone 2 is streets ahead of the original model. The build quality is better, and it looks and feels much more like a 'real' handset and less like a prototype. The e-ink face is curved slightly, which helps with grip, although it's also very slippery. The curvature doesn't have a negative effect on the always-on screen's readability.

The YotaPhone 2 is 8.9mm thick, which is impressive given that it has to accommodate a second screen. There's a lot of bezel above and below both screens, which makes this a relatively tall phone given the screen sizes. The full dimensions are 69.4mm by 144.9mm by 8.95mm, and the phone weighs in at 145g. For comparison, the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 measures 67mm by 138.1mm by 6.9mm and weighs 129g.

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When you're taking a picture with the main 8-megapixel camera, the e-ink screen encourages the subject to smile. Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

The bezel above the e-ink screen houses the 8-megapixel main camera and an LED flash. There's also a 2-megapixel camera on the colour-screen side. Both produce reasonably good photos, and, as with the original YotaPhone, the e-ink side can be set to show a screen that encourages your subjects to smile.

The Nano-SIM lives in a housing that doubles up as the volume rocker -- an unusual arrangement, but not a problematic one. The power switch sits beneath this on the right edge of the handset (with the colour screen facing you).

The YotaPhone 2's core specifications are good enough to ensure efficient operation. Unskinned Android 4.4 (KitKat) is powered by a 2.2GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor and 2GB of RAM. This is a 4G (LTE) handset with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC and GPS.

There's 32GB of internal storage, but no MicroSD expansion slot. Our review handset had 25GB free. The handset will read data from USB storage, and we successfully played video and music from a USB stick with a Micro-USB connector.

A pair of speakers sit on the bottom edge flanking the Micro-USB port. Audio quality is good, although not outstanding, and doesn't drop much in quality as you rack up to the (pretty loud) highest volume. As handset sound goes, this is on the decent side and we'd happily use the handset as a portable audio player (internal storage and battery life permitting).

Conclusion

Handsets that truly break the mould are few and far between, but that's precisely what the YotaPhone 2 does. This second-generation model is a significant advance from the original, and proves that the dual-screen concept definitely has potential.

But even if you're attracted to the e-ink screen and its battery-saving potential, the YotaPhone 2 is still an expensive option.

Specifications

Phone Features
Phone Functions Speakerphone, call timer, conference call, flight mode, vibrating alert
Sensors Accelerometer, ambient light sensor, proximity sensor, digital compass, gyro sensor
Cellular
Technology WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM
Application Software Gmail, Google Chrome, YotaNotes, YotaReader, YotaSnap
Type smartphone (Android OS)
Integrated Components FM radio, front-facing camera, navigation, rear-facing camera, voice recorder
Navigation A-GPS, GLONASS
Band WCDMA (UMTS) / GSM 850/900/1800/1900
Mobile Broadband Generation 4G
Phone Form Factor touch
Form Factor Details dual screen
Service Provider not specified
Operating System Family Android
Operating System Android KitKat 4.4
SIM Card Type nano SIM
Input Device Multi-touch, capacitive
Details
SAR Value 0.27 W/kg (body) / 0.29 W/kg (head)
Integrated Components Rear-facing camera, front-facing camera, FM radio, voice recorder, navigation
Messaging & Internet
Cellular Messaging Services MMS, SMS
Messaging & Data Features RSS feeds
Mobile Services Gmail, Google Chrome, Google Drive, Google Maps, Google Play, Google Play Books, Google Search by Voice, YotaNotes, YotaReader, YotaSnap, YouTube
Messaging Services Google Hangouts, MMS, SMS
Supported Social Networks and Blogs Google+, Twitter
Miscellaneous
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass, gyro sensor, proximity sensor
Display (2nd)
Type E Ink display - monochrome
Diagonal Size 4.7 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 11.9 cm
Display Resolution 960 x 540 pixels
Color Support monochrome
Color Depth 4-bit (16 gray levels)
Processor
Clock Speed 2.2 GHz
Manufacturer QUALCOMM
Processor Core Qty Quad-core
Communications
Communication Features Internet browser, mobile Email client
Data Transmission EDGE, GPRS, HSDPA, HSPA+, HSUPA, LTE
Data Transmission Operating Frequency LTE 800/1800/2600
Wireless Interface Bluetooth 4.0, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, NFC
Display
Technology AMOLED
Display Resolution 1920 x 1080 pixels
Color Depth 24-bit (16.7 million colors)
Pixel Density (ppi) 442
Diagonal Size 5.0 in
Diagonal Size (metric) 12.7 cm
Smartphone Diagonal Size 5 in
Protection Corning Gorilla Glass 3 (scratch resistant glass)
Color Support color
Organizer
Personal Information Management alarm clock, calculator, calendar, reminder, synchronization with PC
Camera
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features panoramic pictures, video recording
Front-facing Camera 2.1 Megapixel
Media Player
Supported Digital Video Standards MKV, MPEG-4, 3GP, H.264, H.263, TS, WebM
Supported Digital Audio Standards WAV, PCM, Ogg Vorbis, AMR, MP3, FLAC, AAC-LC, AAC +, eAAC+, MIDI, HE-AAC
Location
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Battery
Run Time Details Standby: up to 406 hrs
Talk (GSM): up to 2500 min
Talk (WCDMA): up to 1560 min
Playback (video): up to 9.5 hrs
Playback (audio): up to 92 hrs
Active online usage (LTE): up to 5.5 hrs
Active online usage (Wi-Fi): up to 5.8 hrs
Continuous browsing (LTE): up to 4.5 hrs
Continuous browsing (Wi-Fi): up to 4.4 hrs
Digital Camera
Focus Adjustment automatic
Camera Light Source LED light
Features panoramic pictures, video recording
Navigation System
Navigation Software & Services Google Maps
Header
Brand Yota
Product Line YotaPhone
Model 2
Packaged Quantity 1
CE Input Device
Type touch sensitive screen (multi-touch)
Touchscreen Technology capacitive
Features
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light sensor, digital compass, gyro sensor, proximity sensor
Phone Functions call timer, conference call, flight mode, speakerphone, vibrating alert
Digital Player (Recorder)
Supported Digital Audio Standards AAC +, AAC-LC, AMR, FLAC, HE-AAC, MIDI, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, PCM, WAV, eAAC+
Supported Digital Video Standards 3GP, H.263, H.264, MKV, MPEG-4, TS, WebM
RAM
Installed Size 2 GB
Flash Memory
Internal Memory Capacity 32 GB
Optical Sensor
Sensor Resolution 8 megapixels
Front-facing Camera
Sensor Resolution 2.1 Megapixel

Where To Buy

Price
$863.00

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Where To Buy

YotaPhone 2

Part Number: YOTAPHONE2
Price
$863.00