New YotaPhone Smartphone Is A Dual-Screen Wonder With 1080p AMOLED And eInk
The pitch is a simple one. YotaPhone 2 is a high-specification Android handset that equals the capability of many other Android flagships… it’s just that when you turn over the handset you’ll find a second screen taking up the back cover. One front screen is a five-inch 1080p AMOLED screen, the other front screen is an ultra-low power electronic paper display fully integrated into the Android smartphone.

And it’s available to buy from tonight here in the United Kingdom.

I’ve been following the crusade of YotaPhone as it looks to bring its vision of a dual-screen smartphone to the consumer. I sat down with CEO Vlad Martynov ahead of todays product launch to talk about the tricky second album that is the YotaPhone 2. In some respects this new handset can be viewed as the first true YotaPhone. "YotaPhone 1 was a proof of concept and manufactured in limited volumes," Martynov explains. "It was an idea. Originally it was purely for the Russian market only, but after interest in Europe we decided to release it there through online channels."

That brought in the early adopters and gained Yota Devices valuable mindshare within the industry, and a lot of feedback from its new user base. Much of that feedback has been used to shape the YotaPhone 2 revealed today.

"Everyone wanted capacative touch to extend across the full eInk screen, even we saw that in the design! There was a lot of discussion about the best size for the phone. The team has went with a five-inch screen, this felt obvious.

"But the biggest call from the Android community was to mirror the whole Android experience on the eInk display. We call it YotaMirror, and it allows any Android app to run on the low-power display. Our custom applications all use the second display for 'always on' functionality, but not every feature or facility is available. There is now the opportunity for any application to be made available on the back screen, even if it’s not perfectly optimised.

"This gives users the freedom to decide how to use their Always On screen how they want."

For many the obvious use of an eInk display is to read eBooks on them, and while the YotaPhone 2 has a dedicated eBooks app, it’s a smile matter to use the YotaMirror app to bring Amazon’s Kindle for Android app onto the back screen and read your book on the second screen (honestly it;s the first app I tried!). Yota Devices state that the eInk screen draws seven times less power than the 1080p AMOLED screen on the front of the device, and using its eBook software a user can have up to five days of reading on a single charge.
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Because the eInk image remains visible even when the phone is off (or runs out of power) it can employ many useful applications, such as leaving a local map up on the back screen, keeping a boarding pass for an airline flight visible at all times, or offering full screen music player controls and album art that is always available.

It’s a huge improvement over the first eInk screen on the YotaPhone 1, which did not have a capacative touch screen, and did not have the ability to work with regular Android applications.

"YotaPhone 2 takes the whole concept to the next level," Martynov is proudly telling me. "We've reached 100 hours of reading on a single battery charge, you can run all your basic phone features from the second screen using the 'YotaEnergy' mode which can increase your phone’s endurance three times over, and because we have full touch those functions work well in bright sunlight in a power efficient manner."

As well as YotaMirror, the second display is driven by two complementary features. YotaPanels mimics the principle of widgets and shortcuts of a regular Android home screen. "This is much more powerful than YotaPhone 1," Vlad stresses to me. "It looks nicer, there is a wider variety of 'what you can do' and it’s a lot more interactive if you want to dive deeply into your content. The touchscreen makes it very easy. They are optimised for the electronic paper and while there is an out-the-box preset, everything is customisable.

"YotaCover allows you to show photos and images on the backside. It makes the phone more emotional, as well as allowing you to be able to cover the YotaPanels for privacy."

It’s also worth noting that although the phone is available in just one color, it’s not a truly 'black' smartphone color, but a dark tone that is color-matched to the black of the eInk display. That means the second display feels less like a screen covered by Gorilla Glass.

Martynov has one last point to make. "We've worked on a clear vision of what a second display can mean for consumers, but we’ve focused on making this handset a mass-market product. Since the demo units were seen at MWC, we’ve spent months making sure this is a high-quality product that delivers on our promise.

"There are new use cases and scenarios, but the goal is to make it useful and convenient for the average consumers."

I’ve had access to the YotaPhone 2 for the last few days, and that sentiment has carried through to the final retail product. In a competitive market, getting a phone to market is hard. Getting a second phone to market, iterating on the first design and using all the experience to make the second handset even better, is even harder.
It’s amazing to think that even with this new handset, Yota Devices has under-promised and over-delivered on the initial experience. How the YotaPhone 2 acquits itself in regular use? I’ll tell you in a few days.
"YotaPhone is a crossroads, in many respects, between art and technology. Our goal for the first generation for YotaPhone is to take the learning from these two groups of early fans and to develop a second and third generation of YotaPhone that has mass appeal and commercial success on the global market."

It’s that second phone that will be the difficult next album for the team. There are a number of areas on the original handset that could be improved, and while Martynov isn’t letting anything slip, Mobile World Congress coming up at the end of February and there will be new developments from Yota Devices.

Where does Martynov see Yota Devices in the smartphone world? "We aspire to be an international mobile device manufacturer," he confidently informs me. "But we also want to be a trendsetter in everything we do. I think we are well on our way to achieving both objectives."
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Vladislav Martynov. 2021
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