Part Phone, Part E-Book Reader: Russia’s YotaPhone Has a Secondary E-Ink Screen

Although Russia isn't known for grand contributions to consumer electronics, it's piqued our interest with the YotaPhone, a smartphone with an E-Ink display on its backside.

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Yota Devices

Although Russia isn’t known for grand contributions to consumer electronics, it’s piqued our interest with the YotaPhone, a smartphone with an E-Ink display on its backside.

Why would anyone want a phone with a secondary E-Ink screen? Yota Devices, a self-described independent “user experience company,” has a few ideas: You might use it to see incoming news headlines, or to keep an eye on calendar appointments, missed calls, reminders or other notifications. The E-Ink display would be easier to read in sunlight, and more importantly, it would hardly effect the phone’s 2,100 mAh battery.

The E-Ink screen does have some limitations, however. The screen itself doesn’t accept touch input, but instead relies on a touch-sensitive strip underneath it, which limits its capabilities. Also, there’s no way to directly mirror the main display onto its E-Ink counterpart, so the YotaPhone will have to rely on customized applications from developers to take advantage of the E-Ink screen. While Yota will offer development tools for app makers, getting them to embrace a unique feature on a single phone is always a gamble. (Anyone remember the Kyocera Echo?)

Fortunately, the rest of the YotaPhone is no slouch. Specs include a 4.3-inch, 720p LCD display, a dual-core 1.5 GHz Snapdragon S4 processor, a 13-megapixel camera, a 720p front-facing camera, 2 GB of RAM and a minimum 32 GB of storage. It weighs 0.31 pounds and measures 0.38 inches at its thickest point.

The YotaPhone runs Android 4.2, but one strange thing is that it doesn’t use traditional buttons on the bottom of the phone. Just like the E-Ink side of the device, the YotaPhone has a touch-sensitive strip below the screen that handles basic Android navigation. Swiping from left to right goes to the Home screen, and swiping from right to left goes back.

Sadly, YotaPhone isn’t the final name of the device, according to a video presentation by Yota Device’s head of software development, Anton Tarasenko. I’m not sure what’s wrong with “YotaPhone”–it’s different, and rolls off the tongue–but now we’ll all have to live in fear of something like “Yota DualInk Plus 4G LTE by [Insert Carrier Name Here].”

Anyway, don’t get too excited to see the YotaPhone anytime soon. It’s not scheduled to launch in Russia until the third quarter of next year, and while Yota Devices says it’s “in talks” to bring the phone to wireless carriers in the United States and Europe, the company has announced nothing official. The YotaPhone is due for an appearance at the Mobile World Congress trade show in March, so hopefully more details will come to light then.

In the meantime, any tablet makers want to start slapping secondary E-Ink displays on their own hardware?