26
Feb
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When I saw the prototype YotaPhone last year at CES 2013, I was legitimately impressed with the concept - a smartphone with a standard, full-color display on the front, and a black and white e-ink panel on the back. The applications, functional and aesthetic alike, were not difficult to see.

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But the original YotaPhone was quite hefty, both displays were a bit small at 4.3", and the e-Ink panel wasn't actually touch-enabled, but rather was controlled by a capacitive touch panel along the bottom of the device. And, honestly, it wasn't exactly what I'd call pretty - it looked like an engineering prototype, not a piece of consumer hardware.

The new YotaPhone addresses all of these concerns, and is the more mature product I think many would expect of a modern smartphone producer. The new YotaPhone no longer relies on a capacitive touch strip to control the e-Ink display, as the now 4.7" panel is fully touch-enabled. The full-color AMOLED display has grown to 5", and the device is powered by a quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor. Android 4.4 is there, too, and hopefully an even more recent version will be available when the phone launches.

Which brings me to what is probably the single biggest problem with the new YotaPhone - it doesn't come out until Q4 of this year, and then not in the US or Asia for a few months after that, meaning 2015. By that time, the new YotaPhone will be quite the old YotaPhone, and I doubt anyone's really going to care all that much about it at that point.

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Still, Yota's innovation with the e-Ink panel is something worth paying attention to, if only to inspire others to pursue the concept. I doubt we'll be seeing Yota make a big splash in term of sales once the new YotaPhone finally does go on sale, if only because of the brand's relative obscurity outside of its home market of Russia.

So, what's new with the new YotaPhone's software? The new device obviously takes advantage of this enhanced touch-enabled e-Ink panel in a few ways. First, the rear panel now serves as a notification hub - you can see missed calls, SMSs, and emails on it, which is definitely pretty convenient. You can even make phone calls using only the rear panel, though this functionality wasn't demonstrated to us. Yota's built-in reader app allows you to open up an eBook and then send it to the back of the device, where you can just swipe to advance pages. You can also, of course, change the background on the e-Ink panel to whatever you choose.

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Interactive with the e-Ink panel using touch is also a bit unsettling - going from the extremely responsive AMOLED screen up front to the slow-to-refresh e-Ink display makes for a jarring transition. I often found myself pressing things twice or three times on the e-Ink side because I didn't believe the action had registered, and this lead to sometimes wonky results. Granted, the device we were using is a prototype - the new YotaPhone is a long ways off from mass production just yet.

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All in all, the new YotaPhone is the evolution of a great idea, one that I think more smartphone manufacturers should be paying attention to. It's just a shame that only Yota has really pursued it.

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David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Sarang Pitale

    Any $50 E-Ink Smart Watch out there?

    • Fadakar

      Wait two years and the first gen Pebble will be around there.

      • David Sousa

        Pebble is "e-paper"! :-p

        • http://the-jade-domain.com Jaime J. Denizard

          Now I'm curious as to what the difference is. Please elaborate. :)

          • David Sousa

            Well, e-ink is made of small magnetic components (if memory serves me right) that are kept next to the surface or below, in order to create the image. I also believe e-ink refers to a particular technology, and may be a registered trademark or something like that.

            E-paper is the generic name for any screen that tries to mimic the appearance of paper: screen that is reflective (not emissive), I.e., that works even better under a light source than with its own light (compare to computer screens, that depend on a backlight to be seen). So, I believe e-ink is a particular kind of e-paper.

            Now back to Pebbel

          • Fadakar

            Been a Pebble user for 3 months now and I never knew this, thanks for the info!

  • Ivan Petkovic

    Being the only LTE provider in Russia (until Megafon kicked in, somewhere around these last winter Olympics) payed off pretty good - Yota is what 3G sticks are called here now. Current generation has the same price as GS4 16Gb in store, somewhere bellow $580, but it's the next gen I'm really interested in, that back e-ink panel is very interesting. Not bad design either, I'd say, especially coming from Russians (:

    • Mahmoud Amandine-Jade

      I was already glad that the first gen materialised a good concept, although with several shortcomings. I'm anticipating the second gen too, but I'm not sure I'll be happy with the price/specs in a year's time... though I'm not opposed to the principle of paying a small premium.

  • http://twitter.com/anishbhalerao Anish Bhalerao

    Oh my God, that is awesomesauce amazeballs technology right there!
    This is a step towards legit innovation.

    Not like Samsung and HTC, with the 500 MHz clock speed bump, 1 GB extra RAM bump, faux leather, faux band-aid, faux BS and KNOX horsecrap... Coupled with devices looking EXACTLY the same, year in year out... Then coupled with Neo Pro Grand Ultra Mini DUOS shit in their names.
    LEARN is the word, for these lazy OEMs. Learn from Yotaaaaa!

    • someguy

      Call 'em lazy, but Samsung have the fastest SSDs and HTC made the pixels larger instead of increasing the megapixel count.

      • malyopa

        whats so special about h&c bigger pixels, thats something apple has been doing for years

    • WhyWai

      mobile phone industry need a new renovation like Nokia 3310 & iPhone did.

  • Roh_Mish

    Unless these devices are out in many numbers, Not many are going to develop apps for it. see the SPen for example, it has large potential but not many Apps to use it. Samsung has done great job to make it compatible with normal apps but still you don't use it much as you don't use apps that are designed to take advantage of it

    • Steven80

      The S-Pen is an input method though. This is a secondary display. I would imagine it's easier to support, some of the support for it may just be built into the OS, it could be treated like a PC with two monitors, the application doesn't know what monitor it's being displayed on.

      • Roh_Mish

        Unless they have done some fancy modification, that's not the case here though

  • Aniket Patni

    But does it have a removable battery?
    /s

    • Kcls

      Now THAT would be a feat of engineering.

  • axel

    I really like the design on this phone. It looks a lot like a nexus. What surprised me more was that it comes with KitKat and a snapdragon 800. Usually phones like this mess up software or hardware. But they aced both, plus design. But they did mess up on release dates.

    • http://the-jade-domain.com Jaime J. Denizard

      It's the third point that'll "mess it up" for most people:
      price.

  • jake connolly

    "By that time, the new YotaPhone will be quite the old YotaPhone, and I doubt anyone's really going to care all that much about it at that point."

    What a load of rubbish, this is currently the only device that has this available yes it might not be for a year or less but that's currently the only device that offers this. Until another device pops out earlier then before there will always be an interest

  • Rob Johnson

    Surely you're going to be touching godknows how many wrong buttons on the back just by using the phone normally?

    • Davi Caseira

      Don't think they will be that dumb. Probably when you flip the phone, it will block touch on the other screen.

      • Cory_S

        Well, the whole point of having an e ink display is to conserve battery instead of firing up the main screen. I am thinking you just turn the display off and use the back. I also wonder if that's why the gestures weren't working well for him because he was touching things on the front of it and interfering with the touch logic.

  • frafri

    I l ike the concept.

  • Jonathan Ceniceros

    I can wait until 2015 to buy this phone. Top specs and doing things no one else is makes me want to support this phone and see what else comes of it.

  • MG

    The hardware looks top notch but I believe the Q4 release date is to fix the software.

  • Badouken

    Yotaphone!?! Like YottaByte?! Wow A phone with a YottaByte in it! Technology sure has sped up!!!

  • M Brandon Lee

    I guess selfies will be a lot easier and higher quality now...

  • Eli McCrory

    Now I can't flip my phone over to hide all distractions while I work anymore!!!! Arghhhghghgh!!!!

  • Deeco

    I kinda like it!

  • LIKEIT

    7" tablets could use this.

    • en garde amazon

      Exactly my thought. I would have thought that this tech would be perfect for 7 or 8 inch tablets. This would give Kindle etc a real run for their money.

  • MeCampbell30

    This needs to happen in the US NAOW!

  • Simon

    Thing needed on the back of a phone:
    -This
    or
    -Solar panel

  • http://the-jade-domain.com Jaime J. Denizard

    "Interactive with the e-Ink panel using touch is also a bit unsettling"

    Interacting*

  • robopanda333

    Man over 2 years ago i was saying that i wanted this exact phone. i would love it if it had a color e ink display more, but still. with how much of the time i am reading static black and white text on my phone and tablet this would probably increase my battery life by about 100%

  • Susmit Das

    Really is an extraordinary phone. If it came out now, I would buy it straight away.