Yota's secondary E Ink display: Innovative, but is it too niche?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| December 5, 2013

Yesterday, a Russian company by the name of Yota announced their first smartphone, the YotaPhone, which is a 4.3-inch Android powered smartphone that also has an interesting feature that no other smartphones has ever featured before - a secondary display on the back. But not just any secondary display - a secondary E Ink display. For anybody who feels like innovation has been missing from the industry, this might just be what you're looking for - or not. According to some analysts, the YotaPhone has a very slim chance of ever becoming more than a one-hit wonder. And after some careful consideration, I have to say that I myself am a little wary on how well such a device can do in this industry.

I've written on YotaPhone, at least the concept, before. We first heard about it back in 2012, and back then I was pretty stoked about the idea. I thought a secondary E Ink display was, first and foremost, one of the coolest concepts I had seen in a long time. I still feel that way about the concept. It's a fresh idea, and it wasn't a total dud from the get-go. I could see it as a hit or miss thing, but after seeing the actual device and the specs, I'm thinking that this device is going to end up being a miss, at least here in the United States. 

First, let's talk about some of the good qualities of the phone. The YotaPhone is a hefty and rather chunky device, weighing in at 146 grams, which goes against the grain of most other manufacturers these days who seem to be fighting to see who can make the thinnest phone. I don't see the chunkiness of the YotaPhone as a bad thing, because personally I prefer having something heftier to hold on to. With it having such a small screen (I still think it's weird calling a 4.3-inch screen small), the thickness probably helps it rather than hurts it. The E Ink display is also always on, and lasts for up to 60 hours. This works great for reading e-books, or catching notifications even when the LCD side runs out of juice. That's a pretty handy feature if you ask me. YotaPhone also features a 13-megapixel camera on the E Ink side of the device (is that what we're calling the back?) which is pretty awesome. 

But the really good stuff stops about there. The rest of the device's specs probably aren't going to blow you away. This phone wasn't meant to be a phone to end all phones, but it seems more like a way to introduce the concept and see how well it flows over to the consumer base. The LCD features a 720p resolution, which isn't bad but isn't the best, and runs on a Dual-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor. However, it does feature 2GB of RAM and 32GB of internal memory, which is nice, as well as being able to run on 4G LTE speeds. So, really it's not that bad of a device especially given how unique it is.

However, just because a device is unique doesn't mean that consumers are going to like it. As far as I know, secondary displays and smartphones haven't exactly gotten along that well thus far. We've had devices like the Kyocera Echo, which featured two LCD displays, didn't go over so hot. The closest thing to a secondary display that seems to be an acceptable feature comes from smartphones like the Galaxy S4 or the LG G2, which allow a sort of secondary display when matched up with a specific flip cover. But even then, I have not once seen somebody actually use those flip covers in public. I've seen people with the phones, but not a single one has had a flip cover. In my head, it seems like secondary displays and smartphones are a moot point. People are used to turning on their screen to check for notifications at this point. Secondary displays seem like they're something better left in the past at this point. 

I do think that the phone has potential, and it is nice to see a refreshing idea hit the market; however, I don't see the idea becoming the next big thing. If it does happen to make it over this way, would I see myself picking one up? Actually, yes, I could see myself wanting to use a device like this, but mostly because I read e-books regularly and 60 hour secondary E Ink display would be useful to me. I feel like this phone is very much a niche product though, and there won't be a whole lot of people that would find this unique design particularly useful to them.

What are your thoughts on the YotaPhone, readers? Are you interested in a phone with a secondary E Ink display, or do you find the phone to be more of a niche product? Let us know your thoughts on this unique device in the comments below!

Image via Engadget

Products mentioned