The Back of This Phone Is a Touchscreen e-Reader

Brian Heater
Tech Columnist

BARCELONA — On its front, the YotaPhone 2 looks like any other smartphone here at Mobile World Congress. But on the rear of the device, where most phones show little more than the logo and information from the FCC, this phone has managed to fit a whole second display.

As with its predecessor, the back of the YotaPhone 2 — a sequel to the innovative YotaPhone — is all E Ink. The idea on the first device was to let users receive notifications, read text and perform other tasks on the battery-saving E Ink display. E Ink, the technology on the display of the Amazon Kindle and several other e-readers, sucks up much less battery power than does an LCD or LED screen, like those found on most popular smartphones. 

And as anyone who’s ever owned a Kindle will tell you, there are other advantages to E Ink: It’s easier on the eyes for long periods and works much better in direct sunlight.

The first YotaPhone had major issues. You couldn’t actually interact directly with the E Ink display — it was not a touchscreen — so you had to rely on the phone’s LCD display to pull up the information being shown on the rear. This got in the way of the battery-saving aspects in a number of scenarios.

For things like reading, there was a small touch panel beneath the screen. It was a bit of a clunky solution, but at least it meant you didn’t have to turn on the front screen every time you finished a page.

The second YotaPhone addresses the issue with a full E Ink touchscreen on the back. That means you can flip through pages as you read a book or tick items off a to-do list. In fact, for a number of activities, you don’t have to rely on the front screen at all.

E Ink still tends to be slower, clunkier and generally less versatile than tablet and smartphone touchscreens. You’re not going to want to, say, play Angry Birds on the back of this device, so the battle between casual gaming and battery life will continue to rage on.

The company is bumping up some other specs for the YotaPhone, too. The front display, for example, was upgraded in clarity from LCD to AMOLED. Both screens are increasing in size, with the front now at 5 inches and the rear at 4.7 inches.

The phone also has a faster processor and NFC for things like wireless payment. The version being shown off at the show is still an early prototype, so we weren’t even allowed to touch it. But the final version should start shipping in the last quarter of this year to select markets, with a U.S. version arriving a few months later.

No price was announced. But anyone who picked up the first YotaPhone can pick up its predecessor at a steep discount, according to a representative.

Or — if you don’t want to dump your current, non-Yota smartphone — might we interest you in a new case?

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