Review: YotaPhone 2's E-Ink display is a game-changer

Since the original iPhone changed the way we interact with our smartphones back in 2007, we've seen iterative updates year-on-year from all manufacturers. Russian startup, Yota Devices, are attempting to disrupt how we interact with our devices through an E-Ink display on the back of their devices which provides "always-on" information to the user. 

The device was used to test the market to gauge interest, and it gained plenty of attention. Now the innovative manufacturer has released a successor, the YotaPhone 2, and we jumped at the chance to get hands-on and take a look at how the device has improved and how the E-Ink display could help developers provide new experiences to end-users... 

If you don't have time to watch the video, we left impressed with our experience. The E-Ink display is a useful addition to the device which provides at-a-glance information similar to a smartwatch, whilst boosting battery life due to the battery spending less time powering the high-definition panels which drain your average smartphone. 

An SDK is available for developers for the original YotaPhone, with support for its successor coming in version 2 (which is "coming soon" according to Yota's developer portal.) This will allow applications to be developed for its always-on display, and the possibilities are endless for displaying constant real-time information. 

Some examples are provided by Yota, and include less graphically-intensive games such as Checkers and Chess. On the application-front, Yota provides weather and a 'Reader' app which turns the device into a miniature Kindle (with the superior readability an E-Ink display provides.) 

In case you haven't garnered by now, the real star of the show here is the E-Ink display. The rest of the smartphone is a similar affair to everything else you will find on the market; a Snapdragon 800 processor, 8mpx back camera, 2.1mpx front camera, and a 1080p front display. 

Our device was running Android 4.4.3 with a near-stock experience similar to what Motorola offers with their devices. Although we can't confirm at this point, we hope this will mean quick updates to the latest flavours of Google's OS (although Lollipop isn't available yet.) 

Despite being a Snapdragon 800, the device was about as responsive as your fingers will move across its beautiful AMOLED screen. An AnTuTu benchmark we ran on the device showed respectable graphics performance ahead of the Nexus 5, whilst just slightly behind Samsung's Galaxy S5. 

The cameras, although they won't be winning awards, deliver adequate shots even in low-light conditions. Shots taken with this device will be acceptable for most users, but do suffer from washed-out colours... 

Back Camera Sample

Low-Light Flash Sample

Front Camera Sample

The design of the YotaPhone 2 deserves some amount of praise for its originality - not just from incorporating a second display into its chassis - but also for a slim (0.35") and rounded profile which is reminiscent of a beach pebble. When lying flat on a nearby surface, it just seems to blend-in with the rest of the room. 

Before we wrap-up, we have to voice a couple of our concerns. The first is a bit of a non-point thanks to the addition of the E-Ink display, but if you make plenty of use of that AMOLED panel then it will drain quite fast. In a battery test, it received a benchmark result similar to the Nexus 5 which is often-criticised for its less-than-stellar life. 

Our second concern is with the pricing. At £555 as of writing, it feels expensive for specs which lean more towards a mid-range device. We feel this would be much more popular if it was around the £250 mark, but you are getting a unique and exciting smartphone at whatever price point. 

Should more smartphones incorporate an E-Ink display? Let us know in the comments.

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