There are a lot of things to like about the YotaPhone 2 and we applaud the company for doing something different. The design is excellent and if you want a dual-screen smartphone this is the one for you (ie. don’t buy the original). Although the concept works pretty well and there’s potential for great battery life, there are a few downfalls. We’re mainly disappointed by the slow nature of using the e-ink screen and the awful ghosting. The price is also a barrier (even at £440) and means it comes short of rivals in areas such as photography and storage.
The original YotaPhone caused a stir with its radical dual-screen design. Well the Russian firm is back with a second generation Android smartphone which improves on the original. Here’s our full and in-depth YotaPhone 2 review. See also: Best smartphones.
UPDATE May 2015: The YotaPhone 2 has just had a price drop, down from £555 to £440. That’s quite a saving, but it’s still high-end territory. It’s cheaper than most flaghip phones, though, including the iPhone 6, HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6 and LG G4. Many of those flagships will get cheaper as they get discounted once they’re not brand new.
Other changes include a new white version, and a promised update to Android Lollipop. For the E-Ink screen, new widgets include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Read: Best new phones you should be most excited about
YotaPhone 2 review: Design and build
If you’ve seen the original YotaPhone, you’ll probably agree that it doesn’t look like a finished product. However, the YotaPhone 2 looks and feels great. From the front, it could be one of many black smartphones but flip it over and there’s no mistaking it from every other handset.
The rear e-ink screen covered by 3D curved matte finish Gorilla glass is stunning giving a really premium and unique sense. Not only does it provided needed grip, it also avoids getting grubby with fingerprints and the like – important considering it acts as the rear cover when you’re using the front screen.
Considering the device has two screens, it’s very impressive that the device is still just as thin and light as all those smartphones out there with a measly single display. It’s just 8.9mm thick and 145 g. It’s a similar size to the Google Nexus 5 for comparison.
Overall the design is quite simplistic. We like the stealthy, minimalist appearance and the clever way the nano-SIM card slot also doubles up as the volume button rocker. There’s no waterproof rating but we think we can let Yota off considering there are two screens.
YotaPhone 2 hands-on review: Hardware
The YotaPhone concept is very simple. On the front is a flagship grade 5in AMOLED screen with a Full HD resolution. Flip the device over and you’ll find the 4.7in qHD (540 x 960) e-ink screen with a still respectable qHD resolution. Now that is definitely something to show off down the pub and it’s this area which we’re going to spend most of this review talking about. Skip down below for other specs, performance and software.
That second screen isn’t just for reading your e-books on the train either. It can give you notifications, messages and other important information. In fact, you can do anything you want on the rear screen but it isn’t suitable for everything.
The original YotaPhone has a rear screen but what’s new is that the e-ink display now supports full touch-control rather than just a small section at the bottom. You can unlock it with a careful upwards swipe but it’s easier to use the physical power button on the side. The YotaPhone 2 knows which way you’re holding it so won’t unlock the wrong display.
Via the YotaHub, you can manage how you use the rear screen. It’s split into the Yota Cover and Yota Panel. The first is like a lockscreen and displays whatever wallpaper you want – Yota has loads of gorgeous images to choose from – and has four icons for things phone, messages, email and notifications.
The Yota Cover will be displayed on the back all the time but if you launch the Yota Panel there’s a whole lot more you can do. It’s essential a set of homescreen panels and you use it just like your regular Android interface. There’s a default arrangement but you can fully customise things with different layouts and a large number of widgets including calendars, clocks, weather, music playback control, RSS feeds and more.
Once you’ve discovered your perfect setup, you’ll find much less use for the main AMOLED screen and that results in longer battery life which is one of the most complained about downsides to a modern smartphone. Since the e-ink screen is always on but only consumes energy when the image changes, the phone can last much longer. We’ll talk more about battery life shortly.
All of this sounds amazing and we’ve mentioned only positive things so far but there are some downsides to the rear e-ink screen.
What you need to be prepared for is the responsiveness which is understandably much worse than the regular capacitive AMOLED screen. It’s also capacitive but unlocking via touch is tricky and the page refreshes fairly slowly because the refresh rate can’t keep up.
Although there’s plenty of available functionality, there are a number of things you won’t want to do on the rear screen. You can, in theory, reply to a message but typing on an e-ink keyboard is frustratingly slow. And although you can use the dialler, you can’t access your full contacts list and you’ll need to flip the phone over for the speaker.
Using the e-ink screen for reading is an obvious advantage but we’ve experienced bad ghosting on the rear screen – in fact, it’s the worst we’ve seen on any e-ink display. I.e. you can see the previous few pages in the background which eventually becomes a fairly big mess. The screen does get rid of it every few page turns but that’s not enough really.
Yota Mirror is a feature that lets you mirror anything you’re doing on the main AMOLED screen on the back. When you want to mirror something, you swipe up from the bottom of the screen (as you would for Google Now) but choose the icon on the left. Whatever you’re doing then gets moved to the e-ink screen. This sounds pretty cool but it just seems excessively laggy compared to the regular display and there’s no way you can watch video or play any proper games on the rear screen. Yota does pre-install a few games which can be easily played on the e-ink screen though, including chess, checkers, sodoku and 2048.
So there are pros and cons to the dual-screen set up but let’s get back to battery life. One of the main reasons to have the e-ink display is to save power – you probably know that eReaders last weeks or even months.
It’s impossible to say how many extra hours or days this setup gives because it depends on how you use your smartphone. If you watch a lot of videos and play games then it probably isn’t going to make much difference since you’ll need to use the AMOLED screen. However, if you read a lot of eBooks and switch your screen on lots to check notifications and get basic info like the time and weather then you’re battery life is going to be dramatically different.
The Yota Energy Saver isn’t just for the rear screen but there’s a widget for it by default. It estimates the time remaining, has a toggle switch and can be customised.
With a middle of the road 2500 mAh battery you’re going to get a usual day of usage if you simply use the front screen. However, use the rear screen for your day to day tasks and you’re going to get two, three or maybe more days from the YotaPhone 2.
When the battery does inevitably get low, you can charge the YotaPhone 2 easily because it has wireless charging built-in. Other wireless specs include 11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC and support for 4G LTE networks. The second screen is, of course, the main feature here, so don’t expect anything like a fingerprint scanner, IR blaster or heart rate monitor.
When we first saw the YotaPhone 2 it had a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800 quad-core processor but it now ships with the newer 2.3 GHz Snapdragon 801 chip. It’s also got 2 GB of RAM and we found performance to be decent. The benchmark results which you can see below may not make for particularly exciting reading, it’s a little behind the big names but we’ve had no issues from a user perspective – just the e-ink refresh rate but that’s not the processor’s fault.
HTC One M8
On the storage front there is 32GB of built-in space. That’s good and double what a lot of phones offer as standard. However, that’s the only option available and Yota hasn’t included a microSD card slot so things are pretty restrictive on this front.
Although the back of the phone has its own screen, Yota has managed to fit in an 8 Mp camera with an LED flash. On the front is a 2 Mp webcam which provides a good picture for selfies and video chat. The rear camera takes decent photos and with the stock Android camera app supports HDR. However, it will shoot with an aspect ratio of 4:3 unless you drop the resolution to 6 Mp.
Although it’s a fairly good camera, at this price the competition is able to provide better performance. Almost all the rival flagship smartphones provide better quality photos with more detail and can shoot video in 4K. Check out our samples below.
YotaPhone 2 review: Software
Yota has opted for Android 4.4 Kitkat for the YotaPhone 2 and has left things completely vanilla which is a great move if you ask us. Essentially, the firm thinks Google has done a great job with the operating system so doesn’t feel the need to change or add anything. And it will get upgraded to Android 5.0 Lollipop.
The firm has added a few bits of software though, all of which relate to the second screen. This is totally understandable as there needs to be way to manage and control what’s happening on the back. We’ve covered the software related to the e-ink screen earlier in the review, so scroll back up if you missed it.
YotaPhone 2: Specs
- Android 4.4 KitKat OS
- 5in AMOLED display (1080×1920), 442 ppi
- 4.7in rear e-ink screen (540×960), 235ppi
- 2.3GHz Quad-Core Qualcomm Snapdragon 801 CPU
- Adreno 330 GPU
- 2GB RAM
- 32GB internal storage
- 8Mp rear camera, AF with LED Flash
- 2Mp front camera
- Video recording at up to 1080p
- dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Micro-USB (SlimPort)
- 4G LTE (Cat 4)
- 2500mAh battery
- Wireless charging