From the front, the YotaPhone 2 looks like your familiar black slab smartphone, but turning it over reveals a smart e-ink display. The original YotaPhone also had two screens but flew way under the radar. While it had some moderate success, this revamped model looks better, performs better and generally works better. Both displays are no bigger than 5 inches, with quite a hefty bezel at both the top and bottom of the device. There’s the familiar 8-megapixel camera sensor above the e-ink display, while a small 2-megapixel sensor sits above the smartphone screen. Due to the lack of a backplate, there’s no removable battery here and another annoyance is the lack of a microSD slot. Users will have to make do with the 32GB of internal storage, as well as various cloud options on offer.
For the high-end price tag, you aren’t getting a substantial design for your money. The rounded edges make the device really easy to hold in hand, but it’s completely made of plastic and there’s even a little flex when pressing into the device. If Yota had decided just to add a touch of metal it could have been a whole different story, but its choice for a full plastic body is a poor one.
It’s a largely unskinned affair when turning on the YotaPhone 2 and it helps streamline performance considerably thanks to Android KitKat. The 2.3GHz Snapdragon configuration offers enough power to keep lag to an absolute minimum and we were even more surprised to see the YotaPhone 2 go a whole day without needing a charge, even with the added pressure of dual screens. Instead of any real bloatware, there’s an array of Yota apps to check out. All of these look to utilise the e-ink reader in some format. Chess and checkers are self-explanatory, while there are also RSS and newsfeed apps to add another reason to actively use the secondary display.
Whenever someone produces an e-ink display, it’s going to be heavily compared to Amazon’s Kindle range, and rightly so due to its pedigree in the field. Although Yota’s offering is highly usable and a great way of managing notifications, it does have its downfalls. For one, it can be fairly unresponsive at times and doesn’t pick up light touches. It’s also a bit too small to comfortably read something on for an extended period of time – arguably the primary aim of all e-ink displays. Whereas the 5-inch 1080p AMOLED display shines in all areas, the secondary e-ink screen just lacks a little finesse. We do have to say, however, that the e-ink display is highly customisable, which is something you don’t tend to see in similar products.
As far as cameras go, the 8-megapixel offering here is reasonable. The default Google Camera app has a decent array of options, but results can be mixed depending on lighting conditions. Certain colours were perfect, while light shades tended to look washed out a lot of the time. Either side of the micro-USB port at the bottom of the device lie the device’s speakers and while they provide pleasantly high-quality sound, they’re let down by poor placement, as more often than not we were covering them up with our hands.
In a lot of ways, the YotaPhone 2 is a really successful device. It has all the basic features of a smartphone nailed down to an absolute tee. A powerful processor, fantastic battery life and a quality display help us to overlook the lack of a removable battery and microSD slot. But while the inclusion of the e-ink display is a great addition, and for the most part works really well, there are still a few issues that need to be ironed out before this is a winning combination.