Innovations often come from where you least expect. The Yotaphone 2 is a smartphone from Russia which makes the Apples and Sonys of this world look old-fashioned because it is equipped with two displays. But the connect test revealed some weaknesses.
It seemed to be an industrial design rule that a smartphone consists of a large display, around which a flat housing is built – at least since the first iPhone came out. Like its predecessor, the Yotaphone 2 breaks from this tradition: there is a second screen on the back which is 4.7 inches tall, has 960 x 540 pixels and is based on the E Ink technology, familiar from electronic readers such as the Amazon Kindle. The Yotaphone 2 is a smartphone and E-book reader in one.
In addition to eye-catching presentation and good readability in direct sunlight, electronic paper has the advantage that energy is consumed only in the moment when the image changes. This means you can display a digital boarding pass on the E Ink – it remains visible even when the battery is dead.
The change between the two displays is intuitive. If you swipe your thumb from the bottom of the main screen, two icons will are displayed: either you send a screenshot of the display content to the E Ink (e.g. the boarding pass) or you reflect the Android interface there – handy if you are reading an e-book or a lengthy article in the browser. Theoretically, the Yotaphone 2 can be fully operated via the secondary display, including writing e-mails or surfing the Internet. However, the latency typical for this display technology ensures that, for example, the keyboard reacts only with a delay. Also, websites look a bit dull in 16 shades of gray.
It makes much more sense to place widgets and notifications here. For this reason, the manufacturer developed the so-called Yota panels, special home screens for E Ink which can be configured freely: widgets for the time, weather, e-mail, RSS feeds, calendars and many other elements often make unlocking the main screen unnecessary. Simply pull the phone out of your pocket, look at it, done. The Yotaphone 2 actually offers more here than the competitors.
Apart from the second screen, highlights are lacking. The Qualcomm chipset is representative of the entire equipment package: the Snapdragon 800 model has been used for more than 18 months. Although the performance is still sufficient in 2015, it’s just not the latest technology the manufacturer is offering here.
The main display fulfils the current standards with 5 inches and 1920 x 1080 pixels. It is an OLED with the typical characteristics of this technology: luminosity not great (315 candela), but pronounced contrasts, rich colors and high viewing angle stability.
The test showed the 8 megapixel camera to be surprisingly fast, and accordingly the photos are of good quality, especially in low light conditions. It is striking, however, that both the software and sensor cannot deal well with strong light/dark contrasts; bright areas especially are easily outshone. Overall, this is not enough for the price.
This also applies to the design, because the Yotaphone 2 comes in a very simple housing with no mark of individuality – apart from the second screen. No question, with the arched back and the rounded corners, it’s comfortable to hold. But it doesn’t look like a technically unique product for 700 euros, especially since the frame consists only of matt plastic. The appearance and feel can only be called mid-range.
When the battery is low, a special battery mode is activated if desired. Energy guzzlers such as GPS and the main display are automatically disabled. From then on, you control the smartphone completely via the power-saving E Ink. At a battery level of 15 percent, you should still be able to get nearly nine hours of battery life, according to the manufacturer. We did not test this; instead we carried out our standardized measurements – and were surprised by the result. With a period of only 5:14 hours in connect use mix, the Yotaphone 2 is one of the laggards in the smartphone league. It is quite possible that it actually holds out longer than many competitors in everyday life, because you are not forced to turn on the main display to read the time. But the fact is, if you use it just like a normal phone, it wears out significantly faster than an Xperia Z3 or iPhone 6.
We also experienced a surprise in the high-frequency field: very good radio properties in LTE and UMTS network are offset by a slump in the GSM network. Since most mobile connections are now made though 3G and 4G networks, this setback does not carry much weight, but still costs points.
In the end, it only gets a place in the midfield – that’s not enough for a 700 euro phone, despite innovative E Ink on the back.