Earlier this year, Russian company Yota revealed the YotaPhone, a dual-screened smartphone that features a unique E Ink display in addition to a standard LCD screen. We were able to spend some more time with a prototype YotaPhone today, and though it is still very rough around the edges, its unique concept is promising enough to keep us interested.
The YotaPhone runs Android, but instead of relying on the standard on-screen buttons found in Android 4.0 and later, the YotaPhone utilizes a gesture panel below the display. A full swipe right-to-left across the gesture area will bring you back to the home screen, while a half swipe replicates the standard back button. A long press on the panel will bring up Android's multi-tasking menu. The gesture-based concept is novel, and really made us teary-eyed for the Palm Pre, but the YotaPhone's early prototype status made it more frustrating to us than Android's standard buttons. Other unique hardware features include a the SIM tray and power button integrated into a single unit, and the industry's first application of Corning's new Gorilla Glass 3.
The real star of the show, though, is the 4.3-inch E Ink display on the back of the phone. The display is designed to be an always-on, low power display to provide easily glance-able information to the user. It can be used to display ebooks, screen shots, weather information, reminders, social network information, or even a static picture or message. One example of a good use case would be to use the E Ink screen to display a static map should the phone's battery die while you are out and about. Yota has come up with a number of demo apps to show off the E Ink display's uses, and the company says that an SDK will be released for developers to integrate its features into their apps once the phone is on the market. Third-party apps will have the ability to push information to the screen and update it periodically, so the display can show new notifications or changing information.
Unfortunately, the early prototype status of the phone we used made utilizing the E Ink display more buggy and cumbersome than it was really worth. But we're fans of the idea and since the phone isn't planned to hit the market until the end of the year, Yota has plenty of time to iron out its kinks.