Time was you could rely on Japan to provide some of the most off-the-wall phone designs in the world, but companies like Sharp and Fujitsu have largely settled into producing straightforward Android slabs that could have come from anywhere. Thank NEC, then, for its Medias W N-05E, announced today for release on NTT Docomo. Originally teased close to a year ago, the Medias W is NEC's attempt at a dual-screen folding Android smartphone. It's not an entirely new idea — the Kyocera Echo and Sony Tablet P have done similar things to middling results — but can NEC be the first to get it right?
Two-screen Google Maps is a killer feature
The Medias W has two qHD 4.3-inch screens that, when unfolded, combine to create a roughly square 5.6-inch display. The phone runs Android 4.1, and when navigating the OS you have two basic options for what to do with the extra pixels — double your home screen real estate, or use the second screen as a browser, photo gallery, or app switcher. The ability to call up a browser on one screen while doing anything at all on the other is a pretty convenient use case scenario, but we found the most utility out of apps that had been designed for both screens at once.
The browser works really well across both screens, loading the full desktop versions of websites as well as you'd expect from a tablet, and two-screen Google Maps is another killer feature — how many times have you wanted more screen space when zooming in and out of narrow city streets on your phone? Another dual-screen feature is the ability to play a video on both screens at once, letting you watch something at the same time as someone sat across the table. We also found it a lot easier to type on than most phones, with the keyboard comfortably spanning both screens. All of this is handled well enough by a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, though there was some occasional lag when switching between display configurations.
The design has a retro charm
Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of apps that actually work like this, and while the Kyocera Echo had a neat feature that stretched software across screens, we didn't see anything similar here — most apps simply told us that they would only work in single-screen mode. The good news is that using the phone like any other is actually quite an attractive option even if you ignore the second screen bolted to the back. At 12.2mm thick it's not exactly the sleekest device we've ever seen, but it's solidly built and the design has a slightly retro charm of its own. Could we ever see this outside of Japan? It seems very unlikely, but then NEC did call it a "global model" when first unveiling their dual-screen prototype — importers may want to keep their eyes open.