The concept of a dual-screen smartphone hit its peak in 2011, bringing a variety of novel interpretations on the design and utility of a smartphone with two displays.
The designs were inventive, I'll give them that, and the idea of multiplying the screen real estate without further supersizing the device's footprint is exactly the kind of technological envelope-pushing that could engender brainier, more-powerful smartphones. Unfortunately, the implementation never found its sweet spot, and the industry's most recent attempt, the LCD-and-e-ink YotaPhone, joins the ranks of those that came before.
Samsung took its flagship Galaxy smartphone one step further. The Continuum includes a tiny ticker screen across which marches RSS updates, weather, and social-networking status updates. Customization was limited, typing a bit more cramped, and the constant flow or information a little much. While we came to appreciate the second screen, it never really caught on.
The idea of unfolding a dual-screen smartphone into tablet mode is lofty, and certainly unique. We actually liked some of the Echo's capabilities -- like turning the bottom 3.5-inch screen into a virtual keyboard while the top screen acts as a browser, or locking both screens together to summon a 4.7-inch map. However, the handset was bulky, the seam distracting, the learning process more complicated than usual, and the phone features otherwise unremarkable. The Echo sold poorly, and was in September.
A screen within a keyboard? Get out! The DoublePlay wedges a tiny 2-inch QVGA touch display in the center of its split keyboard. It alternately shows icons you can press to quickly switch apps, or complementary features, like typing a message while reading your e-mail on the main display. You can see the problems already: the secondary screen bifurcated the keyboard into distal lobes; it was too small to be truly useful, and large enough to be distracting. In the end, we never quite found our stride. The DoublePlay's disappointing battery life didn't help buoy its appeal.
One of the most successful applications of the set, this phone has a second 3.5-inch screen on the inside. There are no tricks to learn or secondary function; it's just another screen you access by opening the phone like a book. Still, the added screen-and-keyboard combo thicken the phone, and leave us wondering why, other than as an expression of individuality, we would even need the inner display. Wouldn't the phone work just as well as a traditional slider? The $50 price is right, but Android 2.2 Froyo left us cold, when almost all other new Android phones are Gingerbread-flavored, and Ice Cream Sandwich is just around the corner.
YotaPhone, December 2013
Russian manufacturer Yota Devices first showcased the YotaPhone at CES 2013. The first handset to showcase a power-saving e-ink display opposite the typical LCD and Android OS, YotaPhone intrigued us with its bold design. Would this be the smartphone to break the dual-screen curse? Alas, no. The YotaPhone still has its interesting, potentially useful concept, but some design and use issues with that second screen ultimately keep it in the realm of likable oddball. Read all about the YotaPhone.