YotaPhone review: An interesting dual-screen phone that falls short of expectations

Design and display

Looking at the phone from the front, you'd have no idea there's anything unusual about it. Its overall design is pretty uninspiring in fact, with plain black edging and an unbroken glass front. It has none of the elegance of phones such as the HTC One or Sony Xperia Z1, instead opting for a strictly functional aesthetic. Wide bezels around the screen give it something of a budget look too.

It measures 133mm long and 67mm wide, making it easy to hold and use in one hand. Its 10mm thickness puts it very much on the chunky side, as does its 146g weight, but that's something I can perhaps forgive with the extra screen on the back. On the edges you'll find a micro-USB port, a volume rocker, 3.5mm headphone jack and a combined power button and micro-SIM slot.

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It feels fairly sturdy, with no flex in the chassis and a stiff band around the edge that seems like it could withstand a few plummets to the ground. The rear display is more of a concern though, as it picked up almost every scuff it could find.

Putting the phone down on my desk resulted in numerous marks on the display, and the same happened when it was in my pocket with my keys. Although it didn't seem to permanently scratch the screen, I was forced to give it a good clean most times I fished it from my pocket.

The front 4.3-inch LCD display has a 1,280x720-pixel resolution that makes small text and icons look crisp and easily readable. It's bright, but it has quite cold colors that made images and TV shows on Netflix look less punchy than they do on phones such as the Galaxy S4.

There's no microSD card slot to store your music, apps or videos, but with a decent 32GB of on-board storage, you shouldn't run out of space too quickly.

Gesture navigation

With no physical navigation buttons on the front of the phone, you'll need to use a series of gestures to make your way around the Android interface. A swipe to the right takes you home, for example, a back swipe takes you back a page, and a two-finger swipe down takes a screenshot and displays it on the rear screen.

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While it's a nice idea leaving the front free of buttons, I don't think Yota has found the best solution. For one, the gestures need to be performed on a dedicated touch area beneath the screen. Having that space taken up with a touch panel negates any space saved by having no buttons. If the gestures were incorporated into the screen, it would give more room for the screen to stretch out, without making the body of the phone any bigger.

Performing the gestures can be awkward too. Quite apart from simply having to learn and remember what everything does, I found the touch area to be quite unresponsive, regularly forcing me to repeat the gesture before anything happened. I don't think the gestures add anything to the experience.

Battery

A 1,800mAh battery powers the YotaPhone, which I found gave an acceptable amount of life when using it as you would any other smart phone. With mixed use, including using the main screen for emails, texts, downloading apps and playing a bit of Netflix, I didn't struggle too much to get a day of use out of it. As with all phones, your own times will vary wildly depending on how much you use it. If you spend your day using the LCD screen for more demanding tasks such as gaming, or hours of video streaming, you'll almost certainly need to give it a boost during the day if you want any juice remaining for your evening.

With more cautious use, including using the E Ink screen for all my notifications and Twitter updates, rarely touching the front screen, the phone still had around 30 per cent battery at lunchtime of the second day of use. With GPS, Wi-Fi and push email running in the background, there are still plenty of demands on the battery, so it won't run eternally on the low-power display.

Camera
A 13-megapixel camera on the back of the phone gave fairly decent results, and wonderfully the E Ink screen says, "Smile for the camera!" In my test shot of St Paul's Cathedral, the image was rather dark, but there was plenty of detail on the brickwork of the building.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It struggled to focus up close on the tree bark in my second shot, although colors and exposure were good.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Focus was better, although not quite perfect, in this shot of a fruit and veg stall. Colors are again accurate and it's well exposed.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

A point to bear in mind is that the camera is oddly placed in the bottom left-hand corner (as you look at the back of the phone). I found it difficult to keep my finger out of shot when holding the phone in landscape mode and almost impossible when shooting in portrait mode, given that I'm right-handed.

Conclusion

Having an E Ink display on the back of the phone to let you comfortably read books or long articles without quickly draining the battery is a great idea in theory. I'm sold on the concept, but I don't think the YotaPhone is quite there yet.

Its E Ink screen is very low quality, which makes doing even basic tasks with it unpleasant. There's a definite lack of support for the display from third-party developers, meaning there's not much you can do with it just yet. It hasn't managed to excite any US carriers, and so won't be available in US stores, although it will be on sale on the YotaPhone website for 499 Euros (around £410 or $675). All preorders have now sold out.

The idea behind YotaPhone is really interesting and I hope to see the concept refined in the future. If a better quality display is used and YotaPhone works much more closely with developers, its next generation device might be worth checking out.

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    YotaPhone

    Part Number: YOTApHONE
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    Quick Specifications See All

    • Weight 4.93 oz
    • Diagonal Size 4.3 in
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