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Dual-screen phones gone wrong

Samsung thinks it can break the curse.

Josh Miller/CNET

Samsung's head of mobile expects the company will make a foldable phone for 2018. Here's hoping it doesn't suck.

Forgive the skepticism.

Whatever handset design Samsung conjures up will join a long list of phones that attempted a secondary display one way or another, which either failed to provide much value, or else created more problems than it solved. Samsung has even tried its hand at one or two. 

But the South Korean tech giant, which has a history of peppering its often practical portfolio with more unusual experiments, has a patent-pending schematic that seems more down-to-Earth than some of the other designs that have come before. In fact, it follows the same path as the ZTE Axon M ($725 at Best Buy), a phone that shows real promise despite making this list.

Will Samsung be able to make a second screen cool? I'm not sure, but I'd love to see it try.

Note: This story originally published November 29, 2011 and was updated most recently on January 2, 2018.

ZTE Axon M

I give ZTE credit for launching a contraption that hinges two 5.2-inch screens together to give you a total 6.8 inches of usable space. It's different, it's often useful and, hey, it's far from boring. 

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The Axon M is a modern dual-screen phone.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Axon M comes closer to achieving the dual-screen dream than the Kyocera Echo (below), which debuted the only side-by-side screen design we know of. ZTE gave its phone four separate modes, including one that lets you watch videos and play games across the two-screen spread. You can also mirror the contents of an app on the second screen, and open two apps at the same time, a boon for incurable multitaskers.

But hardware and software flaws hold the phone back. The Axon M is pricey for a device with a so-so camera and last year's specs. It's imbalanced and awkward to hold. We look forward to improvements in future devices like this. Read our Axon M review.

Kyocera Echo

The Echo's home screen stretches out across both of its displays.

Josh Miller/CNET

The idea of unfolding a dual-screen phone into tablet mode was 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 acted 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. 

With otherwise unremarkable features, the Echo sold poorly, and was killed off in September 2011. Read CNET's full review.

LG's DoublePlay doubled down on screens.

Josh Miller/CNET

LG DoublePlay

A mini screen nestled within a keyboard? Get out...

The DoublePlay wedged a tiny, low-resolution 2-inch touch display in the center of its split keyboard. It alternately showed icons you could press to quickly switch apps, or complementary features that let you do things like typing a message while reading your email 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 too large to avoid distraction. 

In the end, we never quite found our stride. The DoublePlay's disappointing battery life further sank its appeal. Read CNET's full review.

The more screens the better, right? Not so for the wacky Samsung DoubleTime.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung DoubleTime

One of the most successful applications of the dual-screen set, this phone had a second 3.5-inch screen on the inside. There were no tricks to learn or secondary functions; it was just another screen you accessed by opening the phone like a book. 

Still, the added screen-and-keyboard combo thickened the phone, and left 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 on-contract price was right, but an older version of Android at the time (2.2 Froyo) left us cold, when almost all other new Android phones of the day ran the newer Gingerbread-flavored version of Google's mobile software. Read CNET's full review.

Samsung Continuum

The Samsung Continuum had a true ticker display.

CNET

Samsung Continuum

Samsung took its flagship Galaxy phone of the day one step further. 

The Continuum includes a tiny ticker screen across which marched RSS updates, weather and social-networking status updates. Customization was limited, typing a bit more cramped, and the constant flow of information overwhelming. 

While we came to appreciate the second screen, it never really caught on.

Remember the YotaPhone? Both it and the YotaPhone 2 slapped a low-power e-ink display on the back.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

YotaPhone and YotaPhone 2

In 2013, Russian manufacturer Yota proudly showcased the first handset to use a power-saving e-ink display on the back side of the typical LCD running Android. 

YotaPhone intrigued us with its bold design. Would this be the phone to break the dual-screen curse? Alas, no.

The YotaPhone still had its interesting, potentially useful concept, but some design and use issues with that second screen ultimately keep it in the realm of likable oddball. The same stood for the improved, but still unconvincing 2014's YotaPhone 2.


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LG's V10's second screen was almost indecipherable from the main display.

Dan Graziano/CNET

LG V10 and V20

The LG V10 and V20 followed the Samsung Continuum's lead with an always-there shortcuts bar. About 2 inches wide and a few centimeters tall, this short strip of display all but blended into the phone's bezel. While moderately useful at times, it didn't make much of an impact and LG dropped the screen-on-top-of-its-screen with its most recent model, the LG v30. Read CNET's LG V30 review here.