BARCELONA, Spain--Announced in Japan last month for NTT Docomo, NEC's latest Android smartphone, the Medias W N-05E isn't quite your usual device. Like the YotaPhone, this dual-core handset sports two screens, and supposedly offers twice the fun. Unlike the YotaPhone though, it comes packed with twin 4.3-inch qHD displays that are fully colored.
As is always the case with a phone with two screens, NEC needed to find somewhere to tuck the second panel away when it's not in use. The solution is simple -- the W N-05E folds in half, keeping its form compact. While you use one panel, the other panel turns off. If you're watching a video though, there's a button you can hit at the bottom right corner that mirrors the image to the second screen, and you can make a kind of tent by folding out the phone in order to share the image with a buddy sitting opposite you.
Unfolded, the smartphone converts into a 5.6-inch tablet, though it feels a little fragile in my hands. If you're watching a video, you'll have to train yourself to avoid noticing the bezel that splits your screen into two (they are two displays side by side, after all).
In dual-screen mode, some apps have been customized to take full advantage of the added screen real estate. The mail app, in particular, lets you preview your emails on the right screen while you look at the inbox on the left.
If you flip the W N-05E to landscape mode in order to compose an email message, a giant keyboard that fills up the entire bottom half of the 4.3-inch display appears and should let you type quite comfortably (especially if you have fat fingers).
This keyboard mode doesn't seem to apply to the default browser though. It's normal in size when you try entering URLs, but there are other buttons on the bottom half that lets you do things such as taking screenshots on the top half.
The smartphone is powered by a dual-core 1.5GHz processor and rocks 1GB of RAM. It has 16GB of on-board storage, but there's also a microSD card slot if you need more.
When we tried using the unit though, it felt a little sluggish, especially when trying to flip the handset's orientation. We're guessing this is due to the W N-05E on display being a prototype device, things are likely still being worked out ahead of its launch in April.
The smartphone also sports an 8.1-megapixel camera, though we didn't get to try it out at the NEC booth. It has a 2,100mAh battery as well as LTE (for NTT Docomo), which given its dual-screen nature, means your power consumption is likely to be through the roof. We figure if you are going to be using both screens all the time, the W N-05E will likely be dead before your day is done.
Available only in Japan on NTT Docomo's network in April, chances are likely we won't see NEC's dual-screen phone in the U.S. or other countries any time soon. Given CNET's previous experience with dual-screen handsets (you can check out Jessica Dolcourt's roundup on similar twin-screen wonders), we're guessing the W N-05E will either end in up being the best thing ever since the introduction of capacitive touchscreen smartphones, or something we'll never want to talk about again -- except maybe in dark corners where no one's listening.