CES 2013: From Russia with e-Ink - hands-on with the YotaPhone

It will officially roll out at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in late February

The Russian-built YotaPhone

The Russian-built YotaPhone

If you're a serious Android-watcher, you've probably heard of the YotaPhone - the Russian-built Android phone that packs a rear-mounted e-Ink display in addition to a standard touchscreen.

It's a deceptively simple gimmick that could allow the YotaPhone to surprise a lot of people - not just serious Android fans - in the US when it's released in late 2013.

MORE: Best of CES 2013: In pictures

NEWS: 2013 IT outlook: Innovation trumps cost-cutting

YotaPhone CEO Vladislav Martynov and COO Lau Geckler met up with Network World at CES to show off the firm's creation.

Aside from the e-Ink display, the YotaPhone looks much like any other recent Android flagship - it runs on a Qualcomm 8960 SoC, packs 2GB of RAM and 32GB of Flash storage, front and rear cameras, and 4G connectivity. It uses a largely unmodded version of Jelly Bean. It's not the sleekest design in the world, given the fetish for ultra-thin phones, but it sits comfortably enough in the hand and isn't too weighty. The phone seemed responsive and performed ably in the little time I had to play around with it, with few surprises for anyone familiar with Android 4.1 running on solid hardware.

But the second screen, obviously, is the main event. There's a touch-sensitive pad on the same side as the e-Ink reader that lets users program what will be shown on that display - I saw everything from simple clocks and weather displays to live Twitter feeds and a counter that said "18 days since I last had a cigarette." Additionally, swiping with two fingers from the top to the bottom of the main screen instantly mirrors whatever's being shown onto the e-Ink display. While I could see life with a secondary display taking some getting used to, it's easy enough to tinker with and adapt.

There are a lot of reasons for the e-Ink reader's presence on the phone, according to Martynov and Geckler, but most of them boil down to battery life and information accessibility.

"We looked at what's most disappointing today about current smartphones, and realized that there are a few things - because of some limitations, particularly battery limitations, it's always off," Martynov says.

This means, he says, that most phones effectively keep content further away from users than they need to. If you've got a picture of your daughter as a background, for example, you're really only seeing it for a few seconds a day when you actually turn the device on to use it. Similarly, notes Martynov, a text message sent to an iPhone, for example, is only visible for a few seconds without having to turn the screen on and get into the messaging app.

The e-Ink screen is YotaPhone's solution to this problem - it doesn't use power except for when it's updating itself, so keeping whatever content the user wants front and center isn't a drag on the battery. No more burying yourself in your phone just to check up on Twitter.

"People are using social media much more extensively, but they're becoming less social," says Martynov.

The YotaPhone will officially roll out at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in late February, but US customers likely won't be able to get their hands on the device until near the end of 2013, as Yota looks for a partner from the ranks of U.S. carriers.

"The advantage we have is that we already have existing products," Geckler notes, referring to Yota's line of 4G networking gear. "We're fairly well known within the carrier community for our IT experience, and that's helping us in getting the dialogue in the first place."

Martynov didn't give an exact price, but stated that the YotaPhone would be "competitive" with other high-end Android devices.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags CESconsumer electronicsNetworkingsmartphoneswirelessAndroidqualcommYotaCES 2013

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Gold

Network World
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?