When we last saw Yota Devices, the company was showing off a prototype of its original YotaPhone, a groundbreaking device with an always-on, e-paper display on its back panel. Since then, the company has launched its innovative handset in Russia and a number of European markets, selling it unlocked to consumers for 499 euros. Now, the company has unveiled its second-generation YotaPhone, which adds full touch functionality to its back screen, along with a host of interactive second-screen features and updated phone specs.
Due out by the end of the year in Europe, the new YotaPhone sports a rounded design and black chassis that reminded us a bit of the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. It has a 5-inch, 1080p AMOLED display, a huge step up from the 4.3-inch 720p panel on the original. It has also taken a huge leap forward in terms of performance, moving from a dual-core CPU to a quad-core Qualcomm Snadragon 800 with 2GB of RAM and 32GB of storage. At 5.7 x 2.7 x .35 inches and 4.9 ounces, the new YotaPhone is still much smaller and lighter than most mainstream smartphones. An 8-MP back-facing and 2-MP front-facing camera should provide solid image captures.
However, most users won’t be buying the new YotaPhone for its processing power or design language. The phone’s e-paper display allows for a new kind of smartphone experience, allowing you to check notifications, keep up with the news, or save key information such as shopping lists or maps to a panel that never needs to be unlocked or woken up.
A recent study revealed that the average smartphone user checks her phone 150 times a day. If you have to hit the power button, swipe through an unlock pattern and then navigate to the notification menu each time you check, you’re both wasting precious time and gobbling up tons of juice from your battery. E-paper displays only use power when they update so the YotaPhone’s back panel can stay on 24/7 without draining your juice. The last image remains on the screen even when the battery is dead, potentially allowing you to see a key piece of information in an emergency.
The e-paper display goes from 4.3-inches on the original to 4.7-inches, with a resolution of 960 x 540 and a screen made of matte, curved Gorilla glass. The original YotaPhone features a capacitive strip below the display that let you swipe back and forth between screens, but the second-generation model provides a full capacitive touch experience.
To take advantage of the touch capability on the second screen, Yota has added a special Smart Power Mode, which allows users to disable the entire front color display and work only the back. So if your battery is running low, you can still perform your most important tasks, though we wouldn’t recommend watching a video or playing a game on the e-paper screen.
The second-generation YotaPhone sports a few new apps for the always-on display. Fitness Tracker grabs data from your fitness band and displays it on the back screen so you can track your progress without waking your phone. Sportscaster shows you updated sports scores and play-by-play messages so you can discretely keep track of the big game while you’re at the family dinner table and everyone else thinks your phone is just sitting face down.
The new phone will also provide separate, home and business profiles for users that need to keep their enterprise applications in a secure environment. Israeli software company Cellroxx is providing this “multi-persona” technology, which we did not get to see demoed, but sounds a bit like Samsung’s Safe with KNOX function.
Several apps which appear on the original YotaPhone will be even better on the second-generation model. The InternetHub app puts your social media and RSS updates on the back while the organizer shows calendar events and the notebook displays notes. TeachMe helps you learn a language by showing vocabulary flashcards on the always-on display. MapsWithMe provides offline maps.
Select apps have a circular Put2Back button in them that sends their content directly to the back; an SDK will allow developers to add this feature to their programs. Swiping down from the top of the screen with two fingers takes a static screen shot and puts it on the back. You can also put a custom dashboard on the back, which shows the weather, your social updates or several other possible widgets.
As on the original phone, Yota gives users fine control over which alerts make it to the back screen. Yota COO Lau Geckler told us that the application will even let you decide which friends’ updates you see and which you ignore. Right now, the software works with a number of services, including Twitter, but the ability to filter Facebook is coming soon.
Like the original YotaPhone, the new phone will sport a fairly stock version of Android, with no special skins or UI effects. While the current YotaPhone is running Android 4.2 Jellybean, the second-generation model will launch with Android 4.4 KitKat. The original YotaPhone allows has you swipe the bottom bezel in lieu of navigation buttons, swiping left to go back, swiping right to go home and double tapping to see a list of open apps. However, a rep told us that the new YotaPhone will give you a choice between using these gestures or displaying Android’s software navigation buttons.
Geckler said the second-generation YotaPhone will start shipping by the end of 2014, with a U.S. release sometime in 2015. Where the original YotaPhone is only sold as unlocked, he said the new model will be available through major phone carriers. There’s no word on exact pricing or release dates.