Smartphones with E-ink: What’s in store?

This year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona showed us the upcoming gadgets, most of which aims to exceed the current tablet and smartphone market offerings in terms of size, power, and price tag. But there are also some gems that seemed to break the mould, offering affordability and usability in just one package. One of these gems is the Yota Phone, a Russian startup smartphone that blends the E-Ink technology and the practical features of a typical smartphone.



If you still can’t picture how this device looks like, imagine a handset with an iPhone body but with a display similar to that of black-and-white e-readers like the first Kindle. But would that really work for the modern smartphone user?

Overall usability is not a problem

When you get a smartphone, you are after the features that would transform your handset to something more than a calling and messaging device. It should also double as a business phone, allowing you to view and edit documents, conduct transactions, and check your emails at the very least. It should also keep you entertained, whether it’s through music or through books. Surprisingly, the Yota Phone can do all of this, by having two screens, the LCD and the E-Ink. Aside from the calling and messaging features, you’d also have access to a wide variety of apps. You can go online and view websites optimized for this type of display. And since it is using the E-Ink, this smartphone is perfect for reading textual content, from e-books to magazines, in all lighting conditions.

The E-Ink’s black-on-white or white-on-black display is well-suited for heavy readers, as it doesn’t leave much strain to the eyes, as compared to reading on a typical smartphone screen (no matter how good it looks, regardless of the resolution). This display mimics reading a paper-printed material in any lighting condition. Backlighting allows you to read even in poorly-lit areas, something that you won’t even see on most e-readers using the same E-Ink technology.

Affordable and longer lasting

By using the E-Ink technology, the Russian startup was able to greatly reduce the production cost of the Yota Phone. For the uninitiated, one of the most expensive parts of a typical smartphone is the screen, especially for handsets that push the quality to the extreme (Samsung’s Super AMOLED, Apple’s Retina display). The phone’s LCD is not the best in the market, but that’s because it is not really the selling point of the device. The Yota Phone still has all the bells and whistles of a smartphone, so it will still function as intended, but without the fancy super high-res screen. It comes with Android OS which runs smoothly on the LCD screen, but has a custom user interface in order to make the most out of the E-Ink technology.

But by far, the most impressive benefit of using E-Ink as the primary screen on a smartphone is the improved battery life. Just like most e-readers that use the same viewing screen, the Yota Phone could last for days in just a single charge. This technology doesn’t need a lot of power, so a single charge could go a long way. Even though it has backlighting, this is rarely used, especially if you’re in a well-lit environment most of the time. An avid smartphone user would know that the screen is a big power hog, and this could be checked by going through the battery usage of your device. Notice that on battery saving mode, the screen gets dimmed just to get a few minutes more out of your batt?

Is this a step forward, or a step back?

Unfortunately, you can’t expect to get all the features of a smartphone in the Yota Phone’s E-Ink side. The E-Ink won’t let you watch a video or capture an image. Simply put, this could be considered a very intelligent feature phone, or maybe a dumb smartphone. But that’s why it has another screen, and everything you can’t do on the E-Ink can be done on the LCD. The benefits clearly outweigh the limitations, and the Yota Phone, for its low cost, is a good addition to your daily devices.

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