Without question the biggest talking point here is the 4.7-inch EPD (Electronic Paper Display) slapped on the rear of the Yotaphone 2.
Unlike the E-Ink screen on the original Yotaphone this one is full touch, providing a lot more functionality. The resolution isn’t exactly inspiring at 960 x 540, but you won’t be watching movies or playing games on this side of the handset.
For text though it’s perfectly acceptable and I didn’t have any issues reading on this rear screen – which is really its forte.
It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s noticeably different. It does help to quickly recognise which side is which when you’re plucking it out of a bag or pocket, allowing you to get it facing the right direction in your hand before looking at it.
Yota Devices collected feedback from everyone who purchased the first Yotaphone which it used to decide what features needed to be included in its second generation device.
To customise the EPD you’ll need to head to the Yota Hub on the colour screen, where you’ll be able to fiddle with your YotaCovers and YotaPanels.
The EPD lock screen (called YotaCover) displays the number of new calls, text messages, emails and other notifications your phone has. You can also choose the picture(s) displayed as a background.
You can select photos stored on the handset, or albums from social networks including Facebook and Instagram, which will then cycle at an interval of your choosing (e.g. every 5, 10 or 30 minutes).
YotaCover can also show the details of a new message, from just the name of the sender to the message itself, or nothing at all. This allows you to tailor the information which is freely available on this screen without unlocking.
It’s not a flawless system. On several occasions the message notification said I had an unread text, even though I’d already gone and read and replied to it.
Another problem which I came up against was when a text message flashed up on the rear display, but the options to reply, call or dismiss the notification from the screen refused to work and I had to restart the phone in order to clear it. The screen randomly froze one a few occasions as well – again prompting a restart.
These are hopefully simple software issues which can be fixed with an update, but as things stand at the moment they’re frustrating quirks which put me off using the rear display.
To unlock the E-Ink display all you need to do is slide your finger up from the bottom of the screen and over the padlock icon – not too quickly though. You need to be relatively slow.
Most of the time this unlocked the phone first time for me, but every now and then I’d have to have three or four attempts before it understood what I was doing.
Once unlocked (and you’ve typed in your password if you’ve got one set) you’ll notice a navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, with a central button which lets you flip between YotaCovers and YotaPanels.
If YotaCover is your lock screen, then YotaPanels are your home screens, of which you can have up to four on the Yotaphone 2.
These panels can be customised with a variety of widgets and app shortcuts – although the selection of the former is limited to what’s pre-installed on the device.
The hope is more developers with code applications to play nicely with the EPD on the Yotaphone 2, but for now you can’t guarantee who will make the effort.
Unless you’re extremely privacy conscious I’d recommend ignoring YotaCover and sticking with YotaPanels as they offer up much more information at a glance, which you can tailor so it’s relevant to you.
You can lock the EPD on a panel – just click the power/lock key on the side of the handset (it’s now on the left!) and the padlock icon will show in the notification bar. A swipe up over this icon will unlock the display.
You’ll need to fire up the YotaHub app on the colour screen to edit y
our panels, and you can choose from pre-filled templates or start with a blank slate and craft your own info screen.
Some of the more basic widgets were the ones I found to be the most useful with notification icons (calls, texts, emails and other), clock and battery status all featuring front and centre.
Swiping sideways over a panel will see you cycle through your active panels, or you can just use the arrows in the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen.
Widget options also include calendar, agenda, weather, key contacts and a music player – all of which provide useful information and tools while use much less power than the same tasks on the AMOLED display.
A key widget for some will be YotaRSS, allowing you to get your daily news fix delivered to the power efficient rear display of YotaPhone 2 – perfect for the morning commute.
You’ll need to login to Feedly for the service to work, but once you’ve done that you’ll get the latest headlines from your RSS feeds in an easy to use widget.
As I’ve already mentioned it’s excellent for reading, using the same screen technology as ereaders, although I did find some ghosting occurring – especially when scrolling pages with images.
In most cases it’s not bad enough to make the text unreadable, and the limitations of the E-Ink screen are partly to blame – but it is noticeable and can be a little off putting during extended use.
Reading books is another obvious advantage with the low power EPD display, and Yota reckons you can get up to 100 hours reading time from a single charge – although you’d probably have to turn off cellular data, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and not touch the colour screen at all.
You can make one of your panels a link to the book your reading for easy access, or you can mirror a third party app such as Kindle to the rear screen if you have a collection elsewhere.
Text isn’t as sharp as it is on the latest fleet of ereaders, and the lack of a backlight means you can’t read in the dark, but those things aside the Yotaphone 2 still offers a solid reading experience which far exceeds rival smartphones.