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Next-Gen YotaPhone Adds Full-Touch E-Ink Display on Back

And it's headed to the U.S. early next year.

Yota Devices

At CES 2013, a curious smartphone was introduced by an unknown Russian company called Yota Devices. But people took notice (including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak) because its product, the YotaPhone, shook up traditional smartphone design by adding a second E-Ink display on the back. It went on sale in December, but the company is already prepping the release of its next-generation device.

Announced at Mobile World Congress, the new Android 4.4-based YotaPhone will be available by the end of the year, and brings a number of improvements to the dual-screen phone. It has a sleeker and curvier design, and now sports larger and higher-resolution screens. There’s a five-inch, 1,920 by 1,080-pixel touchscreen on front and a 4.7-inch, 960 by 540 pixel E-Ink display on back. More importantly, the latter is now touch sensitive.

The benefit to this is that you’ll now be able to carry out more actions using the E-Ink display, which consumes less power than the color touchscreen. Before, you could only interact with it using the small gesture area below the screen, and the capabilities were limited to things like viewing incoming calls or messages. But now, you’ll be able to do things like reply to text messages, post comments on Facebook and play slow-paced games like chess or Sudoku.

The company also introduced several new apps designed for the back display, including Sportscaster to keep track of your favorite sports teams and a fitness tracker. In addition, Yota Devices opened up its SDK, so third-party developers can create apps for the second-screen experience.

Other improvements include a faster quad-core processor, near field communications features and wireless charging. There’s also a new Smart Power Mode feature that will turn off the color screen when you’re running low on battery, while still allowing you to perform basic functions on the back display.

The next-generation YotaPhone will be available in Russia, Europe and the Middle East in the fourth quarter. Pricing has not been set, but the company will offer a program that allows owners of the first YotaPhone to upgrade to the new device at a discounted price.

The company currently sells the YotaPhone unlocked for 499 Euros (about $684 U.S.) and has sold around 12,000 units in its first month of sales. Yota Devices CEO Vlad Martynov said he originally expected around 10,000, so he sees this as a sign that there is interest in such a device.

Whether there’s a demand for it in other markets like Asia and the U.S. remains to be seen. Martynov told me that the company will release a U.S. version of the phone at the beginning of next year. But whether it partners with a U.S. carrier is up in the air.

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