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First-Gen YotaPhone, The Dual-Screen E-Ink Hybrid Smartphone, Goes On Sale In UK — Its 6th Market

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The dual-screen Android-powered e-ink hybrid YotaPhone smartphone, which bites its thumb at those that say there’s nothing new in smartphone hardware, has gone on sale in the U.K.

The device is available to buy via Yota Device’s online store on its website — costing £419 to U.K. buyers (which, incidentally, makes it a tenner cheaper than the new 8GB iPhone 5c).

The YotaPhone handset sets itself apart from the ranks of identikit slab-shaped Android smartphones by having an e-ink screen on its rear that users can send content to for powerless display or easier-on-the-eye reading.

Its 4.3-inch main pane is a full-touch, 720 x 1280 colour LCD but that’s just the half of this handset. On the rear it’s 4.3-inch monochrome e-ink screen, used in conjunction with the frontal LCD, supports new types of usage for a smartphone.

Examples of what to do with a supplementary e-ink screen include using it to display always-on notifications so you don’t have to keep waking your phone up to check in on social stuff, or personalising the look of the handset with photos or wallpaper.

The e-ink screen can also be used to help reduce battery consumption if the user sends text content to the rear screen and reads it there, making use of the lower power display, rather than relying on the more thirsty LCD pane.

The first-gen YotaPhone’s e-ink screen is not full touch — there’s a touch-sensitive panel beneath the screen that’s used to navigate and interact with content displayed on it. Which can make interacting with the e-ink screen a little fiddly.

But full touch is coming with the second generation YotaPhone, which was shown to TechCrunch last month at the Mobile World Congress tradeshow. That device is not due to launch until the end of this year but buyers of the first-gen YotaPhone are promised a substantial trade-in discount on the next-gen device if they choose to upgrade when the time comes.

YotaPhone is the brainchild of a Russian spin-off startup (actually a maker of LTE modems and hotspots) and it’s been a long time in the making. The original concept for the device was revealed back in December 2012 but the handset only finally went on sale in a handful of markets last December. Those first markets were Russia, Austria, France, Spain and Germany.

Yota Devices is now expanding that modest footprint to the U.K. — and said today that more European markets are coming this month, including Portugal, Italy, Switzerland and Scandinavia.

The startup previously told TechCrunch it’s aiming for a footprint of 20 markets in EMEA by the end of the year. The U.S. and China are also on Yota Devices’ release roadmap but not until the end of the year or early 2015.

Ignoring the e-ink screen for the moment, the specs of the first-gen YotaPhone are relatively mid-range, with a dual-core 1.7GHz processor and 2GB of RAM. The main camera is 13MP, and there’s also a 1MP front-facing lens. The LTE device runs Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean.

However, it’s not the core specs that count in this instance — but rather the dual aspect of a hybrid smartphone-cum-e-reader device. That’s the novelty that counts here.

Albeit, it remains to be seen if Yota Devices’ double-sided creativity can capture the imagination of mainstream smartphone users. The company has not yet broken out early sales of the first-gen handset, but with a modest market rollout that’s to be expected.

It also needs to capture the imagination of developers — with only around a dozen rear screen apps developed for the device so far, along with Yota Device’s own Put2Back software which lets users send content from the front screen for viewing on the rear pane.

Last month Yota Devices made what had previously been a selective SDK for the Yota Phone public. It’s hoping to fire up developers to pick up its big idea and run with it — and that in turn to help convert users to a smartphone with two different types of screen.